Sacramento Kings: 6 Steps the Franchise Can Take To Get Back to NBA Playoffs
The good news: the Sacramento Kings won 66 games. The bad news: it's taken the last three seasons combined to reach said total. Four of the last five seasons the Kings have finished dead last within the Pacific Division, and in three of the last four years, Sacramento has selected in the top 10 in the NBA draft.
Playoffs are a distant memory for this embattled franchise, with their last trip to the NBA's second season coming in 2006.
It's not all doom and gloom in Sacramento, however. The franchise has a plan to return to prominence, relying on the drafting and development of young talent and spending free-agent dollars conservatively and wisely. The following are steps the Kings can take in order to make a triumphant return to the playoffs.
Be Patient and Allow the Young Talent To Develop
When the organization erected two mammoth banners of DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, it was made perfectly clear around whom the team would be built. The success of the Sacramento Kings has everything to do with how much DeMarcus and Tyreke develop individually and collectively. They are the youngest players on the team, but they also happen to be the two most talented...by a country mile. Two very solid building blocks by any measure.
The question with Cousins and Evans is whether the two can succeed simultaneously, with both carrying reputations as players who dominate the ball. Both turn the ball over at an alarmingly high rate and neither shoots what would be considered an efficient field-goal percentage, but you have to keep in mind that Tyreke is 21 years old and DeMarcus is just 20 years old. Their raw skills simply cannot be denied.
Tyreke Evans is a freight train with the ability and desire to get to and finish at the rim, like a poor man's LeBron James. DeMarcus Cousins is a supremely gifted big man who can do everything from willingly take charges, whip gorgeous passes to cutters, unleash his polished post attack and stretch the floor with his effective mid-range game.
In all likelihood, the Kings won't be drafting a franchise caliber player anytime soon. They won't be signing any superstars in free agency either. The only way this club returns to the playoffs and beyond is on the shoulders of Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins.
Draft an Impact Player in the 2011 NBA Draft
When Sacramento fell from the first pick to the fourth pick after the 2009 draft lottery, morale was low among the fanbase and optimism was as scarce as a Dasani water bottle in the middle of the Sahara. But it turned out quite favorably for the Kings.
Yes, they missed out on the would be All-Star Blake Griffin, but they did steal the Rookie of the Year with the fourth pick. With the exception of a few, the lottery picks have by in large turned out to be relatively weak. Hasheem Thabeet has spent countless months in the D-League, Ricky Rubio hasn't left his Spanish club, Jordan Hill and Terrence Williams have already been traded from the clubs that drafted them and Jonny Flynn has been a major disappointment.
A year ago, the Kings were expecting to hold the third pick and instead landed the fifth. Sac ended up with one of the most talented players in the draft in DeMarcus Cousins and a young man who put together a promising rookie campaign. Three players drafted ahead of DMC all disappointed in their rookie years, in Evan Turner, Wesley Johnson and Derrick Favors.
The moral of the story of course is Geoff Petrie is like the wise old sage that peruses an auction and comes away with the diamonds in the rough. Almost always. This year, the Kings are banking on a similar twist of fate.
The draft lottery again did no favors for the Kings. They were slated to pick fifth but have slid to seventh for the 2011 Draft. There is a major need at point guard, and there are a number of viable candidates whom the Kings are looking at. The majority of mock drafts have Kemba Walker landing in Sacramento.
This draft is considered to be fairly weak, so snatching the Final Four MVP with the seventh pick is nothing to complain about. But in my eyes, the Kings have a Kemba Walker clone in Marcus Thornton on the roster already. The makeup of the starting lineup is such that whoever plays point guard needs to set the table more than score himself. Cousins and Evans are going to dominate the ball, and Thornton is going to get his lion's share of the shots, so that doesn't leave a great deal of scoring opportunity.
This is why I am very high on Jimmer Fredette. He would immediately add to a team that was 25th in 3 pointers made per game and 26th in 3 point field goal percentage. He is obviously known for his impressive shooting, but his ball handling and high basketball IQ should be taken into account. A Jimmer/Tyreke Evans backcourt would thrive because Evans could still be the primary ball handler and Jimmer would adequately space the floor creating driving opportunities. This isn't a guy that's limited to just sitting in the corner and being a spot shooter, either. Fredette is capable of creating his own shot, a trait that every team obviously covets.
With the infinite amount of media coverage he receives, Fredette has an enormous bulls eye square on his back. But this kid has star potential. He'll be a more well rounded JJ Reddick. In fact, I think the player he'll emulate most will be Stephen Curry, a player that wowed Geoff Petrie tremendously during his workout in Sacramento in the summer of 2009.
You heard it here first, Jimmer Fredette to the Sacramento Kings at #7.
Find a Distinct Position for Tyreke Evans
In Tyreke's rookie year, he played almost exclusively with the ball in his hands and the result was a historic season in which he became one of only four players in league history to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in their rookie seasons.
In Tyreke's second year, he had to overcome multiple setbacks, including a nagging plantar fasciitis issue as well as the crushing loss of a loved one in his personal life. Those obstacles limited Tyreke to just 57 games in 2010-11, and he never truly found the rhythm he played with for the majority of his rookie year.
