On the heels of a season in which they finished 13th in the Western Conference, expectations aren't particularly high for the Sacramento Kings. If their young talent reaches its fullest potential, however, the Kings could find themselves in playoff contention.
The Kings were once among the Western Conference's most consistent teams, but they have fallen on hard times over the past decade. In fact, Sacramento hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2005-06.
That is the second-longest playoff drought in franchise history, which means that ownership has to be eager to take that next step forward. Doing so in the talent-laden Western Conference won't be easy, but the Kings have a roster of youthful players coming into their own.
Center DeMarcus Cousins is approaching superstar status. Newly signed point guard Darren Collison has a chance to break out as a full-time starter. Rudy Gay is a big-time scorer. Up-and-coming players like Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas have a chance to be huge offensive threats as well.
There is plenty of work to be done in Sacramento, but the future is bright. If everything comes together, then the future could very well be now. Here is some insight into the Kings' 2014-15 schedule, following the official release, along with predictions for how they will ultimately fare.
Most Intriguing Matchups
Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Clippers
When: Nov. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET
The Los Angeles Clippers have established themselves as the team to beat in the Pacific Division and the Kings are among the teams that will be chasing them. Overtaking the Clips in 2014-15 is too much to ask, but the Kings are definitely capable of cutting into last year's 29-game deficit by a significant margin.
Collison will figure heavily into that. Sacramento signed Collison away from the Clippers this offseason in a move that has flown somewhat under the radar. Not only is it huge for the Kings in terms of getting a true point guard to run the offense, but it is also a more significant loss for the Clippers than most might realize.
Even though Collison played second fiddle to Chris Paul in L.A., he was a big reason for the Clippers' success last season. Among those who expect the Clips to suffer a bit due to the loss of Collison is ESPN's Dave Pasch:
Darren Collison was the perfect backup to Chris Paul. He helped the Clippers win a lot of games..esp. when Paul was hurt. Big loss for LAC.— Dave Pasch (@DavePasch) July 3, 2014
There hasn't been any indication that Collison has anything other than the utmost respect for CP3, but he also figures to have a chip on his shoulder when the Kings travel to Los Angeles to take on the Clippers for the first time. Paul is an elite player in the NBA, but it is only natural that Collison will do everything in his power to prove that he is Paul's equal.
Collison was a backup with the Clippers, but he seems to have a leader's mentality. He had a great deal of success in Los Angeles last season and fully intends to carry that over to the Kings, per Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:
We've got to build a strong bond and unity and team. 'I think when you're part of a losing culture guys stray away but I think we’ve got to come together. We've got to come together right now. We've got to understand what's our story. Every team in the NBA has their story, what's going to be our story?
If the Kings can hang tough with the Clippers this season, then their story could involve a trip to the playoffs. The Clips are the measuring stick for every other team in the Pacific Division, so it will be interesting to see just how much Sacramento has improved.
Sacramento Kings vs. Phoenix Suns
When: Dec. 26 at 10 p.m. ET
In order to sign Collison, the Kings had to make a difficult decision relating to guard Isaiah Thomas. The 5'9" spark plug had a career season last year as he averaged over 20 points per game, but Sacramento opted against matching the offer sheet signed by Thomas and moved him to the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade deal.
It was a bit surprising that the Kings went in that direction considering how productive Thomas was in 2013-14, but the organization apparently felt as though Thomas didn't fit the team's profile. It can be argued that Collison is a downgrade, but Gay simply feels as though he excels in different areas than Thomas does, according to Sean Cunningham of KXTV in Sacramento:
Rudy Gay says Darren Collison is a different play than Isaiah Thomas. Said he wasn't surprised IT is gone. Called Darren a great pickup— Sean Cunningham (@News10Sean) July 14, 2014
Even so, not everyone is convinced that the Kings made the right choice. Mason Ginsberg of ESPN's TrueHoop Network believes that the Kings deserve some criticism for their handling of the situation:
I feel like not enough people are roasting the #Kings for not matching 4/28 for Isaiah Thomas in favor of signing Darren Collison for 3/16.— Mason Ginsberg (@MasonGinsberg) July 16, 2014
With that said, Sacramento identified the guy it wanted and got him. It is unfortunate that it necessitated the exit of Thomas, but the Kings may be a better team for it since Collison is a more traditional point guard in terms of passing and playing defense.
It is likely that Thomas feels slighted by the organization to some degree, so he'll have plenty to prove when he and the Suns invade Sacramento for the first time. In much the same vein, Collison will want to show the Sacramento faithful that the Kings made the right choice.
Although this isn't their first matchup of the season, this home contest for the Kings will still be significant. Collison and Thomas are two of the better young guards in basketball and this matchup between them will be incredibly entertaining.
Sacramento Kings vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
When: Jan. 11 at 9 p.m. ET
The Kings don't have any type of rivalry or significant connection with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but no NBA team has more buzz surrounding it entering the 2014-15 campaign than the Cavs. After getting LeBron James to return home from the Miami Heat, every basketball fan in North America wants to get a close look at the Cavaliers.
When Cleveland infiltrates Sacramento this season, it is quite likely to be the Kings' hottest-selling ticket of the year. The presence of LeBron alone makes this an interesting matchup, but the youth and explosiveness of the Kings adds to things as well.
It is entirely possible that the Cavs will blow the Kings away in this particular game, but Sacramento will go down swinging. The Kings did manage to split with the Miami Heat last year, so this particular team knows how to hang with a LeBron-led squad.
If nothing else, the Cavaliers will be a nice barometer in terms of measuring the Kings' progress. Beating or simply competing with a player of James' ilk could be huge for Sacramento's confidence. That is half the battle when it comes to a young team, so this is definitely a game worth keeping an eye on.
According to VegasInsider.com, the Kings are listed as 300-1 long shots to win the 2014-15 NBA championship and 150-1 to win the Western Conference.
2014-15 Season Projection
The Kings have an uphill climb ahead of them in terms of reaching the playoffs; last year's standings suggest that they will have to improve by 21 wins in order to achieve that goal. That may not be realistic, but significant improvement should be in the cards.
Where will the Kings finish in the Western Conference in 2014-15?
Cousins and Gay are both coming off seasons in which they averaged at least 20 points per game. The Kings lost another such player in Thomas, but adding Collison means that they now have a distributor who can find players in scoring situations.
That particular trio will be Sacramento's backbone. With that said, there are a few wild cards that could make the Kings a much better team in 2014-15. McLemore and Stauskas are potentially dynamic offensive players who will only be asked to play a complementary role. The same is true of former No. 2 overall selection Derrick Williams, who showed some flashes of brilliance last season.
There are plenty of question marks in Sacramento, which makes predicting the Kings' position in the standings tricky. If their big three lives up to expectations and their young players make strides, though, the sky is the limit.
The Kings won't quite reach a playoff level this season, but they will manage a better finish in the standings and set themselves up to make that leap in 2015-16.
Projected Record, Finish: 37-45, 11th in Western Conference
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