The NBA regular season is just around the corner, and with that comes the hopes and dreams of every player, front office, coach and fan.
In Sacramento, it has been one disappointing season after another in recent years as the pieces never seem to fit and selfish play rules. Maybe the 2014-15 season will be different. Maybe the ball will move. Maybe the defense will be there. Maybe DeMarcus Cousins will take that next step of being everything and then some all the time as the team's leader...while staying on the floor for his teammates.
Maybe the team will win a respectable amount of games this season.
To talk about it, we invited several members of the Kings media to share their predictions of how many wins the Kings will have this season. Joining us is Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee, Bill Herenda of CSN California, Sean Cunningham of News 10, James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom, Whitey Gleason of the Rise Guys on ESPN Radio 1320 and Tom Ziller of SB Nation (and the founding editor of some website called Sactown Royalty).
Ailene Voisin - 35 wins
This isn't a playoff team yet, but it's closer. The offense should be much improved with Michael Malone's new system, a faster pace and more willing passers. Darren Collison and Ramon Sessions offer different skills, but together could prove to be very effective at the point guard position. Nik Stauksas can shoot and shoot with depth - another weakness a year ago.
DeMarcus Cousins' performance is the major factor, of course. This is year five. If he pushes back early-season fatigue - which could affect both Cousins and Rudy Gay in the opening weeks because of their time with Team USA - this should be the first of his many All-Star seasons. He is a better passer than he showed the last two-three years, and says he surprised himself with his defensive maturity while with Team USA. With this club, better offense will lead to an improved, collective defense. The sluggish tempo lulls everyone to sleep, including defenders.
Teams seldom make dramatic leaps in wins and losses, so 35 seems reasonable. If the Kings stay healthy and Cousins, in fact, makes that leap, things could get interesting. But the Kings have to reclaim what once was a huge advantage in their home building. That's where it starts.
Bill Herenda - 36 wins
Treacherous terrain exists early in the schedule for Sacramento's roster of 13 new players that were not in training camp last year - seven of the Kings first ten opponents were playoff teams a year ago.
However, if head coach Michael Malone is successful inculcating his "play for each other mentality" mantra offensively and defensively, modest improvement to 36-46 representing +8 in the win column is realistic. That's probably enough for GM Pete D'Alessandro and Malone to satisfy Vivek Ranadive and to continue to rebuild the Kings in the extremely tough Western Conference of the NBA around DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay if they can lock up the former UConn Huskie to a long-term deal.
The Kings struggled mightily on defense last season, i.e., 24th in points allowed at 103.4 points per game. Improvement here has to occur for a Sacramento turnaround. For a blueprint to emulate, look no further than Charlotte who went from 29th to 4th in the NBA in points allowed last season leading to +22 in the win column.
Last season, Sacramento was last in the NBA in assists per game and lost 16 games by six points or less (two possessions). With the signings of veteran point guards, Darren Collison and Ramon Sessions, the Kings are looking for improved offensive efficiency plus better decision making at critical junctures of games, i.e. "winning time."
The Kings were tied for 27th in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage at 33 percent last season. Ben McLemore's improvement in year two and rookie Nik Stauskas, a 44 percent three-point shooter at Michigan, will be counted on for improvement from downtown.
Sean Cunningham - 37 wins (Realistically, 33)
For fans expecting to see the Sacramento Kings compete for a playoff spot this season, they will be sorely disappointed. Yes, they'll stomach yet another season of rebuilding and growth. But they can take solace with the veteran pieces they've added this season, in attempt to grow their quality youth, become more mature and hopefully, learn to close out games. So many nights Kings fans watched their home team remain competitive only to crumble in the waning minutes.
The offseason didn't supply Sacramento with an abundance of new faces. The biggest offseason acquisition was retaining Rudy Gay, which I thought was essential. Ideally, extending a talent like him alongside DeMarcus Cousins would be ideal, however, should they not, Gay will be in a contract year and looking to make a big impression throughout the league. That could be a blessing and a curse. Should Gay revert back to his old poor, volume-shooting ways, it would be detrimental to him and his value to a team. However, if he's able to duplicate what he did during his stint in Sacramento last season, with a much-improved shooting percentage and, with hopefully less turnovers, then there will be a buyers market for him in the offseason.
Adding the depth at point guard was needed. Like it or not, Isaiah Thomas plays in Phoenix now. Darren Collison has impressed in the preseason. He's just a different type of point guard who also looks to score, but can get out and run and move the ball. He also has a lot to prove after rough stops in Indiana and Dallas, before his solid season with the Clippers last season.
Equally impressive is Ramon Sessions thus far. Both add a different and refreshing dynamic at the point guard position. Rookie Nik Stauskas has shown a knack for being a playmaker - terrific vision and willingness to pass, coupled with his long-range shooting makes it easy to see why his future is so bright in Sacramento.
