King-size problems in Sacto

As the new year approaches, Warriors fans are still trying to figure out what to make of the 2006-07 edition. They’ve been all over the map so far, with impressive road wins in Dallas and Orlando, but harsh home losses to Indiana and Milwaukee. They can look dynamite beating San Antonio and Utah and look lottery-bound in defeats to Toronto and New Jersey.

Still, they’re around .500, which is good enough to be holding down the eighth playoff spot in the West.

Up the road in Sacramento, things are more in focus. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Apparently, it’s taken Ron Artest less than a year to begin wreaking his own brand of havoc on the Kings. He’s not doing it in a going-into-the-stands kind of way. Instead, Artest is sitting out games and speaking cryptically.

He has missed the past two games with “sore knees,” an ailment that took coach Eric Musselman and the medical staff by surprise. When Artest has been playing, he hasn’t been the player who helped change the Kings’ fortunes upon his arrival in January.

Sacramento went 26-14 after acquiring Artest last season and made the playoffs. The belief was that with Musselman taking over for Rick Adelman, the franchise would continue its assent.

But Artest hasn’t matched his level of play from last season — at either end of the floor — and what’s more, according to the Sacramento Bee, “numerous sources close to the team say Artest has been acting emotional and unpredictable for some time.”

Meanwhile, point guard Mike Bibby is having the worst year of his career, shooting 35 percent from the floor and losing his role as face of the franchise. The relationship — or lack of one — between Artest and Bibby has become Topic A in Sac.

Clearly, there’s a battle for control within the Kings. Who should the offense run through? Who should take the big shot? Who’s No. 1 on the pecking order? So far, it’s been Artest.

Musselman made no secret that he spent some of the offseason cultivating a relationship with Artest, an admirable endeavor. It made sense for Musselman to try to get on the same page with his emotional star.

But maybe, the other star, Bibby, feels left out. Even though Artest and Bibby each average about 15 shots per game, when it gets to down the stretch, Artest is the one making plays.

Or, more appropriately, trying to make plays. Artest has never proven he makes teammates better. And considering he’s shooting 39percent from the floor, it’s not like he’s at an All-Star level.

Interestingly, the Kings’ best player is neither Artest nor Bibby. It’s 23-year-old Kevin Martin, more athletic, more efficient and more team-oriented than the other two. With talk that the Kings are considering dealing Artest, or perhaps even Bibby, it might be time for Musselman to start cultivating another relationship … with

Martin.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.

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