I'm sure every longtime Kings fan remembers where they were when this happened:
Game 2 of 2003 semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks. Chris Webber is preparing to leap for an alley-oop from Mike Bibby but suddenly collapses in a heap of pain clutching his knee - torn ACL. Microfracture surgery ensued and he was never the same again. The timetable for his return extended far beyond the start of the next campaign and it was assured that they'd fall apart without him... Right? No! The Kings made a brilliant adjustment: They traded for Brad Miller.
Brad Miller isn't a household name by any stretch of the imagination, but for the early 2000's Kings who prided themselves on ball movement and perimeter shooting - Miller's skill set was a perfect fit in place of Chris Webber. He lived up to the trade by shooting a blistering 48.5% from just inside the 3PT line, dishing four assists and grabbing ten rebounds per game. He was never a great individual scorer but did operate well in the high post utilizing a reliable turnaround jump shot and a solid face-up game. His arsenal was on full display against the Timberwolves in an early December matchup.
Of course, Miller wasn't enough to replace a top ten player in the NBA. Others needed to step up their game, and that's exactly what happened starting with the great Peja Stojaković
Peja was en fuego averaging 25.6ppg on 48.1 FG%, 44.4 3PT% (7.0 3PA), 92.5 FT%; 63 TS% in by far the best stretch of his career. Most impressive that it was majority off the ball - 77% of his makes were assisted upon. Stojaković finished 4th in MVP voting that season, powering the best offense in the association that was 8 points worse without him on the court.
Alongside of him was Mike Bibby who produced the most efficient scoring season of his career, scoring 18.4ppg on 56.4 TS%. His tendency to settle for long two's was cut down substantially as he increased his attempts in the paint and from behind the arc shooting 39.2% on 4.6 attempts per game. His ability to act as a primary ball handler without turning the ball over much (just 2.1 tpg) was of great aid to a team that minimized mistakes.
Vlade Divac was at the tail end of his career, but still as brilliant a passer as ever. His 28.7 assist percentage is the 2nd highest mark for a big man in NBA history, behind only Tom Boerwinkle in 1975 with half the minute total. His screen setting was of huge help to freeing up Peja and other shooters in the offense.
Anthony Peeler, who was also included in the Miller deal, shot 48% from deep off the bench which led the association. Backup point guard Bobby Jackson shot a more than respectable 37% from deep on 4.4 launches per night. For the time period, the Kings were loaded with shooters and they powered the #1 ranked three point offense in the NBA.
This was one of the many instances of how incredible Rick Adelman was at adapting to his personnel. We would see this years later once again with the Rockets sans McGrady in 2009 where they ripped off 22 straight victories, and even with Kevin Love in 2014 who had the best season of his career in part due to Adelman's creative play design around his talents.
Webber would have returned sooner in the season, but he was suspended for an additional eight games because of a failed drug test. He was not in a good place - mentally or physically - and that was part of the reason the Kings finished the year just 11-12.
Of course, you still need a player of his talents to advance deep in the postseason. The same guys responsible for the Kings success in the regular season were wildly inconsistent in the playoffs, and they were beaten in the 2nd round by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Webber had a chance to send the game into overtime with a buzzer-beating three, but just came painfully just short.
This was effectively the end of the Kings as we knew them. Webber was traded the following season to the 76ers for the glorious package of Matt Barnes, Kenny Thomas, Brian Skinner and Corliss Williamson. The Kings would still have a successful season in 2005, but flamed out in the first round in five and have only been back to the playoffs a single time since.
A pretty sad ending to an otherwise thrilling era of Kings basketball. Despite the myriad of controversies and ill-fortune that went against them during this period, they still offered the league a level of excitement and team chemistry that won't be forgotten anytime soon.