They still have a lot of dead weight at the power forward position. But if the team is truly looking to run, Kings fans should stop hating on Jason Thompson, quit looking at his salary number and focus on the way he can defend, rebound and his best asset - run the floor. No, he's not a star power forward, but he is consistent. He needs to rebound better and stop the endless griping at the officials. A healthy Carl Landry and the veteran presence of Reggie Evans should be a good thing too.
The Kings need their anchor and star Cousins to duplicate last season's performance with another All-Star caliber season. Whether he's named an All-Star or not - who cares? He was crushed last season when he wasn't named to the West squad and went through a funk afterward. Hopefully that doesn't happen again. I'm not concerned with him getting technicals, but if he's tossed from games, or worse, suspended, that cannot happen and will hurt his growth in a major way.
I predict the Kings to win at best case 37 games this season. More Realistically, probably 33.
With any hope for better success too much has to go right for Michael Malone's squad:
- Rudy and DeMarcus duplicate last season with no hangover from the busy summer of international play.
- Nik Stauskas has to be a player and contribute immediately. Playmaking and shooting will be too important.
- Pace of play needs to live up to offseason hype and the ball must move.
- Ben McLemore needs a tremendous sophomore season and show he can be a factor.
- Defense. Already in the preseason, they look like they can't stop anyone.
James Ham - 34 wins
The Sacramento Kings come into the 2014-15 season deeper and improved at every single position. General manager Pete D'Alessandro brought in veteran leaders to aid in the growth of young players like DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas.
Beginning last season with the additions of Rudy Gay and Reggie Evans and continuing this summer with the signings of Darren Collison, Ramon Sessions, Omri Casspi and Ryan Hollins, the Kings finally have the necessary support in place.
While deeper, the Kings still lack the overall talent and continuity to compete for a playoff spot in the talented Western Conference. They should show improvement over last season's win total of 28, but how much is the real question. I predict they win 34, but I wouldn't be shocked if that total sneaks closer to 40.
Whitey Gleason - 34 wins
I'm of the minority thinking that the offense is in better hands with Collison than it was with the Pizza Guy. McLemore's continued improvement is vitally important to an uptick in victories, and he'll have to be consistent since Nik "Swisher" probably won't be.
I'm concerned that playing up-tempo will only magnify defensive and turnover issues, but one bright spot from the preseason has been excellent - Adelman-esque spacing at times in the half court.
With DeMarcus Cousins the Kings would be the envy of every team in the league - if it were still 1977, when each organization fixated on a "franchise" center. That said, his outlet passes will open a lot of eyes with the Kings looking to run whenever possible, and those opportunities will hinge on his defense and rebounding. If he decides to run the floor on a regular basis, Cousins will be rewarded with easy baskets and dunks thunderous enough to shake the Maloofs' old plastic wraps out of the rafters.
Cousins will continue to be the No. 1 reason fans around the league check out the Kings on League Pass - if they bother to at all. But he'll still lack the frontcourt help he needs to approach his full potential this year.
Tom Ziller - 41 wins
Based on points scored and allowed, the King were a 33-win team last season. That doesn't actually count in the standings, but it's worth noting that they played better than their record indicates. They also had John Salmons at small forward for a while, and had guys like Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson underperforming. Sacramento also got basically nothing from the shooting guard position all season.
But really, my prediction of 41 wins is based on the likelihood of a major trade. With McLemore, Stauskas, McCallum and future draft picks, Pete D'Alessandro has a lot of attractive assets to land himself another star. He also has a number of highly tradable contracts to make deals work. We've seen how aggressive he's been, and we know how important it is that the team improves its record. That's a recipe for a trade or three.
We didn't know last October that the team would be trading for Rudy Gay. I have a feeling we don't know right now who the team will land this season.
Also, while we're here, DeMarcus Cousins is going to be an All-Star, barring injury.
Thanks to all of these folks for taking time to share their insights with us.
As for my prediction, I'll go with 38 wins.
I don't think a 10-win increase is out of the question. That still doesn't make the Kings a playoff team, but I think the pieces/depth are there for the team to compete on a nightly basis. The success of this season depends on two things, in my opinion: Is there enough talent on this roster and can the coaching staff get the most of what talent is there? We have seen the coaching of Michael Malone come through on the offensive side of the ball at times in the preseason, that with the ball movement and unselfish play - they practiced what he preached. As was the case last season though, their defense looks like a serious problem. The balance of good offense and efficient defense is a tricky dance and you can tell this squad is still working out those kinks.
Despite Pete D'Alessandro's claims that they have found "a core" group of players, I believe this season is still very much a time for the front office to figure out who really is going to be in Sacramento long-term.
38 wins may seem somewhat optimistic given the recent past, but I think they should be able to figure out how to win a few more close games this season and beat a few more teams that they should beat (especially at home).
What do you think?