There comes a point when a bad team has to become a good team. A team can't be bad forever. If the losing seasons continue for an extended period, the team will become better by accumulating all of the top draft picks. After so many seasons, the team becomes respectable. Unfortunately that time hasn't come in Sacramento just yet. The Kings haven't had a winning record since the 2005-06 season. These past six seasons have been very frustrating to watch for just about everyone in and around the organization. Luckily, the team appears to be staying in Sacramento for years to come pending the city council vote this Tuesday. Sugarcoating aside, this team needs a makeover.
That makeover was supposed to happen this past summer during the NBA free agency period. Let's just say things didn't exactly go as planned. First the NBA owners and players were unable to come to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement until November 26, 2011. The delayed agreement postponed the start of the season until Christmas Day and shortened the schedule to 66 games from the normal 82. With the lockout came a shortened free agency period where teams were in a mad scramble to snatch the desired free agents to fill out their respective rosters. The Kings managed to add bruising Power Forward Chuck Hayes in late December, albeit despite the fact that Hayes had initially failed his physical due to a reported heart irregularity. The team also added J.J. Hickson and John Salmons via trades and Jimmer Fredette, Tyler Honeycutt and Isaiah Thomas via the draft. Despite these additions, the team has a 12-25 record this season. Many of us fans would've liked to have seen Marc Gasol or Tyson Chandler come to Sactown. That didn't happen. Was there ever a realistic chance that it could've happened? Probably not. Are we disillusioned fans who like to dream of unrealistic possibilities? Yeah, probably. One thing this summer didn't solve was the fact that this team can't play any defense.
Keith Smart took over for Paul Westphal after the Kings got off to yet another rocky start to the season. Smart has been praised for his ability to give this team an offensive identity and being able to manage the volatile personality that is DeMarcus Cousins. What Coach Smart hasn't been able to do is manage to fix the porous team defense that the Kings play in nearly every game. The additions of Chuck Hayes and John Salmons were supposed to help solve the issues that have bitten the Kings in the past. Hayes has been a solid defender individually but he simply doesn't have the athletic ability to alter shots as Samuel Dalembert, for instance, did last season. John Salmons has been a complete and utter disappointment, plain and simple. I for one thought this tenure with the Kings would be a better showcase for John than the previous one was. If anything, it's been worse to much worse. Salmons can't defend star players one on one and has been supplanted in the rotation by Donte Greene for long durations of the season. Not to mention, Salmons is still the inconsistent, ball-stopping forward on offense that this team doesn't need. Overall, the Kings still rank 30th in the league in defense after supposedly reshaping the roster in the offseason.
I next want to mention the fact that I was dead wrong about the J.J. Hickson addition. The guy has been a total disappointment since coming over from Cleveland in the Omri Casspi trade. Hickson has all the athletic tools to be a stud in this league but for whatever reason he hasn't been able to put it all together. I think a big source of blame can be placed on his work ethic. Word out of Cleveland was that he had an attitude issue and if he was really concerned about his lack of playing time in Sacramento, he would've worked harder to get back into the rotation. It absolutely befuddles me that he is content to sit behind Chuck Hayes and Jason Thompson when he clearly has the ability to be a starter in this league as he showed in Cleveland. Now there are reports that the Kings are shopping Hickson in an effort to rid themselves of the mistake they made this summer and hopefully get some sort of compensation for him.
With the trade deadline approaching, the Kings have the opportunity to further edit their roster. The Kings do have DeMarcus Cousins to build around for the future. With Tyreke Evans' recent move to the SF spot, there has been increased speculation that he may be on his way out of town. I'm not sure if Tyreke is a piece of the puzzle here but what I do know is that the Kings aren't going to get fair value by trading him. I've heard the rumors about possibly acquiring John Wall to pair with Cousins, which I would entertain. However, one has to think about the effect that the acquisition of Wall would have on Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette. Thomas has played his way into the starting rotation and acquiring Wall would most likely relegate him back to the bench. I don't doubt that Isaiah would take one for the team but the Kings front office can't just live in fantasy land without realizing the effect that their personnel decisions have on the players themselves.
Despite all of the acquisitions and departures the last few seasons, the Kings roster remains in flux. No offense to Isaiah Thomas but good teams don't have undersized rookie point guards starting in their first year. As good as Isaiah is, he still makes too many mistakes for an NBA Point Guard. Yes he is a rookie but the Kings need a veteran out there who will play reliably on a night-to-night basis. Thomas still hasn't found that consistency to bring it every night like the greats do. Again, there is still plenty of time to grow but as far as the development of the team as a whole I believe we need a veteran at the point.
Next is the SG position. Marcus Thornton has done a solid job this year from an offensive standpoint. He is a deadeye shooter when he is on and he will typically provide 15-20 points on a given night. I think he is a piece to this puzzle going forward, provided he gets some defensive support in the backcourt and the frontcourt. Thornton will never be a great defender. He is quick but also undersized so he needs to put in the effort consistently to remain average on that end of the court.
The SF position is probably the most bizarre one on the whole Kings roster. Keith Smart currently has a converted guard in Tyreke Evans playing the 3. I'm not sure what I think other than it is an interesting move. Tyreke is excellent at driving the ball but his jump shooting is atrocious. Good SF's are able to drive and shoot the ball, Tyreke doesn't do that. The Kings perimeter shooting has been lacking for quite some time and the only consistent threat that the Kings have when their starting lineup is on the floor is Thornton. Evans is below average on the defensive end as he still goes for too many risky steals instead of staying in front of his man and moving his feet. For various reasons, I don't see Tyreke as a long term SF and if this trend continues he could very well be on his way out of Sacramento before the season ends.
Power Forward has been another disappointment for the Kings this year. J.J. Hickson was supposed the be the savior coming over from Cleveland. Chuck Hayes was supposed to be the stopper who solved all of the defensive woes for the team. Neither expectation has been fulfilled and the Kings have suffered dearly as a result. Jason Thompson has been decent on some nights and non-existent on others. Unfortunately, decent and inconsistent don't cut it in the NBA. There comes a point when changes have to be made and the Power Forward position needs a complete makeover heading into next season.
The Center position has been the Kings' best position all season long. The Kings have a boulder to build around in the 6-11, 280-pound presence of DeMarcus Cousins. DMC nearly left town earlier this season before Paul Westphal was fired but he has been quiet and productive ever since Keith Smart took over as coach. Cousins provides hope for the Kings going forward because he has the potential to become the 20 point, 10 rebound guy that championship teams are built around. DeMarcus still has maturity issues from time to time but those have been downplayed, at least for the time being. Either way, DMC will be a big time player here if the Kings ever hope to return to prominence.
Overall, it is really difficult to remain positive with the Kings moving forward. There are still many questions to be answered five years after the team's last winning season. This rebuilding process has taken its toll on everyone who is associated with the organization, not to mention the relocation mess that has coincided with it. On the whole I think we are all cautiously optimistic that things will work out for the better eventually. As with the new arena plans, this team has taken much longer to rebuild than I or anyone else thought it would. The arena deal looks to have finally come together and we can at least celebrate that for now. The team remains a whole different story and we may not have even reached the climax yet.