Let’s just go ahead and pretend the last seven Kings seasons never happened. All but two years spent in the Pacific Division basement and exactly zero playoff appearances in that span have taken Sacramento from one of the NBA’s most popular franchises (for a good chunk of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, anyways) to one of its most forgettable. To put in perspective just how long it’s been since the Kings mattered, consider the following: their last playoff appearance came in the 2005-06 season when their leading scorer was Mike Bibby (21.2 ppg). So, yeah, it’s been awhile.
But for the first time in years, the Sacramento Kings are entering a season with at least some semblance of a plan. By Sactown standards, that’s major progress. And after reports leaked Friday morning regarding the re-signing of DeMarcus Cousins to a four-year contract, you could practically hear the collective sigh of relief. Now with a franchise centre—the best U-25 pivot in the NBA—new ownership, featuring minority owner Shaqueens O’Neal, a new starting-quality point guard, and one of the draft’s most intriguing talents, at least the Kings won’t be quite the NBA laughing stocks we’ve grown accustomed to. So they have that going for them, which is nice.
Additions: Greivis Vasquez, Ben McLemore, Carl Landry, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ray McCallum
Departures: Tyreke Evans, James Johnson, Toney Douglas, Aaron Brooks
As early as two years ago, the thought that losing a player like Tyreke Evans could be a clear case of addition-by-subtraction would have been astounding, and yet, here we are. Evans, who made history as a his rookie, matching statistical marks only reached by Oscar Robertson, LeBron James and Michael Jordan, floundered in the years since, failing to settle into a natural role and position. Well, he’s the Pelicans’ problem now, traded in a three-teamer for Greivis Vasquez, a solid point guard and darling of fantasy owners for his high assist rate. Many thought McLemore was worthy of the No. 1 pick in the draft, and despite falling to the Kings at eight, he showed off first-overall talent in the Summer League. Add sturdy veterans like Landry and Mbah a Moute to the mix and there’s no question that this is an improved club.
- How good can Cousins be? With trade rumours swirling around the 23-year-old centre from the moment he was drafted, his attitude constantly brought into question, and reports of persistent clashes with coaches over the past three years, it’s been a rough go for Boogie. But the endorsement from the front office, investing more than $63 million in him, should go a long way toward disbanding the circus that’s surrounded the Kentucky product. With a massive frame, solid ball skills, deft shooting touch and a willingness to embrace and initiate contact, Cousins has all the tools to be a disruptive force in the NBA. And despite averaging 17.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and a block a game over the last two seasons, you can’t help but get the feeling that Cousins hasn’t even approached his ceiling. Shaq has said he’ll take a mentoring role with the big man this season—hopefully, it’s not too late.
- What to do about the two spot? Marcus Thornton deserves minutes. But there’s no way to accurately assess exactly what kind of player McLemore can be if he’s conceding minutes to the veterans above him in the pecking order. After all, Thornton is only entering the third year of a five-year/$40-million contract. Throw talented guard Isaiah Thomas and recent lottery pick Jimmer Fredette into the mix and there simply aren’t enough minutes to go around in the Kings’ backcourt. Why does that sound so familiar?
- The Kings will not be a playoff team. Not by a long shot. And with a growing stockpile of young talent, this team might be better off kissing another season goodbye for the sake of a potential top-five pick in the loaded 2014 draft. But looking around the NBA, a lot of teams are in a better position to tank, meaning the Kings might be looking straight down the barrel of a mediocre-but-not-horrific season. The worst kind.
Breakout Player: Jimmer Fredette. Just kidding. Given minutes and a loose enough leash, McLemore will have a shot to become an all-time draft day steal. If his success and early impact on this club is measured not in wins, but in highlights, then he’s going to be a good one. Here’s predicting he becomes a Court Surfing favourite by years’ end.
Scale of Decency: Indecent. While there are reasons for optimism and a fair share of talent on the roster, this is still a bad basketball team. Sure, that may change over the next few years and hey, by the season’s mid-way point the Kings may even raise their spot on the decency scale to ‘Half-’. Just don’t bet on it.