Sacramento Kings: Poised To Make 2015-16 The Best Of A Decade Of Sadness


As we continue our NBA season previews, we take a look at the long road that lies ahead for the Sacramento Kings

Despite an offseason full of rumors, turmoil and drama the Sacramento Kings enter the season poised to have their best year in at least a decade.

Leading the way is star center Demarcus Cousins. At this point in his career few, if any, can doubt that he is now the best center in the league, as well as one of the 10 best basketball players on Earth. There may be some who would say or suggest that Cousins is not better than Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan or Anthony Davis, but I would say those people are dead wrong.

As a permanent Kings fan who has watched almost every game they have played since 1985, I can tell you that last season Cousins absolutely DESTROYED each of those other centers when they played head-to-head. Gasol played him well and Davis had big games, but Cousins’ were bigger. If you want to say that Jordan can hang with Cousins, I can say unequivocally that when they went head-to-head Jordan knew Cousins was better (as did Doc Rivers and everyone on the Clippers sideline). Cousins is entering his prime and is a legitimate nightmare for all opposing teams.

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For perhaps the first time in his career, Cousins enters the season with an elite coach and a formidable supporting cast. Defenses and teams all over the league are dreading having to play the Kings and figuring out how to stop DMC. In a league that has moved further and further away from the paint in favor of the three-point shot, Cousins and the Kings provide a problem for opposing defenses that few teams do. Against the Kings, teams will have to gear up to pack the paint, play physical, and take their chances with the teams’ perimeter shooters.

Let there be no doubt about it- Cousins is entering his prime and is a legitimate nightmare for all opposing teams. He is one of the very best basketball players in the NBA.

For the first time since the Rick Adelman era, the Kings enter a season with an elite coach. George Karl has the 6th most wins of any NBA coach EVER. Many people will say, “wait, didn’t Karl want to trade Cousins this summer?” I am here to say that those rumors were all completely false, made up, overblown, taken out of context, etc.

Some may also talk of rumors that in Karl’s history he hasn’t gotten along with his star players. I find those rumors to be completely overblown. I also point to Gary Payton, who was probably Karl’s greatest player ever. Payton steadfastly vouches for Karl. That is good enough for me.

Whatever you think of the Cousins- Karl situation, the reality is that you have an all-time great coach and a truly elite player. They both know how good they have it and how great the opportunity in front of them is. They won’t blow this. Believe me, they will make this work.

Looking further at the Kings’ roster brings more intrigue, specifically at the point guard position.

Many people believe that the Kings overpaid for the services of Rajon Rondo. Perhaps that is true, but saying that focuses on the negatives. I’m here to look at the positive. The positive spin is that you have a formerly elite player (don’t forget, as recently as two years ago Rondo was arguably the best two-way player in the NBA) with a lot to prove.

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Rondo has healed from a couple of injury-plagued seasons and says he is totally healthy now. He has a coach who has worked with elite point guards in the past, an elite center to pass to, and a one-year contract that gives him all the motivation in the world to play out of his mind to get a huge paycheck next year. I expect Rondo to be on his best behavior this year on and off the court and provide a major dose of leadership for a team that needs it badly.

At small forward the Kings start Rudy Gay, who is elite and also a teammate of Cousins on the USA National team. Gay is a player that has been overlooked in recent years (largely because advanced stats and metrics don’t like him). If you look past the fact that he sometimes forces up long-range perimeter shots you will see that Gay is a player who dominates and commands a double-team in the post at all times and punishes teams that try to play him straight up. When the ball swings around he is a solid shooter behind the arc as well. Gay’s game should fit well in-between Cousins and Rondo and lead him into an all-star caliber campaign in 2015-16.

For perhaps the first time in his career, Cousins enters the season with an elite coach and a formidable supporting cast

At shooting guard the Kings boast a potentially potent two-headed monster. Starting will be Ben McLemore. Entering his third season, McLemore has proven he has the potential to be a very solid (if not elite) two-way player. His game will remind many fans of Doug Christie, who used to delight Kings fans with his defensive prowess and (sometimes) elite shooting. Over the course of the last two years he has shown signs of becoming an elite, lock-down defender, which is becoming more and more rare at his position in the NBA.

Coming off the bench behind McLemore this season will be free-agent acquisition Marco Belinelli, who brings elite shooting, positional versatility and championship experience to this Kings team that needs exactly that. The combination of McLemore and Belinelli should give the Kings one of the better duos at shooting guard.

Supporting Cousins down low this season will be a combination of Kosta Koufos and highly regarded rookie Willie Cauley-Stein. Koufos arrives in Sacramento as a free-agent who will bring experience, depth and versatility to the team. His experience on elite teams like the Memphis Grizzlies will help the other veterans on the team provide a locker-room presence that has been lacking for years.

In Cauley-Stein, the Kings have added a big man who will be an elite defender from day 1 (while it may take some time for him to develop an offensive game). Fortunately, on this team he won’t need to score. He will just need to use his incredible size and versatility to defend like crazy. These are skills he definitely possesses and will put on display even as a rookie this year.

In the offseason the Kings were also able to piece together what looks to be a competent and versatile bench unit to support the stars.

The backcourt bench features returning point guard Darren Collison who, when healthy, played at an elite level last year. In games in which he played, the Kings were always competitive. When he didn’t play- they weren’t. He also is an ideal fit for the past-paced system George Karl loves to play. Joining Collison this year are Steph (the other) Curry, who sparkled in the summer league helping him land a solid job in the NBA with his spectacular shooting, and David Stockton, who returns as a competent but unspectacular player.

The team also added rookie bomber Duje Dukan, who might spend much of the season on the team’s D-League roster in Reno, but will provide fans a reason to get excited when he enters games.

In the frontcourt bench the Kings have an interesting collection of multi-positional players. Leading that group is Omri Casspi, who played terrific last year in his return to Sacramento. Casspi brings hustle, intensity, and the ability to run the floor and play well at both ends of the court, something that will be valued highly by Coach Karl. Quincy Acy returns to the Kings after a year with the Knicks. Acy is a fan favorite who plays hard and figures to become another favorite of George Karl.

Lastly, Caron (tuff juice) Butler joined the team this offseason as a free-agent signing. While Butler may be in the twilight of his career, he is still a versatile player who can defend multiple positions and run the court like Karl will expect him to (he’s also very tough).

Last season the Kings went 29-53, a one game improvement over the previous season. That team was undermined by injuries, coaching changes, an unstable upper management group, and poor teamwork. Despite all that, the team was actually much better than their record suggested. Even with no upgrades, this team would have won more games this year.

But there were MANY upgrades.

Cauley-Stein, Rondo, Koufos, Belinelli, Butler and a full season with Coach Karl will make a huge difference.

This is a team that was built to improve and contend right now. The team hasn’t made the playoffs in 9 years and has been very bad for the last few seasons. At this time next year the team will move into a new state of the art downtown arena. This is not the time to build, it’s time to start winning some games and competing. The roster has been built to do just that and I believe they will.

This is not a team that is a Championship contender. That said, this is a legitimate playoff-contending team, with a ceiling that might be even higher than this long-time Kings follower thinks.

I expect this team to win a minimum of 41 games and possibly sneak into the playoffs.

Next: SCIC Team Prediction Roundtable