What We Learned About the Sacramento Kings This Offseason

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What We Learned About the Sacramento Kings This Offseason
STEVE YEATER/Associated Press
What have we learned about the Sacramento Kings this offseason?

Despite going into it without a ton of cap space, this offseason has been anything but uneventful for the Sacramento Kings. Between the on-court and off-court changes, there's been a lot going on.  

There was the draft, some roster turnover through free agency and trades, an upgrade on the coaching staff and a solid showing at summer league. All of those happenings should manifest into a new Kings team once the regular season gets underway.

Perhaps just as important, if not more so given the turmoil in getting to this point, the team and the city of Sacramento have cleared the major obstacles and broke ground on a new downtown sports and entertainment complex.

But what effect will those changes have on the team in 2014-15, and how will they shape the Kings in the future?

 

The New Roster

Center DeMarcus Cousins figures to be the anchor for the Kings in 2014-15. After opting into the last year of his contract, Rudy Gay will be by the big man's side as the two key pieces. Yet some of the supporting cast has changed.

The biggest change, of course, is the departure of point guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas was arguably Sacramento's second-best player last year—behind Cousins—but the floor general has moved on to the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade. 

Replacing him as the starting point guard will be Darren Collison, formerly of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Collison brings a different skill set to the table than Thomas. In some respects he's better; in other respects he's worse. Either way, things will be different.

With his defensive acumen, the Kings will have a point guard capable of slowing down the opposition and doing so with more versatility than that shown by Thomas.

According to 82games.com, Collison was an above-average defender against both point guards and shooting guards. He held 1-guards to a player efficiency rating of 12.9 and 2-guards to a PER of 11.9, where a score of 15.0 is average.

Thomas, while not a liability, wasn't as strong of a defender or as versatile. Per 82games.com, he held opposing point guards to a PER of 14.5 and, due to his 5'9" frame, wasn't capable of covering shooting guards.

Isaiah Thomas vs. Darren Collison in 2013-14
PER Opponent PER (point guards) Points Per Game Assists Per Game Offensive Rating Defensive Rating
Isaiah Thomas 20.5 14.5 20.3 6.3 114 111
Darren Collison 16.2 12.9 11.4 3.7 113 107

82games.com and Basketball-Reference.

Of course, Thomas is the better offensive player. He had a higher PER, averaged more points per game, more assists and had a higher offensive rating.

As Blake Ellington of SacTown Royalty points out, there are pros and cons in each player:

The Kings wanted more ball movement, less dribbling and to run at a faster pace. Grantland's Zach Lowe recently pointed out that Thomas dribbled the ball nearly 200 more times than Collison did per 36 minutes last season. Lowe also pointed out, however, that the Kings played at a faster pace with Thomas on the floor last season than the Clippers did with Collison. And let's not forget Fireplug's very eloquent fan post about how Collison is a more willing passer than Thomas.

To help make up for some of it, there were other switches to the roster. By way of the draft, the Kings selected shooting guard Nik Stauskas.

Stauskas should help the team with his perimeter shooting. Sacramento only made 33.3 percent of its three-pointers last season. With Stauskas' ability to knock down open shots, that percentage should increase.

Yet the selection was also somewhat puzzling in that the Kings drafted shooting guard Ben McLemore in last year's draft. It'll be interesting to see if the two can coexist together or whether this—as NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper points out—could hinder McLemore's development.

Sacramento made a few smaller moves. It brought back a familiar face in Omri Casspi, who will provide depth at the forward positions, as well stretch the floor with three-point shooting.

In addition to that, the Kings traded Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw to the New York Knicks for what works out to be a second-round pick. The Kings also received Jeremy Tyler and Wayne Ellington in the deal, but Sam Amick of USA Today reported they'll likely waive them before the season gets underway.

 

Tyrone Corbin Should Fortify the Coaching Staff

After years as an assistant, last season was Michael Malone's first as a head coach in the NBA. Because of that, he wanted a lead assistant with some experience in the lead chair.

He brought in his father, Brendan, who has had multiple stints as a head coach. However, the senior Malone resigned just prior to the season, leaving his son without an experienced coach as his lead assistant.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
Tyrone Corbin was hired as Michael Malone's lead assistant.

