First, I want to begin by saying how happy I am that there will probably be an NBA season this year. I, along with many others, was running low on optimism after labor talks had repeatedly stalled in recent weeks. Thankfully, both sides compromised their differing agendas and rewarded everyone with basketball. Of course, the situation of a Sacramento Kings fan is much different than that of an ordinary fan. Not only did we have to bear the brutality of the lockout, but we also have to face the reality that we could've been without a team if not for the efforts of so many around the community. The Kings were one of the many things that I was thankful for this past November 24th. Add on the presumed end to the the lockout and I'm borderline ecstatic.
Now, let's take a look at why this team is different (better) than the Sacramento squads of years past. It all starts with Tyreke Evans. Call him a PG or a SG. I call him one thing: important. As many of you know, Evans dealt with an lingering foot problem last season and was limited to just 57 games. He was the rookie of the year during the 2009-10 campaign, a season in which he averaged 20-5-5. Also, let's not forget that he was arguably the reason why Geoff Petrie ended up dealing Kevin Martin for Carl Landry and Joey Dorsey. Evans is clearly the centerpiece of this franchise and he has had a nice long offseason to get recovered and rejuvenated for this upcoming season. With a healthy Evans, the Kings have an immediate backcourt advantage over 2/3 of the league already.
The acquisitions of this abbreviated offseason are next to examine. Obviously, there will be a brief free agent period beginning on December 9th during which all NBA teams will be in a spending frenzy. The acquisitions so far this offseason are as follows: J.J. Hickson, John Salmons, Jimmer Fredette, Tyler Honeycutt and Isaiah Thomas. Hickson and Salmons are viewed as integral cogs to this suddenly interesting Kings roster. Hickson came over in the deal on June 30th from Cleveland for Omri Casspi and a conditional pick. I've already written an article on why I believe Hickson was a steal, it's titled "J.J. Hickson and Dan Gilbert's mistake(s)." In any case, Hickson will presumably take over as the starting Power Forward on this Kings roster that is fairly thin up front. Hickson is young, athletic and motivated which is something that hasn't been said of any Kings frontcourt player in a long time, outside of DeMarcus Cousins. Another addition to evaluate is John Salmons. Obviously, this is a player that didn't do a whole lot to endear himself to many Sacramento fans during his previous tenure here. Is he an upgrade over Omri Casspi? I honestly don't know. I can say that he will be an upgrade on the defensive end of the court. Yes, he will also take ill-advised shots and make plays that only Ron Artest would think of. However, John Salmons isn't going to be the "go-to-guy" on offense. That makes a huge difference in and of itself. Great teams have role players who aren't asked to do what they aren't good at. With Evans, Thornton (give me the benefit of the doubt here), Hickson and Cousins possibly playing with him, it is pretty safe to say that Salmons won't be option number #1 out there. Then comes the possibly the most rewarding part of this season in my opinion: JIMMERMANIA! First of all, great pick by the Kings organization in this past June's draft. Not only is Jimmer gonna be a stud on the court, but he is a natural marketing jewel off of it just by being himself. Is there anything better than a notable college player bringing national attention to a market that is trying to save its NBA team? Not to mention the delight of watching clutch 3-pointers swish through the twine. The great thing about it is like Salmons, Jimmer will simply be asked to play his role. He doesn't have to be superman like he was at BYU, all he has to do is hit his shots and play solid minutes. For the sake of uncertainty, I'll leave Honeycutt and Thomas for another time.
It remains to be seen how a 66-game season will affect the rest of the NBA, but I think it's safe to say that it will be a dogfight to make the playoffs in both conferences as always. As I've said before, the Kings have youth on their side which can't be undermined. It is no coincidence that teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies are knocking on the door of being elite teams in the Western Conference. The similarities are abundant among both of those teams and the Kings. The Thunder have two legitimate young players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Grizzlies have Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and a host of other solid players. The Kings match up well with both of these teams and arguably have the frontcourt advantage over the Thunder. Add in that free agent Center Marc Gasol could potentially leave the Grizzlies, and things get very interesting. Also with the addition of Hickson, the Kings have further decreased the prospect that they are going to be bullied inside. The Pacific Division isn't a particularly bruising division with the likes of Golden State and Phoenix preferring to run and gun instead of setup in the half court. The Kings have a nice variety of players that should allow them to play effectively in both the half court and in transition.
Again, I'm very excited about the start of this season and also about being able to watch this new team on the court. I'm not making any promises about success, but what in life is a promise? There are plenty of things to be optimistic about, not the first of which is actually watching NBA (not college) basketball and having a team to watch in your (not my) own city. The experts were correct, diehards like us will forgive the players and the owners in time simply because we love the game of basketball. Often times the simple things in life are the ones that are the most enjoyable and the ones that we take for granted the most.