Is It Too Early to Crown The Sacramento Kings Our 2011 NBA Champions?
I'm a Sacramento Kings fan.
Not of the fervent, rabid based variety but of the more mellow. I'll watch 'em even when they're bad, but I'll need a beer (many) and some nachos (multiple platters) to go along with my ratio in the house of three women to every one guy.
That's how every Kings game in my household has to unfold.
On the subject of being a "mellow fan," maybe that tag is a little on the light side.
I grew up in the Sacramento area and I've grown up with the team. I've watched them play ever since I was a little kid hooping on my own mini basketball court.
Maybe I said mellow because it's hard to invest time and love into a sports team when they get so close only to falter at the last moments.
Someone mention Robert Horry.
I dare you.
The name comes out in conversation and I lose control of my fists: It's a muscle regulated response. It's automatic.
When I said I was a mellow fan, I'm not that mellow.
Thanks to his 2002 Laker heroics, Horry is a man who haunts my dreams and gives me plentiful night sweats.
"Robert Horry is..."
I don't hear the rest. I just swing for the fences. Old, young, family member... It doesn't matter.
Horry's put back three with the assist to Vlade in 2002 damn near ruined my life. I lost the will to live. I had trouble feeding myself. I failed multiple classes. I was in a deep, dark place thanks to a basketball game.
Why, God? Why?
My beloved Kings could have won the championship that year.
Why are the basketball Gods so cruel?
Thanks to copious amounts of drinking (it was college) and the the help of a therapist, I was able to put the "put back three" out of my mind for good.
I somehow graduated in 2006 and things all of a sudden were looking up. The world wasn't such a dark and unforgiving place.
And then it happened...
A few of the Kings' core players began getting old, experiencing knee problems, fatigue, and general fatness. The window of opportunity for my team was beginning to fade right before my eyes.
Bibby was suddenly gone, traded away to the Hawks for Sheldon Williams and company.
Webber was traded for the disappointing Kenny Thomas and company.
Artest came and went, without too much fanfare. He didn't bring all of his crazy to Sacramento, just some of it.
The team was rebuilding... ever so slowly.
I felt myself returning to that dark place again. I only saw bad passes. Horrific shot selection. Air balls. Kenny Thomas. Terrible and truly non-existent defense.
I couldn't watch. It was painful.
I saw the doctor immediately and he told me I needed to stick with them. They were rebuilding and it would be a slow, arduous process.
"I don't have the willpower, Doc. After 2002, I don't know if I can give them my heart again. It's still bruised. It's still hurt."
His response, "Grow a pair, son. But also give it time. Look to the summer of 2010 for your answers. Be patient."
So I waited.
Lo and behold, something crazy did happen this summer.
The weak, no defense playing, lazy at times, young and inexperienced Kings got better.
Two of the Kings christened with the best nicknames in the entire history of basketball -- the Brockness Monster (Jon Brockman) and Spencer Hawesome (Hawes) -- were traded away. What had been a flaccid and non-imposing group (Hawesome) was suddenly transformed into a fearsome and legitimate defensive front.
DeMarcus Cousins and Hassan Whiteside, two young players with immense upside, came through Kings draft day magic in 2010.
Cousins fell to the Kings 5th pick and Whiteside was still available in the second round. In addition, the Kings picked up "2 blk per game" Samuel Dalembert from the Philadephia 76ers via the Hawes trade.
In the span of a month's time, what was a defensively inept team transformed from a cuddly rabbit into something more along the lines of a pitbull mixed with a wolverine mixed with yet another pitbull.
Fifth pick in the 2010 draft, DeMarcus Cousins, is a guy you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. You might actually not want to meet him at all. He's the type of guy you would apologize to even though you don't know him and didn't do anything wrong to him.
You would just call and apologize...
Second round pick Hassan Whiteside threw block parties in college, to the tune of 5.4 per game during the 2009/10 Marshall season. He'll need to work on his offensive game, but in the meantime, his defensive prowess will be a boon to the King's blocking and rebounding stats for years to come.
Trade piece Samuel Dalembert brings an additional defensive stopper to the Kings. He is also a guy who is currently busy doing charity work and saving the planet (one country at a time). He seems nice. Dalembert may actually give the Kings two blocks a game, run for President of Haiti, solve the Al Qaeda problem, and bring piece to Israel and Palestine. All in the 2010-11 basketball season.
And these are the intangibles you want on your team. Of course, there are also eclectic personalities that go along with these intangibles and this is where coach Paul Westphal and his coaching staff will have to be diligent in order to mesh the intensity and spirit without going completely overboard. See: Technicals, fights, murder.
Add to this mix the reigning Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, and you've got an interesting and unique mix of talent come October.
If Francisco Garcia can actually stay healthy, Donte Green can start performing on a night by night basis, Carl Landry can get his teeth back from Dirk Nowitzki's arm, and Omri "I'm tired 'cause I have the entire Jewish nation on my shoulders" Casspi can remain upright, who knows what this team can do this season.
As a fan, this is the Kings rotation I'd most like to see this coming basketball season...
1) Tyreke at the point with Beno coming off the bench
2) Francisco at the two guard
3) 6'-9" Casspi at the small forward spot
4) Carl Landry as a starter at power forward with Jason Thompson coming in to spell him
5) Dalembert as the starting center with Cousins coming off the bench (only to begin with and to conserve some of Cousins' energy and keep him as fresh as possible for the entire season).
Things are looking up, at least on paper.
So up that we can think playoffs?
Or even, dare I say it, championship?
The Lakers are still in the Western Conference, aren't they? But a .500 Kings team doesn't sound out of the question. Play the right way, incorporate the new young pieces in, see some development from the second year players, and the Kings could have something.
The future, to me, is finally looking a little brighter for a team that drastically shifted focus over this last summer.
No more will the Sacramento Kings be pushed around, driven by, and scored on with ease.
No more will I think I could play as their starting point guard.
No longer will I have to see Robert Horry draining threes in my nightmares.
Times are 'a changin' people. How fast the times are 'a changin', though, remains to be seen. For fans out there craving crisp passing, energetic defense, and a flowing, team oriented offense, the new look Kings will deliver. I believe that.
To help erase past memories of Championships just out of our reach, let's hope it's sooner rather than later.
Let's hope it's very soon indeed.
My therapist is tired of seeing me so often.
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