DeMarcus Cousins should have plenty to smile about next season.
After weathering a storm of losing, the Sacramento Kings are ready to right the ship in the 2013-14 season.
The Kings have gone seven straight seasons without a .500 record, but a number of new pieces are in place for a franchise turnaround. From the revamped front office to smart offseason acquisitions, the groundwork has been laid for a return to the glory days.
That's not to say Sleep Train Arena will host the NBA Finals this year.
The journey back to contention will take a few seasons and a lot of patience. For the time being, Kings fans should enjoy watching the team make steps in right direction.
The New Owners Actually Care
Maybe George, Joe and Gavin Maloof really did love Sacramento.
Maybe the arena deal would have ruined the city's economy and backing out was a selfless move. Maybe the full-page ad thanking fans for their support was a heartfelt gesture, not an effort to save face on the way out.
Or maybe the Maloofs saw the Kings as a moneymaking operation instead of the biggest non-political attraction in Sacramento. Maybe attempting moves to Las Vegas, Anaheim, Virginia Beach and Seattle was a sign that the ownership didn't care about the fans.
Regardless, what's done is done and the Maloof Era has passed—they earned ESPN's ranking as the worst owners in any major American sports league.
Vivek Ranadive (pronounced rana-DEE-vay) has stepped into the limelight, and is ready to build the Kings of the future.
Ranadive is an educated man with a down-to-earth soul. He has a masters degree from M.I.T and an M.B.A. from Harvard, but he loves mixing it up with athletes and rocks the "hang-loose" shaka sign in nearly every picture.
Blue collar Sacramentans can identify more closely with Ranadive than the Maloofs.
As The New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell wrote, Ranadive immigrated from India at 17 and has lived the American dream, creating a data processing system called Tibco that is now used across Wall Street.
Ranadive and minority owner Mark Mastroff jettisoned most of the front office, including former general manager Geoff Petrie. Petrie built the turn-of-the-century Kings dynasty, but later made a number of bad deals and draft picks (Quincy Douby over Rajon Rondo, anyone?).
New general manager Pete D'Alessandro is considered a statistics guru who thinks like the Oklahoma City Thunder's Sam Presti or the Houston Rockets' Daryl Morey.
The Kings will escape the league's basement on Ranadive's "NBA 3.0" vision, a plan to bring the NBA into the 21st century and globalize the game. Chinese fans are already devoted to Chuck Hayes of all players, and the fan base will grow with more wins.
Less One-On-Five Offense
Kudos to Tyreke Evans for working hard on his jumper, which raised his three-point shooting from 20.2 percent in 2011-12 to 33.8 percent in 2012-13.
Ultimately, though, Tyreke was the epitome of the Kings' offensive problems: a fantastic one-on-one player who had trouble playing team basketball.
Part of the blame must go to Keith Smart and his coaching staff, since the Kings often seemed to attack with no specific play in mind. The Kings finished 25th in assists despite having many talented offensive players.
When Evans was traded to the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) for Greivis Vasquez, Sacramento got an up-and-coming ball distributor that can play either guard spot. The 6'6" Vasquez broke out last year with 13.9 points per game, nine assists per game and 17.2 PER.
The Kings are stacked with scorers: DeMarcus Cousins, Marcus Thornton, Jason Thompson, Isaiah Thomas, Carl Landry and Patrick Patterson all scored over 10 points per game last season.
Rookie Ben McLemore also has star potential, and Jimmer Fredette averaged 18.5 points per 36 minutes last year.
Evans' scoring is easily replaceable, and Vasquez's passing ability adds something new to the equation. Having General Greivis at point will allow the offense to flow more effectively; and buckets will follow.
Despite the stagnant offense, Sacramento still scored decently last season. The Kings finished 10th in the NBA in points, ahead of playoff teams like the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers.
Preventing baskets is just as important as scoring them, though, and that's where the Kings fell short. Sacramento allowed a league-worst 105.1 points per game last season, 2.4 more than the runner-up Charlotte Bobcats.
To shore up the patchy defense, D'Alessandro traded two second-round picks for Milwaukee Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal's Charles F. Gardner said, Mbah a Moute has guarded everyone from Chris Paul to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James.
Mbah a Moute should play a big role in new head coach Mike Malone's defensive schemes. Malone used Klay Thompson as his top perimeter defender with the Golden State Warriors, but Mbah a Moute is even better.
Though Malone is beginning his first head coaching job, he has a track record of improving defenses across the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers allowed the fewest points per game in the NBA with Malone on the bench in 2008-09.
When Malone was a New Orleans Hornets assistant in 2010-11, the defense went from giving 102.7 points a night to 94.0. Similarly, the Warriors went from 23rd in opponents field goal percentage to eighth last season.
Malone told the Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones that making the Kings a defensive team is high on his to-do list, matched only by stressing discipline and developing individual players.