As usual, DeMarcus Cousins will be the most important factor in the team's success.
Coming off their seventh consecutive season of missing out on the postseason, there's now reason for optimism at the Sacramento Kings training camp.
Gone are the Maloofs, the team's maligned ownership group, replaced by a group led by Vivek Ranadive. With the switch in ownership came some other wholesale changes. Longtime GM Geoff Petrie was replaced with Pete D'Alessandro. Head coach Keith Smart was jettisoned, allowing Mike Malone to take his place.
Most importantly, the franchise now has a defined future in Sacramento. There are no longer concerns of the team bolting into the night.
All of this has reinvigorated one of sports' best fanbases, a group that has been alienated in recent years. And for the first time in a long time, there are actual reasons for fans to look forward to the upcoming season.
Kings 2012-13 Results
- 2012-13 Record: 28-54
- Standing in Pacific Division: Fourth place
- Standing in Western Conference: 13th
Key Stats: The Good and Bad
The Kings had some serious polarity in their season. On offense, the team was actually pretty good, ranking 12th in the NBA in offensive rating with an average of 106.85 points per 100 possessions. It looks even better when you consider Sacramento was 25th in assists. With Greivis Vasquez upgrading to the point guard position, the offense could go from above-average to one of the top units in the game.
Yet Sacramento was anything but above-average on defense. In fact, it was quite bad. The Kings ranked 29th in defensive rating, allowing 112.16 points per 100 possessions. Only the Charlotte Bobcats were worse. In terms of points allowed, nobody was worse than the Kings, who gave up 105.1 points per game. It'll take all of Mike Malone's defensive expertise to turn this unit around.
Biggest Storylines Entering Training Camp
The direction of the franchise under new guidance will be something to watch. The Kings have been bad for years, and the previous ownership alienated the fans.
Turning things around on the court in 2013-14 isn't going to be easy. But that's not how success in this regard will be measured. This is about building trust with the fanbase and showing dedication to turning this thing around.
So far, so good for Vivek Ranadive and Co. But it's something that will need to continue as the new management goes through its first season at the helm.
Beyond that, DeMarcus Cousins is always a story. Because of his immense talent, expectations for him are through the roof. Yet the center has failed to make the necessary strides.
Is this the year Cousins finally shows maturity? Will the inclusion of Shaquille O'Neal in the ownership group, and his work with DMC, have any effect on the 23-year-old? Will this be the year Cousins goes from extremely promising to extremely productive?
Those are all questions to monitor throughout the season. And the answer to them will be the biggest determining factor in the outlook of the franchise.
Key Additions and Losses
Additions: Owner Vivek Ranadive; general manager Pete D'Alessandro; head coach Mike Malone; point guard Greivis Vasquez (one year, $2.15 million remaining on contract); power forward Carl Landry (four years, $26 million remaining on contract); small forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (two years, $9 million remaining on contract); Ben McLemore (No. 7 pick in the draft; two years, $6 million remaining on contract, plus team options in '15-16 and '16-17); Ray McCallum (No. 36 pick in draft; two years, $1.3 million remaining on contract).
Losses: Owners the Maloof family; general manager Geoff Petrie; head coach Keith Smart; guard Tyreke Evans (sign-and-trade deal with New Orleans; four years, $44 million contract); Toney Douglas (signed with Golden State; one year, $1.6 million contract); Cole Aldrich (signed with New York; non-guaranteed deal); James Johnson (still a free agent).
Biggest addition: point guard Greivis Vasquez
The addition of Vasquez finally provides the Kings with the floor general they desperately needed. The point guard ascended to the upper echelon of NBA distributors in 2012-13, leading the league in total assists.
The offense will run through him when he's on the court, and Vasquez, in turn, will make sure the team's best players—most notably DeMarcus Cousins—are getting high-percentage chances. Considering the Kings were already solid on offense, Vasquez could be the piece that takes that unit over the top.
Biggest Loss: guard Tyreke Evans
You know it's a productive trade for both sides when the biggest addition is the player received and the biggest loss is the player used to require him.
While adding Vasquez will help, losing Evans will hurt. Evans, not nearly the floor general as Vasquez, possesses elite ability to break down defenses off the dribble. Contrary to popular opinion, the guard was actually developing into one of the more efficient backcourt players in the league. Just look at his advanced stats.
The Kings still have plenty of depth in their backcourt. But none of the current players can penetrate off the dribble like Evans. With Vasquez in the fold, this kind of isolation attack may become less important. But there's no doubt there will be times Sacramento misses Evans' explosiveness.
|PG||Greivis Vasquez||Isaiah Thomas||Jimmer Fredette||Ray McCallum|
|SG||Marcus Thornton||Ben McLemore||Trent Lockette|
|SF||Luc Richard Mbah a Moute||John Salmons||Travis Outlaw||DeQuan Jones||C.J. Aiken|
|PF||Jason Thompson||Carl Landry||Patrick Patterson|
|C||DeMarcus Cousins||Chuck Hayes|
ESPN.com and Hoopsworld
*Depth Chart includes players with non-guaranteed contracts or training camp invites
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Thornton vs. McLemore
This seems to be the one spot in the starting lineup that's most up for grabs. It wouldn't be a huge shock if someone other than Jason Thompson started the year at power forward. There's also the possibility, although somewhat remote, of Isaiah Thomas supplanting Vasquez to start the year. The battle at the 2, however, is neck and neck.
