If there's anything the three games without DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay have done for us it's to reaffirm that when legitimate professional basketball players are given ample opportunity to perform there's a more than likely chance they'll be successful. Shocking, I know.
Now, whether that translates to winning against far more legitimate professional basketball players? Let's just say that the Kings' last three games haven't done much to validate that theory.
They're 0-3 in the time that they've been without Gay and Cousins and have been a n eyesore on defense, allowing opposing guards to dribble penetrate on a team that was already devoid of rim protection even before the injuries mucked up the rotation. They've surrendered 108.7 points per game with a 113.7 Defensive Rating in that span, allowing opposing teams to shoot a ridiculous 69.3% on shots that come within 5 feet of the rim.
Last night's game against the Denver Nuggets put all of the problems of the current Kings on full display. The Nuggets didn't score below 30 in any quarter of play, shot 40% from three, had 50 points in the paint and had the best player in the game wearing the powdered blues.
Last night we saw the manifestation of all the opportunity that's been delegated to the team in the absence of two of their best players. We've seen breakout games for both Ben McLemore and Marcus Thornton. We've seen heavy minutes one night for Carl Landry leading to a now secure spot in the rotation. We've even seen heavy portions of our offense run through the hands of both Travis Outlaw and Aaron Gray (we're 0-3 for a reason).
Last night could perhaps be most notable for being the first time that the Kings had both of their shooting guards on for the same game. Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore combined for 37 points on 25 shots, and I guess answered the question of, "What will it take for the Kings to have a 2?", with: "Not having a 3 or a 5." Good. That bodes well.
But these specific problems are only temporary. Rudy and Boogie will be back soon, and with them come solutions, coupled with a fresh set of problems.
All things considered, last night might have served a more comprehensive purpose to Ben McLemore.
This isn't to say that this game is going to be his defining moment of the season. For him this is more than likely just another milestone game for a young player trying to find his niche in the league.
He did, however, have maybe his most aesthetically pleasing game of basketball in his career on Sunday against the Nuggets. He shot 50% from the field and from beyond the arc, had 18 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and was probably the most aggressive we've seen him in creating offense.
He had a game to be proud of in that he demonstrated tools that we as fans and wannabe talent evaluators believe he'll need to succeed moving forward.
But I think as fans, in consuming the product that these guys put out on the floor, we tend to forget the importance of team-building and the patience that's required to see it through. Ben McLemore represents an inherent contrast to almost everything that the Kings' basketball operations has done over the past two months, but his development might be the most ultimately important venture.
Over the course of the last week, I've seen members of our Sactown Royalty community toss around trade ideas that have involved Ben McLemore; Trades that would net us a proven player now at the expense of whatever potential future that McLemore has in front of him.
I understand where these ideas are coming from. The Kings have been able to accumulate not only the framework of a potential playoff contender puzzle but also a few of the pieces to that very puzzle. Exciting time's here in the state's capital!
However, I'm here to call to an end to this cultured desire within our fan community to contend now, in favor a healthy dose of patience and routine roster maintenance. Especially if the goal of the organization isn't to contend for the playoffs this season, which is what they've stated from the get-go.
What's important to always maintain is that there's no actual way to circumvent the process of team-building. Each present-day contender has gotten to where they are by attempting to follow almost that same process (well, save for Miami, who leapfrogged that entire thing and then some).
The Thunder, for example, didn't trade James Harden in his rookie season for an experienced guard because they could sniff the playoffs. They stockpiled a few assets, made some player infusions that filled key needs, and wound up with a juggernaut (Granted, they traded Harden two years later for 30 cents on the dollar and also have Kevin Durant, but that doesn't entirely serve my purpose so let's leave that out).
There's a way to handle this, basically.
It's easy to forget that we're in year one of a re-rebuilding process (If you can call the last 5 years under the Maloof-regime rebuilding). Or that the Kings are projected to have max level cap room in 2015 (the year before they are slated to enter their new arena), and fully intend on being good at that time. But that means that their moves have to at least be partially viewed through that lens.
Ben McLemore, no matter what lens you're looking through, has to be in that picture. Ultimately it's important to know where to look, or you just might lose track of where this team is going.
PS. This is obviously just my opinion on how the team building process should go. I'm really interested in reading your guys' opinions and ideas about what's important to the Kings' process and what they should do in the comments section.