Anybody who claims to have enjoyed basketball in the early 2000's is aware of the success and dominance of the Western Conference. Jordan's reign had passed, and the Western Conference was finally able to compete again, and compete they did. The west only lost one NBA Finals between 1999 and 2005. This success was shared between the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs, winning three titles each during that time period. However, they weren't the only teams in the west that many thought were deserving of an NBA Title. The Sacramento Kings had just recently come off of a rebuilding project and were ready to challenge the league's bests.
Prior to the 1999 NBA season, the Kings had been considered too young and inexperienced to play and contend for a title. However, with the drafting of point guard Jason Williams, the acquisition of Vlade Divac, and the scoring ability of Peja Stojakavic, the Kings were now a threat. The Kings also traded to get shooting guard Doug Christie in order to add a key defender. However, Williams proved to be a bit too erratic to make a run for the title, and he was traded to the Grizzlies for young gun and effective scorer, Mike Bibby. A lineup of Bibby, Christie, Stojakavic, Webber, and Divac showed no weaknesses offensively and was a force to be reckoned with. The Kings would go on to hold the NBA's best record that season, and would go on in the playoffs to face the Los Angeles Lakers. This would be known as one of the best (and most controversial) playoff series of all times. For the sake of the article, we won't go into the details of Game 6, which is widely considered to have been "fixed" by officials due to several poor officiating calls, including some forcing Kings big man, Vlade Divac, to foul out.
Editor's Note: For the record, I have watched the entire game and can personally attest to the poor refereeing in the game. However, it's safe to say the game was not "fixed."
Whether or not the game was unfairly altered by the officiating is beyond any of us, so it would be more logical to focus on the King's team and prior success in order to answer the question at hand, should the Kings have won an NBA Title? In all reality, possibly.
The 2002 Sacramento Kings supplied a team that was able to amaze everyone and anyone that watched them play basketball. They were quick, energetic, and they shot the lights out. They had one of the best overall teams in basketball history, including some very key bench players, such as fan favorite, Bobby Jackson, play maker Hedo Turkoglu, and dunk contest participant, Gerald Wallace. However, some questioned who really had the role of being the leader. Chris Webber was indefinitely the best player on the team, but he wasn't necessarily the most dangerous or most influential to the game. This was one key detriment and attribute with the Kings in this time period. On the negative side, they didn't exactly know who would get that last shot to win the game. On the positive side, the opposing team didn't exactly know who would get the last shot to win the game. This team was unique in the sense that they had an extreme element of surprise. Every single man in their starting five had the ability to hit a three pointer with even the most minute amount of consistency. They spread the floor, forcing the team to be on their toes and unable to preset a plan to force a bad shot from one player. If Webber got double-covered in the post, he was one easy pass away from hitting Mike Bibby on the outside for the game winner. Unfortunately, they simply didn't have that one player that popped. When you ask somebody about the early 2000's Lakers, they will say something like, "Shaq and Kobe were one of the greatest combos ever." If you ask somebody about the early 2000's Spurs, you'll likely hear, "Tim Duncan was one of the best centerpieces in basketball." If you ask somebody about the Kings from the same time, you'll probably hear something like, "That was a great team. They were very fun to watch.That was Bibby, right?" They just didn't have that one player that was separate from the rest. A modern day comparison would be the 2012-2013 Denver Nuggets. Their best player was arguably Andre Iguodala, but their leading points scorer was Ty Lawson. Many drew comparisons between the Nuggets and the '89-'90 Detroit Pistons, whose leading scorer was Isiah Thomas with 18.4 points per game. I feel that some of the same comparisons can be drawn to the '02 Kings (And yes, the Pistons did win the NBA Title.) Sure, you want the ball to be in Isiah's hands, but when he sees Bill Laimbeer wide open in the corner, you know where he's going. Most similarities can be drawn from player comparison. For example, they both have quick, elusive, shooting point guards with Bibby and Thomas, able shooting big men in Webber/Divac and Laimbeer, and good shooting defenders in Dumars and Christie (the same can be said for the Nuggets as well e.g. Bibby/Lawson, Christie/Iguodala.) In fact, some could even argue that the Kings supplied more weapons, with players like Stojakavic and Turkoglu. Well, if all of this is true, then the Kings most definitely should have won a championship. However, if that's the case, what stopped them (besides Shaq going 13 for 17 from the free throw line?) I believe they didn't have the tenacity. The '89-'90 Detroit Pistons team coined the nickname the "Bad Boys." They showed not just the league that they weren't going to sit down to competition, but also every single team they faced. Laimbeer was always there to throw some elbows and get the other team a little anxious and off their game. Nobody on the Kings (or the Nuggets for that matter) was like that. All three teams had similar chemistry, but none of that chemistry, aside from the Pistons, really affected other teams. If the "Bad Boys" weren't shooting particularly well, they always could try and rough up the other squad and bring them to their level. If the Kings were having an off night shooting, the other squad almost always would capitalize on that, especially if Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal are on that other team. It also doesn't help when you have the infamous flopper, Vlade Divac, who didn't exactly add anything to that "rough 'em up" environment. Now, there certainly are teams that haven't had that personality and won. However, their teams weren't as reliant on a team effort. For example, the 2011 Dallas Mavericks weren't exactly there to mess guys up, but they also weren't dependent on a massive team effort. Dirk Nowitzki was the best player on that team, and he showed it. He was able to take over the game in all respects. Nowitzki was a bit like Chris Webber, but with more big play potential. If a team like the Mavericks can take down one of most well crafted teams in the NBA today, I think the Kings could have taken down the Lakers, if they had that same big play guy.They didn't necessarily have that, and they suffered from it. So, should the 2002 Sacramento Kings have won an NBA Title? Probably. Were they robbed of it? Absolutely not. I think it would have been very exciting to see them in the Finals versus that New Jersey Nets team, and I think that they would have won highhandedly, but they simply couldn't get past the unstoppable force that was the Kobe-Shaq duo.