Sacramento had a tough choice to make this summer when it came to then free-agent Tyreke Evans. The team balked at a max deal, let Evans go and pulled off a sign-and-trade deal that gave them a talented pass-first point guard in Greivis Vasquez. Sacramento then re-acquired Carl Landry formerly of the Golden State Warriors. Landry also played previously with Sacramento. The team then moved on to the draft where they got a steal in Ben McLemore and a promising talent in Ray McCallum. Throw in the incumbents Jason Thompson, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons, and you have a renewed optimism in Sacramento.
That optimism rises and falls squarely on DeMarcus Cousins' broad shoulders as the Kings kick off training camp several hours away from Sacramento in Santa Barbara. Cousins is now the face of the franchise after signing a deal worth nearly $62 million. DeMarcus claims the new management has improved morale, and that attitude could translate onto success on the court. That's crucial heading into this season as many have the Kings finishing with another dismal record. But this city is passionate about its team, and the fans will have plenty to cheer about as it welcomes the Kings back for good in the season opener.
Let's take a look at the players most likely to be added to the Kings' 15-man roster.
Greivis Vasquez Greivis Vasquez is the prototype pass-first point guard the Kings have been looking for. At 6-foot-6, he's also a strong guard that could create some matchup problems. This season, Vasquez will suit up in Kings white and purple with the no. 10. That number was made famous by another pass-first point guard in Mike Bibby. Those are big shoes to fill. Vasquez is already developing a rapport with Cousins and his passing should help the ball move efficiently, something the Kings failed to do last season.
DeMarcus Cousins DeMarcus Cousins is now the franchise player of the Sacramento Kings with a new deal that will keep him in Sacramento through the 2016 season. As a result, the big man who has a one-year-old son needs to do some growing up of his own. There are no more do-overs with Cousins. Management has made a leap of faith and Cousins has their full support. It would be a shame to see his behavior overshadow his play again this season.
Isaiah Thomas Isaiah Thomas played his heart out last year, only to be bounced out of his starting spot by Aaron Brooks, who is no longer with the team. Thomas could find himself battling with some other guards this season as well. Rookie Ray McCallum will get a good look at point while Thomas may have to ultimately share minutes in the backcourt with Vasquez starting.
Patrick Patterson Patrick Patterson impressed coaches last year with his athleticism given his height. Patterson, who averaged 10.4 PPG, earned himself minutes with his uptempo play. Those were big factors for coach Malone as he evaluated the Kings roster this year. The former Wildcat brings quickness for a big man and could be an offensive spark plug off the bench, a role he effectively displayed late last season.
Jason Thompson Jason Thompson still remains an enigma in Kings history. His play is consistent. He's always good for numbers close to a double-double. But, he has failed to make that next step of progression in his game. JT is a solid option down low and would be a starter on most teams, but I think he has to step up his production and show the team something other than the same old song this season.
Marcus Thornton The Bayou Bomber is back for another season and this time, there won't be any off-court controversy surrounding the team. Thornton was one of many players that voiced their displeasure of the tug-of-war between the NBA, Maloofs and Kings. But really, injuries are what led to a somewhat disappointment of a season for Thornton. With new owners, fresh faces and a committed coach, Thornton could score in droves and this team sure could use it.
Jimmer FredetteJimmer Fredette found himself caught up in numerous trade rumors that had him being shipped out under the new regime. The Kings got cold feet at the last minute and Fredette remains with the team heading into training camp. Though Fredette has failed to live up to the hoopla of his college days, his 3-point shooting (41.7 percent) makes him valuable. It is this reason alone Jimmer is worth keeping, even if that means he's buried on the bench.
Carl Landry Carl Landry is back in Sacramento after a productive season with the Golden State Warriors last year. Landry brings toughness and grit to the Kings' frontcourt, while his effort on the glass is praised. I think Carl will challenge Jason Thompson in training camp for playing time at the power forward spot, but even if he fails to beat Thompson in a position battle, he's much deadlier coming off the bench.
Ray McCallum Ray is another draft day steal for the Kings that really rounds out the point guard position for Sacramento. McCallum played well in Summer League and displayed a firm grasp of controlling the offense and tempo. I think he will be another player that further erodes Jimmer's playing time this season.
Chuck Hayes While i'm not a fan of Chuck's conditioning because it leads to foul trouble that kills the Kings' pace, I am a firm believer with his impact as a veteran. On a team with so many young rookies and sophomores, it's important to have some glue guys. The Kings have always excelled in that area by signing players that hustle like Doug Christie, Brad Miller and Bobby Jackson, just to name a few. Hayes will give you a few solid minutes but on this team, he will need to step up in every area.
Trent Lockett Trent showed poise and chemistry in summer league action this year. He also averaged 7.0 points per game. The Kings already have Marcus Thornton, Ben McLemore, Ray McCallum and Jimmer Fredette all ahead in the depth chart, but that did not stop Pete D'Alessandro and the Kings from signing Lockett to a deal this summer. Look for him to eat into Jimmer's minutes this season.
John Salmons John Salmons is someone I thought the Kings would deal when the new ownership took over. The team has a logjam at the guard spot and Salmons is someone that doesn't really do anything spectacular -- especially on defense where the team needs it. Salmons also frustrated many fans with his sometimes questionable shots, though his numbers (39 percent FG and 37 percent 3PT) could level off and climb with a set rotation and consistent minutes, something Salmons didn't see last season.
Hamadi Ndiaye Though the team has already poured $62 million into one center like DeMarcus Cousins, the team could find room for the big man from Senegal Hamadi Ndiaye. I know its possible that coach Malone will just roll with Cousins for a bulk of the minutes, but Ndiaye's seven-foot stature changes things. Though he is a bit undersized, Ndiaye could wreak havoc in a backup role to spell Cousins' minutes or out of foul trouble. With a volatile center in the starting spot, it could help having a seven-foot backup.
Luc Mbah A Moute Luc was brought over from the Milwaukee Bucks for his steady defense and lanky presence. I think with those two attributes, he will earn extra minutes in coach Malone's rotation as he prefers a defender who is active on the glass. If Luc can repeat his numbers from last year of 4.4 rebounds per from off the bench, then it's a win. If he is able to claim more playing time and repeats his 5.5 rebounds from 2012, then this deal pays for itself. Either way, Mbah A Moute is a good option starting, but most likely will come off the bench.