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How Sergio Rodriguez Can Make it Work in Sacramento

The Kings acquired at least one player Thursday who is definitely a point guard. While Tyreke Evans will have to prove to the coaching staff, the fans, his teammates and himself that he can be an NBA point guard, Sergio Rodriguez is there. He earned the moniker "Spanish Chocolate" in his pre-NBA days due to his stylistic relationship with old King Jason Williams. He is a passing point guard, racking up a great number of assists in limited minutes through three seasons in Portland.

Of course, there are problems with Sergio. He's an awful shooter -- 43.5% from two, 30% from three. He commits a bunch of turnovers (more than three per 36 minutes), his defense has always seemed suspect, he might be a lead guard who can only be successful in an up-tempo style, and no one has ever called him a leader.

And those are the on-court problems. Sergio apparently has issues in the locker room, too.

Ben Golliver, an ace writer for Blazer's Edge, exploded in ecstacy last night when word of the Sergio trade leaked. I trust Ben's judgment on most basketball matters, and Ben has spent countless hours around the Blazers locker room and practice facility over the past year. He knows Blazers basketball, and so he knows Sergio's role there.

This is what Ben wrote on BE this morning:

The team's motto last fall was 15=16: a team dynamic of self-sacrifice for the greater good.  If there was one player that didn't fully buy into that motto and really embrace it, it was Sergio Rodriguez.  He had a fundamental disagreement with the coaching staff about his role and value to a team that ended up being unresolvable. Sergio, in my opinion, has serious concerns about his future in the NBA and acts in whatever way is necessary to give himself the best chance of sticking in the league.  And, again in my opinion, he did so, at times, at the expense of team chemistry: his moodiness over playing time got in the way of his quality of play and his meltdown at practice last fall was the team's biggest off-court distraction, minus Darius Miles.

You can tell the toxic nature of the team's relationship with Sergio over the last year not only by his repeated trade demands that were floated through the Spanish media but also by the shockingly miniscule value the team received when trading him away.  Sergio is a legit backup point guard making less than 2 million dollars next season. Despite his faults his combination of skills and salary makes him a commodity to some degree. Yet the Blazers were willing to pay a cash-strapped team (who are short at the one, by the way) to take Sergio off their hands for the luxury of moving up just seven spots in the second round in one of the weakest drafts in recent memory.

You always need to be wary when teams drop talented players like a bad habit. The Spurs gave away Beno Udrih because he didn't work hard enough and wasn't a tough player. Minnesota believed San Antonio's judgment and waived Beno immediately. Udrih came to Sacramento, played for his NBA career for one season, got his contract and ... completely gave up, at least in appearance. Perhaps the apathy of the team as a whole got to him, though I'd argue there's no defense for playing (and allegedly practicing) with such a lack of spark while guys like Bobby Jackson and Jason Thompson run through brick walls for a 17-win team.

Is that Sergio ... Beno II? It doesn't look that way. Sergio's problem in Portland, according to Ben, stemmed from a lack of minutes and a short leash. The so-called "looking over your shoulder" syndrome. Nate McMillan runs one of the most conservative offenses in the league. Yes, it's efficient as all Hell -- it's a phenomenal offense run by Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. But it's conservative. It's slow. It's the opposite of chocolate.

Limited minutes in a slow, conservative offense. Do you think that will be a problem in Sacramento under Paul Westphal?

We'll see how the rotation shakes out. I assume the Kings will not target any guards in free agency (other than perhaps Bobby Jackson) or the trade market, given the commitments to Kevin Martin and Evans. (The Bee's Jason Jones had a story in today's paper which said Geoff Petrie will look to target a frontcourt player next week -- that could be Ike Diogu, though I imagine a back-up center could be targeted instead ... we'll see.) Will Evans start at the point from Day 1? Will Sergio start, with Evans the first guard off the bench? (Evans is only 19, after all. Spencer Hawes was the same age and didn't start for 1-1/2 seasons. Evans is more physically developed for his position, however.) Will Beno keep his starting position to start the season? That's a huge question -- it'll be difficult to trade Beno regardless, but burying him to Kenny Thomas Status adds just that much more difficulty.

Any which way, I imagine Sergio will get plenty of minutes to make his case, whether off the bench or as a starter. And I think we're all under the assumption Westphal will maintain or increase the Kings' tempo of recent years, which is already loads faster than how Portland plays. Those are two big boosts for Sergio. He needs to embrace the day and prove to the NBA he belongs.