If there's one thing that most fans would want coming off of yet another sub-30 win season (the fifth in a row), it would be some changes to the roster and the starting lineup. Kings fans have already seen a shakeup in the roster, as six of the fourteen players on the roster at the beginning of last season are no longer Kings (the number would be four of thirteen if you look at the roster at the end of last season). But how will that translate to the starting lineup?
There are a number of directions that the Kings may take, and they may very well pick and choose from different variations and themes. Here are some of the ways that they could go, in no particular order.
The "Brand New World" option: Under this scenario, new Kings ownership and management determine that their new acquisitions are better than what existed on the old roster. DeMarcus Cousins is grandfathered into this group, as the franchise has determined (at least for now) to build around the big fella. Carl Landry gets the start at power forward, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is at small forward, 1st round draft pick Ben McLemore is the shooting guard, and Greivis Vasquez is the point guard. This lineup is certainly new and exciting (at least compared to what we have seen recently), but it would be challenged defensively everywhere except the small forward position. Chances of happening: Not likely but not 100% out of the question. McLemore will have to make a huge leap forward from summer league to crack the lineup, Isaiah Thomas will not give up the starting job easily, and Landry will be battling at least Jason Thompson and perhaps Patrick Patterson for starting honors.
The "Defensive" option: Coach Michael Malone wants this team to hang its hat on defense, but for the time being he may have to settle for incremental improvement. Given that Cousins has his job nailed down, Chuck Hayes gets the start alongside him. Mbah a Moute is the small forward. Johnny Salmons gets the start at shooting guard, and Isaiah Thomas is at the point. Ironic that the best defensive lineup that the Kings can put together is also the shortest. Chances of happening: Less likely than the "Brand New World" option. This lineup would not be good enough defensively to make up for its offensive deficiencies. And I fundamentally oppose any option that has Salmons in the starting lineup.
The "Best Defense is a Good Offense" option: Malone determines that other than Mbah a Moute, there are no particularly gifted defenders on the roster, and that the team defense that he employs will achieve about the same level of effectiveness no matter who starts. Cousins, Landry, Mbah a Moute, and Marcus Thornton make up 80% of this starting lineup. Thomas and Vasquez are a coin flip. In Vasquez you have a pass-first point guard that will enhance the offensive play of Cousins, Landry and Thornton. In Thomas you have a guy that has not been the passer of Vasquez' level but is himself a potent scorer. I'll give Vasquez the slightest of edges here. Chances of happening: Possible. This lineup features 60% new personnel and 80% new starters over last year. It will be defensively overmatched on most nights, but one has to ask exactly how much of a defensive difference Hayes or Thompson would make over Landry, or Thomas over Vasquez or Thornton.
The "Ball Movement is King" option: Vasquez and Thomas start side-by-side in the backcourt. Vasquez runs most of the half court sets, but both of them transition the basketball. Vasquez covers the opposing two guards. Mbah a Moute is still the small forward (Salmons or Travis Outlaw would actually impede ball movement as require more touches than Luc), and Patrick Patterson starts alongside Cousins - Patterson does the best job of playing within an offensive flow of any of the options here. This version would provide the most selfless quintet of players, though it is potentially lighter on offensive potency than the "BD/GO" option (Landry>Patterson and Thornton>Thomas when it comes to volume scoring). This group would have to pass crisply and repeatedly to keep opposing defenses off balance. Chances of happening: Possible (though probably less possible than the "BD/GO" option), especially if Malone wants to enforce the ball movement aspect.
The "Build Around DeMarcus" option: Given that the, long defensive presence that Cousins yearns to play next to is not currently on the roster, this lineup revolves more around supporting Cousins on the offensive end. Now, this can be a bit tricky. Vasquez is a given here, but would this scenario be better with a floor spacing deep threat like Thornton or a guy like Thomas, who can score from deep but can also distribute? It's hard not to give Thomas the edge here. Mbah a Moute is small forward (again, I don't see any other options that would improve Cousins' game). And I'll opt for Patterson over Landry here, primarily because Patterson can space the floor but does not need a lot of touches to be effective. Note that I'm not saying that Patterson is better than Landry, but in this world of "It's all about DeMarcus (for better or worse)," Patterson is the better fit. So this lineup winds up being the same as the "Ball Movement is King" lineup. Chances of happening: As possible as the "Ball Movement" option.
The "Pump Up the Value" option: Management implores the coaching staff to utilize the players that the Kings might like to move, in the hope of dealing out of contracts. Cousins is in this lineup but is certainly not (currently) on the market. Jason Thompson starts alongside him. JT is a solid rotation big, but the addition of Landry makes him expendable. Mbah a Moute starts at small forward (giving Salmons playing time at small forward will decrease his "value"), and Thornton starts at shooting guard. Vasquez gets the start at point guard. I'm not 100% convinced that the Kings obtained Vasquez as part of their long-term plan. I'm not bashing Vasquez here, and he may continue to develop. But there is a part of me that thinks that his acquisition was more about just getting something for Evans than walking away with nothing. Don't get me wrong - I think that Vasquez will be a solid addition for the Kings this year. But he's not a particularly special player, and if the Kings can get something valuable for him, I could see them pulling the trigger. Chances of happening: No way. NBA3.0 does not start with management dictating to their coach who starts and who sits.
The "Jimmer" option: Jimmer Fredette is slotted into the starting lineup, and Vasquez, Thomas, Salmons and Ray McCallum are instructed to feed him at all costs. Chances of happening: Zero, because Michael Malone is a racist.
The "Best Guys Start" option: This would seem to be the obvious scenario, and it would feature Cousins, Landry and Mbah a Moute up front. The back court is a little trickier, as you need to determine who are the best options among Vasquez, Thomas and Thornton (or McLemore or Fredette if they have an epiphany). I'll give Thornton the two-guard as of September 24, and Vasquez barely, barely, barely edges Thomas. Chances of happening: Very possible.
A lot is made of starting lineups, and I think that most of us would agree that the five guys on the floor at the end of the game are much more important than the five guys that start the game, much in the same way that the roster at the end of the season will be much more important to the future of the Kings than the roster that begins the season. It will be interesting to see which five players earn the opening night starting nod, and how consistent that starting lineup will remain as the season progresses.