My favorite piece of writing to come from this offseason, and the only thing more active than the Kings' offseason was the writing about the Kings' offseason, came from Tom Ziller, because of course it did. It was a Tweet over 4th of July weekend that read, and I'm paraphrasing some here because the time it would take me to find the actual Tweet would eclipse the time it will take me to write this "Belinelli & Rondo & Koufos & 35 Wins." Never has something simultaneously so accurately assessed a situation while also belonging on a t-shirt. Do I think it's maybe a little bleak in its assessment? Maybe. But it isn't inaccurate. And it hits at the root of the current state of this franchise. I'd bet about 20 of these 30Q's will all ask a variation of the same question: How much better did the Kings get?
My opinion of this offseason, which no one asked for but here it is anyway, is that it was a kind of success. A subdued success despite all the attention and activity surrounding it. There is one specific reason for this. Cousins. I think this offseason was largely about appeasing him. Not just in settling the Karl commotion. Not just in mea culping the Malone firing. But in giving him something, anything to build on.
The national narrative around Cousins is that he's the best player in the league who hasn't won anything. As Clay Travis' social media can attest, few players are more aware of how they're perceived nationally than Cousins and he's certainly aware of that reality. You can only expect a superstar to be patient with losing for so long. Particularly when it appears ownership and management are going out of their way, intentionally or not, to inhibit any kind of stability/consistency and consequent competitive breakthrough, see the Malone firing.
The bizarre sin of the end of the Petrie era is that he failed so badly in so many drafts but succeeded so admirably in one specific one that it's put the Kings in a kind of constant, directionless identity crisis. One that reached its fever pitch during draft week. Can rebuilding coexist with just building? It is impractical to expect, or at least depend on, draft picks to make any real substantive impact immediately. It is similarly impractical, however, to expect Cousins to spend his best years competitively not competing. This is why the proposed Laker trade made some sense in my mind. As long as Cousins is on the roster the team can't really rebuild in earnest. Ownership could rationalize the need for a second rebuilding after the failings of the first, you don't end things acrimoniously with Cousins, and you try to sell a Hell of a lot of D'Angelo Russell jerseys. If you keep Cousins you do so knowing this team may need to make comparatively short term competitive decisions that, beyond potentially truncating future growth, also aren't guarantees of current success; See Ziller's 35 win Tweet.
I will digress momentarily, though not entirely, to mention that players clearly aren't general managers. They have their own biases and irrational exuberances. Cousins is friends with Rondo but Cousins clearly wanted Rondo on this roster because he believes Rondo makes this team more competitive than, or at least in addition to, Collison. And Rondo certainly adds a veneer of increased competitiveness. However collective wisdom is that Rondo is, if not a Collison downgrade, not necessarily a Collison upgrade, and certainly not what he was perceived to be when traded to Dallas. Our hope as fans is that management is savvy enough to have some proper perspective on Rondo's abilities and their application, beyond Cousins' desire to have him here and Rondo's desire to be desired. And that is the current delicate balance management must delicately maintain, and in many eyes already hasn't. An awareness of what can be done to make this roster better. A wariness that that doesn't necessarily mean doing anything.
But what's done is done and was done for Cousins' sake. Not to appease petulance, he has been comparatively composed, even in emoji form, this summer. But to take best advantage of having a roster with an All Star in his prime. And this roster is improved. But to what end? And will it be enough for Cousins?
Even aspirationally the playoffs feel a bit farfetched. While I think the West's competitiveness may be slightly overstated, the depth is not. Any hope for access depends at least in part on a stalwart slipping and the stalwarts have heretofore been pretty stubborn about slipping. I can write Dallas off, and clearly the DeAndre Jordan fiasco is a bit foreboding, but they've been making playoff runs with masking tape and Dirk for the last half decade. The comfort is that the regular season is interminable. And while winning in January may feel a bit like a hollow victory you know what's hollower? Losing in January. Remember this is a team whose best competitive strategy the last few years has been benching its starters in the spring for a better shot at the 7th vs. 8th pick in the lottery. The Kings' lost some ballbusters last fall in the twilight of the Malone era and yet morale remained strong because better to lose ballbusters than blowouts. The Kings have constructed a roster good enough to beat Milwaukee on the road. That may seem a bit like a backhanded compliment. But it is a compliment.
I think the dirty secret of this season, the one Ziller's tweet captures, is that for the all excitement of the offseason, the actual season will probably end up being pretty boring. Oh I think they're going to win, and I think the winning will be enough to keep everyone happy, it might be enough even for a 7th or an 8th seed, but I think it will feel more like that '05-'06 playoff run with Artest than it will even the early run last year. Maybe a little workman like. Slightly cynical. There's a practical, achievable goal for the Kings' this season, be better than any team since that '05-'06 run, and that goal will be achieved.
The real test in my mind comes the following year, when, assuming this season is comparatively competitive, the expectations will increase, probably unreasonably. This roster is good enough to be good. I don't know what happens if people decide it should be great. But that's a question for next year. And so we end on a cliffhanger. Cue the squirrel.