Although the body of work is not complete on the 2009-2010 version of the Kings, there are some conclusions that can be drawn based on what we have witnessed so far.
In advance of the NCAA tournament where we will all start evaluating our top prospects play this weekend on National TV and before the upcoming NBA Draft, I wanted to take a closer look at where the Kings are and what needs remain in order to bring the franchise back in contention for a title.
Ownership: C The Maloofs are financially leveraged to the hilt, lacking the wealth, portfolio and network to control the Kings' destiny without outside intervention. We don't know if the Kings will remain in Sacramento since all our hope seem to be tied to the Convergence Project recently endorsed by the NBA and Mayor Johnson' task force.
With that said, the fan experience has improved at Arco, Attendance is up, the product has gotten more competitive, The Maloofs have reinvested in Petrie and seem to be allowing the GM and Coaching staff to do their jobs without undue influence. They need to be working the Developer scene, getting someone with deep pockets excited about the project off Business 80 and Exposition Blvd.
General Management: B Geoff continues in his role as our very own Moneyball Maestro delivering us talent via the draft consistently despite our Five Stages of a Geoff Petrie Draft reaction that typically ends with contentment or his trade machine that leaves us half the time scratching our heads with HOW did he do that and WHY did he do that? In my mind, if he would have drafted Rubio and traded him for Tyreke + something else or was able to trade Kevin Martin and one of our young bigs for a legit center then I would have given him a glowing A.
Coaching: B- I am impressed with Westphal's polish in front of the media and on the sideline. He remains composed even when the team doesn't execute. He seems to have the ear and confidence of the front office and the roster competes every night. His minutes and substiutions don't seem to always make sense but he does seem to have enough patience to let the guys work it out on the floor versus yanking them every time they make a mistake. I expected the assistant coaches to have a greater impact. Mario and Truck were brought in to improve our defensive which has made some progress going from 30th to 24th in overall defensive rating and from 29th to 25th in points allowed.
The staff needs to continue to improve the basketball IQ of the team, defensive positioning, rebounding, pick n roll, and movement away from the basketball.
PG/SG: B+ Tyreke deserves an A and will likely win ROY. He has played or defended up to 3 positions and typically is our only option when the game is on the line. Beno has played fairly consistently this year and seems to be fine with or without the ball in his hands. He is also providing more value than Mike Bibby (our former PG of note) this year in most statistical categories.
Since Tyreke has been playing along side Beno, we are thin at PG and I don't think Greene nor Garcia are real starting SGs in this league if Tyreke is playing the point. Ideally we either need another solid defender/distributor at point guard to support Tyreke when he plays the 2 and use Donte/Garcia has solid 6th men candidates at SG or we draft a future star SG and have Tyreke play PG assuming we have zero chance in hell landing Wall.
SF: C+ We have too many players that are just fillers at this position. It doesn't help that we have been spoiled at this position historically (Peja, Hedo, Gerald, Ron). I believe Omri can be a jack of all trades but he will never defend like Ron, Shoot like Peja, have the handles of Hedo and flat out score like Gerald. I think he can average 18 points and 5 rebounds a game, which is solid. But I don't see how he ever evolves to lock down the likes of Grainger, Durant, Pierce, Anthony or James. We get schooled by half the league at that position and Greene who has other versatility can score, Noce can defend, yet neither are solid enough to start at SF in this league on a playoff caliber team.
PF/C: C- I am not sure how many times (if ever) the Shawes Shock Redemption aka Jawes project has ever resulted in both having double doubles in the same game. It seems when one plays well the other is on the bench. I envisioned Hawes developing a Brad Miller/Vlade kind of game after a progressive year last season. He should be able to initiate the offensive, find the backside cutter (making yoda due flips in his courtside seats) and set solid picks in the pick n roll game while nailing the needed three that stretches the defense out. Instead he has developed a Brad/Vlade kind of game that complains about too many calls while getting pushed around on the low block.
Thompson also has stagnated with poorer shooting percentages, more fouls and only marginal improvements to points and rebound averages. He is still turnover prone and fumbles passes even when he is open on the low block. He is poor on the pick n roll and and can't make a jump shot to save his life. He shows promise on defense with the occasional block but sometimes just makes bad decisions.
Both guys would look a lot better if there was stud big to complement them. Together their combined flaws are just too exploitable by most of the League. I do like the additions of Brockman and Landry, but both of these guys should be coming off the bench dominating the other team's bench.
I would now like to shift the discussion on the two ways we sure up the roster's gaps.
Free Agent Market - Here are the projected Free Agents for your review. Here is the expected Cap Space for the teams vying to land a maximum contract free agent. The Kings likely are not primed to land a top tier free agent this Summer for three basic reasons: available cash, market size/appeal, and players involved. With under $17M in probably money to sign someone next season, they trail bigger market teams like DC, NY, NJ, Chicago, LA with more cash and/or not having an all star to go over the cap to re-sign like Dwayne, LeBron, Kobe, Dirk, etc.
I would look at the restricted Luis Scola, first and foremost for helping our post. He is young enough and certainly a multi-faceted player that won't command top 5 money but is possibly a solid next tier big that we could afford. If Yao were re-signed then Houston probably cannot afford to keep Scola.
After Luis, Kenyon Martin, Brendan Haywood, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer as possible aging bigs that can help further push our developing bigs along for a couple of years. I don't see us nabbing Chris Bosh or Yao Ming as the marquee bigs.
For our other need areas, I think it is very doubtful the Kings would try to land either Kobe, Dwayne, Manu or Joe Johnson (Tyreke answers the bell). Also, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki or Paul Pierce as BPAs would not likely step down to join the Kings.
We may be able to land a SF like a Rudy Gay who might see Sacramento as a step up who gives unparalleled athleticism, a stronger defender/scorer complementing the better shooting and rebounding skills of Casspi.
Draft - Since we don't know what our draft position will be given the lottery system, I will assume for now that we draft 4th or 5th this year. I think that safely rules out the likes of John Wall. I think it is a crap shoot as to where DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors and Evan Turner fall. The first two potentially supplant either Thompson or Hawes with no real guarantee that they are ultimately better. Turner on the other hand could provide us a very versatile SF and unlike Donte can defend multiple positions with a higher basketball IQ and better defensive focus.
I hope the kings don't put too much stock in solving all their problems through the draft this season even though the model has worked somewhat for the Blazers. Everyone else in the league that has won a title in the last several years required a combination of free agents/trades and luck in the draft.
I think our best shot is to pick up a veteran big via a free agent signing and draft a SF that can compete right away for a starting spot.
I doubt it would happen, and assuming they picked up a big via free agency, perhaps the Kings could trade up by offering either Hawes or Thompson with Donte to land John Wall.
Then our Starting 5 might look like:
PG - John Wall/Beno Udrih
SF - Omni Casspi/Andres Nocioni
PF - Luis Scola or Brendan Haywood or Carlos Boozer/Carl Landry
Curious to get the collective feedback from our knowledgeable STR contingency.