Sacramento basketball is no longer relevant. This much is obvious. They have not been to the playoffs in 5 seasons and in which they have won no more than 38 games. Each rebuilding effort they've gone through since the Chris Webber trade has been met with disappointment. Jason Thompson, Kevin Martin, Spencer Hawes and John Salmons have all had their part of a "new era for the Sacramento Kings" and each has failed to bring the team any closer to the glory days that were sadly only 8 years ago. The Kings have gotten so bad that even I, who once owned a "Sacramento Queens" shirt, feels bad about their downfall and once certain-demise.
So why do the Kings even rank amongst the top 20 burning questions of this better-late-than-never NBA season? For three reasons.
1) This current Kings squad, which I expect to be one of the worst in the entire league, has the best core prospects the team has collected since over a decade ago. DeMarcus Cousins is as legitimate of a young big man as you can find. While his emotional temperament comes from the Metta World Peace, JR Smith and DeShawn Stevenson school of etiquette, its rare that you'll find a 21 year old (!)
that has a 15-foot jumper, the ability to be an elite rebounder, a true back to the basket offensive game and a bruising 7 foot, 270 pound frame. JJ Hickson, who was acquired by the Kings right before the lockout in a trade for Omri Casspi, is the perfect compliment in the high post to Cousins on the low block. Tyreke Evans, the only rookie other than Michael, Magic, Oscar and LeBron to average 20/5/5 his first season, will potentially be moved over to the 2-guard, as it would allow him as a shoot-first point guard to do so without the criticism handed to such qalified players. Most importantly, Evans will be moved in order to facilitate the coming of...the Jimmer.
2) Jimmer Fredette is one of the most anticipated players to come out of college in the last decade. Notice that I didn't say "best", "most skilled", but rather "anticipated". His 40 foot jumpers, 30 point scoring binges and wild tournament wins have given him a reputation that far precedes his diminutive stature. He was an exciting player, and the anticipation of what he will be at the professional level only heightens expectations.
But then there's everything else. The critics have lambasted Fredette for playing matador defense, if even that, and focusing entirely on scoring rather than stopping anyone. His lack of NBA size could limit how effective his penetration game could be, as well as being able to take opponents off the dribble into an easy jumper. He averaged only 4.3 assists a game, which is rendered rather unimpressive next to his 3.5 turnovers per contest. Those statistics might be fine for an NBA shooting guard, but again his size might put the limit on his position to a point guard. He is a fantastically exciting collegiate athlete whose entrance into the professional ranks has created an equal amount of fanfare as he has questions about his ability. He could be the NBA's version of Tim Tebow.
Both Tebow and Fredette are both fundamentally flawed players whose passion and drive might cause people to overlook potential detriments to his team. Jimmer's mystique in Sactown might be akin to what is happening in Denver right now. I might hate him that much. I could go on and on, but the truth is that, like Tebow, we won't know until he steps onto a court in a month. Regardless of how ready he is, Jimmer Fredette is going to be the most compelling rookie in the NBA. No doubt about that.
3) Their time in Sacramento is irrelevant. If they stay in NorCal and play without an improved team defense and discipline, they will not win enough games to make the playoffs. Beyond the potential of some of the young talent (who seem to carry as many burdens as they do boons), there is no reason to think this team will be good.
The reason why this team could be compelling is their potential future home. Some of the key options that have emerged are Anaheim, Las Vegas, Seattle, Kansas City and even Chicago. Anaheim and Ducks owner Henry Samueli has made significant overtures to convince the Kings to relocate, and on the surface, it looks like that Orange County is the only option. However, Las Vegas always remains an intriguing choice, as does a return to Seattle. Seeing what transpires during the year is going to be just as dramatic as seeing them on the court.
How will this play out?
As loud as the fanfare will be around Jimmer and the questions surrounding the troubled and talend DeMarcus, I don't see the Kings being able to sort through a troubled and deficit-ridden California economic situation and find funding for a multi-million dollar sports complex in Sacto. Without those type of plans, the cash-strapped Maloofs will have to take their team elsewhere.
While Anaheim is a logical option, I really don't know how willing the Buss family and Donald Sterling will be in regards to letting another team within a 30 mile radius of the Staples Center. In order to get that type of deal done, the Lakers and Clippers would have to get significant compensation for allowing another team mere miles away and siphoning off potential revenue. Seattle would be a great destination, but seeing as the Sonics left the city because they couldn't secure funding for a new arena (and thus revenue), unless Seattle changes its mind, there's no reason to think the Kings would move to the Northwest for the very same reasons they're leaving Sacramento. Kansas City is an intriguing option with their state of the art new arena, but unlike Oklahoma City and its experience with the Hurricane Katrina displaced Hornets a few years ago, there's no real world test to see if a professional basketball team would work in a city where a team has already relocated to and relocated from.
Realistically, I see Anaheim as the future destination of the Kings. I expect that some sort of compensation will be worked out with the Lakers and Clippers, including maybe playing a certain number of games in San Diego per year or some sort of revenue sharing pact.
How will this affect the Kings' season?
Truthfully, the Kings' season prospects won't be affected that much by a pending move. Most of these players have been playing in Sacramento for 4 seasons or less. Any of the remnants of the early 2000's team that achieved so much playoff success have been traded away, along with any memories of how much energy the fanbase has from California's capital. This team is woefully young and while they'll put up a ton of points on the board, they don't have nearly enough veteran leadership to start any type of defensive revolution, or commitment to winning. I don't think the Kings with their tenuous future will be able to land the few pieces they need to contend for a playoff spot in the next couple of weeks. A guy like Shane Battier would be great, but I don't see any veterans that would make a meaningful impact choosing to come to Sacto. So while the chaos of a potential move would be distracting to most teams, I think this Kings squad will be terrible by their own merit.
Best they can do: 31-33, 3rd in the Pacific, 10th in the West
Lowest they can go: 12-54, 5th in the Pacific, 15th in the West
Probable outcome: 25-41, 5th in the Pacific, 13th in the West
Like this series? Check out the other Burning Questions leading up to the 2011-12 NBA season:
NBA Season Preview: Burning Questions for teams you don't care about