After a summer in which he became a father, served in the Greek Army and shocked his teammates by asking to leave Sacramento, the NBA's second-leading scorer last season reported to training camp as scheduled Friday.
Stojakovic seemed upbeat and excited to see his teammates as
they began preparations for their preseason trip to China.
But the forward's thoughts about his future still weren't clear
after he reiterated his opinion that the Kings would be better off
without him -- but he also didn't mind staying in Sacramento.
"I'm still standing behind the words I said in August, but I am
professional," Stojakovic said. "I have a contract with the
Kings, two years, and I'm going to honor that. It just wouldn't be
fair for the city, the organization and for my teammates, who I
respect. I'm just going to go out there and play basketball."
Stojakovic averaged a career-best 24.2 points and 6.3 rebounds last season, thriving as the Kings' top offensive threat while
Chris Webber was sidelined by a serious knee injury. But when
Webber returned from an eight-game suspension after the All-Star
break, Stojakovic's assertiveness and production declined.
Stojakovic averaged just 17.5 points in the playoffs, and the
Kings were eliminated by Minnesota in the second round. He skipped
the Olympics to rest and to serve his military obligation to his
adopted nation -- and two months after the season ended, he told the
Kings he wanted out.
But Stojakovic gave no concrete reasons for his request, other
than a vague declaration that the Kings' chemistry was fractured.
After meetings with general manager Geoff Petrie and a conversation
with owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, he realized no trade was imminent -- so he moved his girlfriend and newborn son back to Sacramento and went on with life.
"It was my opinion at that time, and I still think about
that," he said. "So far, I'm here, and I'm going to play with the
Petrie wasn't available for comment, but coach Rick Adelman has no concerns about Stojakovic's focus and effort this season.
"He's such a quality individual," Adelman said. "I never
expect him to come out and not play hard. He's just got to find a
way to get through this. Everybody has feelings at certain times,
but those feelings can change as the season goes on."
Both Stojakovic and Webber denied rumors of a rift. The
superstars both joined the Kings along with Adelman and Vlade Divac before the strike-shortened 1999 campaign, leading Sacramento to the first of six straight winning seasons -- the longest stretch of success in franchise history.
"Me and Peja are cool, but I really can't speak on another man,
on what he thinks," Webber said. "We're always going to be cool,
but I can't speak for him."
The Kings lost Divac to free agency during the summer, but
Stojakovic said the departure of his closest friend on the club
didn't spark his trade demand. All-Star center Brad Miller will
play more minutes now, and the Kings signed Greg Ostertag as a