As such, Malone made adding a coach to fill that void one of his top priorities this offseason, according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee:

The reality is Chris Jent, Corliss Williamson, Micah NoriDee Brown and Ryan Bowen, none of those guys had the experience my father had. ... I’m not looking to hire a guy who is going to say yes to everything I say. I want a guy who is going to argue with me, challenge me, and make me the best coach Michael Malone can be, and that’s what I’m looking to do.

Malone found his man when he hired former Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin as his lead assistant. Corbin has 258 games of experience as an NBA head coach, and he's someone Malone can draw on, as he pointed out to Jason Jones:

I’m going to try to steal as much as I can from Ty and learn from him. He’s been in the same seat I’m in. I can lean on him and learn from his experiences. He’s a guy that had two .500-plus seasons at Utah and led a team to the playoffs. Just a guy who has the experience but more importantly as a coach who can help me.

Having Corbin on the bench will only strengthen the Kings coaching staff. Not only does Corbin have the experience as a head coach to draw upon, but he also played 16 seasons in the NBA, providing him a player's perspective.

In addition to that, he was an assistant under all-time great Jerry Sloan. That brings even more credibility and knowledge that will be a benefit for Malone and the Kings.

 

Summer League Champs

The Kings did something they haven't done in a while: They won something. Granted, it was the Las Vegas Summer League, but at least it's a start.

In some respects, winning the league wasn't that big of an accomplishment. The Kings had a pretty experienced roster, boasting Derrick Williams, MarShon Brooks, Ben McLemore, Ray McCallum, Quincy Acy and Jared Cunningham, all of whom had prior NBA experience.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
The Kings won the Las Vegas Summer League.

What does make it worth mentioning, though, was the way in which the team played. It began playing the style of basketball Coach Malone prefers. Players were communicating, moving the ball, helping out on defense, which is what Ray McCallum mentioned to Jason Jones:

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.

Whether those things translate to the regular season remains to be seen, which is why you can't get too high over the team's summer league triumph. But it's a more encouraging sign than if Sacramento won by virtue of its more experienced roster than by a fundamental change in the way it's playing.

 

A New Palace for the Kings

It's been a long time coming, but the Kings are finally on their way to getting a new arena built in downtown Sacramento. It only took relocation attempts to Seattle, Anaheim and Virginia Beach, among other smaller endeavors, to get to this point.

When Vivek Ranadive bought the Kings in the spring of 2013, it was a good sign the Kings were staying in town. However, the NBA still held the option of relocating the team if a new arena wasn't built. With the project breaking ground a few weeks back, that looks to be a moot point.

As far as what the arena will mean for the Kings on the court in 2014-15, it probably won't have much of an effect. The team will still be playing in Sleep Train Arena, and with the new building still in construction, it can't be used as a marketing tool to entice other players to come to the Kings.

However, the new building will only further endear the fanbase to this team. Considering the place the Kings hold in Sacramento—as the only major league sports team—that can't be understated.

As Ranadive stated to the fans on opening night 2013-14: "Sacramento, I have just one thing to say to all of you and let's never forget that one thing: This is your team, and it's here to stay." 

With the new arena and dedicated fans, there's now truth to the owner's sentiments.

 

The Takeaway 

The Kings haven't been a playoff-caliber team for a while—eight seasons, to be exact. They may not be very good in 2014-15 either, but it's not for a lack of trying.

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Say what you will about the team and some of the decisions it's made, but all of them were made with one goal in mind: winning. Right or wrong, the team has no interest in gaming the system like some teams—cough, Philadelphia 76ers, cough—in order to get a top draft pick.

Even in a difficult Western Conference and with a cap situation that was less than friendly, Sacramento came into the offseason focused on reloading, not rebuilding.

Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling caught up with general manager Pete D'Alessandro following the team's summer league title and asked him about the expectations for the Kings entering the season. D'Alessandro made it crystal clear that winning is the priority:

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.

On the surface, it may be puzzling to think the Kings drafted a shooting guard after selecting one the prior year. At first glance, the decision to swap Isaiah Thomas for a less-productive player in Darren Collison doesn't make a ton of sense.

But everything that's transpired has been part of a plan—even if it's one that's yet to be realized.

We may not know what the Kings are doing or how it will get them to their end goal, but we do know why they're doing it. 

The Kings are simplistic in this regard—they just want to win. 

 

Unless noted otherwise, all stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.

What have you learned about the Kings this offseason? Let me know on Twitter @SimRisso.

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