C-Webb continues to be MIA

Chris Webber will miss an extended stretch of the season, and aren't you just shocked.

Twenty-eight games missed in 2001-02, including the opening 20 with a badly sprained ankle. Fifteen games missed last regular season, most due to a sprained ankle from late January to late February, and then being knocked from the playoffs in Game 2 of the eventual seven-game defeat to Dallas because of a knee injury that required surgery. An extended stay on the injured list at the start of this one, probably at least the first month, to heal from that operation.

It's not him. Webber annually shows to camp in great shape and has a dedicated workout routine. Dislocated shoulders, the drag on his early years. Sprained ankles. Knee surgeries. These don't come from poor conditioning.

It's not him. It's bad luck.

But it's also reality:

The Sacramento Kings are the only team among the Western Conference elite that can't count on its superstar.

Shaquille O'Neal, able to tilt the balance of power more than Kobe Bryant, is moving well for the preseason and in better shape and showing no lingering effects from the toe problem that haunted his 2002-03 season. Tim Duncan is the definition of dependable. Likewise, Kevin Garnett stands for everything good about the Minnesota Timberwolves. Dirk Nowitzki has missed 11 games in his five seasons.

The Kings figure Webber will be out until sometime around early December, although there is no official timetable. There goes one of their best passers -- having Vlade Divac, among the best centers in that department, is a cushion -- and the player who just led in scoring, assists and rebounds. Only Garnett matched that.

"Now we have to get extra rebounds, score more points and play better defense," said Gerald Wallace, the backup small forward.

As long as that's all.

"Basically, yeah," Wallace said. "You've got to do everything."

If you're a Kings fan, you mostly have to hope that the calendar isn't the next thing that needs crutches. November and December, that they can handle. April-May-June, things become a little more pressing. As in, the panic button.

As if anyone needs reminding. The Kings and Mavericks were at the start of another ear-splitting playoff series last May when C-Webb left in the third quarter of Game 2. Dallas was en route to victory when he exited with about 14 minutes remaining, so the Mavericks were obviously in the series even with Webber healthy. His departure, in fact, didn't change their approach. The foot stayed pressed hard on the gas pedal. For Sacramento, though, the impact was dramatic. He was the best offensive weapon, one of the players it ran the offense through and the weapon that would be tough to answer.

You Don't C-Webb. Kings lose in 7.

His reputation as a fragile player, already well developed, was set. In a splint.

So now comes the new season and the questions resume. Not whether he is good enough to merit the contract, but whether he will be well enough to play at money time. Not whether he can stand up to Duncan or Rasheed Wallace or Garnett in the postseason, but whether he will be able to stand up. Period.

The Kings still have options. They will open the regular season with Divac and Brad Miller playing center and power forward in positions that are largely interchangeable in the Sacramento scheme, with the exact positions depending on the best defensive assignment. Tony Massenburg is the backup.

They just won't have Webber, and that changes everything.

"I think it's tough," coach Rick Adelman said. "It's very tough. I can imagine, with Brad new here, if I had Brad, Vlade and Chris, I'd be real comfortable with those three. But I am trying to set a tone with them and I don't have the one guy for night after night."

Not yet, at least.

He will at some point.


Scott Howard-Cooper, who covers the NBA for the Sacramento Bee, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.