Guard save the Kings

Trading Bibby or Bobby could be the key to the championship

Who would you trade for a shot at the championship?

Who would you trade for a shot at the championship?

Photo By Jill Wagner

As Sacramento fans ponder yet another disappointingly Kings-free NBA Finals, conventional wisdom around the Big Tomato has it that, but for one tiny tear in Chris Webber’s meniscus, our boys would be enjoying a victory parade down J Street right about now.

You might think, then, that all it’ll take to bring home the trophy next season will be to roll out the same C-Webb and crew and hope the gods of basketball karma provide some payback with an injury-free year.

Well, think again.

Unless the Kings make a major personnel move this offseason, they’re bound to be crushed in the second round of next year’s playoffs by either the Lakers or the Spurs. Those perennial powers would’ve given the Kings all they could handle had they met in the playoffs this year, and by the time next season tips off, each will have added an all-star or two—we’re talking ballers on the level of Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Jermaine O’Neal, Juwan Howard or Karl Malone—to their already dominating lineups. The free-agent market is bursting with impact players this year, and both the Lakers and Spurs have the cash and the inclinations to take full advantage.

That’s why the Kings can’t win by standing pat. Oh, they can have another fine regular season. But they’re going to need an upgrade if they’re going to win a playoff series against a Lakers team that has Shaq, Kobe and Payton or a revamped Spurs with Kidd dishing to Tim Duncan. And the Kings need to realize that now, or their window of opportunity is going to slam shut faster than you can say “Vlade Divac’s birthday.”

But don’t panic. The Kings have the best general manager in the league, Geoff Petrie, running the show, and they have plenty of trade bait on their bench. All they need to do is make the right deal.

All they need, in short, is to get Darko.

If ever a match were made in basketball heaven, it would be Darko Milicic and the Sacramento Kings.

Though he’s not yet old enough to buy cigarettes, Milicic (that’s pronounced “Mil-eh-chik”) is already 7-foot-1 and 240 pounds and is projected by many to be the greatest player ever to come out of Europe. A left-hander with outstanding ball-handling skills, Milicic, from Serbia-Montenegro, can shake like Tracy McGrady, shoot like Dirk Nowitzki and pass better than any 7-footer this side of Vlade. He’ll have to learn to defend at the NBA level, but he’s already a good shot blocker and fierce competitor under the boards.

While most of the eyes and ears around this year’s NBA draft have focused on the hype machine known as LeBron James, there have been some whispers already that Milicic might be the better player. While LeBron’s been making ESPN highlight reels, dunking over high-schoolers in an endless string of made-for-TV exhibition contests, Darko’s been honing his game against grown men in very tough professional leagues—and dominating them. And, by all accounts, he has rare self-confidence and mental maturity for a 17-year-old.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who own the first pick, more or less have to pick James. There’d be rioting in the Ohio streets if they didn’t take homeboy LeBron. This leaves the Detroit Pistons, already good enough to reach the Eastern Conference finals this year, holding the rights to Milicic. How good can they be next year with new coach Larry Brown and a lineup that adds Milicic to all-star center Ben Wallace, ex-Kings Corliss Williamson and Jon Barry and up-and-comer Tayshaun Prince?

Answer: not half as good as the Kings could be with Webber, Divac, Stojakovic, Milicic and Mike Bibby on the floor. That’s the stuff hoop dreams are made of.

Milicic would be such a perfect fit, it almost seems predestined to happen. His style would blend seamlessly with the already Euro-centric Kings, and he would be coming to a team that wouldn’t need him to defend in the post, where Webber, Divac and Scot Pollard reign. And—do we even need to say it?—the fact that the team has Euro-heroes Divac and Stojakovic would be bound to help him feel at home here.

Now for the obvious question: Is it all too good to ever come true?

Pistons General Manager Joe Dumars surely knows what he’s got in Milicic, and Detroit won’t trade him unless it gets several quality players in return. All of this wouldn’t even be worth talking about, except for one thing: The Kings have the players it would take. In fact, part of the Kings’ problem is that they have too many good players and not enough great ones, and they need to trade some of these guys before their still-developing skills wither on the vine.

Lawrence Funderburke? He’s buried so far down on the Kings’ depth chart he can’t get off the bench most games, but he’d probably start and score 20 points a game for half the teams in the league. Hedo Turkoglu? He’s riding the pine right next to Lawrence, but he’s another potential star. Let these two go where they can log some minutes, and you’re doing everybody a favor.

But Funderburke and Turkoglu won’t get you Darko. The Kings could easily up the ante by adding Keon Clark, a fine player but one who wouldn’t play much if the Kings had Milicic. That still wouldn’t get it done, but we’re getting close.

Most likely, the Kings would have to throw in an established star. Webber, Divac and Stojakovic are untouchable—too big, too good, too irreplaceable. Adding Doug Christie wouldn’t do it. That leaves Bibby and Bobby Jackson, the King’s tandem of star point guards.

Clark, Funderburke, Turkoglu and Jackson for Milicic? I’d be willing to bet the Pistons would take it. If they didn’t, I’d offer the first three plus Bibby.

It’s true, the move would cut the Kings’ ballyhooed bench strength. But here’s a flash: Depth doesn’t win titles. It takes great players to win championships, not a lot of good ones. The Kings are in a position to trade depth for a potential all-pro who just might be the next Kevin Garnett. Pulling the trigger on a multi-player deal to get him would be taking a big chance, but then championships aren’t won by playing it safe.

Petrie knows what he’s doing and doesn’t need my advice. I’m giving it anyway: Seize the moment. Let’s do it. Let’s get Darko.