Thursday, October 4, 2012

Another Year of Mediocrity in Sacramento - Kings Season Preview

Is DeMarcus ready to lead?
Starting Five: PG Tyreke Evans, SG Marcus Thornton, SF John Salmons, PF DeMarcus Cousins, C Jason Thompson

Bench Players: PG Isaiah Thomas, SF James Johnson, PG Aaron Brooks, PG Jimmer Fredette, C Chuck Hayes, SF Tyler Honeycutt, SF Travis Outlaw, PF Thomas Robinson

Key Additions: PF Thomas Robinson, PG Aaron Brooks

Key Subtractions: PF JJ Hickson

As a Dodgers fan who suffered through the McCourt era, I feel for the beleaguered Sacramento Kings fans. After McCourt used the Dodgers as a personal piggybank and pay Russian psychics to “boost” team performance, it’s refreshing to see that Frank has competition for the worst ownership in sports over the last decade: the Maloofs. The Maloofs have spent the last five years trying to hold the city of Sacramento hostage for a new arena deal, tried to renege after they got it, and almost bolted for Anaheim when a local businessman was stupid enough to guarantee their personal debts.

From a basketball perspective, the Kings have been flailing since the Chris Webber era ended and haven’t made the playoffs since 2006. They’re an NBA team that has had plenty of high lottery picks and intriguing coaching hires, but has never been able to put it all together or build momentum towards a perennial playoff team. Unfortunately for Kings fans, this doesn’t look like the year that everything will change for them.

There’s no doubt they have talent – DeMarcus Cousins is among the best young big men in the league, Tyreke Evans looked like a future superstar as recently as two seasons ago, and some of their young talent like Isaiah Thomas has been surprisingly effective early on in their career. They are at least two deep at every position. Keith Smart looks like a coach with a powerful connection to his young players and may stick around the league for a little bit. If you’re so inclined, there’s plenty of reason for optimism for the future in Sacramento (if they indeed stay there).

There are a few problems with this roster that limit its upside. Tyreke has regressed and they’ve added me-first shooter Marcus Thornton as their new SG, making their backcourt an effective blackhole. Jason Thompson has never been able to justify being a lottery pick, but the addition of Thomas Robinson may just solve that problem. However, with Fredette, Aaron Brooks, and the rest of the reserves, you just don’t know what you’re going to get. Furthermore, the Kings are ostensibly going to try to play five guards this year and have four small forwards who’d like to see the court as well. What’s the 10-man rotation going to be?

Like many young teams that don’t have the pieces to make a real run at the playoffs, the odds are that we’ll see Sacramento maneuvering for a top draft pick in the 2013 lottery. With young teams the secret is always deciding when to stop stockpiling assets around the core, surround the stars with some veteran leadership, and make a run at the playoffs. The Celtics played it to perfection in 2007, but no one else has gotten even close (sorry Houston). It’s not time for that in Sacramento yet, but another lottery pick and additional development from Cousins/Evans/Robinson may be just the ticket.

Longing for the good old days in Sacramento
                                       
Best Case Scenario: I don’t see this squad, which won 1/3 of its games last year and remains more or less the same on paper, making the playoffs. Their best case scenario is a spirited season that allows them to develop their talent, become optimistic about 2013-14, and still results in a reasonably high lottery pick. Like Minnesota’s campaign last year, this Sactown squad could certainly be within striking distance of the playoffs at some point during the year, but they won’t quite be able to sneak in as the 8 seed.

Absolute Apocalypse: Injuries. Chemistry problems. Regression. A mutiny against their coach. If things go wrong with this Sacramento roster, it could get really ugly. Although they are too talented to challenge the Bobcats record for epic futility from last season, this team could easily stay among the league’s basement dwellers for one more year. If they don’t see anything they like from Tyreke this year, is he still the future in the Cowbell Kingdom?

Projected Finish: 5th in Pacific Division, 15th in Western Conference


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