(It's time once again for our annual series "30Q" in which we answer 30 questions over the course of September as we get ready for the upcoming season.)
A year ago at this time, Kings fans were still riding supremely high after being saved from extinction yet again. Vivek Ranadivé and Kevin Johnson had saved the Kings, a new arena plan had been finalized, and most importantly, the Maloofs were finally gone.
The season that followed wasn't nearly as rosy, with the team winning just 28 games, the same as the year before. Despite that, fans remained far more upbeat and optimistic, and for good reason. The team was noticeably more competitive under Mike Malone, DeMarcus Cousins had taken a huge leap forward in terms of efficiency and production, and the trade to bring Rudy Gay in was a rousing success. New ownership had also taken massive steps to reestablish a connection with the community that had been fractured by the Maloofs, and Sleep Train's attendance soared as a result despite the still inferior product on the floor.
At the end of the season, Kings management made it abundantly clear that 28 wins would not be acceptable again. This was a team on the upswing, and while the first year was more about development and culture change than winning and losing, forward progress would be needed in the near future. As Coach Michael Malone said following the season:
"We made a lot of progress in areas, we've played well at certain times of the year and I just want to try and get better, and 28 wins will never be something we're proud about."
With that in mind, Kings fans' expectations have been raised as well. While support for the team is still incredibly high, there were a few moments this summer that seemed to suggest that perhaps the honeymoon period for this new ownership/management group is coming to an end.
The first was the decision to draft Nik Stauskas over Noah Vonleh, Elfrid Payton or Doug McDermott. Stauskas wasn't really on many Kings fans' radars due to the fact that Sacramento had drafted Ben McLemore the year before. More than disappointment (although there was some of that), there was confusion. Before and even during the draft, there was a lot of chatter in the media about how aggressive the Kings were being in looking for a trade. Very few people seemed to believe that the Kings would actually keep their pick, instead looking to trade it for a star or some other piece while moving down. That big trade never happened.
While the big name trade has yet to surface, the decision to pick Stauskas has seemed to grown on fans. His play in Summer League helped showcase both his shooting ability and high basketball IQ. It also made sense given McLemore's struggles as a rookie and the Kings overall lack of depth at the Shooting Guard position.
The big test of faith however came when the Kings decided not to bring back fan favorite Isaiah Thomas, instead going after a cheaper Darren Collison. This was probably the least popular decision made in the post-Maloof era, especially since the price Thomas fetched in Phoenix was seen as a pretty good deal for a player as productive as Thomas had been in Sacramento. By making this decision, Pete D'Alessandro and co. were finally putting their stamp on this team, with Cousins being the only real piece that was being incorporated into the team's future plans.
As such, coming into this season there are real expectations for this Kings team. Cousins and Gay are true stars, as demonstrated by their selection to Team USA and Cousins' All-Star caliber season last year. 28 wins, or even 30, probably isn't going to cut it now. And going backwards? Hell no. This is a team that needs to make a jump, any jump, back on the path to the playoffs. Kings fans are realistic, forged in the fires of multiple decades of losing, so I don't think anyone is expecting a 50 win year or even playoff contention. But it'd be nice to be around .500 for most of the season, and get to a place where maybe the playoffs aren't so unrealistic in a year or two.
The honeymoon period probably isn't over just yet (Maloof stench takes a while to wash out), but the new car smell is fading.