For Kings coach, playoff disappointment doesn't linger like it did last year

Last Saturday's elimination by the Dallas Mavericks wasn't pleasant for Rick Adelman, but the Sacramento Kings coach is quick to put things in perspective.

The previous week, his three daughters Ñ Kathy, Laura and Caitlin Ñ were on their way to a Sacramento, Calif., restaurant when their car was hit head-on by one driven by an elderly woman. The Adelman vehicle was totaled.

Kathy Ñ Portlanders know her as Kathy Naro, girls basketball coach at Jesuit High Ñ was eight months pregnant with her second child. The women were shaken and bruised, though not seriously hurt. Kathy spent the night in the hospital for observation, but the baby seems fine.

'I am just thankful what could have happened didn't,' Rick Adelman says. 'Losing a playoff series isn't all that important in comparison.'

Not that falling in the frenzied seventh game of the Western Conference semifinals didn't carry some sting. This was supposed to be Sacramento's year. And it well could have been if not for the Game 2 knee injury to superstar Chris Webber, ending his season and taking away the Kings' talented triple threat.

'You can't lose your best player in a series like that,' says Adelman, whose Sacramento teams are 246-132 in the regular season during his five seasons there but have never made it to the NBA Finals. 'You might still get by against some teams, but not Dallas. They won 60 games this (regular) season, had the best road record in the league, and it was almost like people wrote them off. People say defense wins championships, but you have a chance when you have as much offense as they do.'

Nowitzki kept in check

Sacramento did a solid defensive job on Dirk Nowitzki, who had to work his tail off for his 20.7 points per game in the series. What hurt more was the damage done by Nick Van Exel, who came off the bench to shoot .519 and average 25.7 points, and Steve Nash, who shot .505 and averaged 19.1. That is 44.8 points from the point guards, a pretty tough number to overcome.

'Van Exel was unbelievable,' Adelman says. 'He is a run stopper. It is like Randy Johnson in baseball. He is the one guy nobody has an answer for. Nowitzki had only big game against us in Game 7, but Van Exel and Nash broke us down in the open court. They played about as well as anyone can play, and they did it consistently.'

Sacramento still had chances to win the series. Had Vlade Divac made a pair of free throws near the end of Game 3, the Kings surely would have won instead of lost in double overtime.

'We had a great chance to win Game 7, but we shot so poorly in the first half,' Adelman says. 'Really, we had only two guys who played well in that game Ñ Mike Bibby and Jimmy Jackson. And yet we were still there until it finally got away from us in the fourth quarter.'

A year ago, when the Kings lost in seven games to the L.A. Lakers in the West finals after being fleeced of Game 6 by poor officiating, Adelman was devastated. This time, the pain of elimination wasn't quite so bad.

'Last year irks me more than this year did,' the former Blazer coach says. 'Last year, we were so close. We were right there. Even if we make some free throws in Game 7, we win. It was more disappointing than this year, where it seemed like it just wasn't meant to be.'

Sacramento's top four scorers Ñ Webber, Bibby, Peja Stojakovic and Bobby Jackson Ñ all missed at least 10 regular-season games with injuries, and key reserve Scot Pollard was out injured for almost the entire year. The Kings still won 59 games and the Pacific Division, then rolled past Utah in five games in the first round of the playoffs.

'We played well in the Utah series and were coming together,' Adelman says. 'We won the first game against Dallas, and then Chris goes down. But I was really proud of our guys. I don't know what else they could have done. They battled and didn't quit, and we took Dallas to the wire.'

Future remains promising

Some suggest the Kings' window of opportunity to win a title might be passing. But of the top 10 players, only Divac, who is 35, and possibly Doug Christie (33) are beyond their peak years. Bibby (25), Stojakovic (26 next month) and Hedo Turkoglu (24) are young and developing, while Webber (30), Bobby Jackson (30) and Pollard (28) are still in their prime.

Two reserves who were very effective Ñ Jimmy Jackson and Keon Clark Ñ are free agents the Kings will surely want to re-sign. If they decide to stay, the nucleus remains more solid than any team in the league.

'Except Vlade, our key guys have their best years ahead of them,' Adelman says. 'Vlade played all last summer (for Yugoslavia in the World Championships) and was worn down by the playoffs. He is still clever and good enough against everybody but Shaq, though, and I think he will be effective again next year.

'With the Lakers losing, it changes things in the West to where it is wide open every year. Along with the Lakers, Dallas and San Antonio, I can't see us not being right there again next year.'

The most unsettling thing with the Kings is the situation in their front office. Geoff Petrie, the team's esteemed president of basketball operations, is thought to be atop the wish list to replace Bob Whitsitt in running the Trail Blazers. If Petrie were to move on, it would leave Adelman Ñ who has one year remaining on his contract Ñ in limbo and the Kings without the man who put all the pieces in place.

Adelman says he has not spoken with Petrie about the Portland job but would be surprised if Sacramento co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof let him go without a fight.

'Geoff has been such a huge part of building the team here,' Adelman says. 'He has a great staff and support system in place. But then again, Geoff is one of the top guys in the league. And when a situation like Portland comes up, with Paul Allen as the owner, I could see it being a great move for him and for them. He would give the Blazers instant credibility again in that city. That would be huge for their franchise.

'It wouldn't surprise me for them to make overtures. If that happens, it is Geoff's call. When a guy works that hard and is successful and gets an opportunity like that, he should be allowed to look at it.'

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