We're asking 30 questions about the Kings' 2010-11 season.
On Wednesday, NBA.com published a Kings preview by former Bee columnist and Sports Illustrated scribe Scott Howard-Cooper. I've said this before and I'll say it again: Scoop is one of my favorite NBA writers. He puts in the work, he has the chops and he sees beyond the surface. He's fantastic.
His angle in the NBA.com preview is that the Kings have changed dramatically; there is absolutely no question that that is true. But why has the team changed? Scoop:
This was the offseason president Geoff Petrie officially altered his thinking, and if Petrie's philosophy has changed, the Kings have changed. It's nothing less than a major policy shift in the wake of consecutive last-place finishes in the Pacific Division -- "I guess the answer to that would be yes, because we did [the moves]," he said when asked if he agrees with the change-of-direction premise -- that has changed the traditional franchise approach toward skill and finesse over muscle.
Is that right? Has Geoff Petrie really changed?
rbiegler has made this point more eloquently than I in the past, but I'll give it a shot. We tend to swing wildly, as fans. Every victory is wonderful, (almost) every defeat a shiv to the chest. Sure, we build scar tissue, we become resistant to the pain. But the swings are so wild, so frequent and so absolute.
Narratives, especially those created off the court, don't tend to swing or shift dramatically. A beloved coach typically remains a beloved coach; the vice is versa*. A GM makes a few cool moves, he's dubbed brilliant and infallible, with little regard to how things change. (See: Pritchard, Kevin.) Narratives are built with real data, but subsequent real data rarely can change the narrative. Narratives are absolute.
The narrative, since the explosion of the Webber-Divac-Stojakovic Kings, has been that Petrie's modus operandi is to assemble skilled, offensive-minded bigs and sweet-shooting guards and wings, the taller the better. Barkleyian critics called this "soft." Most of the free world called it "beautiful." Nearly all acknowledged it was not the standard championship-winning style, no matter how close the team came.
That's a real pet peeve of mine, the idea that there is one way to win a championship and that that way is through hard-mouthed, head-down power basketball. Barkley and Karl Malone were the epitome of hard-mouthed, head-down power basketball. Zero rings between 'em. They got smoked by a hyperathletic slashing guard with incredible shooting prowess and a tall, skilled (and yes, strong) small forward. They got smoked by Bill Wennington, Toni Kukoc, Bill Cartwright and Horace Grant in the paint. (And Dennis Rodman, of course.)
Look at these very Lakers. Pau Gasol? Pau Gasol? How's that for your hard-mouthed, head-down power basketball. I'll give you Ron Artest as a complement to Kobe, but don't forget his championship predecessor Trevor "Iron Knuckles" Ariza. And let's not leave out Gummi Bear Odom, noted head-smashed and RRAR forward.
The idea you have to be made of metal to win at basketball is worse than cliché: it's just plain stupid and wrong. You win at basketball by producing more points than you allow your opponent to produce. Maybe you're freewheeling and outgun the opponent. Maybe you're stout and you make it impossible for your opponent to score. Most likely, it's a lot of both.
So, the premise that there is a true path to chase, that itself is wrong, and Lord knows Petrie knows this. The claims he didn't care at all about defense were always overblown. I offer Jim Jackson, Anthony Peeler, Doug Christie, Keon Clark, Ron Artest and Scot Pollard as examples. Hell, let's do it, I offer the rejected post-Adelman Terry Porter candidacy** and the Eric Musselman hire as example.
So we realize Petrie understands that the whole Barkley "smashmouth basketball wins championships" thing is B.S., and we understand he hasn't always forsaken defense or muscle in favor of a stringently exclusive player type. Back to the now. Howard-Cooper:
It started a year ago. They drafted physical point guard Tyreke Evans at No. 4, hard-nosed small forward Omri Casspi at No. 23 and physical power forward Jon Brockman at No. 38 and immediately felt the benefits, going all the way from 29th in the league in rebounding percentage in 2008-09 to 12th last season.
Evans was the best player on the board, and while he's not a great shooter, he does fit the Petrie model in these ways: he's versatile, skilled and long for his position. Casspi is sure fiery, but he's a long shooter (just like Peja and Hedo Turkoglu). Brockman was reported as being purely a Paul Westphal pick. And in the trade to move down for the otherwise-would-have-been-undrafted Brockman, the Kings picked up Sergio Rodriguez, whose existence is an ode to previous Petrie pick Jason Williams!
Whatever questions surrounded previous lead picks -- Evans, Jason Thompson, Hawes, Quincy Douby, Francisco Garcia, Kevin Martin -- there were no doubts about their drive. DeMarcus Cousins: major doubts. Regarded by many teams as the second-best talent on the board, he slipped to No. 5 because executives saw risk in someone who struggled so mightily with maturity and passion to play. That made him such an un-Petrie selection and a greater risk than choosing Evans for point guard despite very limited previous experience at the position. But the Kings wanted the serious muscle that went with Cousins' considerable skills, so risk away.
First of all, you are not going to get away with stating there were no doubts about the drive of Douby or Hawes, Mr. Howard-Cooper. All there were were doubts about those players' drive, toughness and ability to play their targeted positions (point guard and center, respectively). More importantly, limiting this strain of discussion to the last several draft picks really paints a poor picture of Petrie's style. In other words, try this sentence (that I just invented) on for size.
Whatever questions surrounded previous acquisitions -- Chris Webber, Jason Williams, Doug Christie, Keon Clark, Bonzi Wells, Ron Artest, Brad Miller -- there were no doubts about their drive.
Insert error message, because that s--t don't compute.
Petrie has always taken risks on undervalued assets, or assets he believe to be undervalued. As "heart" or "drive" typically leads players to become undervalued, it follows that some of the risks he'd take would be on wackadoo headcases.
To argue that Petrie taking Cousins at No. 5 represents a significant shift from policy is cuckoo. Greg Monroe was the only possible other option, and the debate was never Cousins vs. Monroe -- it was Wes Johnson vs. Monroe, had Cousins been taken off the board. Cousins was the most talented player available, one who carried a bit of personality-based risk. In 1998, on the trade market, Webber was the most talented player available for Mitch Richmond. Webber carried a bit of personality-based risk. Petrie bit the bullet. Twelve years ago.
I would suggest that Petrie has not changed, but that the narrative attached to his tenure has become ossified to the point of overstatement and now invalidation. Petrie was never the way he was perceived to be, and circumstance that ought to be making that clear are instead telling of some reversal of faith. Petrie's flip never happened, because there was never anything to flip.
** For those who missed it back in 2006: Petrie wanted to interview Terry Porter for the vacant Kings job after Adelman was not re-signed. Porter had worked under Adelman as an assistant in Sacramento. The Maloofs put the kibosh on the candidacy. Porter went on to take the fall for the initial destruction of the Phoenix Suns for having the gall to ask Steve Nash and Shaquille O'Neal to play defense.