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Scott Howard-Cooper

The talented big man DeMarcus Cousins (17.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg) holds the key to Kings' improvement.

Finally stabilized, Kings look to start piling up wins


Posted Aug 25, 2013 10:27 AM

This is the latest 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 2013-14. For a look at other teams in the series, click here.

Barring petition efforts and unexpected complications -- although there is no such thing as unexpected in this saga anymore -- the location of the Kings has been settled. So that settles one of the important details.

Which leaves one issue unresolved: The direction of the Kings.

As Sacramento returns to embracing its beloved team, that is also very encouraging. The Kings' new arena and their new roster parallel in many ways. Both require massive construction jobs. Both will take time. Both will need the kind of money pumping in that hadn't existed around the franchise for years.

While Sleep Train Arena will have electric moments this season no matter what -- just because there is a season at all after the scare of the team being sold and relocated to Seattle -- the ensuing roster moves add to the excitement. With Ben McLemore as the latest lottery pick, Luc Mbah a Moute as help for the defense, a Carl Landry reunion for help inside, Greivis Vasquez as the latest potential answer at point guard, the bright minds of Michael Malone as the new coach and Pete D'Alessandro as the new general manager can be a move in the right direction.

This is a genuine new era.

"Everyone that gets a new job, it's always 'Change the culture, change the culture,' " D'Alessandro said. "It's something that we all say. And there's some truth to it every single time. I would say the culture starts from the top. I really believe that it starts with your owner, and if you have an owner that is committed to winning, those owners tend to succeed. They put people in place that help them do that. Sometimes you'll hear 'Change the culture' and we point our fingers at players. I actually think it goes the other way. Maybe I'm talking trickle-down basketball economics here, but I really do think it starts there."

And it starts now.

Where they've been

Where haven't they been. Seriously. Players and coaches went years hearing about the possibility of having to move to Anaheim (which could have happened), Seattle (which came close to happening), Virginia Beach (which was never going to happen) or maybe staying in Sacramento. Instability has been commonplace from the roster to coaching staff and obviously all the way to the home address.

Losing was the only constant. The Kings haven't seen fourth place in the Pacific Division since 2007-08. They haven't seen the playoffs since 2005-06. In the immediate past, the barometer that really matters, Sacramento was 28-54 last season while finishing 19th in shooting (though 10th in scoring, thanks to playing fast), 28th in shooting defense, 30th in scoring defense and 24th in rebound percentage.

Where they are now

They could have four new starters: Vasquez at point guard, McLemore at shooting guard, Mbah a Moute at small forward and Landry at power forward. Maybe Isaiah Thomas turns back another challenge and holds off Vasquez, maybe McLemore does not stroll into the job and Marcus Thornton is in the opening lineup, maybe Jason Thompson refuses again to go quietly and starts at power forward. But sweeping changes, in keeping with the mood of the moment, are possible from the outset.

The priority for Malone, a rookie coach, is to fix the defense. The addition of Mbah a Moute as one of the league's top under-the-radar transactions of the offseason will be a big help.

"Last year, we were a team that offensively could score the ball, had no problem doing so," Malone said. "But they were one of the worst defensive teams in the league. So for us to have any chance of being a team of relevance, it's going to start on the defensive end."

Biggest hurdle

Have we mentioned the other starter?

DeMarcus Cousins. Both big and a hurdle.

As long as he is sprawled across the intersection, making it impossible for the Kings to move forward, Cousins remains at once part of the solution and the reason the team will not advance. The new front office has made a fresh commitment to the fourth-year center as a foundation of the future, which is a great thing to say and often quite another to live. And with a major decision approaching on a contract extension, management is playing a dangerous game of chicken with itself.

Where they're going

Forward. Not close to playoff forward, but this should be a season of positive momentum, and not just with the location issue finally getting an answer.

On the court, there are questions at most every position, but there is also the kind of depth the Kings are not used to having, several key additions and the promise of Malone after years of being regarded as one of the top coaching prospects. If he can deliver on the priority of improving the defense and if Cousins matures -- two very big ifs -- the franchise is setting itself up nicely for the future.

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

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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