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The Sactown Inquisition: Sam Amick, Bee Beat Writer

Sam Amick, the Kings beat writer from The Sacramento Bee, was kind enough to participate in an e-mail interview with me. I tried to ask some questions I thought we'd all be interested in. Some, though, are pure vanity. Anyways, thanks to Sam for making himself available and giving some real insightful answers. On to the questions! (And answers!)

TZ: This was your first season as a beat writer for an NBA team. What was the biggest surprise?

Sam Amick: As most reporters doing this beat for the first time would probably say, the virtual 24-hour, 7-day a week news cycle can be brutal. The closest thing I can compare it to is being a doctor, who's always on call and never truly off. Now granted, what we do is hardly consequential in the larger sense of life, but news is competitive. And the Internet has only increased competition. Print media folks can no longer gather their breaking stories for the next day's edition, and getting beat by a paper across the country is no different than a regional rival now because every paper is worldwide, thanks to the Web.

TZ: From the outside, it looked like Rick Adelman was on Mischa Barton-thin ice in December and January. From the inside, how close to the guillotine do you think he came during the season?

SA: He came pretty close at least once, and likely numerous times in the past couple of seasons. From what I've been told, the Kings' 13-20 start was one of those times, with the Kings playing at Memphis and his future being contemplated from above. What to do with Adelman was a constant struggle within the Maloof family, with some members fighting to bring the ax and others trying to save his head.

TZ: January 23-25 were possibly some of the most insane days in recent NBA history. What was that like for you?

SA: Honestly, I loved every minute of those three days, with the on-again, off-again trade of Peja Stojakovic and eventual acquisition of Ron Artest. Up to that point, the team was a bore to cover, with the losses piling up and players surely not in the greatest of moods to offer enthusiastic insight on a nightly basis. Then came the drama that, essentially, carried through until the end of the season.

Both Philadelphia and New York offered experiences I may never have again. In Philly, I had been told Stojakovic was gone and was gathering reaction from the Kings players about parting ways with the veteran shooter. Then as soon as guys like Jason Hart had waxed poetic about how much they'd miss him, it turned out he wasn't gone. The next objective, then, was to connect with Peja that night to cover his side of things. After missing him at the arena (I didn't know he was hanging out on the team bus as the Kings-Sixers game wrapped up), I eventually gave up. Then about midnight Eastern time, I try his phone and connect and wind up writing a story until 2 a.m. to just make our 11 p.m. deadline back in Sacramento.

Then came the New York saga. It was a back-to-back affair, and I had a flight the next day around noon for the Big Apple. But because of the looming Peja situation, I realized about an hour after going to bed that I needed to get to NYC for the morning shootaround in case things progressed. So on absolutely no sleep, I cancelled my flight, extended my rental car reservation and drove to New York. Then Murphy's law kicked in, when I arrived to discover there wasn't a shootaround after all. As everyone knows by now, the deal went down that night and Artest joined the Kings in Boston on Jan. 27.

TZ: Sacramento is a one paper town. Your primary competition is TV and radio. The radio side has a very obvious and direct connection to the front office: Grant Napear, who gets paid a lot by both sides. Is that an unfair advantage in this 24-hour news era? Does it just force you to work faster more often? Do you even see those formats as competition, or are you the type that zones in more on dealing with your own work regardless of how quickly the other guys get word out?

SA: Here's where the irony kicks in, and I give a standard answer that I've heard so many thousands of times from the athletes themselves.

I can't worry about anyone other than myself.

Does competition from local and nationwide media of all sorts drive me? Absolutely. But as in KHTK's case, I'll never know all the particulars of their arrangement with the Kings, but it's just not worth worrying about. In terms of radio's influence, I have noticed in the past few years that it has increased. With the Internet as the worldwide airwaves of sorts, I've seen more and more radio reports being moved online, as well as television.

TZ: Every NBA beat writer I've spoken to has a great Brad Miller story. What's yours?

SA: It's less of a story and more of a visual. One day as I left the Kings practice facility, I pulled out onto Truxel and headed south toward I-80 when I started to slow down for a red light. As I turned my head, I saw Brad Miller in a 60s-ish Mustang type of car. It was white, and it was a convertible, with his 7-foot frame and big ol' head perched more than a foot above the windshield. It was pretty goofy looking, fitting for a guy that has been accused of being a goofball.

TZ: Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia. You can keep only one. Choose.

