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For the Kings, small steps but a long, long way still to go

For the Kings, small steps and a long, long way to go

POSTED: Aug 21, 2012 10:21 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


Aaron Brooks gives the Kings the proven point guard they've long been missing.

This is the second in a series of articles on the teams that did not make the playoffs last season, previewing their prospects of making it to the postseason in 2012-13. Next up: the Detroit Pistons.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- This feels like a summer of progress for the Kings. Not counting the little matter of the less-than-no progress on deciding on a permanent home.

At least the roster inched in the direction of a stable future. The Draft went very well, with power forward Thomas Robinson as the fifth pick, making a big-man tandem with DeMarcus Cousins for the next eight or 10 years possible. Free agency went well, minus the big splash that was never going to happen anyway with the important addition of Aaron Brooks as the proven, experienced true point guard that the team so desperately needed.

This was as well as it was realistically going to go. It won't translate into a big move up the standings, with last place in the Pacific Division the easy preseason pick. But meaningful gains this season are a better possibility than when 2011-12 ended. That counts for something.

Where they've been

Where to start? The coach, Paul Westphal, got fired seven games into last season. The new point guard, Jimmer Fredette -- already in a tough spot of trying to transition from scorer to distributor without a summer league or a typical training camp -- labored. The old point guard, Tyreke Evans, was moved to small forward. Off the court, the apparent agreement to build an arena and keep the team in town collapsed when the Kings owners pulled out.

They remain an organization in search of stability in every way. The roster gains have been excruciatingly slow for a fan base that wants to fall in love again. Management and coaching has offered little reason to believe lately.

Where they are now

The decisions in the draft (Robinson) and free agency (Brooks) were direct hits for two positions in need of upgrades, power forward and point guard, albeit the latter was a major blow to the plan a year ago of developing No. 10 pick Fredette as the point guard of the future. Now he begins camp third on the depth chart, behind Brooks and Isaiah Thomas, and with a better chance of minutes as a scoring guard, if he can start hitting shots.

The athletic Robinson and speed-demon Brooks are also good fits for the fast-break offense Keith Smart emphasized after replacing Westphal. Both will run and both -- even power forward Robinson -- will handle the ball. The Kings already have liked enough of what they have seen from the former Kansas star to envision being able to run the offense through him as a rookie, playing inside out in the half court.

Re-signing Jason Thompson is important for depth on the frontline, and James Johnson will have a chance to make the same impact after coming in a trade from Toronto.

Biggest hurdle

No defense, which means no getting close to seeing the playoff pack. That ordinarily goes without saying, but it's particularly relevant for a team that finished 30th in shooting defense, 30th in scoring defense and 29th in defensive rebounding. The Kings once played fast in order to hide their defensive deficiency. But there will have to be some commitment to stopping the ball at some point.

Where they're going

With precious few real trade chips, without being willing to part with the 2013 first-round pick for a proven veteran, and no sign they will spend for a seismic move in free agency, the Kings are at least two more regular seasons away from the playoffs. And even then they will need help from the rest of the conference at a time when several other clubs at the bottom of the postseason pack are making progress.

But Sacramento is either set -- or has reason to feel very optimistic about soon being set -- at four starting spots: Brooks at point guard, Marcus Thornton at shooting guard, Robinson at power forward and Cousins growing into an All-Star candidate at center. They have several bodies at small forward and now need to see whether Evans can play well there for an entire season.

That's a good beginning. The problem is, the Kings remain behind despite several years head start on most of their playoff-challenged opponents. They can't shoot, don't get stops or rebound on the defensive end and lack the intangibles of leadership and coaching stability. They need a lot more than a beginning.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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