With Francisco Garcia out at least a week, one spot in the now seven-man rotation is up for grabs.
Yeah, that's right. Rick Adelman only used seven players Wednesday night in Cleveland. Note: this is also a game that featured a fourth quarter injury. It was also the first game of a long road trip, a time in which you typically don't want to give your starts too many minutes for fear of spoiling all their energy.
So essentially, Shareef Abdur-Rahim was the substitute for both Kenny Thomas and Brad Miller. Francisco Garcia was the substitute for Ron Artest, Kevin Martin and Mike Bibby. The rotation goes something like this: Abdur-Rahim and Garcia come in for Thomas and Artest, respectively. Later, Thomas comes back in and Miller sits down. Then Artest returns and Bibby sits down. Then, after four or five game-minutes, Martin gets a break and Miller comes back in for Abdur-Rahim, putting Garcia in there with four starters.
It's a big load for Garcia to handle - he's being asked to handle at least some of the duties for three different positions, one of them being point guard. Also, when Martin's out, he's the only real fast-break threat on the floor, which means he needs to get out in the open floor quickly. Abdur-Rahim, on the other hand, pretty much plays one position in his time in. Sure, he'll be listed by 82games as having plenty of minutes at center because for stretches he's the tallest guy on the court. But the only he's asked to differently when Miller sits is to defend opposing centers, of which there are actually few. In some cases, even if Miller were in, Abdur-Rahim would sit be covering these guys because of his length and quickness. Abdur-Rahim is only every really asked to one position, then. Also, the idea of Abdur-Rahim could be replaced by Corliss Williamson or Vitaly Potapenko. Note that I'm not saying the dropoff between Shareef and those two isn't significant - it's actually pretty damn significant. But they can guard big guys and rebound. They just can't score like Abdur-Rahim.
That's why a Garcia injury hurts far more than and injury to Abdur-Rahim would, even though Shareef is unquestionably the better player right now. With Garcia out, you're losing your backup point guard, backup off-guard and backup small forward. And there just isn't any help in those positions.
At small forward, you have Artest and Garcia. Martin can play there, but he's in the starting lineup. Sergei Monia can certianly play there, too, but he's on the inactive list and is beyond raw as an NBA player. Corliss Williamson is really too big to play at the three - he can't shoot, he can't run and he can't defend the perimeter. So really, without Garcia, the Kings have no backup small forward.
At shooting guard, you have Martin, Garcia and Bonzi Wells. Wells, of course, is nursing that partially torn groin. (More on him later.) Bibby can also play the off-guard, but he already plays an incredible amount of minutes as a starter. And to allow Bibby to play the two, an actual point guard has to be in the lineup. Cue Jason Hart.
At point guard, it's Bibby, Hart and Ronnie Price. It's obvious that Adelman thinks Price is a garbage-time player, even though we've all seen encouraging signs of fearlessness and playmaking ability. Hart has been chained to the bench for a while. There's no other option for Adelman, really, unless he decides Price is ready for big minutes.
So unless Adelman wants to play Bibby for 48 minutes, Hart has to factor into the rotation during Garcia's absence. Against Royal Ivey and Tyronne Lue - OK, whatever. But against the Wizards, where Hart's counterpart would be either Gilbert Arenas or Antonio Daniels? Or Milwaukee, with T.J. Ford or Mo Williams? It's frightening, right?
Some are saying that Bonzi's seemingly imminent return will fix the sans-Francisco problem. It will help in one area - it will free up Martin to back-up Artest and Wells, filling the quasi-Garcia role.
But Martin can't come in for Bibby without Hart being in the game. Bonzi is possibly the worst ball-handler in the rotation, and Martin - a guy that's easily rattled by traps, doesn't particularly run off screens well yet and has a Peja-like penchant for just not getting assists - isn't far behind. Artest can bring the ball up, sometimes. Do you really want to waste the one guy that every team will double on the block by making him initiate the offense, though? It's clear Artest doesn't have his legs or lungs yet. Thirty-eight minutes a night might be pushing it - add serious part-time ball-handling duties to it, and he'll crash.
So even in Bonzi returns, you're missing your backup point guard. You need Jason Hart. And you need him to do his job.
Our expectations as fans of Hart were unfair to begin with. Defensively, he was supposed to be the Incredible Hulk to Bibby's Mighty Mouse. On offense, we thought he'd show off those solid ball-handling skills - getting assists while not handing the opponent free points. His shooting percentage in Charlotte was solid.
It wasn't exactly Bobby Jackson II, but he was such a steal in his acquisition that we put him on a pedestal. A legitimate backup point guard - a former NBA starter, for crying out loud - for a second-round pick. We didn't figure in that he bounced around the league, played most successfully for the decrepit Charlotte Bobcats and wasn't even memorable in college, where he was outshined by Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Jim Boeheim's shiny forehead and the giant orange mascot that wears a blue baseball cap. We didn't figure in that, hey, the Bobcats - the Bobcats! - and willing to trade this young guy for a second-round pick, yet are going to pay Kevin Burleson and Bernard Robinson Jr. to play major minutes for their team. In our "Petrie is a genius" hysteria, we ignored pretty blatant indicators that we were getting a scrub.
(And really, the Tipping Point moment for "Jason Hart as scrub" came along with his appearance in that Folsom Lake Ford commercial. Bobby Jackson doesn't do that commercial. Francisco Garcia doesn't do that commercial. Harold Pressley doesn't do that commercial. Well, on second thought...)
So, here are we, relying on a scrub to help us get to the playoffs. Jason Hart can redeem himself. He doesn't need to play great, or even above average. He needs to be a marginally acceptable point guard for, like, 15 minutes a game.
That's all I ask, Jason. Just don't be a scrub.