Kings may have a delicate situation

SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings were given a glimpse of the depth the team will have during a light practice Thursday with Mike Bibby and Kevin Martin able to participate in non-contact drills.

However, coach Reggie Theus alluded to a "potential problem" upon their return.

Just because both have their eyes set on playing again, the coach said, doesn't mean they'll automatically return to the starting lineup.

"My philosophy going back to when I was a player, starters never lose their spot when they are hurt," said Theus, who didn't offer specifics about his approach. "They have to earn their spot back, but it's never lost. ... I am always going to play the guys who are deserving to play. No one is going to play just because they are a star or they make a certain amount of money."

Is Theus concerned about upsetting a player if he doesn't walk into the starting spot he left?

"If someone who has been out a long time and comes back and expects to start right away ... his team's best interest is not in mind," Theus said. "It would be disruptive, and it's disrespectful for the guys who are working hard right now."

Theus realizes the hypocritical tone. Ron Artest returned to the starting lineup immediately after serving a seven-game suspension to start the season.

"The difference is he was practicing every day," Theus said. "He was physically there, and at that time we weren't playing well."

WHERE ART THOU? -- When a Philadelphia reporter inquired about Kenny Thomas' diminished role, Theus tried his best to explain why the Kings forward and former Sixer has seen so little action.

"We play Ron (Artest) at the (power forward) a lot, thus the minutes aren't there," Theus said. "Kenny has been very professional in this time. I know it is tough for him."

In the past five games, Thomas has played more than nine minutes once, logging 13 minutes in a 92-79 loss to Washington on Dec. 15. Thomas played parts of three seasons with Philadelphia before being traded to the Kings.