With the summer fast approaching and the NBA finals right around the corner, how about a little Kings talk? I've been watching the NBA playoffs this year and have been fascinated with the myriad of role players that have made the difference for the Heat and the Mavs. People like Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, James Jones, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry etc. making key shots at key times late in games. Of course it is nice to see Peja and Mike Bibby getting a shot at a title with one of them guaranteed to bring it home this year oddly enough. It also wasn't that long ago that both of those guys were key pieces on a couple of Kings title contending teams early last decade. That got me wondering, what do the Kings need to do, acquire, change etc. to get back to being a playoff team and hopefully a title contender soon after that?
The first thing a playoff team needs to have is stable management and coaching. In that area I believe the Kings are at least adequate if not a little bit above considering Geoff Petrie recently completed his 17th season with the organization and Paul Westphal has provided a calming influence with his young players considering he could've easily acted like Eric Musselman, Kenny Natt or Reggie Theus and been totally impacient and unforgiving and set the team back like those men did.
I'm going to disregard the arena issue for the purpose of focusing on the team itself. The next area to focus on is the players the Kings are putting out on the court. Let's start with the end of last season's starting lineup. At PG is Tyreke Evans, SG is Marcus Thornton, SF is Francisco Garcia, PF is DeMarcus Cousins and C is Samuel Dalembert. Assuming the team re-signs Thornton and Dalembert which Petrie concedes is a priority, the team should remain pretty much intact as far as the regular rotation is concerned. However, with the NBA draft less than a month away and the free agent period following the Heat-Mavs series, there is the potential for Kings executives to make some changes to the team.
The draft will most likely yield at least one player for the Kings depending on if they decide to wheel and deal on draft night or pick where they are slated. Obviously the draft is an inexact science especially with all on the "one and done" candidates. This makes it very hard to judge which players will translate into the NBA and which ones will be labeled as "busts" in a few years. This year's draft class has been characterized as weaker by many experts but in reality there will always be the diamonds in the rough no matter how hyped up or not the class is. The Kings have the #7 pick and it is basically anyone's guess what they will do. What we do know is the last two first round picks the Kings have made both have very promising futures and will be the cornerstones of the franchise for years to come. I have faith that Geoff Petrie and the Kings scouting department will make good decisions on draft night.
Looking ahead to the 2011 Free Agency class, I'm not nearly as optimistic. First of all let's be honest, when was the last time the Kings signed a free agent that actually made a difference and was a worthwhile signing? The last one that I can recall is Beno in October of '07 and that was only because of Mike Bibby's thumb injury at the time. Last year they signed Antoine Wright, many of you probably don't even remember him and if you do it is more for his DUI arrest than his play on the court which is sad. Anyway, as exciting as it is that the Kings have ample salary cap room, it probably isn't realistic to believe that the team will be a major player in free agency judging by previous years and the fact that Sacramento isn't a free agent hot spot like Miami, Chicago, L.A. etc. However, cap space does give the team added flexibility with regards to potential trades with other teams who may be looking to dump salaries. Often times that can be a better option than signing a free agent. Just look at last summer when the Heat traded Michael Beasley to clear cap space for the big three. Beasley went on to average 19 and 5 with the T-Wolves including 42 and 9 on the Kings on November 10th. Obviously that trade was a bit of a unique situation with all of the talented free agent players who were available last summer. Nevertheless, it does prove that those types of transactions can be made if a team is able to take on salary.
Geoff Petrie has already listed the team needs in an interview he had so listing those would be pointless. I'm looking forward to seeing what areas the Kings are able to address this summer and I am optimistic about the chances of making the playoffs next season. There are a number of teams that are on the decline, mainly the Spurs, Lakers, and Suns. I strongly feel that teams like the Thunder, Grizzlies, Kings, Clippers, Warriors are teams to watch out for in the next 5 years in the west. People quickly forget how good the Kings used to be not that long ago. It's not out of the realm of possibility to say that the Kings could be a legitimate title contender by the time a new arena is completed in Sacramento. That is a biased perspective but that's also theoretically 4 years of continued development and progress from a team that could be reinvigorated by a few missing pieces, a re-energized fan base and a new arena by that time. Just something to munch on as you are watching two former Kings live their title dreams on the hardwood...