Earlier this May the NBA Board of Governors unanimously voted to sell the majority of the Sacramento Kings to an ownership group, led by a man named Vivek Ranadive, keeping the team in California. Though the people of ‘Sactown’ are excited about retaining the franchise, they’ll be lucky to see their squad win 30 games this season. Keeping professional basketball in the state’s capital marks the beginning of a painful rebuilding process, but fans can look forward to the Kings’ promising future as a fixture in the league.
The feel good story aside, it’s going to be a long year for the Kings.
Sacramento’s head coach is also starting a new beginning; Michael Malone joins the team after spending the previous two seasons under Mark Jackson in Golden State. He’s also spent time with Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets and the New York Knicks. Voted best assistant coach by the league’s general managers, Malone is defensive minded — and he’s got his work cut-out for him with this roster.
Projecting a starting-five for this team is a headache, especially when thinking about the point guard. Greivis Vasquez, a third year player from the University of Maryland, is 26 years old, has lifetime averages of 14 points and 9 assists per game and is anticipated to be the starting point guard on opening night. But don’t tell that to Isaiah Thomas, who had 21 points in Wednesday night’s preseason, come from behind, victory against the Golden State Warriors. Thomas also played more minutes, had more rebounds and less turnovers than Vasquez. When going off the numbers from last season, deciding on a facilitator is a tough call for Coach Malone to make, as neither player is the type to conceded the starting role.
McLemore averaged nearly 20 points per 40 minutes at the University of Kansas last season, but despite being an exciting player in terms of upside and potential — it will take time before he becomes a prolific scorer. Through six preseason games, he’s averaging 12 ppg on 48 percent shooting from the field and has hit 40 percent of his attempts from downtown. He’ll need to be more aggressive off-the-dribble and getting to the line; McLemore’s only taken 11 free-throws, 8 of his 72 points this preseason have come from the charity stripe — an average of less than two FT’s per game. His predecessor, Evans, averaged six-and-a-half attempts from the line his rookie season. Expect the rookie to start the year coming off the bench; veteran Marcus Thornton will get the nod at shooting guard, for now.
The anchor of the ship in Sactown – DeMarcus Cousins – is an unstable one, to say the least. Last month Cousins signed a contract extension worth 60 million dollars, a pretty penny for a player who led the league in technical fouls last season (17). He ranked 9th in rebounding, a positive, but needs to continue to improve to be more than just a 20 point, 10 rebound guy if he wants to carry the Kings to more than 30 wins this season. He hasn’t shown the ability to be a leader, in fact, his attitude may have cost him a higher draft selection (5th), and has had him sent off by former coach Paul Westphal. Plus, he’s not a player fans will get behind if there’s no improvement to his ethic.
Other offseason additions include Carl Landry, Luc Mbah a Moute and Ray McCallum.
It’s tough to tell if this team will be the sneaky good scoring squad they were last season with an offense that ranked 12th in the NBA. Their most pressing however, issue is still defending, which ranked 28th. Playing in the Western Conference, more specifically the Pacific division, the Kings must find success against the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trailblazers, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers -teams on the downslide in the West- if they want to improve off a 7-9 division record from last season or a conference worst 14-38. Where Sacramento must really improve is on the road, both the Kings and the division-dwelling Suns were 8-33 on the road, only the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards were worse away from home last season.
Malone has work to do, though it must be nice having the support of Mayor Kevin Johnson (a former NBA All-Star), in addition to the city of Sacramento, as the Kings await a new stadium and a new beginning to Basketball in California’s capitol.
”You guys know that Sacramento has a fighting spirit. Our fans show up every game and they fight tirelessly for their team. Our community has had their back against the wall on more than one occasion and this is going to be no different. We’ve done the impossible. We kept the team from going to Anaheim. We came up with a financing plan last year that was a win for the Maloofs, it was a win for the NBA and it was a win for the city and here we are with another opportunity. And I expect us to do everything that we can possibly do to come out victorious. - Kevin Johnson, before it was determined the Kings were staying in Sacramento.