This is the second season of the new regime—with the ownership group led by Vivek Ranadive, the front-office team guided by Pete D'Alessandro and the team coached by Michael Malone—and they'd like to see the team take a step forward.
However, taking that next step is easier said than done in the difficult Western Conference, where even the No. 8 seed is substantially above .500. It also doesn't help having to play in the Pacific Division, which has two playoff teams from a year ago in the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers, with the Phoenix Suns not far behind.
Of course, the Kings haven't exactly stood pat over the offseason. They've made a series of additions and subtractions, which should add another dynamic to the upcoming campaign. But will it be enough to improve over their 28-54 record from a year ago and make it into the playoffs?
The New-Look Kings
While the coaching staff is coming back for another go-around, some of the players it'll be working with are different.
Most notably, the Kings lost point guard Isaiah Thomas over the offseason and replaced him with Darren Collison, formerly of the Clippers.
For a more comprehensive breakdown of the point guard switch, you can check out a recent article I wrote. But for the sake of this one, let's take a quick glance at what the change could mean.
Thomas was the Kings' second-best player last year. He was second on the team in total win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, player efficiency rating and points per game. He also logged more minutes on the court than any other Sacramento player.
Collison, on the other hand, doesn't have the same resume, specifically on offense. He trailed Thomas in scoring, PER, total win shares, win shares per 48 minutes and assists. In terms of talent, the Kings took a step back, and their offense could suffer for it.
However, as was laid out in that previous article, Collison is a better defender than Thomas. So much so, that most of his deficiencies, in comparison to Thomas, are made up for by the upgrade he provides on defense. That's not to say he's better; only that the drop-off isn't as severe as many would have you think.
In addition to the switch at the point, the Kings also drafted shooting guard Nik Stauskas. The University of Michigan product should help the offense with his ability to spread the floor, as Sacramento only hit 33.3 percent of its three-pointers a year ago.
For his part, Stauskas made 47.8 percent of his three-pointers in the Las Vegas Summer League. Obviously, summer league production should be taken with a grain of salt, but the ability to knock down open shots should translate and Stauskas has it.
Sacramento also made a couple other minor moves. It signed Omri Casspi as a free agent and traded Travis Outlaw and Quincy Acy to the New York Knicks for Wayne Ellington, Jeremy Tyler and a 2016 second-round pick. Outside of that, the roster largely remains the same.
The most difficult part in making significant headway will be the competition Sacramento is sure to face—both in the conference and division.
For starters, the Western Conference as a whole figures to be stacked once again. Last season, the Dallas Mavericks brought up the rear of the playoff picture, and they sported a 49-33 record (.598 winning percentage).
The teams that comprise the playoffs, or the order of their rankings, may change, but the overall theme figures to remain the same—the Western Conference will be difficult.
That's not even mentioning the Pacific Division, which the Kings play in. Sacramento finished fourth in the division, and replicating that once again may be a best-case scenario.
The Warriors and Clippers look to be significantly better than the Kings at this juncture, as both are coming off playoff seasons and finished more than 20 games ahead of Sacramento in the standings.
The Suns should also be in that conversation. Phoenix finished with a 48-34 record and missed the postseason by one game.
The only Pacific Division team the Kings finished above was the Los Angeles Lakers, whom they bested by one game. It's difficult to know what to expect from L.A., as the health of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash largely remains up in the air. Not to mention the team didn't exactly set the world on fire with offseason acquisitions.
At this juncture, it figures to be a coin-flip proposition as far as whether or not Sacramento will finish above the Lakers.
As for whether or not the Kings will finish above the Clippers, Warriors or Suns, they almost certainly will not. It would take an unforeseen decline from one of those teams and a meteoric rise from Sacramento.
Both of those things aren't happening.
Sacramento should be better, and it should improve upon its 28-54 record. Michael Malone knows what he's doing as a defensive coach, and that alone should translate to more wins for the Kings.
From Feb. 1 on, the Kings were 15th in defensive rating, which is right in the middle of the pack. With the addition of Collison, the team should at least match that, if not improve upon it.
It's also worth noting that Sacramento won the Las Vegas Summer League. While summer league championships are ultimately meaningless, if you're going to take anything away from it, take that the Kings looked to be buying into Malone's system.
There was better communication on defense, and there was less stagnation on offense, which tended to be a problem last season. Those were some of the things point guard Ray McCallum mentioned to Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee, which could translate to the regular season:
I think a lot of it is we’re sharing the ball, we’re playing for each other, we’re defending, and when we get stops on the defensive end, our team is very athletic and gets out in transition, and good things happen.
We’ve added a couple different sets, we’ve kind of changed the offense around a little bit, and some of the guys returning have a better understanding of coach Malone’s system. And once we get back to training camp, I think we can be fine.
However, the competition they'll be facing will make it difficult for any substantial improvement in the standings. There are too many good teams in the Western Conference.
If Sacramento were in the East, it could be a playoff team. Not only is the bar for qualifying for the postseason much lower as far as record is concerned—the Atlanta Hawks were the No. 8 seed with a 38-44 record—but the Kings would be playing lesser competition on a regular basis.
Yet last time I checked Sacramento is in California, which is on the West Coast, which means the Kings are stuck in the Western Conference in 2014-15. With that being the case, a trip to the postseason isn't in the cards this year.
The Kings will occupy the same spot in the divisional standings, but they will have a better record in 2014-15. After finishing 28-54 the last two years in a row, it's a step in the right direction.
Prediction: Fourth in the Pacific Division, 33-49 record
How do you think the Kings will fare? Let me know on Twitter @SimRisso