Marcus Thornton's obviously got more experience, and he'd probably be the better option if this were solely about 2013-14. Yet Ben McLemore is the shooting guard of the future, and the team may want to get the ball rolling with him starting from the get-go. Besides, Thornton showed to be pretty productive in a sixth man role last year.
For now, Thornton is ahead. But once training camp gets going, things will come more into focus. The Kings know what they have in the veteran, so they may want to see how McLemore handles the situation. Of course, he'll have to have a strong showing in training camp to even be in that position.
Either way, both of these two figure will get plenty of playing time. The only unknown is which one will be the starter.
Battling for a Roster Spot: Outlaw vs. Jones vs. Aiken
With Travis Outlaw due $6 million over the next two seasons, he's a favorite to win a roster spot as the third small forward. However, there's an outside shot either DeQuan Jones or C.J. Aiken make the team if they impress.
Small forward is the Kings' biggest weakness. It's seemingly the only position with which the Kings could add some additional depth. It's hard to envision Trent Lockett making the team at shooting guard. But training camp invitees Jones or Aiken could win a roster spot. In fact, the Kings have one spot up for grabs, if they go to the 15-man roster limit.
If they do, one of the two small forwards is most likely to be the beneficiary.
Biggest X-Factor: DeMarcus Cousins
A lot about DeMarcus Cousins is already known. We know that he's the best player on the Kings. We know he's incredibly talented. We know the center can fill out a box score with the best of them. However, there is still a lot we don't know about him.
For one, we don't know if this is the year Cousins actually ascends into the NBA's elite. Whether or not he'll be able to reel in his temper remains to be seen. How he'll react to being the true "face of the franchise" is yet to be determined. Will this elevation in status lead to a more dedicated Cousins?
There are other directions one could go with this one, most notably Ben McLemore. But nobody figures to have as big of an impact on the franchise as Cousins. That's why the uncertainty surrounding him is the biggest X-Factor. By season's end, his progression (or lack thereof) will either be the biggest development or the biggest disappointment.
Kings' Best-Case Scenario
DeMarcus Cousins seriously progresses as a person and player. Ben McLemore wins Rookie of the Year and looks like a legitimate Robin to Cousins' Batman by season's end. Greivis Vasquez gets everyone involved and transforms the team from above-average offensively to top-tier. Head coach Mike Malone's system pays dividends on the defensive end.
If these things happen, the Kings could be a borderline playoff team, going 41-41. There's plenty of talent in Sacramento, it's about maximizing it. That would be the best-cast scenario for 2013-14.
Kings' Worst-Case Scenario
There's no improvement in Cousins and the Kings are locked in for the next five years having signed him to an extension. DMC's cancerous ways undermine Malone, ensuring his system won't take hold. Ben McLemore can't consistently create his own shot and is reluctant to take it when he does get open looks. And, God forbid, the arena project hits an insurmountable snag, plunging Sacramento into more uncertainty with relocation.
This all culminates in yet another losing season. The Kings are one of the three worst teams in the NBA, winning only 21 games. To make matters worse, they get screwed once again in the draft lottery, missing out on a chance to capitalize on an elite player in an incredibly deep draft.
This is unlikely to occur. If it does, it would be the type of nightmare scenario that sets the team back for another five years.
How many games will the Kings win in 2013-14?
The Kings will make strides this season. The team's offense will stay solid with the addition of Vasquez. By season's end, Malone's defensive blueprint will take hold. Sacramento won't make huge leaps statistically on defense, but it will be set up to make that jump in 2014-15.
Ben McLemore will show his inexperience at times. However, by the end of the season, the rookie will be a consistent contributor with plenty to build on going forward. At times, he'll even look like the player Sacramento was hoping to pair with Cousins in its one-two punch.
Cousins will show some improvement in his maturity, but there will still be times he reminds us of his reputation. But the addition of Vasquez will really help his offensive game. This will be the first year he shoots above 50 percent, and he'll be on is way to actually being a star, not just talked about as a potential star. His defense, while never a strength, will improve in Malone's system.
Ultimately Sacramento misses the playoffs yet again. But there will be a lot of positivity surrounding the team's ability to end the postseason drought in 2014-15. As they say, "Rome wasn't built in a day," and the same can be said of the Kings. But 2013-14 will be the season the foundation is set for everything else that's to follow.
Prediction: 32-50; fourth in Pacific Division; 12th in Western Conference
Follow me on Twitter: @SimRisso