A Sacramento Kings Premature Season Preview
The "nuclear winter" that commissioner David Stern thought was on the horizon seemed to be a false apparition. Instead of a bleak and bitter boxing match in court, the two sides of the NBA finally came together on Nov. 26 to save face and the season.
The Kings, like many teams, have plenty of work ahead and little time to do so.
Free agency begins the same day training camp opens, Dec. 9, which is just over two weeks before their first game of the season against the Sixers on Dec. 26 (if the schedule isn't changed): not a lot of time for new acquisitions to get acclimated to say the least.
With how the roster stands currently, the Kings are looking to change the tides that have seen five straight losing seasons.
While the Kings have plenty of cap room to play with, the likelihood they use much or any of it is minimal. Outside of a few low salaire pickups to fill spots, the Kings roster is probably very close to what it will look like on opening night.
While the pieces are predominantly the same, there is reason to believe this season might have a different outcome.
Going Hard in the Paint
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The Kings are deep in one area: the post.
While the expected loss of Samuel Dalembert stings a bit, the arrival of J.J. Hickson is welcomed depth and scoring ability the Kings can use. Hickson had been advertised as the future of the Cavs after LeBron's departure, and they nixed a trade for Amar'e Stoudemire because of their reluctance to include him in the deal.
After Hickson couldn't be had for Stoudemire, the Kings landed the promising big man for the price of Omri Casspi a year and a half later.
Hickson's departure from Cleveland wasn't exactly a clean split, but by swinging this deal, Petrie pulled off a great move just before the lockout began.
Outside of Hickson, there is DeMarcus Cousins of course. The Kentucky big man had an up and down rookie season but showed improvement towards the end of the season and appears to have been working hard during the lockout. Cousins could be a top five post player for the Kings with all the tools he has, or he could be the next Rasheed Wallace.
Wallace was a very talented player and ended up winning a title with the Pistons but never really lived up to what he had been billed as coming out of college: a star. Let's hope Cousins story ends a little differently.
With Cousins and Hickson being the likely starters for Westphal, Jason Thompson is the odd man out. Although he is not starting, Thompson is still likely to play heavy minutes as the primary backup who can play both the four and five.
He is a skilled big man but struggles to score around the bucket. He is a nice compliment to Cousins and Hickson and could even sneak into the starting line if either of the two start off slow (and knowing Westphal's rotational patterns, he might slide in regardless).
Hassan Whiteside played all of four minutes last season for the Kings before being demoted to the NBDL and ultimately being shutdown due to knee issues. The big man from Marshall has been working hard to pack on more muscle though during the lockout. Barring a revelation or serious injuries, Whiteside will likely play sparingly.
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Other than the men down low, the Kings have a bevy of backcourt players.
Everyone knows Tyreke Evans, while some are aware of Marcus Thornton, and putting them both in the backcourt makes for a dangerous combo. While neither are true point guards, they can both handle a bit and are decent passers along with capable scorers.
Enter Jimmer Fredette.
I'm not going to advertise the BYU sensation as the answer in the backcourt, but he has potential to really fill a serious need: shooting. Even critics can't deny the kid has crazy range on his jump shot and underrated athletic ability.
That said, I'm not sure how he fits into the plans as well as say Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker could have at the seventh pick—at least Knight could have been a better fit down the road. Fredette's playmaking abilities could develop and maybe help him shift into a facilitating role in the same way Stephen Curry has for the Warriors.
Along with Jimmer, the Kings brass drafted Isaiah Thomas with the last pick in the draft. Thomas is a scrappy, undersized guard who emerged as a leader at Washington. He could turn out to be a Bobby Jackson type player, but if he doesn't, Sacramento loses nothing.
With Evans' big physical play opposite of Thornton's bouncy uptempo style, the Kings could see a lot of success between the two next seasons. I wouldn't expect Thornton to be starting by the end of the season though if Fredette comes along the way they are hoping he will.a year and a half later
Thin on the Wing
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The Kings' weak point is probably at the three spot. While adding John Salmons is probably an upgrade over Francisco Garcia or Donte Greene, they still could use some help here.
Tyler Honeycutt is intriguing and promising out of UCLA, as he can shoot, handle the ball and play solid defense. His potential is questionable; I could see him starting for the Kings at one point, but I'm not sure how great of an option that is.
Salmons could be an amnesty candidate, but considering that Paul Westphal was the one pushing to bring him back, I don't see that as a likely scenario. If Salmons can fill the three the way the Kings need him to by playing defense and being a catch-and-shoot player, then they will have picked up a solid player that fills a vital need.
If the former Buck plays like he did last season, then I'm not sure he will be in Sacramento much longer. Salmons has a tendency to pout and complain when he is not the focal point of the offense, which has a ripple effect on the entire team.
Behind him is Francisco Garcia and Donte Greene. Garcia is kind of what you see is what you get. He plays solid defense, can shoot and handle a little, but isn't particularly great at any one thing. He is consistent and usually plays under control, but won't wow you. If Salmons struggles, Garcia could take his starting spot, or at least the bulk of the minutes.
Greene is the X factor here. I've said for years that the Kings will go as far as Greene can progress. If he can become a legit starter for the Kings and consistently put up respectable numbers, the Kings will have solidified their front court and starting lineup.
Unfortunately he makes mistakes often and can't seem to pull it all together. If he hit the block more and could knock down the jumper consistently, he would be a much bigger threat.
What Does It All Mean?
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The Kings have been a team that represents the futility of many NBA clubs. While they have some promising young talent in Evans and Cousins, both still have a lot of developing to do before they can be considered elite players in the league.
They have shown the promise of top flight players at their positions but have struggled at times or lacked consistency.
With players like Hickson, Thornton, and hopefully Salmons, the Kings have a pretty talented starting lineup capable of scoring, if nothing else. Thompson, Fredette, and Garcia lead a balanced attack off the bench for the Kings.
This season will be a true test of Westphal's abilities to help shape a team of young and maturing players. He had success in Phoenix and made the playoffs in Seattle in his first season, but Westphal has struggled to mold this Kings team into much of anything in his two seasons.
While the team has shown glimpses of promise, the lack of general stability on the team has hindered them from making any significant improvement.
If the Kings can bring Dalembert back (big if) the possibility of packaging Thompson and perhaps a wing player like Salmons might be able to net the Kings a legit player at small forward, or perhaps a legit point guard.
Dec. 9 is a little ways off, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens then.