SA: Kevin is the better and more experienced player right now, so I take him. He has more upside in terms of serious scoring potential, and has improved his defense and ballhandling.

Francisco can be a real asset when he's playing his game, but I think his ankle injury last season really slowed him down. He was frustrated not only by the injury, but with the way it happened. (For those who don't remember the March 1 Cleveland game, Garcia jumped after the whistle blew to retrieve the ball when it had become stuck between the rim and the backboard. When he landed, he fell on - I believe - Brad Miller's foot and turned his ankle.) Like most rookies, he dealt with confidence issues last year, and even overconfidence issues (gunning all those threes early on). I still think he can be very good, though.

TZ: How high would you estimate Martin's ceiling to be? Is it "NBA starter?" Can he be an All-Star threat?

SA: I see him being a poor man's Rip Hamilton, although his aspirations are far beyond that. The guy's drive is pretty impressive, as well as his vision of his career and, to a larger extent, his calling or destiny to be a very good NBA player. As for being an All-Star, who knows? That's a pretty elite group, as we've all learned in recent years of watching Mike Bibby tear up so many opposing defenses for so long and never get an All-Star nod.

TZ: What the hell happened between Shareef and Kenny Thomas at the end of the season? In print, on radio, and on TV, everyone made it out to be innocent. But obviously, there's something between those two guys, with the starting job, minutes, egos. These guys likely can't co-exist from a roster standpoint. But can they co-exist another season in the locker room?

SA: They'll co-exist if they have to. And right now, it looks like they very well may have to. Kenny's contract makes him tough to move (signed through 2010 for approximately $40 million in that span), and Shareef really wants to make things work in Sacramento.

As for what happened when they argued late in the season on the court, I think it was a combination of simple competitiveness and their own personal relationship. Neither one wants to come off the bench, and neither wants fashions themselves as a reserve. Add in the history of them boxing on the floor a few years back when Shareef was with the Atlanta and Thomas with Houston, and it's not the greatest situation. For both players, it may have been the only times they were suspended in their careers (both got three games and were fined $15,000). They explained that mini-melee by blaming competitiveness then too, but these two are clearly competitive toward each other in a different sort of way.

TZ: What do you think is going to happen beyond Mike Bibby at the point guard spot? (Note: This question was asked and answered pre-John Salmons.)

SA: With the Kings drafting Quincy Douby, I think everything has changed about the point guard spot. Kings coach Eric Musselman will run an "open" offense, in which there is a decent amount of individual freedom every time down the floor and no true point guard is needed. That being said, I think Artest will do a lot, along with Garcia, Douby, Price, and Hart - in that order. Kevin probably will too. It's a little unorthodox, so it'll be curious to see that pan out.

TZ: Basketball isn't anywhere near Moneyball-era baseball. But with the hiring of Daryl Morey in Houston, Dean Oliver's work in Seattle, John Hollinger's prominence at ESPN.com, and Dan Rosenbaum's ultra-econometrics taking shape in some undisclosed place, the NBA is becoming more stats progressive. Do you see mainstream NBA writers and analysts ever looking to these more advanced metrics to help explain what's actually happening on the court? Is this stuff even becoming a bit more common knowledge in NBA locker rooms and press sections?

SA: I think some media members are slowly catching on, but it's not at the wildfire-pace as it was during the time when Moneyball changed baseball.

I am from the younger generation of beat writers, and am pretty fascinated and adept at the so-called Moneyball era. Aside from being a huge baseball fan, I covered the A's and Giants in the two years prior to becoming involved in the NBA.

But I don't see as many applicable super-stats, if you will, in basketball as compared to baseball. For example, the web site 82games.com is filled with information that is pretty intriguing about every NBA team and every player. But it's a dangerous game to draw too many conclusions from the info, as much of it is misleading. In baseball, on the other hand, it seems pretty funny that it took a book to point out the importance of on-base percentage. I will say, though, that I was impressed most last season by the "true field goal percentage" stat, which I believe calculates a player's field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, and three-point percentage into one number to reflect shooting accuracy. Kevin Martin wound up being high in that category, which I think is telling. Also, measuring a player's efficiency, I think, is very important in an age where Chris Webber continues to be considered a top notch player when he's clearly so inefficient.

That seems like a nice ending point. Thanks again to Sam, who had a hell of a season as a first-time beat writer in the NBA. May every campaign be so exciting. (Though I'd take a boring championship season in a heartbeat.)

Hopefully, we'll have some more inquisitions in the future. I'm working on them!