When he was on the floor, he struggled mightily with decision making. The same elements that make him a matchup nightmare for opponents also create question marks for the Kings. Tyreke has the body fit for an NBA shooting guard, but his impressive ball-handling suggests he be a point guard.
The Kings need to decide if they want to invest in cultivating Tyreke's playmaking skills and have him run the show or if they would prefer him to start at shooting guard and develop his three-point shot. Defensively he is more than capable of guarding both positions.
The sooner Tyreke's role is established, the sooner the organization can fill in around him.
Acquire an NBA-Caliber Starting Small Forward
God bless Omri Casspi and Donte Greene, but I'm sure all Kings fans would quickly agree that neither player is the short-term or long-term answer as the team's starting small forward.
In the two years Casspi and Greene have been teammates, they have essentially alternated the role of small forward. The only consistent thing from the two has been inconsistency. Casspi would be better served in a reserve role, with a guaranteed 15-20 minutes. He would undoubtedly provide a spark with his high-motor effort, but expecting 30 minutes of the same energy and effort is unrealistic.
Donte Greene also could find a niche in the rotation as a defensive-minded player, but Greene's three-point shot is far too inconsistent. In his three seasons as a pro, his three-point field-goal percentages have been 26 percent, 37.7 percent and 29.2 percent. Greene is a restricted free agent this summer.
On the free-agent market, some of the available small forwards include Tayshaun Prince, Shane Battier, Grant Hill, Caron Butler, Tracy McGrady and Al Thornton.
It's obviously not as sexy as a season ago, but there is a solid mix of talent and veteran know-how on that list. And for a team like the Kings, who are in need of acquiring talent by any means necessary, any of these players would be upgrades over the current stock of small forwards on the roster.
Re-Sign Marcus Thornton
Perhaps no player left an imprint on the Kings in 2010-11 like Marcus Thornton.
Since his arrival in Sacramento in a midseason trade, Thornton averaged 21.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists. He is the team's best and most natural scorer, has the handle to take his man off the dribble and the long-range jumper to make opponents pay, and is an absolute killer in crunch time.
The Hornets dispatched the 2-guard like he was yesterday's newspaper, and the Kings are eternally grateful. Thornton is a restricted free agent, and the Kings don't need me to tell them that his re-signing is paramount.
Re-Sign Samuel Dalembert
There are two elements of basketball that are requirements to win, particularly in the playoffs. Rebounding and defense. The best player on the roster at both of those respective aspects is Samuel Dalembert.
Just before the start of last season, he was hampered by a hip injury that limited his performance for the first few weeks. But Dalembert eventually got on track, and became one of the most consistent performers for the Kings.
There was a logjam at power forward/center with Dalembert, Cousins, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson jockeying for minutes, and it proved to be too many mouths to feed. But February's trade of Carl Landry established crystal-clear roles and substantial minutes for the remaining three bigs.
Dalembert registered only 46 starts in 2010-11, but when he was starting and getting consistent minutes the Kings were a better team for it. In late March, after Landry had been traded and Dalembert had been firmly entrenched as the starting center, Sacramento won five of six (four of which were on the road) and were easily playing their best basketball of the season.
Additionally, the combination of Samuel Dalembert's veteran leadership and his defensive capabilities, as well as his irreplaceable help defense coupled with DeMarcus Cousins' offensive talents proved to be a dynamic tandem in the starting frontcourt. Keeping Sam around simply to aid in DeMarcus' development would be an intelligent move.
There's a reason many teams will covet Samuel Dalembert this coming offseason. The league is well aware the intangibles he brings to the table are the ingredients of winning basketball.
Follow Memphis' and Oklahoma City's Recipes
In 2009-10, the Oklahoma City Thunder emerged from a perpetual lottery team to a playoff team. Sam Presti's formula was to build the roster through the draft and spend money frugally. Thanks in large part to Kevin Durant's development into a league superstar, as well as Russell Westbrook's evolution into an NBA All-Star, and the midseason addition of veteran center Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder finished last season three wins away from a trip to the NBA Finals.
Coming into next season, the Thunder will be recognized as a team on the cusp of a championship and will be a title contender for the foreseeable future with Durant and Westbrook both being only 22 years old.
In 2010-11, the Memphis Grizzlies broke through for their first playoff appearance since 2006 (ring a bell, Kings fans?) The Grizzlies recipe for success differs slightly from that of the Thunder, as their youthful core of Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley was joined by three veterans—Zach Randolph, Shane Battier and Tony Allen.
Just two years after winning 24 games (remind you of anybody, Kings fans?), Memphis became only the fourth No. 8 seed in NBA history to defeat a No. 1 seed in the first round. In the second round the Grizzlies battled valiantly with the Thunder in a remarkable seven-game series, but eventually lost; and they did so with arguably their best player, Rudy Gay, being sidelined by a shoulder injury.
The precedent has been set. Young, athletic teams are earning trips to the postseason. Last year, five teams that hadn't made the playoffs the year prior qualified for the playoffs.
It's not unreasonable to think the Sacramento Kings can't join those ranks in 2011-12.