Sacramento Kings 2015-16 Season Preview
2014-15 Record: 29-53, No. 4 Pacific Division, No. 13 Western Conference
Willie Cauley-Stein (C) – Drafted No. 6 overall
Rajon Rondo (PG) – Signed as free agent
Marco Belinelli (SG) – Signed as free agent
Kosta Koufos (C) – Signed as free agent
James Anderson (SG) – Signed as free agent
Caron Butler (SF) – Signed as free agent
Seth Curry (PG) – Signed as free agent
Quincy Acy (PF) – Signed as free agent
Duje Dukan (SF) – Signed as free agent
Andre Miller (PG) – Signed with Minnesota Timberwolves as free agent
Derrick Williams (PF) – Signed with New York Knicks as free agent
Reggie Evans (PF) – Unsigned free agent
Ryan Hollins (C) – Unsigned free agent
Carl Landry (PF) – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers
Jason Thompson (PF) – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers
Nik Stauskas (SG) – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers
Ray McCallum (PG) – Traded to the San Antonio Spurs
Notable Staffing Changes
Pete D’Alessandro – Former GM, took a front office position with the Denver Nuggets
Vlade Divac – Promoted from VP of Basketball Operations to GM
Peja Stojakovic – Hired as Director of Player Personnel and Development
Nancy Lieberman – Hired as second female Assistant Coach in NBA history
SBN Affiliate: Sactown Royalty
2014-15 Season In Review
The Kings actually started out pretty well last year, opening the season 5-1 and holding their ground respectably above .500 at 9-6 until franchise player DeMarcus Cousins was forced to sit out with viral meningitis. The Kings went 2-8 in his absence, at the end of which former head coach Mike Malone was abruptly fired. There were preexisting philosophical disagreements between Malone and the front office regarding pace, so while the move appeared baseless at first blush, it was a long time coming. The team, however, would not recover from the blow.
Without Malone’s defense-driven system keeping the Kings passable on the defensive end, they utterly and completely fell apart. Their defense used to transition into their offense, but in interim head coach Ty Corbin’s attempt to push the tempo, they lost hold of what was already working. The outlook got only marginally better with the hiring of the offensive-minded George Karl. A once acceptable defensive rating plummeted to 109.2, just three marks above the worst in the league, and in scrambling to make the offense flow faster in lieu of expending defensive energy, turnovers became a problem on the other end. Coughing the ball up more and more while playing quality defense less and less led the Kings to allow an unholy 105 points per game. It was a recipe for disappointment.
This is not to say that Karl was bad for the team. Their spacing improved little by little and their ball movement improved a lot by a lot. Consider it short term loss for long term gain. The Kings had to wean themselves off of Cousins or Rudy Gay ISO plays and instill some real team basketball. Toward the end of the season, they were beginning to look functional, and, despite the change, Cousins was still able to butter his bread by barreling through opponents inside. Even as the offense underwent team-oriented evolution, Cousins attempted and made the third-most free throws in the league. The Kings as a whole attempted and made more than any team by a wide margin, due to the new up-tempo play. There is yet merit to the madness.
Oh boy. First we have to address the grossly overfed, fluorescent orange wearing, jumping jack doing, bagpipe playing elephant in the room. Karl and Cousins are reportedly not on great terms with one another. When rumors surfaced that Karl and other non-specific members of the Kings organization wanted to trade Cousins, Cousins felt betrayed. Deciphering what we can from the gossip column reporting of this particular summer saga, the two of them may not have been on speaking terms at one point. The rift forced the hands of Divac and team owner Vivek Ranadive, who showed open support for Cousins, leading others to question their commitment to Karl. Everyone has since pasted on a family photo smile, but tensions are high in Sacramento.
— DeMarcus Cousins (@boogiecousins) June 23, 2015
Now, onto the fun stuff. Without trading Cousins, the Kings added another center through the draft. Cauley-Stein is far and away the best defensive prospect of this year’s draft class, and should bolster the team’s rim protection tremendously. Perhaps more interestingly, he could allow Cousins to play power forward, which has long been a favorable option in Cousins’ eyes. Suddenly, the Kings’ frontcourt is comprised of the best offensive center in the game and the best incoming defensive center in the game. Playing the two of them simultaneously is potentially a dream turned reality.
On top of the Cauley-Stein addition, the Kings signed a slew of solid free agents. Chief among them is downtrodden floor general Rajon Rondo, who needs a good fit as much as the Kings do after his embarrassing stint in with the Dallas Mavericks. Although frequently (read, "accurately") painted as an abrasive character with a sometimes detrimental locker room presence, he is a skilled facilitator, and the Kings believe that he will feel at home playing with close friend, Gay. If Rondo can bounce back in Sacramento, the Kings will bounce back with him. His talent as a distributor could grease the wheels of the Karl offense, but pace remains a question mark since he tends to chew up clock looking for that stat-padding assist instead of moving the ball.
Others to bring their unique skillsets to Karl’s growing table are marksman Marco Belinelli and defense-first Kosta Koufos, who started at center for Karl in Denver. Each should do their part to shore up Sacramento’s two biggest weaknesses from last season; spacing and defense. The Kings are finally starting to look like an intentionally designed basketball team, if the front office and coaching staff can hold together.
PG: Rajon Rondo | Darron Collison | Seth Curry | David Stockton
SG: Ben McLemore | Marco Belinelli | James Anderson
SF: Rudy Gay | Omri Casspi | Caron Butler | Duje Dukan
PF: DeMarcus Cousins | Quincy Acy
C: Willie Cauley-Stein | Kosta Koufos
Better than bleak, worse than wonderful. Since we are dealing with the Western Conference, this is probably not a playoff team yet. Returning players still have some growing pains to work through, while new arrivals have even more to learn for the sake of fitting in. Still, the lineup looks respectable on paper; especially if McLemore can make another leap in his third season. A three-pronged assault of Cousins, Gay, and McLemore, led by Rondo, and anchored on the other end by Cauley-Stein is going to be a lot of fun with Karl at the helm, if he and Cousins can bury the hatchet. You never know. If everything clicks as intended and the usual rash of injuries set upon other teams, the Kings could climb into relevance rather quickly.
The Kings pass the Suns and the Lakers to lock up third place in the Pacific Division standings, finishing two spots out of the playoffs, with a record just south of .500. Cousins makes his second consecutive All-Star appearance as a reserve via coaches’ decision, despite friction between him and Karl reflecting poorly on both of them. Cauley-Stein is edged from the All-Rookie First Team by Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, but is selected to the Second Team after displaying surprisingly multi-dimensional offensive capabilities. Karl unfolds his arms at least twice per game to pull back his suit jacket and place his hands on his hips.