As the summer of 2009 approaches its halfway point, I find myself in a strange position. My first sporting love has always been baseball, and the team I’ve lived and died with since I was a young boy – the San Francisco Giants – are having a surprisingly fine season, and seem to have that “magic” that occasionally goes hand-in-hand with a team unexpectedly thrust into playoff contention. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are both among the early favorites to win the NL Cy Young award, the bullpen is solid after some really ugly years, and the team is actually getting production from some of its homegrown bats. Add to this, I frequent McCovey Chronicles, arguably the finest, most entertaining sports message board on the ‘net. The energy that one feels as a Giants fan right now is off the charts.
Another of my passions is fantasy football, which satisfies the stats geek side of my personality to no end. Normally, at this time of the year, I'd have a few spreadsheets thrown together and I'd be setting up player ratings by position and hanging out at a few different fantasy football sites getting the inside info that will assist me come draft day. And on draft day, I will spend five or six hours with a dozen of my oldest friends and catch up on what's happening in their lives. I usually start getting excited for draft day two or three months out (yes, I'm turning into an old fogie).
So why is it I find myself spending most of my available internet time here at SacTown Royalty? Three and a half months out from the start of the regular season - and I'm arguing (seemingly endlessly) about Tyreke Evans' ability to play the point guard position in the NBA, and loving every minute of it.
Have I gone mad? Am I depressed? Have the years of caffeine abuse finally caught up to me?
There is something about this particular version of the Sacramento Kings I find increasingly compelling. Not that I sense this team will be substantially better record-wise than in the '08-'09 season. And not that I think Paul Westphal is a Rick Adelman redux. Nope, there is something more working here. And I think I've figured it out - the word that would most likely apply to my current mental state regarding this team is "desperation".
As I've written here in the past, my connection to this Kings franchise goes back to it's very first days as a Sacramento entity. During my senior year of high school, I was lucky enough to spend a fairly significant amount of time with many of the original Kings and their families, most notably LaSalle Thompson and Mike Woodson. Having been a huge sports fan growing up, and still absorbing the notion that our little 'burg really had a professional team coming to town - I felt like a lottery winner when I discovered that many of the Kings were moving into homes within a block or two of my parent's home. Before I would finish up high school and move out of that house, I would get to know a few of those Kings fairly well - and not a one of them ever gave off the vibe you would expect from an elite athlete. What a great group of ambassadors the Kings were lucky enough to bring with them from Kansas City.
So there was an immediate connection with this franchise, one that gradually pushed my Giants down to second fiddle on the hierarchy of "important things" in my life. A quarter of a century later (wow), and nothing has changed in that regard. They are still numero uno, the bomb, the one team I'd take with me if I were stranded on a desert island.
But that still doesn't explain the feeling of desperation I have over the impending Kings season. I think I've known for a while now that this is THE most important season ever of Kings basketball.
There is the most obvious issue - a small market team with declining attendance and arena issues needs to improve to get butts in the seat to get that arena built and ensure its continued existence in said market.
Additionally, you have a highly regarded general manager that appears to be in the twilight of his career. His missteps of the last few seasons have been well documented, and the question surrounding him is whether the condition of this team is related more to an attempt to delay blowing up the team to reach for a championship ring, or to the possibility that the game has passed Geoff Petrie by. Players come and go, but NBA general managers of Geoff Petrie's caliber are hard to find. As a fanbase, I know we all hope that Petrie still has whatever "it" is and can get this team back into contention rather than visiting Secaucus every June.
The short-term outlook is fairly positive. Petrie (or the calendar if you are a cynic) has shed the team of most of its ornery contracts. This franchise has drafted at its highest position since 1989 and appears to have found a dynamic young talent in Tyreke Evans. The frontcourt may need a defensive/rebounding specialist, but seems to have found a solid tandem in Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson. And the still young Kevin Martin adds the type of efficient scorer any team with playoff aspirations would love to have. In short, there is some talent on the roster, and some tradeable assets (including KTEC). These are not your Kings of the late 80's and early 90's, devoid of wins and talent.
Looking at these last few paragraphs makes me think of one question - is this the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?
And this is where the word "desperation" comes into play. If Petrie & Co. have made the wrong decisions - if Tyreke Evans does turn into the next Larry Hughes or John Salmons, if the team makes another putrid signing with the mid-level exception, if Donté Greene and Omri Casspi end up netting us nothing from the Ron Artest deal - we may well be seeing the end of our beloved franchise in Sacramento. Another seventeen win season and an average attendance of around 10k per game (I believe) results in a relocation request by ownership.
Maybe this is why I've turned into such an unabashed fanboy of the Maloofs and Petrie and Tyreke Evans. I think at this point, I have to have faith they are going to turn this thing around. Because the alternative is unthinkable.