NEW YORK - Kings forward Chris Webber was suspended for eight games Tuesday: five for violating the NBA’s drug policy and three for pleading guilty to lying to a grand jury.
Webber, a five-time All-Star, has missed the entire season after offseason surgery on his left knee. He was activated from the injured list on Monday, but the punishments will delay his return for at least two more weeks.
Webber will be eligible to return for the Kings’ home game against the Los Angeles Clippers on March 2. His suspension began with Tuesday night’s home game against Boston.
“I’m disappointed that this happened to affect the team the way that it is,” Webber said in brief comments to reporters Tuesday. “My only hope and desire is to get back out on the court, and now that I know the day, I can’t wait.”
Webber’s much-anticipated suspension was the final development in a tumultuous week for the league-leading Kings, who also lost center Brad Miller for at least four games when he sprained his foot during the All-Star game.
“It’s not an ideal situation to have two of your top big guys out, but the schedule isn’t going to stop for us,” Kings coach Rick Adelman said. “Other guys will have an opportunity to step up for Brad. When Chris gets back, we’ll just be that much better.”
Webber was the Kings’ leader in scoring, rebounding and assists last season, but he hasn’t played since tearing cartilage in his left knee during the second round of last season’s playoffs.
Webber has been practicing with the Kings for several weeks, but he wasn’t healthy enough to appear in games. Just 24 games will remain in Sacramento’s season when Webber is eligible to return.
Miller’s absence is a much bigger concern for the Kings, who lead the league in scoring with more than 105 points per game despite no contribution from Webber. Miller, acquired in an offseason trade with Indiana, has fit seamlessly into Sacramento’s up-tempo offense.
But Miller came down awkwardly on Paul Pierce’s foot in the third quarter of the All-Star game. He will be re-evaluated after the Kings return from a difficult three-game road trip that ends Sunday in Toronto, but team doctors believe he could miss at least two weeks.
Webber’s teammates remained solidly behind the $127 million power forward, but fans flooded the team’s flagship radio station with phone calls expressing the betrayal they felt from Webber’s drug suspension. Specific violations of the NBA’s drug policy are never revealed, but Webber has been in the NBA’s aftercare program.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” center Vlade Divac said. “He’s going to come back, and he’ll help us win when he comes back.”
Webber pleaded guilty in July to charges of lying about his relationship with Ed Martin, a University of Michigan booster who claimed he loaned $280,000 to Webber.
He averaged 23.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.5 steals last season. He is in the third season of a seven-year contract with Sacramento.
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