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Old 02-13-2011, 09:02 PM   #4
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Default Re: Peja Stojakovic shows life, hits four threes, 22 points for Mavs

Stojakovic has no regrets as injuries take their toll

Peja Stojakovic is only 33, which is not exactly ancient by modern NBA standards. He just feels ancient.

His surgically repaired lower back will ache forever. The steel rod in his once-shattered right leg forecasts rain and snow more accurately than radar.

His balky left knee is the latest challenge to his career, to when it ends, and on what terms.

Does he make the decision or does his body dictate the finale?

After 12 seasons, the former Kings star still has dreams and aspirations, but he offers no promises.

When he returns to Arco Arena tonight in his second game as the starting small forward of the Dallas Mavericks it could be his final appearance in Sacramento.

"I understand the tradition, and I know where I'm at," Stojakovic said from his cell phone Tuesday afternoon. "I just want to complete the season on a good note, see if I can stay healthy and help the team with spacing and shooting. And then who knows? I love being around the game. I sometimes think about the many injuries that took away part of my basketball career. It changed everything."

While Stojakovic is yet another example of the fragile, fickle nature of sports, he packed some terrific basketball into his many seasons. He was the Most Valuable Player of the Greek League while still in his teens; a first-round draft choice of the Kings (14th overall) in 1996; a three-time NBA All-Star, also with the Kings; a two-time champion of the Long Distance Shootout at the All-Star festivities.

During his best years in Sacramento, the muscled, 6-foot-10 Serb was a popular figure who ran the floor tirelessly and stroked beautiful threes, scampered along the baseline and spotted up in the corners, cut backdoor for layups, often the recipient of perfect passes from Vlade Divac, Chris Webber and Doug Christie. He was adequate defensively, and probably even underrated, but despite his size and strength, he remained a curiosity; he became increasingly tentative around the basket.

In retrospect, Stojakovic attributes his lack of physicality and series of health issues to a career-threatening injury he suffered while playing for PAOK in Thessaloniki. (Remember, he already had been drafted by the Kings, but was told by his father to remain in Europe for two additional seasons because of his youth).

During one Greek League game, his sore right knee suddenly buckled, the bone breaking through the skin in what then-coach Scott Skiles referred to as the most horrific sports injury he had ever witnessed.

"Everything started with the leg," said Stojakovic, who subsequently spent several months rehabilitating in Sacramento. "Not having the right balance, the right strength caused the later problems. The doctors said that threw my back off, and I was always making adjustments, favoring one (body part) to compensate for another. The back problem is the worse. My body has never been the same since the (disc) surgery in 2006."

In essence, said Stojakovic, his body began breaking down during what should have been his prime years, hampering his mobility and productivity in Indiana, New Orleans and, most recently, Toronto.

Stojakovic, who needs one more three-pointer to move into fourth place on the league's list for most three-pointers made, played two games with the Raptors before undergoing surgery to repair his left kneecap. After being sidelined for two months, he bought out the remaining months of his contract and reunited in Dallas with former Pacers coach Rick Carlisle.

"Aleka is staying in New Orleans for now because our two kids are in school, and we have a third child on the way," Stojakovic said as he tried to navigate through an unfamiliar Dallas airport. "I guess you just keep making adjustments. My parents visit us all the time from Belgrade, and they are in Sacramento often because my brother (Nasha) still lives there. He is on dialysis, and he's trying to deal with his condition."

Any regrets besides the outcome of Kings-Lakers in 2002? No regrets or complaints, he says with a laugh, though he envies Ray Allen and other aging but highly functioning veterans. Their presence is what partly inspires him to pursue another postseason, to feel part again of something special, to leave on his terms, gracefully.

"I understand the tradition," he said, "and I'll never complain. I'll know when to go. I've had a great 13 years, especially in Sacramento. The chemistry was something we'll always cherish. Great support from the city, from the fans. Believe me, I will never complain. I have had a great career."
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