From NorCal to SoCal: Returning to Playoff-Caliber Teams



From afar, it might look like the start of the “New Era” for the Sacramento Kings was completely unsuccessful.

After all, Sacramento’s record this year of 28-54 was exactly equivalent to the team’s record the year before. No gain, no loss. Either way, that’s eight consecutive years not qualifying for the playoffs.

However, there is a different energy in the city. People in Sac Town are excited about the potential of the Kings. There is buzz about the new arena. Without corrupt owners, it is acceptable to show love for the Kings again.

Of course, next season, it would be nice to see the “New Era” of Kings Basketball translate onto the court. At times this season, it was visible. Sacramento beat excellent playoff teams such as Houston, Miami and Portland. However, the Kings lacked consistency, especially on defense, falling to some of worst teams in the NBA.

One of the biggest positives to take away from this season is that the front office proved it is willing to do whatever it takes to make the team good now. General Manager Pete D’Alessandro made great strides with Rudy Gay early in the season, giving Kings a “Big Three” of their own in Gay, point guard Isaiah Thomas and center DeMarcus Cousins.

Looking to next season, the biggest need is to ensure all the big pieces to the current squad stay intact, unless the Kings can trade or sign a franchise-changing player. But it needs to be a player who management has great faith will stay in Sacramento. There’s talk of trying to trade for All-Star Kevin Love, but it’s risky to sign a player that could pack up and move a year after signing when his contract expires.

Thomas is a restricted free agent during the offseason. There’s currently talk of trading Thomas, but the young underdog has proved he can hold his own in this league and be a great point guard.

Last season, Thomas averaged 20.3 points, 6.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game. Obtaining another point guard would be smart, but having the ball in Thomas’ hands led to nothing but good things last season. Don’t mess with it now.

Similarly, Gay also can become an unrestricted free agent if he decides not to exercise his player option worth $19.3 million for the 2014-15 season. Gay had the best year of his career with California’s capital city, setting career-highs in points per game, field goal percentage and assists per game. His ability to score at the small forward position and his versatility greatly aided the Kings. Keep him in purple and black too.

As for the last member of the Big Three, Cousins needs to mature, and fast. The Kings need him on the court, not in foul trouble or being suspended for technical fouls. He led the NBA in ‘T’s’ again this season.

Cousins has the talent and frame to be a franchise player. He was great this year, improving his efficiency on the offensive end, but if he can mentally become strong to the point where he’s not committing silly turnovers and taking possessions off on defense, he could easily be an all-star next season. It’s time for him to step up and lead by example.

The biggest area of need for the Kings in the offseason is at the shooting guard position. Rookie Ben McLemore simply isn’t ready. This season, he showed he has bad hands; he needs great improvement with his ball handling and he’s not the shooter anyone expected him to be.

In an overall disappointing season for McLemore, the Kings traded Marcus Thornton, showing the Kings want McLemore to be a big part of their future. With drastic improvement, maybe he could be, but not now.
The Kings didn’t have the greatest luck in the lottery, receiving the No. 8 pick, but Sacramento was the first to put that pick up for a trade in order to ensure immediate talent and success. It’s certainly the smartest tactic for the organization right now.

Sacramento is in need of consistent perimeter shooting. A good passer would be favorable. It needs players who can play defense and buy into Malone’s style.

I don’t expect Jason Terry to stay, so some veteran leadership could greatly benefit the young squad too.

As long as management continues on its plan of immediate success, the Kings have players they can build around.

The city is ready to win. The front office has the right mentality to win. The players need to believe they can win. It’s time to make it happen.

 

A version of this article appeared on page 12 of April 28th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.

Art by Mingchen Shen of the Daily Nexus.

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