Is there truly optimism for small market teams like the Sacramento Kings? That is a very debatable question heading into another exciting NBA season. Yes the Kings, like the Oklahoma City Thunder, have some very nice homegrown talent that creates excitement for the fans. However, with the recent free agency of the past few years it has become increasingly questionable as to whether or not those homegrown players will remain with their respective teams for the duration of their careers. The Big 3 in Miami and Boston as well as the Big 2 in New York and for both L.A teams creates added frustration for small market teams. It is no coincidence that fans in Cleveland were outraged when LeBron left for South Beach. I'm not a fan of the Cavs but I would've been very frustrated if I was a fan of their team. After all, LeBron is from Akron, about 30 miles outside of Cleveland. He was drafted out of high school to his hometown team. He played there for 7 years and had a great tenure, BUT HE LEFT. That is the main concern for small market teams. CP3, Carmelo and Amare are other examples of the inability of small market teams to retain superstars. Of course there are exceptions, such as San Antonio and Detroit, teams that had their glory years with blue collar players who stuck with the team even though they weren't getting paid max contracts.
That is another question, since when did it become about money over loyalty? It is absolutely despicable to watch a player like LeBron leave a team that he couldn't lead to an NBA title. Not only did he not win an NBA title, but he gave them the virtual middle finger on the way out of town. It is very frustrating for me to watch a player who used to compete against the likes of Wade, Anthony, Amare, Pierce, etc. join a team of superstars that play against other stacked teams of superstars like the Knicks or Celtics. Yes I realize that he wants to win an NBA title as do all of the other players who joined up, but it severely diminishes his individual accomplishments and greatly alters the competitive balance of the NBA. As a result, Cleveland is forced to put a king's ransom in the stock of Kyrie Irving as the next savior or their franchise. Is Irving talented? Yes. Will he lead them to the playoffs in a couple of years? Maybe. Will he ever win a title or come close to winning a title with a similar supporting cast to what LeBron had? Highly doubtful. And that's another issue, will Irving even stay with the Cavs long enough to compete for a title anyway? In the new NBA, I'd say it's very unlikely that he remains in Cleveland for his whole career and that is very disappointing.
How this factors into what the Kings are trying to achieve, I don't really know. They say that winning cures everything and I agree with that to a certain extent. First of all, I am not sure the pieces are all the way in place for this team to be a perennial playoff contender. Obviously that probably won't be the case for the next few years anyway because the team is so young and inexperienced. The question remains though: Will the Kings' core players remain with the team for the duration of their careers or will they bolt for larger markets when/if they become superstars? Another cliché is that history repeats itself. Well Kings history shows that their players are loyal and remain loyal when the team is competitive. Guys like Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Mike Bibby and Doug Christie had great careers as Kings when they very well could've left for bigger markets. Those "Glory Days" were also almost a decade ago. Has the NBA changed so drastically since then that a team of loyal players would be impossible to regenerate? It depends. Like I said before, LeBron did give Cleveland 7 years of his career before he left for Miami. Also some of the other aforementioned superstars like Carmelo and Amare both spent 8 plus years with their original teams that drafted them. The Nuggets and Suns were always competitive teams with 'Melo and Amare but apparently didn't satisfy them enough to keep them from heading to Broadway.
Another question is what does it take to satisfy a player in the NBA? I think it largely depends on the success they have with the team that drafts them. Players tend to be loyal when they have a fair amount of success at an early time in their career and build friendships with ownership and other players on the team. Of course, there are also the players that go into the complete rebuilding situations where they are the center of attention ala LeBron. That can also be rewarding for a player because they feel like they are wanted by a team and they are the next "franchise player." That optimism is rather short-lived ,however, if the years of losing continue to pile up. Players tend to be impatient when they don't get a supporting cast to their liking and see friends of their's having the success that they feel they should be having. LeBron saw D-Wade win a title at the age of 24 while he was still in Cleveland trying to get his first ring. Obviously LeBron was very close to winning a title himself but it was a virtual no brainer when he had the option to join a superstar and a friend of his who had already won a title. LeBron also had a beef with Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner, which stemmed from the way he left Cleveland and "The Decision" more than anything. Nonetheless, it's very disappointing to see players leave small markets that have very loyal fanbases for larger markets that only get richer.
The Kings do have a fair amount of factors on their side when it comes to retaining players, however. Sacramento is not Cleveland for one. Another reason is that some players truly prefer to stay out of the spotlight. Even though Sactown is California's capital city, it is far from the limelight of L.A. or Southern California. Whether guys like Tyreke and DeMarcus give preference to the town over other markets, remains to be seen. Perhaps a more uncertain positive is the fact that a new arena could be built in Sacramento. A new arena would do a fair share in luring players to come to the Kings in my opinion. For one, an arena would provide stability for the Kings and would eliminate any uncertainty that a potential newcomer would have that the team could potentially move. Another subtle impact on Kings is Jimmer Fredette. Credit the Kings' executives with knowing exactly what Jimmer would do for the team outside of his play on the court. Not only is he a pleasure to watch and listen to, but he also provides a name and a face that people can identify with. Now whenever someone mentions the Kings it's like "Oh, you mean the team that Jimmer plays for?" He is without a doubt their most well-known player and depending on his success, he could be an integral part in changing the way that outsiders view the Kings. I'm not expecting him to be Michael Jordan or even anything close but he really doesn't have to be. I like to compare him to a basketball version of Mike Modano. Mike Modano made it cool to play hockey in Dallas. He was a pioneer in getting Dallas on the map and leading them to a title. He was also great in the community and was a really classy individual. I'm not saying Sacramento is like Dallas as far as where they stand in the ranks. What I am saying is this team needs to be elevated to the level that they were in the early 2000s where it was cool to be a King and I think Jimmer can help do that. Whether he or Tyreke or DeMarcus can lead the team to glory is still a big question. The new arena is also still a big question. This team has many hurdles to clear before they reach the proverbial finish line. However, they are in the race and are clearing the hurdles one at a time. They certainly aren't in first place, but they also aren't in last. Like they always say, it's not how you start but how you finish.