There are two rebuilding projects going on at 1 Sports Parkway right now. There is the rebuilding of the Sacramento Kings as a business: strengthening revenue, cleaning up operations, fixing up the arena the team will play at over the next three years, advancing the use and sophistication of information systems, etc. Then there is the rebuilding of the team itself. The projects go hand in hand -- better revenue will allow a more expensive payroll, better operations will lead to better success from basketball operations.
But I would think we might be dealing with two distinct timelines, with the basketball team taking longer to come around.
Here's my theory:
1. The Kings' payroll can be pretty low in 2013-14; Tyreke Evans is the only free agent of note, and even if he is retained with a hefty payday, Sacramento would be about $8-10 million short of the salary cap. Add in the No. 7 pick and you're upwards of $5 million short with 11 players under contract.
2. The Cavaliers are still owed a future Kings first-round pick. If you're the Kings, you'd much rather give up a pick in the mid-teens or later than a pick in the low teens. In 2014, the pick is protected in the top 12. So there's a strong chance the Kings will keep it so long as they don't just miss out on the playoffs or make the playoffs. We're not talking about playoffs until we see what the roster looks like, but based on what the free agent class looks like, I'm not confident Sacramento can make a 20-win jump in the standings. The pick owed to Cleveland is only protected in the top 10 between 2015 and 2017. Also, the 2014 draft is shaping up to be extraordinary, especially around the top.
3. While you want a better team in 2013 to reward the fans who fought relocation, you really want a better team in 2016, when the new arena opens. See what the Nets did? They improved the roster as possible with the Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace trades. Then they made huge splashes to improve the team heading into 2012 as Barclays opened and they moved to Brooklyn. It worked: while the team lost in the first round, the team made a mint in gate, merch ... everything. So while you want a better team ASAP, the real target is 2016.
4. For all intents and purposes, the team has two potential stars: Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. Both can be locked up long-term this summer. You have two more potential star assets: the No. 7 pick in June and 2014's first-round pick. And of course you can trade any number of assets for a potential star, too. You really need 3-4 starrish players to make noise. The Warriors have Curry, Lee and [Thompson/Bogut]. The Pacers have George, Hibbert and West. The Thunder have Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka. The Kings have two players who could be at that level. No offense to Isaiah, Jimmer, Patterson or Thornton, but the Kings need at least one more star type to get there. So it doesn't make sense to swing for the fences until you have that player.
5. Public perception of Vivek and his GM will revolve heavily around how expectations are managed. Fans are starving for success, yes. But we want long-term success. We're a smart fan base. We get it. A huge task for this squad's suits will be managing expectations. How you construct a team plays into that. If you add a Danny Granger, expectations shoot through the roof. If you then don't compete for a playoff spot -- which may be good for the long-term success of the team, given the draft pick situation -- there's going to be heavy disappointment. If you preserve cap space a little longer, re-sign Tyreke and maybe lock up Cousins at below-max and pound on the message that you're building toward 2014-15 and beyond, expectations remain lower and perhaps fans can get on board.
That said, managing expectations after such a drought of success is going to be really hard. Tyreke has talked about thirsting for the postseason. Many of us think that a lot of what's wrong with Cousins can be softened with team success. And it's a guarantee that a better team will better inspire fans to show up, be loud and stay interested. (It's certainly better for Sactown Royalty to have a better team.) So it might be the case where the theory follows that being bad another year is most beneficial to the long-term success of the team, the practical conditions require going hard to compete ASAP.
We'll see. As I said, we have a smart set of fans that will be able to comprehend what Vivek's team is doing off the court and on.