ESPN recently released the latest edition of their "Future Power Rankings" (Insider subscription required) which according to them is a prediction of a team's on-court success over the next three seasons. The Kings did not rank well, staying put at 29th for the 2nd straight season with only the Brooklyn Nets projected as worse.
The biggest issue ESPN has with the Kings is the management, with ESPN writer Amin Elhassan saying:
The laundry list of decisions made by management over the past year or so has consisted mostly of head-scratchers. The Kings seem intent on adding players whose first inclination is neither "pass" nor "defend," from Ben McLemore to Derrick Williams to Rudy Gay. This makes the franchise appear to be the West Coast rebirth of the 2005 New York Knicks: a compilation of underachieving, big-name talent with little regard for chemistry or role definition.
The kicker: replacing spark plug Isaiah Thomas with Darren Collison, ostensibly (at least in part) because of his defensive acumen, an opinion that surely is not shared by many people in NBA circles.
Elhassan also criticizes Sacramento's ownership for trying to "think outside the box for the sake of thinking outside the box" and for being too hands-on without a clear plan.
Some of the criticisms put forth by Elhassan I would agree with. I would agree that the Kings have yet to put an emphasis on finding defensive-minded players. I would agree that the decision to replace Isaiah Thomas with Darren Collison was a poor one, although I also believe that Collison is a fine player in his own right.
What I do not agree with is the idea that the Kings can't improve in the near future, or that management has been completely incompetent.
For starters, the draft pick of Ben McLemore made tons of sense at the time. McLemore was athletic and seemingly polished as a shooter (he shot 42% from three in his lone year at Kansas). As we know, his rookie year was a very rocky one, but I find it hard to write off such a young player after one year, especially a year in which he was forced to play meaningful minutes so quickly thanks to the abrupt decline in Marcus Thornton's game. I also think ESPN overlooked the draft pick of Ray McCallum, who played very well towards the end of last season as Isaiah Thomas missed some time due to injury. McCallum also looked very promising in Las Vegas Summer League, where he emerged as a leader, even if it was against lesser competition.
The decisions to trade for Derrick Williams and Rudy Gay made tons of sense as well. While Williams hasn't really lived up to expectations, it was a low risk move that didn't really cost the Kings anything. Acquiring Gay on the other hand has panned out wonderfully so far, with Gay playing perhaps his best and most efficient basketball as a King while only losing a few bench players, two of which were on bad contracts (Hayes and Salmons).
The Kings have also maneuvered themselves to be very flexible going forward. The Kings will have plenty of cap space next year, even if Rudy Gay signs a big extension. They can open up even more room if they manage to get out from under Jason Thompson and/or Carl Landry's contracts.
But perhaps the biggest reason for optimism in Sacramento's near future is DeMarcus Cousins himself. The Kings center emerged last year as one of the best big men in the league. Not one of the best "young" big men, just one of the best. One star player can influence a team so much more in the NBA than any other league and in my opinion, Cousins can be one of those players. This will be just his 5th year, and he'll be entering the season already warmed up from playing International Ball all summer. Gay's a solid secondary star as well, and if he decides to stick with the Kings on a longer term basis and continues his solid play, the Kings already have two All-Star caliber players, which is more than some teams can say.
The complementary pieces to Cousins and Gay definitely need some work, and the West is infamously brutal, but I can't see the Kings continuing to remain in the cellar for the next few years.