This has been a mostly surreal season, and not in a good way.
The slow start wasn't overly alarming, but it was disappointing given the perceived roster upgrades Geoff Petrie made. When the bounceback never happened during that long home stretch - 11 of 14 at home from mid-November to early December - that was alarming. Shareef and Bonzi were playing well, but Miller couldn't shoot, Bibby couldn't put two games together, Speed and Francisco couldn't put two shots together, Kenny came onto the court with concrete shoes and iron gloves and Jason Hart just annoyed the shit out of us by becoming the worst offensive guard getting regular minutes in the history of the Sacramento-era Kings. (That's hyperbole - Mateen is still #1 in our hearts.)
Peja was at the center of our frustrating crapstorm. I'd say about 80-85 percent of Kings fans wanted dude traded. Given the reins to the team's offense, told to take as many shots as he wanted, he buckled. He caved under faux finger injuries and refused to hit open shots. He tweaked his back and let all the evil Peja traits overcome the good Peja traits we loved him for.
There was talk of real rebuilding, of unleashing not only Peja and Rick Adelman, but of Brad and Bibby. People talked about "getting something" for Bonzi. Even Shareef, with a broken jaw wired shut, was on the block. Everyone who wasn't real young and real cheap was in play. If we couldn't have success, we wanted hope. And this unsuccessful team was very hopeless.
If you look up surreal in the Kingscyclopedia, you'll find January 24, 2006, listed. The Maloofs on ESPNews, Grant breaking in on Sports 1140, two cities and a gang of hardcore NBA fans constantly searching for "Artest" or "Peja" on Google News and Icerocket and Technorati. It was ridiculous - I'm just a lowly team blogger and nutty fan, and it's all a blur to me already. We knew (after the trade finally happened) our team would never be the same. Did we think the switch would be immediately this gratifying, though?
Ron Artest Ron Artest Ron Artest. Everything is Artest. Can you blame us? We were staring at Portland Trailblazerdom in December and January. After two weeks of Artest, we still weren't lighting the league on fire, but we saw the difference it made. We saw B-52 getting nasty. We saw Bibby getting open looks. We saw (gulp) K-9 getting loose inside. Kevin's already growing confidence screamed to the sky. Francisco immediately became Doug Christie II. Rick Adelman showed signs of a pulse. ARCO seemed like someone pumped a couple of Red Bulls into the foundation. The whole city awoke, and the Kings mattered again.
So yeah, we're going to deify Ron Artest. It was possible the team just needed a jolt, any jolt. I don't care. Ron Artest was that jolt, and I thank him and Geoff Petrie for it. I'm not saying I'm not worried - Ron-Ron's agent is terrifying. Drew Rosenhaus terrifying, actually. But no matter. This team is a good to great and possibly an elite team with Ron. That's a whole lot better than eight games under .500 and 10 out of the playoffs.
As much as you ever hate to settle, I'd be happy with a decent showing in the playoffs. Get the curse off Shareef's back - he doesn't deserve it. Put the Spurs, Sun and Mavericks on notice that next season, with a good seed and some more melding of the parts, this squad is a serious contender. Convince the Maloofs and Adelmania to patch it up for another run. Get another back-up point guard, or hook J-Hart up with Victor Conte. Get something going on the arena tip to placate the cynical section of the fanbase. Lose the gold jerseys.
We're probably going to get greedy here in the next few weeks, and I might even talk about "the sixth seed," "the second round" and "a cinderella run." But know that I'll be happy with the above-mentioned decent showing. It's hard to hold back expectations when your team plays this good, though.
Let's go Kings.