Over the next month, Blazer's Edge will be rolling out season previews for all 30 NBA teams. Continuing this feature, we discuss the Sacramento Kings with Sactown Royalty associate editor Rob Hessing.
Sacramento Kings 2014-15 Season Preview
2013-14 Record: 28-54, No. 4 in Pacific Division, No. 13 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Sim Bhullar (rookie, undrafted), Deonte Burton (rookie, undrafted), Omri Casspi, Darren Collison, Ryan Hollins, Trey Johnson, Eric Moreland (rookie, undrafted), Ramon Sessions, Nik Stauskas (rookie, No. 8), David Wear (rookie, undrafted)
Roster subtractions: Quincy Acy, Jared Cunningham, Aaron Gray, Travis Outlaw, Isaiah Thomas
SB Nation affiliate: Sactown Royalty
Blazer's Edge: Isaiah Thomas was the second leading scorer in Sacramento last year, averaging over 20 points per game. Since he left for Phoenix this past summer, who on the Kings' roster do you expect to replace that scoring in the backcourt?
Rob Hessing: The exodus of Thomas and his scoring is two-fold: Not only was he scoring 20 points per game, he was doing it efficiently (1.34 points per shot). But the Kings seem bent on spreading the scoring around, so it probably won't be any one player that fills the void. DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay may see a shot or two more per game, and Darren Collison (Thomas' replacement at the point) will fill the void as well. After that, the hope is that the shooting guard position comes to the party, with either (or both) Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas developing quickly. The Kings are also hoping for improvement from the bench, relying on a healthy Carl Landry and newly-signed Ramon Sessions.
BE: In his first four seasons, DeMarcus Cousins has become a legit 22/11 center in the NBA. What's the next logical progression for him? All indications are that he's a nice guy but easily loses his cool on the court...can he keep his emotions under control this year and going forward? Does he need to, or is that part of what makes him a special player?
RH: Cousins is such a double-edged sword. He's not available for the Kings to draft at #5 if not for his well-documented "red flags." He is polarizing, and there are still questions as to whether (a) a team can build around him, and (b) would he take a supporting role if it turned out that he's really more Robin than Batman. He reminds me so much of a young Zach Randolph, which I know resonates with Blazers fans.
Cousins just missed out on an all-star nod last year (deservedly, as the West was stacked up front). This may be the year that he takes that he takes that step, as I see both him and Anthony Davis as the young bigs in the West that will begin to close on the likes of Aldridge, Griffin, Howard, etc.
As far as the Kings are concerned, Cousins needs to really prove that if he cannot be the anointed leader of the team, he can at least refrain from being sand in the gears. The front office seems to be building the Kings around and catering to Cousins, and if he can be a conciliatory presence for a roster that is destined to experience a bumpy season, that will be a huge progression for both Cousins and the Kings. But if he points fingers or simply gives up on this franchise in this, his fifth season, you're looking at Kevin Love 2.0, and the Kings will be forced in dealing Cousins and starting over (again...).
BE: Rudy Gay is entering the last season of a 5-year contract that will pay him around $19 million in 2014-15. What would you have to see from him this year to be convinced that he's worth keeping around long-term? What is a realistic price tag for the 28-year-old after this season?
RH: I'm betting that Gay puts up a career year this year, as the combination of his standing with the Kings and it being a contract year will provide for the perfect storm. At the end of the season, it may be more of a matter of whether or not the Kings have proven to Gay that he wants to stay around. He will have earned almost $100m as an NBA player by the end of the season, and I could see him taking a little less (not a wholesale discount) to land with a contender. Four years and $60m will be a range for Gay, though the Kings would probably go to $70m or more if he and Cousins bond and the team sees some success this year (success being defined for the Kings as at least 35 wins and a point differential under -1.0).
BE: Is Ramon Sessions the presumed scorer off the bench? How do you think coach Mike Malone will handle his playing rotation?
RH: Poor Michael Malone. The Kings have now employed over 30 different players on the roster since his arrival, and he has one year under his belt. The starting power forward and shooting guard positions are still seemingly up for grabs, so it's hard to project the bench at this point. Carl Landry would be a natural as a bench-scoring big, but if he winds up starting at power forward, it's anyone's guess - Jason Thompson is not a volume scorer, and Omri Casspi and Derrick Williams have never provided consistent bench punch in their respective careers. Whichever shooting guard winds up on the bench (McLemore or Stauskas) could help, or they could suck the air out of the arena. Sessions seems to be the most solid choice for bench contribution night-in and night-out.
BE: Sacramento's team defense was average to near the bottom of the league in most significant defensive statistics last year. Where will the Kings need to see improvement on that side of the ball? What are the realistic expectations for the team's defense this season?
RH: As bad as the defense was, it was showing signs of improvement at the end of the season (granted, there was no place to go but up). The improvement will have to be from a team defense standpoint, as the front office has not delivered any plus-defensive players to Malone. Malone was instrumental in the Warriors' defensive improvement when he was an assistant there, but that roster had just enough scrappers to obtain full buy-in. That remains to be seen from a Kings roster that will take its lead from Cousins and Gay. The optimistic Kings fans hope that Cousins' time with the gold medal-winning world team will provide him the impetus to give the team defensive leadership.
BE: Can Nik Stauskas live up to the expectations of being drafted No. 8 overall last spring? What are you hoping to see out of him as a rookie?
RH: He'll certainly have his chance. The Kings could have opted for the likes of Noah Vonleh or Elfrid Payton, but they determined that Stauskas is the most NBA-ready. The front office made the determination that getting Cousins help now would be better than drafting a player that might need extra time to develop, and I get that - Cousins starts his four year, $63m contract this year and the clock is ticking. I could see Stauskas getting time at shooting guard and perhaps even a little small forward when the Kings run with a three guard set. There is talk that he could even run the point a bit, but I'm very skeptical about that, at least for this season.
If Stauskas finds and establishes his shooting stroke early, he will post one of the better seasons among rookies this year. Not rookie of the year stuff, but an invitation to the futures game on all-star weekend.
Special thanks to Sactown Royalty associate editor Rob Hessing for taking the time to discuss the Sacramento Kings' upcoming season with Blazer's Edge. Sactown Royalty can be found on twitter @sactownroyalty. SactownRoyalty.com has you covered for Kings news and analysis.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter