For the first time in two years we'll have an orthodox, full-length NBA season to look forward to. No lockout nonsense, and precious little obsession as to whether or not LeBron James will ever win the big one. He's won it, already, and our sanity as NBA followers is probably better off as a result. However big that shred of sanity is remains to be seen, following yet another offseason that once again proved that the NBA is full of Crazy McCrazytons that appear to take great delight in messing with us continually.
As a result of that offseason, and the impending regular season, why not mess with Ball Don't Lie's triptych of Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine and Eric Freeman as they preview the 2012-13 season with alacrity, good cheer, and bad jokes.
We continue with the not quite there Sacramento Kings.
Kelly Dwyer's Kilt-Straightener
In a strange turn, a good chunk of league-wide optimism has popped up of late concerning the Sacramento Kings. Odd news, considering the team barely upgraded its roster with free agent acquisitions or trades over the offseason, its owners are clearly hell-bent on moving the team to any number of available cities that will embrace their disingenuous ways, and the team is being led from the sidelines by a one-time interim coach in Keith Smart that didn't exactly distinguish himself as a head in his previous coaching stop.
So why the good cheer? As is the case late every summer and early every autumn, fans got around to mulling over and talking up the team's starting lineup, and potential depth should the bench helpers turn out. It's a yearly exercise performed by fans and non-fans alike for each team, and not to be dismissed if the expectations don't get out of hand. Considering that we're feeling positive about the Kings but have handed them just a (pro-rated, considering the shortened NBA season) three-win improvement in 2012-13, we think we've tempered expectations enough.
The hope is that these various youngsters will want to make their latest chance work, after a few deadening seasons of playing under coach Paul Westphal, and a 2011-12 turn that every player knew was doomed to the lottery just a week in. Rookie Thomas Robinson and second year guard Isaiah Thomas appear as enthusiastic, undeterred sorts that won't let the malaise and giant hill get to them, while DeMarcus Cousins genuinely appears to want to turn his reputation around after a very good second season and a frustratingly short stint working out for Team USA prior to the Olympics.
From there, the game-changing element remains Tyreke Evans; a potential star at the wing position who still has yet to determine how to contribute efficiently without dominating the ball. Evans' attempts to force shots (though, admittedly, quite a few came in bailout situations late in the shot clock) after not seeing the rock in the initial stages of a possession last year were easily some of the ugliest basketball we saw all season — and not just amongst players of Evans' talent caliber. Tyreke is soon to play his 200nd NBA game as a pro, and he still has so much to figure out. Bottom floor stuff, really.
Cousins is on a much faster track, with his latest challenges coming in the form of an increased emphasis on defensive placement, his ability to turn in star-level minutes at the center position without letting the fatigue getting to him, and understanding that centers that score in the paint are supposed to shoot closer to 50 percent rather than 40.
There is legitimate concern that both Cousins and Robinson, two athletic types that still can plod at times, could be a poor fit working together in the Kings backcourt. While these fears have a solid foundation, the truth is that any lack of chemistry between the two is to be sussed out in 2013-14, and not during Robinson's rookie campaign. The big forward has enough to figure out while attempting to play what he (and all rookies) sees as "his game," and shouldn't be further burdened initially with providing an answer 50-some games in as to the future of Sacramento's frontcourt.
The future of the Kings in Sacramento? It's been determined, even if the club stays in the city for years to come. The pitiful ownership group doesn't want to sell, but they also can't even mount a successful relocation campaign despite working within a league that would take candy from a baby's mouth if it meant outfitting the confection with more luxury boxes. As such, the failed GM gets to ride the storm out, relying solely on youth and never bothering to upgrade midseason so as not to be judged with winning or losing a deal. Why would he, after all those previous trade losses?
In the meantime, though, the Kings will turn into a tidy little late night watch for League Pass denizens, full of emerging youngsters and a once-heralded would-be star that is far too young to be at a career crossroads … but here he is.
As a result, for the first time in a while, the Kings will be engaging. If, not often, "winning."
Projected record: 30-52
Fear Itself with Dan Devine: Hurricane-Hastened Bullet-Point Edition
It is tonally appropriate that the NBA season tips off just before Halloween -- because on any given night, each and every one of the league's 30 teams can look downright frightening. Sometimes, that means your favorite team will act as their opposition's personal Freddy Krueger; sometimes, you will be the one suffering through the living nightmare. In preparation for Opening Night, BDL's Dan Devine considers what makes your team scary and what should make you scared.
Because the world as Brooklyn knows it might be ending, he will try to do so more quickly.
What Makes You Scary: DeMarcus Cousins. Five reasons to love about the Kings' 22-year-old burgeoning beast of a center:
-- Over the last two months of last season, Cousins was a monster, averaging 19.8 points on 45.9 percent shooting, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks in just 31.4 minutes per game. Under cover of awful-team-inspired darkness, DMC played like an All-Star after Keith Smart took over, giving Kings fans hope for a breakout third season ahead.
