- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

Chris Webber has his best opportunity to put substance behind his preening and be the franchise player he always has imagined himself to be.

His Kings go into the playoffs with the best record in the NBA, homecourt advantage and Mike Bibby at point guard instead of Jason Williams.

Webber has done a lot of talking in his nine seasons in the NBA. He likes to pretend he is a very bad man, especially in the first quarter, when the game is less intense and there are more opportunities to dunk the ball. He makes more ugly faces than any player in the NBA, at least one ugly face a dunk. Give him that.

Webber re-signed with the Kings last summer after wondering if there were any players on the roster willing "to go to war" with him. Webber did not mean the war on terror in Afghanistan. He did not mean a real war. He just meant he wanted to be around teammates who were tougher than he was, who could do the heavy lifting while he was taking a powder.

Webber often winds up on the perimeter in the playoffs, shooting 20-footers, because he is more comfortable out there if Shaquille O'Neal or some other imposing body is lurking around the basket. Webber is a power forward who desperately wants to show off his guard-like skills. See how pretty he can be with a behind-the-back pass. Look at him dance. It just makes you quiver with excitement. Stop it. He is too much.

Webber has danced around his responsibilities as a franchise player since he was the No.1 pick overall in the NBA Draft in 1993. Back then, it was all Don Nelson's fault. You remember that one.

Members of the national free food brigade endorsed the suggestion that Nelson could not relate to the new generation of players, particularly those who wore baggy shorts. They tended to be impressed with Webber's penetrating intellect. He did attend Michigan for two years and once called a timeout his team didn't have. What further proof did they need?

Nine years after the fact, it is easy to see that Nelson remains out of his element with the 57-win Mavericks, just as the smooth-talking punk from Detroit Country Day once said.

This was his pattern. Give good quotes. Smile on cue. Act contemplative. Let someone else take the fall.

With Webber, it wasn't just Nelson's fault. It eventually was Wes Unseld's fault. It was the fault of local law-enforcement agencies. It was the fault of the woman from Connecticut. Then it was Geoff Petrie's fault.

Petrie didn't have the right players around Webber in Sacramento, which is why the Kings have advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs only one time in the last three seasons.

It seems it is never Webber's fault. It is always someone else's fault.

It is fate, is what it is, that his teams have a 7-17 record in the playoffs. By comparison, the Lakers went 15-1 in the playoffs last season. Keep it up, CWebb. You're almost halfway there. You're bound to reach 15 career playoff victories one of these years.

Who knows? It could happen in the weeks ahead. It is different with the Kings this spring.

Predrag Stojakovic continues to evolve as a player, and Bibby has a brain, unlike his predecessor, and Vlade Divac is still around, and Doug Christie is an able complementary part. The Kings also have a competent bench, with Bobby Jackson, Hidayet Turkoglu and Scot Pollard.

The Kings are a stronger team, a smarter team, and a team less reliant on Webber. They remain Webber's team in a sense. They also are diverse enough to compensate for Webber's proclivity to be quiet in the last six minutes of a tight game.

Webber is a 20-10 player in the first three quarters of a game, something considerably less in the waning minutes of a tight affair. He has no signature maneuver, no conviction in his manner when a basket is necessary.

The team's dynamics are bound to become trickier in the playoffs for coach Rick Adelman. He can't let Webber shoot the Kings out of it from the outside, no more than he could let Williams perform stupid basketball tricks in the fourth quarter last spring.

Webber could make it easy on Adelman. He could plant himself near the basket and embrace all the stuff that goes with it.

Webber could absorb the bumps and bruises, take high percentage shots, increase his share of the dirty work and be that special player who leads a special team.

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