NBA: 10 Keys for the Sacramento Kings in the Stretch Run

Branden FitzPatrick@divingmelvinCorrespondent IApril 11, 2012

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 18:  Isaiah Thomas #22 of the Sacramento Kings in action against the Indiana Pacers at Power Balance Pavilion on January 18, 2012 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Another Sacramento Kings season is coming to an end. Once again, the Kings will be watching the NBA playoffs from their couch. 

The Kings have not made the NBA playoffs since the 2005-06 season, when they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. This forever-seeming rebuilding process hasn't made much progress. The Kings have been the worst team in the Pacific Division for the past four seasons, and five of the past six.

There are some players on the current roster that have given this once entertaining franchise some hope of good things to come. The Kings can't end the season with a flat tire. If any franchise needs a strong finish down the stretch, it's the Kings.

Here are 10 Keys for the Kings in the end of the season stretch run:


1. Experiment with the Rotation

With the Kings being out of the playoff race, head coach Keith Smart needs to begin to look towards next season. There's a lot of dead weight on this roster. Smart needs to give the younger guys more minutes to see how they respond to a bigger role. 


2. Don't Play the Players That Won't Help the Future 

John Salmons and Francisco Garcia, both injured, shouldn't play for the rest of the season. Neither of them have a future with the team. Their usual minutes are valuable and should be used to give young players experience. 


MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 21:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat posts up Francisco Garcia #32 of the Sacramento Kings at American Airlines Arena on February 21, 2012 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading a
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

3. Increase Tyler Honeycutt's Role

The Kings drafted rookie forward Tyler Honeycutt in the second round with the 35th pick. In the past five games, Honeycutt has played a total of eight minutes. Smart may believe that players need to earn their minutes, but at this point in the season, wouldn't the team be better served if a player like Honeycutt got some valuable playing time over someone like Donte Greene? Game action is the best practice for young players. It's not like the Kings have anything left to play for. At least see what Honeycutt could do with an increased role.


4. DeMarcus Cousins Needs to Continue to Play at an All-Star Level

DeMarcus Cousins has the potential to be a NBA All-Star for a long time. To get there, Cousins needs to drastically improve his game on the defensive end of the court. He has the athleticism of Amar'e Stoudemire, before his micro-fracture surgery. There aren't a lot of big men in the league who can score or dribble down the court with ease the way Cousins can. 

Cousins needs to finish the season on a strong note. If he does, he'll definitely be up for contention for the Most Improved Player of the Year award.


5. Cousins Still Has Some Growing Up To Do.   

Before Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Grantland and ESPN's Bill Simmons tweeted

Heard Cousins challenged Griffin to a fight in tunnel after Thursday's LAC-Sac game on Thu. Rematch tonight. Don't expect a pregame hug.

This of course came out after Cousins called Griffin an "actor." Despite saying what most players in the NBA believe about Griffin, Cousins is now a leader on this young Kings team. He needs to grow up, ignore Blake Griffin and play basketball. You never see Tim Duncan challenging anyone to fights in the tunnel after the game.

Cousins needs to stay focused, be the go-to guy he's supposed to be and prevent opposing teams from getting in his head. Until Cousins does, opposing teams are going to keep fouling him hard and will try to get in his head because they know he will eventually react.


6. Define Tyreke Evans' Role 

At this point, there's not much of a difference between Charlotte Bobcats small forward Corey Maggette and Tyreke Evans. They're both big ball-stoppers who struggle to shoot the ball efficiently. 

Evans has been playing either shooting guard or small forward for the Kings ever sense rookie Isaiah Thomas was inserted into the starting lineup. The results have been mixed.

At times, Evans looks great. But more often than not, he looks lost. Evans is used to having the ball in his hands. His biggest strength is his ability to drive to the bucket and score. Playing on the wing has taken the ball out of his hands, for better or worse.

It's no surprise that Evans has struggled to adjust to his new role. Not only is he playing a new position, but he's also adjusting to the fact that he's no longer the Kings' centerpiece.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 22: Tyreke Evans #13 of the Sacramento Kings looks to pass around the defense of Kevin Seraphin #13 and Jordan Crawford #15 of the Washington Wizards during the first half at Verizon Center on February 22, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Kings need to figure out how to properly utilize Evans. If they can't, it might be time to move on from the former Rookie of the Year.


7. Marcus Thornton Needs to Get Healthy  

Before playing against the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday night, Marcus Thornton missed four consecutive games with a bruised left calf. For the Kings and Thornton's sake, hopefully he can bounce back strong. Thornton has missed three stints of games this season due to injuries.  


8. Continue to Play Hard

The Kings have been letting games slip away from them.

In late March, they had a streak of competitive games, including victories over the Boston Celtics, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Utah Jazz.

The Kings need to eliminate the high amount of turnovers and improve their team defense. It's impossible to win games when you routinely give the other team the ball then let them score easily.


9. Finish the Season Strong

The schedule gets extremely difficult the last week of the season for the Kings.

They get the Oklahoma City Thunder three times, the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 02:  Head coach Keith Smart of the Sacramento Kings talks with Isaiah Thomas #22 during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 115-107.  NOTE TO USER:
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Kings beat the Thunder in their nationally televised game against them earlier this season. If they could steal at least two games against the Western Conference's elite, it would be a great way to end the season. No fan base likes to end the season on a losing streak.  


10. Hope the Team Stays in Sacramento

In off-the-court news, the NBA owners are getting together this week for the Board of Governors meeting.

There the fate of the franchise will be decided.

If you haven't heard, the Maloofs feel they shouldn't have to pay the $3.2 million in pre-development fees for the new arena. 

According to the Sacramento Bee:

The Maloofs have declined to say publicly what their concerns are, other than their refusal two weeks ago to pay a $3.26 million share of the $13 million in pre-development costs the city says it needs to keep an arena project on track. The Kings also have objected to a proposal that they reimburse the would-be arena operator AEG its $3.26 million pre-development share if the deal falls apart without any fault from AEG….

AEG has agreed to contribute $58.75 million to a downtown arena. The Kings agreed to put up $73.3 million. The city would shoulder the bulk of the cost: $255.5 million.

A source familiar with the issue said the Kings would like more decision-making authority at the arena. The team reportedly also has concerns about parking issues, wants more input on the design, and has issues with the proposed lease terms and revenue streams, among other sticking points. The current “term sheet” calls for the Kings to sign a 30-year lease.

The Maloofs clearly want to leave Sacramento. The worse part about the situation is there's nothing to do but wait. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has done all he could do. Now it's just a painful waiting game.


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