-- Cousins grabbed 19.8 percent of available rebounds during his time on the floor last year, the third-highest rebound rate in the entire NBA, paced by a marked improvement on the offensive glass (from 10.4 percent in his rookie year to 14.2 percent last season).
-- He finished fifth in the NBA in "defensive plays" per game -- a catch-all stat combining steals, blocked shots and charges taken -- at 3.41 per game, behind only defensive studs Serge Ibaka, Andrew Bogut, Dwight Howard and Josh Smith, according to Hoopdata. That, of course, doesn't mean he's a top-five defensive player or anything; he finished 199th in the NBA points per possession allowed, according to Synergy Sports Technology's play-tracking data. But in terms of creating turnovers, Cousins already ranks among the league's most disruptive players. (Which, y'know, Paul Westphal already knew.)
-- On the offensive end, he took much better care of the ball. As a rookie, he turned the ball over on an estimated 18.5 percent of his possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.com; as a sophomore, he knocked that down to just 12.8 percent, a massive drop that came despite Cousins using nearly 30 percent of the Kings' offensive possessions.
-- He has recognized that not yelling at people all the time is a pretty good way to improve your leadership skills, which seems like an important step in a young man's development.
In sum: If he can continue to chop down his foul rate (5.2 personals per 36 minutes in Year 1, 4.7 per 36 in Year 2), it's absolutely possible that DMC could average something like 20 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks per game as a 22-year-old. A world-breaker's developing out west, y'all.
What Should Make You Scared: I mean, most things. Here are four:
-- The Kings return 11 players who played 88 percent of the minutes for a team that finished tied for the league's 10th-worst offense and third-worst defense, and while some (Cousins, surprising 2011-second-rounder-turned-star Isaiah Thomas, disappointing 2011-lottery-pick-turned-pumpkin Jimmer Fredette) are candidates for natural development, many look to be uninspiring and underperforming veterans with little hope of being more than flotsam. This is one of those situations where continuity is a pretty big bummer.
-- The Kings have to figure out what to do about Tyreke Evans, former Rookie of the Year, who's slated to become a restricted free agent after the season. Drafted to be a point guard, he's likely to begin this season at shooting guard, after spending nearly a third of his playing time at small forward last year. I'm pretty sure the Kings still have no idea whatsoever what to do with Tyreke Evans, and that he will remain one of the league's weirdest enigmas as he exits Sacramento in the late spring.
-- The Kings are still, amazingly, going to play John Salmons and Travis Outlaw big minutes at small forward.
-- The Kings lucked into arguably the second-best prospect in the 2012 NBA draft -- Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson -- and promptly began testing him out of his natural position at the three, in large part because of the bracing prospect of playing John Salmons and Travis Outlaw big minutes at small forward.
It pains me to say it, but it's going to be another rough season, Kings fans. I can only hope the likes of Cousins, Robinson and Thomas can author enough exciting moments to make it worth your while.
Eric Freeman's Identity Crisis
There is no more important asset for a basketball team than talent, and yet the more loaded squad does not always win. What we've seen in recent seasons isn't only that the best team wins, but that the group with the clearest sense of self, from management down through the players, prevails. A team must not only be talented, but sure of its goals, present and future, and the best methods of obtaining them. Most NBA teams have trouble with their identity. Eric Freeman's Identity Crisis is a window into those struggles, the accomplishment of realizing a coherent identity, and the pitfalls of believing these issues to be solved.
In a normal NBA scenario, the Kings would be in decent shape right now. With DeMarcus Cousins coming into his own as a star and rookie Thomas Robinson figuring to be a productive rebounder at the very least, Sacramento has the makings of a formidable frontcourt that could help them return to the postseason. Unfortunately, their situation is most definitely not normal. Owners Joe and Gavin Maloof look less and less able to turn the Kings back into a contender with every passing, whether because they're unwilling to spend or because they resent having to play in the relatively outdated Sleep Train Arena. The NBA, meanwhile, wants the Maloofs to sell to Seattle-based owners to correct its most recent relocation-related PR snafu. A franchise experiences its greatest period of turnover during either a change in ownership or a move, and the Kings could be on the verge of both.
All of which is to say that, no matter what the Kings have on their roster now, it's impossible to know the state of the franchise until they sort out who will own the team and where they'll play. Until then, planning for the future is an incomplete process where concepts like identity and even specific goals could change very quickly. It's an awful situation to be in, and not only because a dedicated group of fans could lose the team they love so much. How can anyone hope for a better future when the Kings could become Sonics 2.0 within a matter of months?
Any team's long-term plans are contingent on a host of other factors in a league where coaches rarely last beyond a couple seasons and players change teams regularly. No team in the 2012-13 season, though, takes that state of being to the extreme. With no sense of where they'll be in a year or two, the Kings are having a difficult time conceiving of their present. When a team has lots of work to do to improve, it can always look towards the future for hope. But it's easy to lose hope when the future is even less certain than the problematic present.