K-Mart looks shell shocked lately, like the first scene in the movie 'Saving Private Ryan'. He is storming the shore without a weapon, and can't find cover. His weapon is his ability to make shots, and now he is shooting blanks, or unwilling to pull the trigger. The last two games have been among the worst in his career, and I barely recognize the player in the #23 Kings jersey.
K-Mart came from a little college and struggled to make a name for himself in the league. He was left off the playoff roster his first year. He played second fiddle to Mike Bibby and Ron Artest and veterans ahead of him on the depth chart his first couple of years. All the while, he works, refines his game, and turns into a lethal scoring machine. His star continues to rise, through the losing, through the coaching changes, and through a too-brief taste of the playoffs. Who will forget the sweet kiss off the glass as the buzzer sounded, the frenetic full court dash and soft flip by K-Mart against the Spurs?
Kevin was duly rewarded with a long contract, and the Maloof's embraced him as the face of the franchise. Injuries persist, but K-Mart is the "Man", as the veterans move on, he is the focal point of the rebuilding effort. From a skinny kid from a school out of nowhere, he becomes one of the best scorers in the NBA. The fans love him, the brightest of futures looks bound, an all-star birth is inevitable.
But injuries won't go away, and now there is a new kid on the block. Tyreke has arrived, and this kid will be taking a different path than Kevin. While K-Mart's road was slow, steady and bumpy, this kid is on the smooth, fast track. And Kevin watches it unfold. This kid is making it look too easy. Kevin remembers it was never this easy for him. In his first year, Kevin sat and watched. This kid is not watching, he is dazzling and dominating, with a cool smile and underage ID.
Change is inevitable in life. But that does not mean it is always easy to accept. Players have egos, and egos get bruised. Kevin has endured six years of hard work, dedication, injuries, and losing, to arrive where he is now. He is ready to experience a pay-off, to win, to play a central role. But that role has become suddenly murky, the stage has a new star, and the spotlight has turned.
It is easy to speak of challenge in terms of the physical: rehabbing from injury, recovering athletic timing, and blending with new teammates. It is not as simple to consider the mental challenge of setting aside one's ego, responding to a new hierarchy of order, and learning to fit with a kid who has made it look so damn easy.
If we have learned anything about K-Mart over his tenure as a King, he should not be underestimated. Through the adversity of injuries, player and coaching changes, and competing against NBA's best, Kevin has found his way through talent and drive. It has been anything but pretty on this winless road trip, but Kevin is too good to stay quiet for long. He has responded to every basketball challenge he has ever faced. We should expect no less of a positive response to his latest test.