Finally, some good news: Sacramento Kings Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Greivis Vasquez, SG Ben McLemore, SF John Salmons, PF Jason Thompson, C DeMarcus Cousins
Key Bench Contributors: PG Isaiah Thomas, SG Marcus Thornton, SG Jimmer Freddette, SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, PF Patrick Patterson, C Chuck Hayes
Offseason Additions: Greivis Vasquez, Ben McLemore (7th overall pick), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, PF Carl Landry (out 3-4 months)
Offseason Subtractions: G/F Tyreke Evans
FACT OR FICTION: After an offseason of big changes in the roster and on the business side, the refocused Kings have a shot at the playoffs.

FICTION. Right away, fiction. Definite, best-selling fiction. But it might not be that way for long.
The Sacramento Kings are finally out of the thrall of the Maloof ownership and into the skinny, yet loving arms of new majority owner Vivek Ranadive. The franchise cleared out nearly it’s entire infrastructure this summer, dismissing longtime GM Geoff Petrie and head coach Keith Smart, who no doubt did their parts in the organization’s seven year layoff from the postseason. In their places Ranadive hired away personnel from franchises with recent success: Pete D’Allessandro, a former Denver Nuggets assistant GM, and Mike Malone, former Golden State Warriors assistant coach.

Along with the front office and coaching facelift, the Kings began to turn over one of the biggest on-court disasters in the league. For years, Sacto has been a haven of mismatched parts and one-dimensional players and chronic underachievers. They had a overload of point guards, but only in name. The best playmaker of the group was Isaiah Thomas, who still had much to be desired in terms of shot selection and defense. Jimmer Fredette, Tyreke Evans and Aaron Brooks were even worse in regards to distributing the ball and couldn’t even help as pace-changing offensive weapons in reserve. Alongside them were guys like John Salmons and Marcus Thornton, who were shoot-first gunners and not much else. Then there were the bigs: Thomas Robinson, DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson, none of which hit their varying lottery-buttressed ceilings.

The Kings were (and are) brimming with talent, which in part led them to the 12th best offensive efficiency in the league. But defensively? They finished 28th. The discrepancy left them at 28-54, which was sadly their best record in five seasons. It’s clear that the Kings needed a new coach to harness all of these first round draft picks, especially Cousins, as well as clear out their glut of similarly one-dimensional players.

And thus, the end of the Tyreke Evans era in Sacto. The former Rookie of the Year was sign and traded to New Orleans, bringing in pass-first point guard Greivis Vasquez in his stead. The former Maryland Terrapin still isn’t much of a defender, but might be able to better distribute the ball to his many scoring options than any of the other point guards on the roster. Now guards Thomas and Fredette will be pushed down the depth chart, options as offensive catalysts off the bench. Ben McLemore fell all the way down to the Kings at the seventh slot in the June Draft, mostly because of concerns about his lack of work ethic or killer instinct. Many felt that he lacked the competitive juices to become the All-Star his natural talent suggested, and before the sale to Ranadive, many felt that there wasn’t a worse place for him to land. However, with a new regime working to make the Kings a franchise where young talent can be focused and grown, the hope is that McLemore will turn into the Ray Allen comparison many made before the draft.

Then there’s Cousins. He’s entering into year four and still not any closer to becoming the multidimensional destroyer on both ends of the floor. On the surface, his stat line looks amazing–the guys is essentially a guaranteed double-double machine with passing chops comparable to the great passing big men of his generation. However, it’s obvious that he just doesn’t make the game easier for himself, exemplified by his career .448 shooting percentage. He remains a loaf on defense and often avoids contact on offense despite being damn near uncontainable in the paint. More importantly, he’s a head case who’s liable to start a bench clearing brawl at any minute and is infinitely more a locker room distraction than a leader. Still, his sheer, raw talent is totally unavoidable. So much so that the Kings gave him and $80 million dollar extension knowing that it’s far easier to get a good coaching staff in place rather than getting lucky and draft a talent like him again.

The talent is there in Sacto, but hoping that rookie head coach Malone can get his capable but unwilling team to care about defense and grow many of their offensive games is unlikely in just one season. Quite frankly, there is almost no chance that the Kings make the playoffs this season in a busy bottom half of the Western Conference, but then again, that’s not the goal. Sacramento should be mostly focused on the development of their youngsters, growth that the franchise hasn’t been capable of fostering for almost a decade. The Kings still have some house cleaning to do roster-wise, but the direction is there.

Best Case Scenario: Cousins turns into a Tim Duncan-like monster, six other teams instantly regret not drafting McLemore and Vasquez helps settle an inefficient offense. The Kings win 35 games with a much improved defense via coach Malone, which still gives them a top-10 pick to go along with their max cap room next summer. The future looks fantastic.

Absolute Apocalypse: You know MAMBINO’s famous #hashtag? #Sameoldknicks? Well, this season turns out to be #Sameoldkings. DeMarcus, now an $80 million dollar man, continues to waste his all-world talent and languishes as a good but not great NBA big man. The rest of the roster is, yes, a convoluted mess of parts on offense and inept on defense. McLemore shows why his stock fell so far in the draft, as he looks more like the second coming of Marvin Williams than Ray Allen. Still, sheer talent alone nets them 25 wins and they are stuck again with the 7th pick in the draft. Not great for a franchise that needs a cornerstone.

Do you smell what MAMBINO is cooking? Check out the rest (so far) of our 2013-2014 NBA Season Preview series:

Central Division

Chicago Bulls
Cleveland Cavaliers
Detroit Pistons
Indiana Pacers
Milwaukee Bucks

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks
Charlotte Bobcats

Miami Heat
Orlando Magic
Washington Wizards

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets
Minnesota Timberwolves
Oklahoma City Thunder
Portland Trailblazers
Utah Jazz

Northwest Division

Dallas Mavericks
Houston Rockets
Memphis Grizzlies
New Orleans Pelicans
San Antonio Spurs

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics
Brooklyn Nets
Philadelphia 76ers
Toronto Raptors

Pacific Division

Golden State Warriors
Phoenix Suns

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