Season Preview Essays: Francisco Garcia

March 16, 2010: Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers is defended by Francisco Garcia of the Sacramento Kings during the game between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers at Arco Arena in Sacramento, CA. Ben Munn/CSM.

You tend to forget just how good Francisco Garcia is.

It’s nobody’s fault, really. Just a series of flukes that somehow pushed Cisco’s ability to the back of our mind. The overblown contract. The bizarre medicine ball injury. The less-than-impressive return last season. The miserable failure of the “play him at point guard” experiment, that reminded us mostly of what he can’t do and not of what he can.

But let’s face it – how many of us can play point guard in the NBA? Or can avoid weight-room appliances exploding and indirectly decimating our wrists? It’s not Cisco’s fault that he arrived when the franchise was on the verge of a depressing downslide, thus staining his advantages with the stench of a golden era in the rearview mirror. Sure, he has his liabilities, maxing out as a very good role player/locker room presence. But when given the choice between having Francisco Garcia on your team and not having Francisco Garcia on your team – salary factors not included – I don’t see how you could possibly choose the latter.

And yet, when you look at this Sacramento rotation and tell yourself that the Kings have no help on the wings, you suddenly blink, cock your head to the right, and say: “wait, a tick… is that El Flaco I see there on the depth chart?”

Because Cisco is a legit rotation player in this league. Nothing out of the realms of the average, but a very good shooter, a serviceable defender, and by all accounts, a great teammate.

Perhaps most importantly – and you’ll have to forgive me for the disgusting cliché-ity of this – Cisco is a guy you would go to war with. Feisty, passionate almost to a detriment. The perfect example came last season, when in the midst of his rehab, Cisco was a guest broadcaster for a Kings home game. Cisco was discussing the team’s new youngsters with the regular booth, and specifically Omri Casspi, who Cisco had taken under his wing at the time. As this discussion was taking place, Omri stepped up for a three. Cisco yelled something in to the mike – my memory has it as “Yeah, Omri, shoot it baby!”, but the actual words are beside the point – and Omri knocked it down.

And in that shout you could hear that mentor pride in his protégé. How much Cisco wanted Omri to succeed, completely ignoring how a better Omri meant less minutes for him after his return. That’s a guy you want to have around you, both in practice, and when you step on the actual game court. Put him on the court with Omri and Landry, and you might not have the three best players in the league playing at shooting guard through power forward, but you have a unit that will bully opponents in the most positive way that word can be used.

That leadership factor can’t be overestimated. Even though rumors that Tyreke was disruptive in the locker room were violently denied by every credible source available, and the DeMarcus Cousins potential attitude problems may be overstated (we don’t really have any way of knowing), there is little doubt that this is a very young team, which needs the guidance of a wise shepherd. One hopes that Tyreke raises his stature as a leader to complement his speedy rise as a player, but that’s a lot of pressure to place on the shoulders of a 21 year old, even if those shoulders look like they were sculpted out of granite as a tribute to Atlas.

Garcia, on the other hand, is now the longest tenured King on the roster, with his 5 seasons far outweighing Beno’s 3. He’s also the eldest, born 5 months before Samuel Dalembert, and has more years in the league (5) than anybody but Beno, Sam and Antoine Wright. Sure, after missing most of last season, he’s as new to Paul Westphal’s system as veterans come, but he is still as accostomed to life in the NBA as anyone on the roster, and even more dominant in the vocals department.

Of course, as mentioned earlier, it would be wrong to label Cisco as a Lindsey Hunter-esque, “steer our youngsters, please!” locker room presence who can do nothing on the court. No, Cisco will probably get more than his career average of 23.4 minutes per game regardless of where he is at the opening tip (though he probably falls short of his career best 20.4 mark from 08-09). He may even see some time at the 3 – while I’d assume that Donte and Omri split those 48 minutes up quite evenly, Paul Westphal’s rotational quirkiness and the two’s tendency for the occasional terrible outing could see both of them sharing the bench at times, with Cisco clearly the best alternative.

However, regardless of the 4 players running up and down the court next to him, Cisco’s role will probably stay pretty much the same. The signing of Pooh Jeter as the team’s third point guard pretty much eliminates the possibility of him moonlighting as a terrible point guard, which means it’s all swingman from here for El Flaco. Which couldn’t be more ideal.

The Kings don’t need much from Garcia. Just for him to get back to his 08-09 shooting form, and for him to fight fight fight with those pesky opposing swingmen on D. It’s well within the realm of Cisco’s abilities, and it’s a perfect complement to the potentially devastating inside game provided by the two man-children manning the point and the pivot.


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