by Marcel Mutoni

Can you believe that the regular season is only five days away? That’s right, only five days away from the League’s 61st year. Before that jumps off, some of the best hoop writers from around the web would like to say a thing or two about their respective teams, and we’re more than happy to give them the floor.

Tom Ziller from Sactown Royalty was kind enough to help us preview his team, the Sacramento Kings.

SLAM: Last season the Kings barely made the playoffs after acquiring Ron-Ron from Indy. Should Kings fans start saving up for postseason tickets this year?

The postseason is definitely in Kings fans’ future if the last three months of the 2005-06 campaign are any indication. Sacramento was among the best teams in the league during that time. Yeah, they lost Bonzi Wells, but he only played half of that period anyway because of a bum groin. Replacing Rick Adelman, who was effectively a mute when it came to Mike Bibby and Brad Miller, with fiery Eric Musselman makes up that difference. And if some young guys like John Salmons and Francisco Garcia and Loren Woods play well, this could be a pretty deep roster.

In your Bibby column for SLAMonline’s Top 50, you wrote that Mike is a star in only one place (Sacramento). What is it about him that fails to quicken the pulse of your average NBA fan?

He’s not the best at anything. Like I alluded to, Gilbert Arenas plays Bibby’s brand of game, but does so at the fullest throttle. Bibby has never gone full-on gunner for more than a few games. It’s probably a good thing – he’s not as talented as Gil, so he wouldn’t get 30 a night, even if he took five more shots a game. And Bibby will never be compared to Steve Nash and Tony Parker – he’s not that guy. But he’s far more Nash than Arenas is, and he’s far more Arenas than Nash is. He’s sort of destined to live in the Siamese shadow of those two “new NBA” point guard prototypes. Chris Paul probably sits there, but Paul is young and probably more talented, so Bibby gets squelched even more.

Can new drunk coach Eric Musselman help the Kings return to the top of the Western Conference?

The top of the Western Conference is a tall task for any team. Miami and Detroit may have recent rings, but the West is still by far more talented, top to bottom. For Sacramento to make the conference finals, they need to avoid Dallas in the playoffs (bad matchups all around), they need Amare to be less than great, and they need something to happen in San Antonio, hopefully involving Tim Duncan’s foot being severed. We could possibly see some “Perfect Storm” stuff happening in Sacramento with the franchise possibly on its way out of town, the most passionate player and coach joining forces, Bibby’s burgeoning emergence, and a remarkably efficient supporting cast in Brad Miller, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and Kevin Martin. But I’d have to see pretty good odds to even pick them to win their division, let alone the conference. As for Musselman: I’m sold on him and I think he has multiple NBA championships in him. It could happen with the Kings, too, but not without some fairly major tweaks that could take a couple years.

Is it only a matter of time before Artest loses his shit again and completely derails the season, or do Kings fans have nothing to fear?

I don’t know. I mean, if we sit here and worry about when Ron-Ron’s going to blow, we’re not going to enjoy a single minute of this season. At least once a week, you hear something cringe-worthy about him or his people and his past. It’s scary. But at least a half-dozen times a week, you hear dude say something so entertaining and even inspiring that it’s not worth the struggle to temper your enthusiasm because the guy has made numerous horrible decisions over the last five years. It’s so much more useful to enjoy watching the beast play, laugh at his insane comments, and not dwell on the possibly heartbreaking. When he gets himself suspended again or, hell, banned from the league, then we’ll wring our hands about the future. Until then, I’m going to soak in the Ron-Ron and keep on smiling.

Alright, enough foreplay, how will the Kings fare this season?

I think they’re good for second place in the Pacific, something like the fifth or sixth seed in the West, and the second round of the playoffs. I would expect about 50-52 wins. If the bench situation (Woods, Garcia, Salmons) turns into a positive, they could be better. A lot of relies on Artest and Musselman’s relationship and ability to inspire the team, Miller’s place in the new offense, and Martin’s ascension. Early on, the biggest thing to be resolved is the power forward position, where Reef is clearly superior but Kenny Thomas fits a big need – rebounding – more readily. No major/longterm injuries (yeah, right), good chemistry, and the Allan Houston disease for Amare, and the Kings could do even better and take the Pacific. No championship aspirations yet, though.