By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Posted Dec 19 2011 11:07AM
The lockout ended, Jimmer Fredette signed and money was spent on free agents, which are major events that would ordinarily be potential turning points in the direction of a losing franchise in a small market. Especially one that bet a portion of its future on the promise of a friendlier Collective Bargaining Agreement. Except that no decision is coming anytime soon.
The Kings begin 2011-12 not knowing if it will be their last in Sacramento or the season when the city completed the greatest comeback in NBA history and kept the team for good. The crossroads as a backdrop will include players and coaches saying how they can only worry about life on the court and not get caught in relocation possibilities. They will be only partly right.
Players and coaches are part of this intersection moment because this isn't just any basketball city and this isn't just any situation. This is the Kings and their future in a region that considers them family. An unwanted, embarrassing family member in most recent years, but one of their own after all. This is emotional.
The lockout that initially put the season in a mid-air stall hurt the chance of staying exactly because of the emotional. The town had been in rally mode for months, generating enough energy to push chances of keeping the team from highly unlikely to absolutely realistic, putting a new wave of pressure on local leaders to close an arena deal, until ...
No October excitement for the start of camp, no November burst for the opening of regular season, no spirited debates on lineup decisions, no schedule analysis, no raspy throats the morning after attending a game at Power Balance Pavilion. No Jimmermania or wondering about the ability of Tyreke Evans to bounce back from a disappointing 2010-11 to recapture his Rookie of the Year form. Not only that, but the same growing anger toward everything NBA as other cities, a backlash that would have been multiplied if the entire season had been lost.
Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson contended all along the lockout was not a major setback, which made sense on two fronts: He had to say that, and the push to make hundreds of millions of dollars appear out of thin air needed to continue no matter what. The clock was ticking even if the NBA schedule has gone quiet.
Plus, what he undoubtedly knows but can't say as the city's Cheerleader in Chief, the mood could swing the other way if the Kings lurch out of the gate. Maybe seats on the bandwagon suddenly open in the event of a 2-8-ish start for a team that is the clear pick for last place in the Pacific Division.
As long as the Kings play hard and smart, though. They can go 2-8 and maintain the forward progress in the community as long as it's with a roster that carries itself as mature professionals and remains competitive. Unlike too many of the Sacramento roster members in recent years, in other words.
People in Sacramento want to be in love with their Kings again. The events of last spring -- the Maloof family trying to close a deal with Anaheim for relocation, an emotional crowd attending the regular-season finale with the guillotine hanging overhead, subsequent rallies -- became the collected scared-straight moment that reminded fans how important the team was to them. Apathy had reigned for years as bad conduct and poor management decisions combined with the bad economy to drive attendance to the basement of the league, but the alarm still went off.
As could be seen from months away, staying has proven to be the right move. Imagine being the Anaheim Royals now, with no way to have marketed a few promising young players during the lockout, while staring at the certainty of opening as the third-best team in the Los Angeles area, and now with the addition of Chris Paul pushing the Clippers to heights of popularity and credibility even beyond what Blake Griffin had single-handedly managed. If it was a solution to the inability to get a new arena in Sacramento, it also would have made the Kings/Royals overlooked from the minute they arrived.
Instead, they get at least one more season as anything but overlooked. With good showings on the court, they can recapture some of the old mood. They can build on the critical emotions from the end of 2010-11. They can reclaim Sacramento, permanently.
1. While the playoffs are an extreme long shot, the chance for significant improvement is not if the defense gets better despite the potential loss of free agent Samuel Dalembert.
2. A roster with young legs and what could become a deep rotation has to be able to outlast opponents in a compressed schedule when it wouldn't out-talent the other team.
3. If DeMarcus Cousins matures and plays with a focus, the Kings have a star in the making. If it's more of 2010-11, the Kings have distraction they can't afford.
1. They have a history of pricey contract mistakes and just had an offseason that demanded signing big contracts to reach the salary minimum when bad misses will hurt reconstruction efforts.
2. The Kings play 21 of their first 32 games on the road, increasing the degree of difficulty for a fast start that could build confidence and momentum.
3. Acquiring J.J. Hickson from the Cavaliers could become one of the under-the-radar moves of the season, with Hickson in position to average double digits in rebounding.
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LAST YEAR: 24-58, 5th in Pacific
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2010-11 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2010-11 Stats|
TYREKE EVANS, POINT GUARD
17.8 PPG | 4.8 RPG | 5.6 APG
Numbers slipped in his sophomore season. How Evans and Fredette mesh in backcourt will go a long way toward Kings' success.
MARCUS THORNTON, SHOOTING GUARD
12.8 PPG | 3.5 RPG | 1.8 APG
Averaged 21.3 points in 27 games with Kings last season after being traded from Hornets. Solid outside shooter who can get to the rack as well.
JOHN SALMONS, SMALL FORWARD
14.0 PPG | 3.6 RPG | 3.5 APG
Versatile guard-forward combo will do it all for the Kings. He can hit the 3, rebounds and plays great defense. Just what the Kings need.
J.J. HICKSON, POWER FORWARD
13.8 PPG | 8.7 RPG | 1.1 APG
Came alive for the Cavs last season, averaging 16.8 points and 10.8 rebounds after the All-Star break. Should give Kings another solid presence inside.
DEMARCUS COUSINS, CENTER
14.1 PPG | 8.6 RPG | 2.5 APG
Dominant big man became focal point of offense in rookie season, but questions about maturity continue to come up.
|Jimmer Fredette||6-2||195||G||Will have high expectations, but brings smarts and a scorer's mentality.|
|Travis Outlaw||6-9||207||F||Shooter claimed off waivers and should contribute immediately.|
|Jason Thompson||6-11||250||F||Expected to remain an important part of the frontcourt rotation.|
ADDED: G Jimmer Fredette, F Tyler Honeycutt, G Isaiah Thomas, F Lawrence Hill, F Travis Outlaw, G John Salmons, F J.J. Hickson
LOST: C Samuel Dalembert, G Beno Udrih, F Omri Casspi, F-G Marquis Daniels, F Darnell Jackson, G Eugene "Pooh" Jeter
JIMMER FREDETTE, GUARD
It's very early in what could be a long career, and it's not fair because a rookie will be scrutinized more than most players in the entire league, but the heat lamps are coming along as he makes the transition from BYU sensation to first-year pro. His progress will be dissected, his successes and failures noted in bold headlines.
|Hawks vs. Heat|
Paul Millsap scores 22 points, Dennis Schroder adds 16 points with 10 assists as the Hawks edge the Heat 93-91.
|Leonard Swats It|
Kawhi Leonard sneaks up from behind and swats away Eric Bledsoe's layup attempt.
|Manu Finds Kawhi|
Manu Ginobili finds Kawhi Leonard for the layup.
|Dirk's Fadeaway And One|
Dirk Nowitzki hits the fadeaway jumper plus the foul.
|Giannis Cleans Up|
Off the missed jumper by Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo flies in for the putback dunk.