For a franchise starving for success, the Kings and their fans had reason to smile after Sacramento won the NBA Summer League championship on Monday night in Las Vegas. It's been eight years since the Kings last made the playoffs, but the start to this summer has generated a measure of hope in Sacto.
Rudy Gay decided to stay and opted in last month. DeMarcus Cousins could be due for his first All-Star campaign. Seasoned scoring spark and defensive stopper Darren Collison arrived after a strong finish to last season with the Los Angeles Clippers. And the Summer League team highlighted rookie Nik Stauskas' underrated passing, Ben McLemore's driving ability and Ray McCallum's all-around point guard play. The Kings have some interesting pieces in place since owner Vivek Ranadive and GM Pete D'Alessandro came on board last summer.
So what's next for the Kings, who are coming off of a 28-win campaign? Speaking with Bleacher Report last weekend in Las Vegas, D'Alessandro discussed the Summer League team, his optimistic visions for next season, efforts to bring more transparency to front-office decisions and more.
Bleacher Report: With Summer League now in the books, what are your final impressions of your title team?
Pete D'Alessandro: We're really happy. When we came here, we were kind of hoping to increase our pace, change our style of play a little bit. And we saw a little two-guard-front action and some different things offensively. One thing that we talk about with our ownership is playing a position-less style of basketball. The NBA is kind of going in that direction, and I think having watched our team progress this week, we've seen more and more of a game plan that's matching with that vision.
B/R: What stood out to you about your first-round draft pick, Nik Stauskas?
PD: When we drafted him, we saw more than just a shooter. We saw a guy who could handle the ball, who could pass the ball. He's the perfect guard for that two-guard-front action we talked about because of the way he handles the ball and his feel for the game. When you get guys like [Kings advisor] Chris Mullin, who had the ultimate feel for the game, raving about this kid's feel for the game, that's usually a good sign.
B/R: When you watch players such as Ray Allen, J.J. Redick and Kyle Korver, they're key space-creators in today's perimeter-oriented game. Stauskas appears to be in that mold. How might he fit in the Kings' offense?
PD: With DeMarcus [Cousins] in the middle, [opponents are] going to have to guard Nik. So if a team wants to send two or three guys at DeMarcus with Nik on the court, that's going to be hard to do. Or if they come out and guard Nik, it gives DeMarcus more room to play, as well as Rudy [Gay], because Rudy can get a little more space to play as well. You can't focus on two guys if we have a shooter like Nik out there.
Also, as Ben [McLemore] progresses, we have him as another shooter, too. We're trying to add some shooters because last year, frankly, we didn't shoot the ball very well. So with two young shooters in this mix, now maybe we can start to change a little bit and make some progress.
B/R: What is Ben's potential?
PD: We're really happy with Ben. We're seeing continued progress with him. You can see when guys get to their second year, the level of comfort becomes a lot greater. Nik eventually will experience the same thing. But Ben is very different from Nik. Ben is an incredible athlete, and he can shoot the ball very well but struggled last year. I look at Nik as more of a crafty guy who really has that feel for the game. Playing off each other a little bit, I think we'll see some interesting looks this year.
B/R: Has it been interesting to be around Sim Bhullar, who could be the first player of Indian descent in the NBA, during Summer League? Is he someone you're considering?
PD: I think he feels like he found a family here, I really do. Sim is just a really great kid. You can't teach what he has. It's crazy, just his size and the fact that he's got soft hands around the rim. There's so much about him that makes for a deeper connection than just, "We see you as a big guy who can potentially play basketball in the NBA." We're talking to his agents now and trying to figure out what this relationship is, but I personally love the kid and his family.
B/R: Reflecting on the draft process, what are your takeaways from the unique crowdsourcing you did with the NBA analytics community to get their thoughts on the prospects? And what new ideas are you exploring?
PD: We'll continue it. My gut tells me we'll do a better job for next year. This year, we put it together rather quickly thanks to [Kings president] Chris Granger on the business side and his staff. It really worked. There are a couple of these guys I think I'm going to continue with; I was just talking to one of them yesterday about some free-agency stuff. These guys were really good.
When I first got into the NBA, all the data wasn't out there. The Internet was filled with basic stats and you couldn't even get salaries anywhere. Now these guys have access to almost everything, other than the SportVU feed, which is what we have in addition. So with that data and their intelligence, it was really interesting for me.
B/R: Do you sense that your crowdsourcing project had an influence on other GMs, or that more are contemplating a "front office 2.0" culture and becoming more transparent with fans?
PD: I think the NBA is still resistant, I really do. I say, let's go further. Let's open it up more, let's try to figure it out, let's be better than we were last year at it. And if people want to resist, that's fine. That's an opportunity and an advantage for us. I think what we got from these [analytical] guys who came in two days before our draft was a fresh perspective in a room that was getting stagnant.
It created a really active dialogue that I've never been involved with, and I'm proud to say that I was a big part of that. I don't know what we'll do yet for next year's draft, but we'll come up with something.
B/R: We can't talk about the Kings without mentioning DeMarcus Cousins. There are people around the league who are cautiously optimistic that next season will be his best yet. What do you think?
PD: Vivek always says, "I want players that are all in." I don't know another guy on our team that's more in than DeMarcus. He was texting me one morning recently about guys we should be going for. We have an open relationship like that. But, to me, it's more than about him and his growth. He wants to win. I think the sky's the limit for him, it really is. We saw huge steps last year and we saw a couple steps backwards, but he acknowledges it and he's looking forward to doing more.
I need leadership out of him, and I need him to be the icon on our team we want him to be, and he knows that. It's crazy how young he is, but this is where you start to turn that corner. It's up to him. He's now on his max deal financially—he's secure—but with DeMarcus it's not even about the money. Every time he's on the floor, he wants to win. I think DeMarcus is about to have a big year. He should be an All-Star.
B/R: What are you looking to add as you continue to build the roster?
PD: We have two young shooters now in Ben and Nik, and Rudy can shoot the ball, but every team needs more shooting. And we need some rim protection; that would help DeMarcus a lot and help our team a lot. I also think with the addition of Darren Collison, we'll get more of a defensive presence as the ball enters the half court. We have some key pieces now in place, and if we can retain that talent and add a few more, we can say, "Let's start competing. Let's be relevant."
B/R: What is a realistic timetable for you guys to make the playoffs and be competitive in the challenging Western Conference?
PD: We want to make the playoffs next season. We want that for our fans. We're trying to make the right moves, but aggressive moves. To me, people say, "Well, it's the West." But I don't want to use the West as an excuse for anything. To me, it should be our opportunity to motivate our guys, it should be a challenge to our players: "You're in the West, so do it in the West."
I thought what Phoenix did last year was phenomenal; they were right there on the doorstep. So how do we get ourselves to the point where every night the game matters? That's what we want. That's what we want for this year.
B/R: As you look ahead to 2016, when the NBA's TV deal expires and the league is preparing for a significant increase in the salary cap, what do you expect the marketplace to be like? Does the word "lockout" cross your mind?
PD: I feel really encouraged. When I say this, take it for exactly what it is: I think the players' union and the league have done a phenomenal job in putting together a product that fans really enjoy, and not just in this country, but around the world. So, to me, the future is so bright that I can't imagine a lockout. I'm an eternal optimist. I see everything growing exponentially, and I think we're about to hit a point where we really take off. I believe in the leadership of this league, and I think that they're going to do a great job. And if history shows anything, it's going to continue.