If the Sacramento Kings keep playing like they did in their last preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers reporters will be poking around the practice facility asking first-year Head Coach Michael Malone how he did it. How did he turn the Kings around in one short season? But really the solution is an easy fix. Play hard for 48 minutes while developing the players under contract. No problem, right?
The Kings are rebuilt from the ground up with the front office to the roster and really have nowhere to go at this point but up. It's this realization that Sacramento must take advantage of. The Kings will open their season at home -- just the second such time that's happened in 10 seasons. Winning on that night will go a long way towards building momentum for the first ten games. It is in those ten games that Coach Malone will have a good idea of where the team is headed going forward. Coach Malone seems like a smart man -- surrounding yourself with assistants that include your own father is pretty smart in itself. The Kings have all the stars aligning for what could be a memorable season.
It isn't exactly a turnkey operation in Sacramento. The Kings still have a lot of things to correct going into the 2013-14 season and the results may vary, but if the Kings want to improve on last year's mockery of a season then they can't fall into the same old habits that have plagued this team for years. Things like death by dribbling and the bickering among teammates must go away. The team's stars (DeMarcus Cousins) also need to grow up and the veterans (Marcus Thornton, Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry, Greivis Vasquez) need to contribute greatly. That adds up to a successful season only if the team can fix its other ailments.
It should be noted that most of this has already been done. Owner Vivek Ranadive has poured in close to one million dollars in renovating the aging Sleep Train Arena even as the Kings prepare to leave the old barn in 2016. Potholes have been filled, 90 new wi-fi nodes have been added, and the team has shown its commitment to Sacramento with numerous upgrades. But that's all off-court stuff.
At No. 5 it's the on-court product that needs to improve for the fan experience to surpass expectations. That will come as early as the home opener "purple-out". It will be an emotional moment for a city that almost lost its team. Winning more often in front of sell-out crowds could also signal a return to the Kings' cowbell heyday.
Greivis Vazquez is in a new city, and I think the move and clean slate he gets with a new organization that is also starting off new is paramount for the Kings to be effective this season. The Kings brought Vasquez in for his pass-first mentality and impressive assist numbers. The Kings could definitely use more passing because the offense did very little of it last season. Too much one-on-one play and not enough playmaking for others is a recipe for disaster.
This team can put the ball in the hoop, but can they create for others? Can Vasquez improve upon his already solid numbers? Is Isaiah Thomas comfortable with his potential new role as a number two? Thomas says there's no rift between he and Vasquez. Let's hope so because the Kings need both of these guys to contribute greatly.Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 1 will be a "blackout" themed game as the Kings will hand out glowsticks. Other games feature LED Thundersticks and limited edition posters. They're great enticements, but the team must match this renewed energy on the court.
The Kings went 20-21 at Sleep Train last season. An improvement at home could leave the team time to work on its horrid efforts on the road.
2. Establish A Defensive Mentality
If there is one glaring hole for the Kings it's their lack of defense. I could have put 'Win On The Road' this high because the Kings were terrible away from Sleep Train last season, finishing with a 8-33 mark. That's not going to cut it this season. But the Kings can fix that by improving their defense, which is why I didn't go with winning on the road here.
Head Coach Michael Malone is preaching defense, stressing that defense leads to easy buckets on the other end. It's true, but Malone has to get these guys to buy into that notion completely. The Kings showed they were listening in that 104-86 preseason triumph against the Los Angeles Lakers, but they have to prove their toughness and athleticism on both ends every single night.
With a new contract and a stable organization under him, maybe this is the year DeMarcus Cousins endears himself to the team and the NBA. Maybe this is the year Cousins gets a coach who hates to lose just as much as he does. That could be a quick turnaround for a franchise that nearly traded the star last year after spats with previous coach Keith Smart.
Cousins now has no distractions heading into this season. There are no questions hanging over his head, no trade or relocation rumors, nothing. Cousins must have a breakout season, and I think he will. He's already had a breakthrough this season, smiling more often than scowling. It's a promising sign, and now Cousins has to do it over the course of a season.