Are the Kings dead?
If so, who will live long in their place?
Based strictly on the first 10 days of the season, the Suns (4-1) would seem to have as good a chance of anybody of claiming the throne in the revamped Pacific Division, with the certainty that the Los Angeles Lakers have fallen off and the possibility that Sacramento has as well.
The Kings (1-4), who visit the Suns tonight, are among the most closely watched teams in the NBA these days.
Questions rage: Has this talented team’s window of title opportunity closed? Is Chris Webber’s career sliding off the cliff?
Will coach Rick Adelman be fired if he can’t turn this team around quickly? Or are they just off to a bad start?
Eyebrows were raised to the roof around the league when they were blown out Wednesday at Seattle; the Sonics were thought to be one of the Western Conference’s doormats.
Coach Rick Adelman told the Sacramento Bee, "What did they shoot, 41.5 percent, and we lose by 30? That’s disturbing."
So is the play of forward Chris Webber, who had a triple-double in 30 minutes one night, then stumbled to a 2-for-13, 11-point game the next.
"I do have a concern about back-to-back games," Adelman said. "He’s still not where he needs to be, but he’s better than he was last year."
Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, quite naturally, pumped up the Kings, saying, "They have too much talent and experience, too many good players to think they won’t get it together at some point."
At the same time, he wonders whether the Kings have the same sort of depth as in the past, particularly in the absence of center Vlade Divac.
Brad Miller, who shared the position last year, is still there, but without both, "You’re missing 18-25 minutes of a really good player," D’Antoni said. "Divac fit exactly what they were doing.
"In this league, it doesn’t take much to upset balance and chemistry.
"A lot of it is confidence. It can take a long time to find solutions."
The Kings let Divac depart to the Lakers via free agency, replacing him with Greg Ostertag in an effort to get younger. Ostertag has done little so far.
An unexpected sore point so far is poor shooting.
In particular, star Peja Stojakovich is off to a slow start; he asked for a trade in the offseason, apparently because he doesn’t get along with Webber and because he was upset at Divac’s departure.
But point guard Mike Bibby predicted, "I don’t care what anybody says about us. (Shooting) is one thing I’m not worried about.
"We’ll get things together, and then we’ll see what everybody is talking about after that."
For the Kings’ sake, Bibby had better be right.
The Suns, for example, like to pack in their defense near the hoop.
With the NBA’s highest-scoring team, they thrive off missed shots because it feeds their running game.
The Suns also will benefit by having three days between games. If the Kings misfire, this one could get lopsided in a hurry.
BONUS SHOTS: Leandro Barbosa, who missed Wednesday’s game at Cleveland with a sore ankle, said he’ll be OK to play tonight. That means all the Suns will be available, including Shawn Marion, who sat out parts of Friday’s practice because he was feeling poorly.
D’Antoni, saying he doesn’t want to "overthink," will start with the same small lineup until he feels a need to change (though he has considered starting Bo Outlaw or Steven Hunter).
Hunter, who played extremely well on the four-game road trip, figures to be part of a 10-man rotation, as does the newly acquired Outlaw.
If this is the case, then Maciej Lampe and Jackson Vroman would figure to sit.
Kings at Suns
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: America West Arena
TV: Fox Sports Net Arizona
Radio: KMVP (860 AM)
Records: Suns 4-1, Kings 1-4
Line: Suns by 5
Series history: Suns have dominated over the years, 101-66, including a huge 64-20 advantage in Arizona. But Kings have won eight of past 11, including three of four last season.
Scouting report: Suns — Even with their fast start, the Suns shouldn’t have a big head, not after blowing what has to be one of biggest leads in franchise history (19 points entering the fourth quarter) Wednesday night in Cleveland. This was the first game in which a team had a remote chance of beating them, and they collapsed.
Kings — They rely on perimeter shooting. When they don’t get it, they’re in trouble. Thought they have plenty of time to turn it around, they appear to be the same half-step-slow team of last season. They need Chris Webber to return to a more consistent player, though it’s anybody’s guess as to whether this is in the cards. Because they’re not as deep as in the past, they can’t afford serious injuries to their main cast of players.