Usually NBA season previews are best read in October, back when football games hardly mattered, Midnight Madness was a few weeks away, and baseball was winding down. Perhaps with the last of the offseason's iced tea in hand, as you whiled away on a too-warm-for-the-season afternoon.
Well, pour yourself a glass of bull shot and tighten those mittens, because it's late-December and the NBA decided to have a season this year. As such, the exegetes at Ball Don't Lie are previewing the 2011-12 campaign in a mad rush, as if you or we would have it any other way. So put down the shovel long enough to listen to Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine and Eric Freeman as they break down each of the NBA's 29 teams, plus Toronto.
This time? It's the Sacramento Kings.
Kelly Dwyer's Reasons to be Cheerful
We've had our issues with Sacramento Kings play by play man Grant Napear in the past, but we've also no shame in absolutely aping his "if you don't like that, you don't like NBA basketball" pet phrase in order to laud these Kings.
This will not be a good basketball team, and it will not make the playoffs. This will not be a team worth counting on for any reasonable stretch. And this group isn't full of pure talent and high-flyers. No smooth point men that are slowly figuring the league out. No obvious franchise players to-be. What the team will be is entertaining. Incessantly entertaining, and not in the despondent train-wreck way that the Washington Wizards have been recently.
Words like these no doubt come off as disrespectful to both Kings players (wouldn't Jimmer Fredette be that point man? Wouldn't DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans work as franchise players?) and fans, but this is coming from a sincere place. 30 team previews in, and we're well chuffed and quite anxious to take in a team like this, and to watch this team learn on the fly. Youngsters Cousins and Evans clearly have what it takes to lead this team to the playoffs, consistently, but they also showcased some of the worst decision-making in the NBA last season. Consistently. Over and over. Redundantly. Not unlike this paragraph.
I want to watch this turn around, though. I want to see it late in a League Pass game on a Wednesday night. I want to see Cousins, after having his post options exhausted, find a cutter. I want to see Evans go to his left. You know you want this team to work, for Sacramento to shake again, for this crew to defy all outward appearances and start to run things. The Clippers moved up. The Warriors had their moment. The Thunder are jumping two playoff series' at a time. The Grizzlies came out of nowhere, last season. The Kings? Why can't they be our newest League Pass pet?
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Eight or nine talents under the age of 25, depending on how much you think of Hassan Whitehead's game, and plenty for Paul Westphal to continue to go gray about. But also plenty for us to bray about, blearly-eyed the next morning, after staying up to take these talented goofballs in. I'm cheerful. How u?
Never gets old.
Dan Devine Has Feelings about Your Team: Sacramento Kings
I'm so excited for you!
When last we saw the Kings in their home whites, it was by no means assured that there would be NBA basketball played in Sacramento this season. The Kings have an excellent, rabid fan base full of committed citizens who have dug in their heels, demonstrated, roused social and political support, and basically refused to let their favorite team go. For the time being, they're still holding on, and they will see basketball this season. They should be excited; I'm excited for them.
I'm likewise excited that, after a physical uncovered a heart abnormality in King-to-be Chuck Hayes that led the team to void his just-signed free-agent contract, an independent team of doctors has cleared the former Houston Rockets center to resume his career, opening the door for him to sign a new four-year deal with Sacramento.
Hayes is one of the unique players in the NBA -- a 6-foot-6-inch center who makes up for the size disadvantage he faces on a nightly basis with strong, determined, smart positional defense and hard work.
He'll instantly make the Kings a better defensive team, eventually becoming the steadier half of a likely pairing with DeMarcus Cousins in the starting lineup, and his brand of ball will have Kings fans singing his praises just as loudly and earnestly as Rockets fans did. I'm excited for him to get back on the court (which, at the risk of echoing myself, was by no means assured a few days ago) and for Kings fans to get to cheer a player who both deserves it and will repay them for it.
I'm so worried for you!
There are the big off-court worries -- that the city of Sacramento will approve a joint public-private plan to finance a new arena, that the NBA Board of Governors will decide not to approve the franchise's relocation to Anaheim, that Hayes' heart is as healthy as the doctors at the Cleveland Clinic say. Then, there's the smaller, on-court stuff, headlined by the fear that folk hero Jimmer Fredette will struggle mightily to make the switch from college's premiere long-range bomber, a guy with a green light as soon as he steps over half-court, to a pro point guard tasked with facilitating his team's offense.
While playmaking chores will be split between Fredette and Evans, the former starting point guard who now profiles to play the two, if the ex-BYU star isn't able to hold up his end of the bargain as at least a capable distributor, that's a pretty big problem. As presently constituted, the Kings have a lot of guys capable of creating offense for themselves -- headlined by Evans, Cousins, John Salmons and the recently re-signed Marcus Thornton -- but nobody (save maybe second-round pick Isaiah Thomas) who is all that gifted at running the show and getting others involved. (If Geoff Petrie and Paul Westphal loved the way Evans did that, he'd still be playing the one, and Beno Udrih wouldn't have gotten nearly as many minutes as he did last season.)
With a lineup full of self-styled scorers interested in using possessions for their own purposes, someone's got to keep the ball moving. If Jimmer can help do that while still retaining the ability to pour in buckets with his in-the-gym range, then the Sacramento offense could improve last season's sixth-worst offensive efficiency ranking. If not, the Kings might need to petition the league for a dispensation that allows them to play with five or six extra basketballs just to keep everyone happy.
I have no idea what to make of you!
I don't feel like I have a real strong grasp on what the Kings' small forward rotation is intended to accomplish or provide. Except for minutes. I get that all of these guys are employed with the intent of combining to play the small forward spot for the required 48 minutes per game. Beyond that, though, I am somewhat confused.
At present, the depth chart is headlined by the 32-year-old Salmons. Many people were confused by the Kings' decision to import Salmons in that three-team, eight-player draft night deal, because they already had Francisco Garcia and Donte Greene on the roster ...
... except that neither Garcia (hasn't been healthy in three years, saw his field-goal and 3-point percentages drop off last season) nor Greene (a volume shooter who takes a dozen shots per 36 minutes but missed 60 percent of his field goals and 70 percent of his long balls last year) are any great shakes ...
... except that, last year, neither was Salmons, as he followed a couple of good years for the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks with his worst offensive season in six years, and is slated to earn $31.2 million over the next four years, which makes it understandable that they'd look for an upgrade ...
... except that they just won the bidding "war" to bring in Travis Outlaw, just amnestied by the New Jersey Nets to shed the pricey free-agent deal they'd signed him to just one season earlier -- a deal they were eager to jettison because he'd turned in one of the two worst seasons of any small forward in the league (the other, naturally, belonging to teammate Stephen Graham).
All told, they will pay these four gentlemen a shade under $19 million to play small forward for them this year, yet it remains unclear if any of them are actually any good. It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for 'em.
Eric Freeman's Culture Club
The worlds of the NBA and popular culture intersect often. Actors and musicians show up at games, players cameo in their shows and movies and make appearances at their concerts. Yet the connections go deeper than these simple relationships — a work of art can often explain the situation of an NBA team. Eric Freeman's Culture Club makes these comparisons explicit. In each installment, we'll assign one movie, TV show, album, song, novel, short story, or filmstrip to the previewed team.
SACRAMENTO KINGS: "The Room"