For the established teams of the NBA, the lockout is, at this point, nothing more than a much-needed break from the rigors of an 82-game season. Established powers like the Lakers, Celtics, Mavericks, Spurs and Heat can all take this time to rest their weary bodies, put basketball out of their minds and recharge their batteries.
But for younger teams, like the Sacramento Kings, the lockout could be a devastating thing. Not only in terms of wins and losses in 2012, but in terms of franchise stability and competitiveness for years to come.
The Kings are among the NBA’s youngest teams, but beyond that, they are one of the league’s least organized and most turbulent rosters. Not only are they young, but they are a group that seems to often take the court without basic game plans, or even vague ideas about who players really are, the contributions that they can realistically make and how they can ultimately gel into a cohesive unit.
Unlike other young NBA teams, the Kings don’t even seem to know what they really have in DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette and the rest. And that is without mentioning the true question marks on the roster, the complete unknowns like Donte Greene and Hassan Whiteside.
This is why the NBA lockout could be devastating for the Sacramento Kings. While other teams may lose practices and opportunities to fine-tune their game plans, tweak their roster and make finite changes, the Kings are losing opportunities to gain any sort of an identity.
The work that the Kings have ahead of them is much greater than most other NBA teams. They don’t need to fine tune game plans, they need to develop them from scratch. Their roster doesn’t need tweaking; it needs major guidance and possibly total overhaul. The changes that need to be made in Sacramento are not finite, they are fundamental and encompass every level of the organization.
Even if you believe that the Kings' actual roster is closer to competing than many will give them credit for (I’m still not 100 percent sold on this idea, but I’m coming around), forming a roster is simply the first, most basic step in building a competitive team. Coaches need to meet and get on the same page. Players need to develop chemistry through practice and repetition. Player-specific scouting reports need to be hatched, and film needs to be watched. And executives need to watch all of this live and in person.
Right now, the Kings are losing out on these steps of development that are crucial for a young team.
Much has been made of Sacramento’s ownership woes and the drama that accompanies possible franchise relocation. No matter how you look at it or which side of the argument you come out on, the 2012 season will be a massively important one for determining the long-term future of the Kings in Sacramento.
If city-wide support for the team exists in the way that it has in the past, the chances of the Kings staying put is dramatically higher than if Sacramento citizens once again grow weary of being strung along by basketball big-wigs.
This is yet another way in which the lockout is dangerous for a small-market team with an already-tenuous grasp on its fanbase.
All of the support that the Kings saw in the last year, from attendance to jersey sales to the “Here We Stay” grassroots efforts of Sacramentans, has come in spite of the franchise’s instability, not because of it. The city of Sacramento wants to love this team, but are constantly faced with reasons (terrible ownership, blatantly uncompetitive rosters, uninspired personnel decisions) why they shouldn’t. The lockout is simply one more reason.
Despite all that is wrong with the Kings, the team’s fans displayed their love for the team throughout last season. By the season’s end, they had built a fair amount of momentum that would, hopefully, keep the team in California’s capitol city for years to come.
But the lockout is once again threatening this momentum. By ceasing basketball operations, the NBA could do what years of Greg Ostertags and Carl Landrys could not. That is, take the wind out of Sacramento’s sails and possibly even torpedo Sacramento’s effort to keep the Kings.
For other NBA franchises, the lockout could be damaging. But almost all other franchises are more stable and more developed than the Kings. The Kings cannot sustain lockout-related damages the way other franchises can because of their youth and because so much of their future is unknown.
Any practices, scrimmages or games that are lost to a lockout are much more damaging to the Kings than to other teams, just as any amount of physical harm is more damaging to an infant that to a fully formed adult.
In the NBA, the Kings are a group of infants surrounded by grown-ass men.
Without an NBA season, the Kings will not improve as a team. That much is obvious. But the damages done by the NBA lockout could extend much further than roster development. It could set the Kings back many years both in terms of legitimacy in the NBA and even existence as a team.
There is virtually no way that the lockout could destroy all of NBA basketball. But it could destroy the Sacramento Kings. Let’s hope that, despite whatever damage is done by the lockout, the baby Kings can grow up in a hurry and continue to thrive (or at least exist) in whatever new version of the NBA we will eventually see.