The Sacramento Kings are nothing if not interesting.
After nearly being moved to Seattle and years of incompetent ownership, they were finally sold to Vivek Ranadive in early 2013. If you thought that would be the end of the Kings’ era of incompetence, however, you’d be wrong.
The Vivek era started off fine enough. And then, after an 11-13 start to this season, Vivek decided he had seen enough – he decided to fire head coach Mike Malone. Malone and Vivek never seemed to see eye-to-eye, and many questioned why the hire was even made in the first place. After the firing of Malone, reports started to surface about the Kings’ internal state of affairs, including multiple reports of Vivek wanting to test out playing 4 vs. 5 with the Kings utilizing a full-time cherry picker. Insanity.
Fast forward to Feb. 11 when the Kings hired George Karl as their head coach after canning interim head coach Ty Corbin. Karl seems like a good fit for what Vivek wants – he runs a fast-paced offense (so not exactly 4 vs. 5 but close enough) and was the biggest name on the market. The Kings haven’t improved much this season under Karl (and that’s probably for the best in the long run), but their outlook with Karl is certainly brighter than it was with Corbin.
The problem here is that the Kings have a very flawed roster with one unbelievable player – DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is, for lack of a better word, freaking awesome. He posted a line of 24-21-10-6 on Wednesday night, something that hasn’t been done since at least 1985-86. (as far back as Basketball-Reference.com will let me search) He’s awesome. Unfortunately for Boogie, the Kings play in an absolutely loaded conference that only looks to get better with time – the Pelicans are sitting on a gold mine of their own in Anthony Davis. It’s hard to really see any of the eight teams currently in the playoffs falling off any time soon, and that’s before you get to New Orleans and Phoenix, who are just outside. Sacramento has Boogie under contract through the 2017-18 season and will need to improve in a big way in that time. Cousins is too good to be out of the playoffs for much longer.
So how do you fix them? The good news is their salary situation isn’t too bad long term. Rudy Gay’s contract extension makes his deal significantly easier to tolerate after this season – his salary for 2014-15 is upwards of $19 million, but that number falls to $12.4 million next season. That’s a way easier contract to trade should the Kings decide to go that route. Beyond that, Darren Collison’s contract isn’t bad, Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas (who hopefully they can develop) are under contract for the foreseeable future and Jason Thompson isn’t a bad big to have off the bench, even if his contract isn’t the best. The Carl Landry contract isn’t great, but it also isn’t a large enough number that they couldn’t get rid of it if they ever really needed to.
There are a few things that they need to address this offseason.
Did I mention how awesome DeMarcus Cousins is earlier? I think I did. Just checking. Anyways, while most people marvel at Cousins’s offensive abilities, the Kings rely on him way more on the defensive end of the floor. The Kings have a 105.8 defensive rating when Boogie is in the game, which is right around league average, per Basketball-Reference.com. That’s not great, don’t get me wrong, but you’ll understand the bigger issue in a second. When Boogie isn’t in the game, the Kings’ defensive rating drops to 112.9, which would be a league-worst mark. That’s insane! Boogie is basically out there by himself on the defensive end. The Kings’ starting unit has actually been fine on the defensive end of the floor this season, but their second unit has to be the worst in the league on that side of the ball. Shoring up their defense is going to be critical for the Kings moving forward.
The Kings take the third-fewest threes in the NBA and shoot the eighth-worst percentage. I guess if you aren’t going to make them it doesn’t make sense to shoot a lot of them, but it’s definitely something the Kings should look to address in the offseason. When you have a dominant low post presence like the Kings do in Cousins, it’s vital to surround him with shooting so that opposing defenses can’t just double the post with no repercussions. The Kings have tried to address this in the last two drafts by adding McLemore (who has improved a ton this season compared to last) and Stauskas, but bringing in a veteran Anthony Morrow-type who they know they can rely on would be huge. Once again, this is a problem that can mostly be found within their bench unit – Collison and McLemore have both been respectable from deep this season, and Gay is at least at a competent 35.5 percent, but beyond that they have no reliable shooters. Finding a stretch 4 and adding at least one shooter to the bench unit would be a nice fix for next season.
I know I’ve spent most of this article praising Cousins, but he isn’t without flaws of his own. For one, he averages the most fouls per game in the entire NBA at 4.1. That’s going to have to change. As the Kings improve around him, they’re going to need him on the floor in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line, not on the bench because he has fouled out or is in danger of fouling out.
In addition to that, he’s still prone to taking too many mid-range jumpers when he could easily be bullying people in the post. Some of that may be due to the team around him and him feeling he needs to do too much, so it’ll be interesting to see if his shot selection changes as the team improves.
The Kings aren’t a lost cause by any stretch. They have just over $52.3 million on the books for next season and will probably look to shed some of that this offseason. That leaves the Kings about $11 million in cap room before you factor in any rise in the salary cap and any cost-cutting moves made by the franchise. $11 million can get you two good mid-tier players who can make a difference for next season. Trading Landry or Gay can make that number jump to between $17 and $23 million, which would really allow the Kings to get creative in free agency, and Cousins and Karl should at least be enough to get the Kings in the door with a good number of free agents. So don’t sleep on the team in the Sleep Train Arena.