After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.
The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.
Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise
The good news? The former owners – the terrible city and franchise and Axe Body Spray-killing owners that I won’t even mention by name – are gone. Banished forever, or at least off to a Dave & Buster’s to try to be recognized, but not before handing the reins over to a new owner, the well-heeled Vivek Ranadive.
Along with Ranadive comes a competent general manager, something that former GM Geoff Petrie most certainly was not during his last half-decade with the club, and a much-admired coach. New GM Pete D’Alessandro and former Warriors assistant coach Mike Malone don’t give off the impression of holdovers, which is a huge step up for a franchise that played as if it had little regard for consequences beyond the next month.
That’s the good news. The “any news is good news,”-news.
The bad news is that the Kings still stink, badly. The team has options galore and it’s doing some interesting things with its personnel while working around the edges, but the group is ages away from competing for a playoff spot at this point. Worse, the team’s roster is still littered with the hallmarks of the previous administration, capped out this year and not exactly entirely off the hooks next summer payroll-wise. Worse than that “worse?” The franchise went through years of terrible pay without really cashing in on a high-end pick worth retaining, outside of top five selection DeMarcus Cousins.
And even that’s a stretch. Because Boogie is going to have to show a lot of us so, so much for us to get on board with the idea that DeMarcus Cousins is worth the money he’s about to be paid. We don’t mind DeMarcus as a person, not in the slightest, but his on-court work often leaves a lot to be desired as he stumbles out of position defensively, or fails to take advantage of his low post gifts on the other end.
Cousins will have all he can handle in 2013-14, both in terms of shot attempts (with Tyreke Evans off to New Orleans, and forward Carl Landry injured to start the season), and attention. Mainly because Malone likes to yell a bit, and after years of suffering through the cheery admonishments from Paul Westphal (who, literally, doesn’t use curse words) and Keith Smart, Cousins will have an earful in his first season under Malone.
Perhaps that could shake things, at least defensively, and the Kings need it. Because while Isaiah Thomas continues to impress, and rookie Ben McLemore might be the steal of the draft, this is a team that will struggle badly to keep up on both ends. New point man Greivis Vasquez doesn’t make mistakes, and Jimmer Fredette’s per-minute numbers were actually quite good last year, but this isn’t a team full of game-shifters.
That’s where Cousins has to come in. With efficient offense styled around an improved shot selection, and an actual presence on defense. We’re not holding our breath in anticipation of the latter, but Malone has a reputation for persuading people. That said, even a Tom Thibodeau-styled turnaround won’t have the Kings approaching the playoff bracket.
Any news is good news, though. Kings fans have to remember that, while they spiral their way to the lottery once again.
Projected record: 33-49
Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine
While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.
Tune into the Kings for … basketball, and at long last, nothing more.
I’m not sure the Kings will be significantly better this year than last year. There are reasons for optimism -- a well-compensated (and generous) DeMarcus Cousins cold flourish as the unquestioned man in the middle, top pick Ben McLemore could be electric as a reserve two-guard, and Isaiah Thomas and offseason addition Greivis Vasquez could form a dynamic combo at the point. Sacramento could be dangerous if new coach Mike Malone can both maintain the spacing and ball movement that made the Kings the league’s No. 7 offense after the All-Star break and successfully instill the defense-first culture that’s been his trademark as an assistant.
That’s a lot to ask, though, from a first-year coach with one of the league’s worst crops of small forwards in the returning-from-injury Luc Richard Mbah a Moute plus the not-good-in-three-years duo of John Salmons and Travis Outlaw, without prize free-agent acquisition Carl Landry, and with lots of ground to make up to approach middle-of-the-road status on defense. (Our man Tom Ziller was encouraged by what he saw defensively during preseason, for what it’s worth.) It’s possible that Malone sparks a sea change that pushes the Kings to a strong start with a friendly early schedule -- 15 of their first 22 games come at home, and they don’t have to travel east of Salt Lake City until the week before Christmas. By the time the trade deadline rolls around, though, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Boogie and company struggling to get stops and occupying a familiar spot around the bottom 10 in winning percentage.
And when we see them there, we will talk about the solutions new general manager Pete D’Alessandro might be able to find on the wing, or maybe which Sacramento power forward or shooting guard might fetch the best return. We will not talk about Joe and Gavin gone wild, or casino construction gone ghastly, or super premium vodka, or Anaheim or Virginia Beach or Seattle, or relocation votes and Board of Governors meetings. That’s over. We’re off that.
Kings broadcasts, coverage and theorizing will no longer be haunted by the specter of sale and uprooting, by a future more uncertain than the present. They can just be about basketball -- about Cousins dominating on the block and disappearing on defense, about whether Jimmer Fredette can be a capable enough ball-handler and defender to merit more than 14 minutes a game, and probably, since it comes up pretty much every year, whether to commit to Jason Thompson. The conversation can be about -- gasp! -- the Kings. Fancy that.
Patience isn’t perpetual and the honeymoon won’t last forever, nor should it. For now, though, merely being able to watch the Kings be what they are (in front of routinely great home crowds, even in the darkest hours) rather than just a pawn in a larger game is something worth being psyched about.
Honorable mentions: Vasquez, who has broken through every ceiling we’ve placed on him and is fun to watch as a facilitator; McLemore, who should be a shoo-in for a spot in the Slam Dunk Contest and could be legitimately helpful as a rookie; Patrick Patterson, who shot 49.4 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from 3-point land after coming over from the Houston Rockets last year, who shot 40.9 percent from deep during the preseason, and whose ability to space the floor could be huge in the half court.
Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion
NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.
This preseason, Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, now in his fourth season, informed reporters that he is experiencing his first real NBA offense. The quote was classic Boogie: poorly considered, strident, a little mean, and just sane enough that it made sense. In his first three years with the Kings, Cousins had to deal with a largely dysfunctional organization and fairly poor coaching. With new owners and new coach Michael Malone, the Kings have introduced needed stability. As such, Cousins is being put in a real position to succeed for the first time in his career.
The Kings’ dysfunction didn’t shield Cousins from blame — in fact, he has probably received too much for various incidents over the years — but there’s a sense that he now has no excuses for not becoming a star. Cousins is blessed with talent rarely seen in big men: the abilities to pass, score, and rebound at very high levels. With a new contract, there’s no clear reason why he can’t become an All-Star-caliber player. He has all the talent to do so.
This season presents an opportunity for Cousins to shed his reputation — it can be a fresh start for his career. But while those phrases suggest a range of possibilities, it’s more the case that a failure to play to that level would be a supreme disappointment. The Kings have new hope as a franchise, and Cousins has to justify it or suffer a new level of criticism.
Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2013-14 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Bobcats • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Houston Rockets • Memphis Grizzlies • New Orleans Pelicans • San Antonio Spurs • Minnesota Timberwolves • Oklahoma City Thunder • Portland Trail Blazers • Utah Jazz • Golden State Warriors • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Phoenix Suns