5 Things the Sacramento Kings Need to Become Contenders
The Sacramento Kings have toiled in mediocrity for far too long. No, that's not even true. Mediocrity is far too kind for a team with six consecutive seasons of fewer than 30 wins.
Things won't get better immediately, either. The Kings have a couple quality pieces like center DeMarcus Cousins and small forward Rudy Gay, but the rest of the roster is composed of unproven young guns and low-ceiling veterans.
What's more, Sacramento plays in the NBA's vaulted Western Conference, where the Phoenix Suns went 48-34 last season and still missed the playoffs. Getting back to the contention will take a couple years, by which time the disparity between East and West is likely to have evened out.
5. Interior Defense Help
To DeMarcus Cousins' credit, the Kings' franchise player has made great strides on defense since coming into the league in 2010. His 101 points allowed per 100 possessions and 3.8 defensive win shares last season were both career highs, but DMC was often left protecting the key on his own.
The Kings were short on true big men last year and let 7-footer Aaron Gray sign with the Detroit Pistons. Gray is nothing if not replaceable, but the Kings lack a legitimate rim protector without him.
Jeremy Tyler is expected to be waived to create cap space, per USA Today's Sam Amick. This leaves Cousins, Jason Thompson and undrafted rookie Eric Moreland as the only Kings taller than 6'9", with Thompson and Moreland better suited to be power forwards than centers.
Thompson has been the subject of many trade rumors over the last couple years and needs a change of scenery badly. Sacramento would do well to offer him up for someone like Samuel Dalembert who can match Cousins' bruising style of play.
4. The Progression of Ben McLemore
Rookies are expected to struggle a bit while adjusting the NBA's fast pace. Shooting guard Ben McLemore was no exception in 2013-14, looking both brilliant and lost at times throughout the season.
McLemore's freakish athleticism earned him a spot in the Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend, but was passed over in the Rising Stars Challenge for players like Victor Oladipo and Tim Hardaway Jr. due to a lack of consistency.
For all his athleticism, McLemore lacked the sweet stroke normally associated with a shooting guard. Ben "Bricklemore" hit just 37.6 percent from the field and 32 percent from behind the arc.
It's too early to give up hope on McLemore like the Kings did with Thomas Robinson. With a refined shooting touch and a veteran's confidence, McLemore could one day become the team's go-to perimeter scorer.
3. Smart Choices on Draft Day
The Kings have had a hit-and-miss draft record since becoming a perennial lottery team in 2007. For every DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, there is a Thomas Robinson and Hassan Whiteside.
McLemore, as written in the previous slide, is still somewhat of an unknown commodity. Same goes for sharpshooter Nik Stauskas, the No. 8 overall pick in this year's draft.
Sacramento isn't an attractive location for star free agents, many of whom seek a larger market or a team with more recent playoff appearances. D'Alessandro might snare an undervalued talent or two in free agency, but as long as the Kings are finishing near the bottom of the league, they better grab the right players coming out of college.
2. Consistency in the Front Office
Much has been written about the Maloofs' poisonous last few years as the Kings' owners. Now with forward-thinking owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Pete D'Alessandro in charge, there is real hope for a franchise turnaround.
No head coach has captivated players or encouraged fans since Rick Adelman left the team in 2006. Coaches like Eric Musselman, Paul Westphal, Kenny Natt and Keith Smart never really inspired confidence as part of a long-term solution to the Kings' losing ways.
Mike Malone, on the other hand, seems like the right fit for both the front office and the offensively gifted players with whom he has to work. Malone is widely respected throughout the league as a defensive guru, and lifted the Kings from last in the NBA in points allowed per game to 24th last season.
The Kings won't become one of the best teams in the league overnight, so giving intelligent minds like Ranadive, D'Alessandro and Malone the necessary time to develop a contender is crucial. Continually casting aside essential personnel and starting from scratch every couple seasons won't stop the current trend of losing.
1. Bench Depth
Trading for Rudy Gay's $19.3 million contract and maxing out DeMarcus Cousins left the Kings with little cap space to spend on quality reserves. The result is a starting lineup full of promise and a bench full of holes.
The main subs will likely be second-year point guard Ray McCallum, Stauskas and forwards Derrick Williams and Reggie Evans. Carl Landry, who missed most of last season with a torn hip flexor and a torn meniscus, will enter the mix once he fully recovers from surgery.
None of the options are particularly threatening, though McCallum was named the 2014 Summer League championship game MVP.
Williams will occasionally fly away for a circus dunk or go off for 15 points, but he struggled after a hot start and was asked to play on the Kings' summer league team, uncommon for a former No. 2 overall draft pick going into his fourth pro season.
Darren Collison, the Kings' big offseason addition, would have been a very good backup point guard. But Collison's signing prompted Isaiah Thomas to bolt to the Phoenix Suns, thrusting Collison into a starting role for which he's not entirely qualified.
The Kings need more quality options besides Cousins and Gay, and the new front office needs enough time to give the franchise some sort of identity.