Season Preview: Sacramento Kings

As a site, we ranked all the NBA teams from worst to best for our release of season previews. Day nine’s release of a season preview ends up being the mysteriously built Sacramento Kings. Saeed Ghassemzadeh provides a recap of their past season, an offseason recap, and then finally the season preview all of us fans are eager for.

Sacramento Kings:

Last season’s record:  29-53

Playoff status: Missed Playoffs

The 2014-15 Kings season surely was not going to be a playoff season for the loyal fans in Sacramento. The last time they made the playoffs was in 2006, and this rebuild was destined to continue for another season. The season started off strongly, as the Kings jumped to a 9-6 start to the season, with DeMarcus Cousins leading the way in the form of over 23 points per game, 12 rebounds per game, and 1.5 blocks per game. However, Cousins went down with viral meningitis after that, and that was the turning point of the season. The Kings went 2-8 in the 10 games Cousins missed, and in the midst of the losing streak, management fired Head Coach Michael Malone and replaced him with interim coach Tyrone Corbin. The decision was questioned around the league, as Malone was one coach that Cousins enjoyed playing under. In February, George Karl was named the new head coach (back to this in a bit), and later on in March, Vlade Divac was named vice president of basketball operations. Now back to actual basketball. While Cousins maintained his high level of play (thus earning him an All-Star berth), and Rudy Gay tried his best to help anchor the offense, the team as a whole never managed to find the same magic from the start of the season, and ended the season with the sixth worst record in the league.

In terms of draft position, the Kings didn’t have any lottery luck, staying in the sixth slot for the 2015 NBA Draft. Going into the draft, Sacramento’s biggest needs were both interior and perimeter defense, and also better three point shooting. On Draft Night, players like Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, and Mario Hezonja (who, according to a league source, was very high on the Kings radar) were taken ahead of the Kings. Although Darren Collison managed the Kings offense very well last season, there were rumors going up to the draft that the Kings were interested in point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who played last season in China. However, this never came to fruition, as the Kings selected Kentucky center Willie “Trill” Cauley-Stein, an elite and athletic defensive presence who can literally defend all five positions on the court. While his offense needs work, he and Cousins should form a lethal defensive pairing.

At the start of the offseason, rumors emerged of George Karl asking management to trade Cousins, and a Tweet by Cousins seemed to validate such news. However, despite odd encounters between the two, the Kings front office has remained steadfast in their desire to keep Cousins. In the offseason, the Kings made a series of moves, some of which were immediately questioned by the NBA community. Early on, the Kings negotiated a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, in which the Kings sent 2014 eighth overall pick Nik Stauskas (better known as “Sauce Castillo”), a top 10 protected pick, and the right to swap picks in two future drafts, all in exchange for 2015 second round picks Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic. The Kings may call that a salary dump, but I call that a failure. Sitting behind Ben McLemore, Stauskas never got the playing time to warrant his draft position, and the Kings moved on him far too quickly. Next, Sacramento missed out on signing scoring machine Monta Ellis and three point sniper Wesley Matthews, and then turned to James Anderson, a nice addition depth-wise, but also someone who last played in the NBA in the 2013-14 season with the lowly 76ers. The big move for the Kings came in arguably the biggest 2015 offseason gamble. The Kings signed four time All-Star and former Celtics champ Rajon Rondo to a one year, $9.5 million contract. This is a huge gamble for the Kings. Rondo was traded from a rebuilding situation in Boston to a contending team in Dallas in December 2014, and he and the Mavericks were never able to gel, eventually causing Rondo and the team to agree to part ways during the playoffs against the Houston Rockets. If Rondo can return to his elite form from the Big Three Era in Boston, the Kings could be looking at the playoffs. If not, Rondo could simply worsen situations in Sacramento, and cause Cousins to possible ask to be traded. This is clearly a huge risk by the Kings. To please Rondo’s request for a good shooter, the Kings gave big money to Marco Belinelli, who will undoubtedly take away from McLemore’s development. Next, the Kings signed center Kosta Koufos to a 4 year deal. Koufos, along with the returning Omri Casspi, should provide a nice bench unit. Finally, the Kings finished out the roster by adding shooter Seth Curry, energy man Quincy Acy, and veteran Caron Butler. It was a busy offseason for the Kings, and one can only hope this is the year the Kings return to the playoffs, because a lot of the future was given up for these moves.

In the 2015-16 season, expect one of two scenarios. The Kings, led by Cousins, Rondo, and Gay, could maintain great chemistry, keep a healthy locker room, and use Karl effectively, and as a result, make the playoffs and end their decade long rebuild. Or, the experiment could completely explode in management’s face. Rondo might not mesh with Cousins, Karl could become unreasonable with the Kings players, and the whole team could have little chemistry together. In this case, the offseason would be seen as a total failure, and Cousins could ask out of Sacramento completely. As of right now, many basketball enthusiasts are predicting the latter, but it will be up to the team, and the team only, to prove they can avoid that scenario in the 2015-16 season.

By: Saeed Ghassemzadeh

By: Mac Crowe, @Mac_Truck17

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