POSTED: Oct 22, 2013 12:25 AM ET
DeMarcus Cousins will lean on Isaiah Thomas, but the whole franchise is leaning on Cousins.
Having already embarked on the greatest honeymoon in the history of this and maybe any other league, the Sacramento Kings open the new season right where they had been -- in Sacramento with hopes still resting precariously on DeMarcus Cousins.
Kings Preview: Changing the Culture
The key phrase is that they're in Sacramento, so Vivek Ranadive, one of the people who made it happen (by buying the team from the unpopular Maloof family) can do no wrong. Same with new coach Michael Malone. And new general manager Pete D'Alessandro. And just about anybody else associated with the team.
When the Kings first came from Kansas City in 1985, the fans were willing to overlook a lot -- the standings, for example -- because the NBA was in town and an arena was on the way and that's all that mattered. In the 2013 version, management spent $62 million over four years on an extension for the combustible Cousins.
In other news, the Kings said changing the culture was a priority.
This honeymoon is good stuff. How long it lasts remains to be seen, but will probably depend on whether there are signs of progress on the court. It won't just be Cousins either. The way opposing coaches found delicate ways of describing the Kings as selfish last season became a fun parlor game -- "They have some talented individual players," etc. -- and changing that will have to be part of the new attitude as well.
Said Malone: "We've talked about it. Vivek's talked about it. We've addressed it in meetings and then also every time we come on the floor to work. [The morning before the first exhibition game] was our first shootaround with this team. I said, 'You know what, I'm not sure how you guys did it in the past. But our shootarounds are going to be a business approach. It's not coming in here, just getting some shots up, get out of bed. No, we're going to get better this morning and we need to be locked in mentally and be disciplined in our approach.' It's every day how we do things as well as talking to them about it, educating them and telling them, 'Your way has not worked. You've been in the lottery too many years. Things have to change. You have to be willing to change.' And to their credit, on October 7th, they've done that for the month of September and one week of training camp.
"Our reasonable expectation is to compete, play hard, be unselfish and defend. I'm not going to put any amount of wins, numbers, on that because that would be unfair to this team. We are trying to change the culture. We are trying to become a team that defends and takes pride in their defense. And we are trying to develop our players on this roster so they can become the best players that they can be. And if we do all of these things then Year 1 will be a huge success for the Sacramento Kings."
Kings Preview: Best and Worst Case
Year 1. As in a completely new start.
"We want to be better than we were," D'Alessandro said. "We want to see progress in our young guys. I don't look at win totals. I just think as a team, are we looking more like a team. I think last year, the team played very individually and when you watch those games, and I have watched those games, it's a little hard to watch. As a person who loves basketball, it's hard to watch. So there's a lot of things to look at. How are we playing? How's our roster jelling? This is a work in progress, make no mistake. We're going to get this thing right, but we've got to really do a lot of analysis. The best place is to just get out there on the floor and see how it is."
There could be new starters at four positions, with the possibility of Greivis Vasquez at point guard, Ben McLemore or Marcus Thornton at shooting guard and Carl Landry at power forward (once he returns from injury) along with the near certainty of Luc Mbah a Moute at small forward. That would be in addition to the new management group, the rookie GM, the rookie coach and Cousins as the foundation of the future.
But at least they've got a while before the scrutiny comes down. The honeymoon and all.
Kings Preview: Ben McLemore's Impact
1. Mbah a Moute will turn out to be a valuable acquisition as the Kings make improving the defense a priority. He will have a leading role in that department and maybe even the leading role while surrounded by too many teammates who don't defend well. The real advance will come when/if Cousins makes strides. Or at least makes it a point to look as if he's trying all the time.
2. Vasquez is the latest to challenge Isaiah Thomas for the starting job at point guard, or the latest hurdle Thomas will have to clear. Overlooked from the beginning of his pro career as the 60th and last pick in the Draft, the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder has been counted out of the opening lineup before only to win the job. He easily beat out Jimmer Fredette when they were both rookies and also took the No. 1 spot from Aaron Brooks after Brooks was signed as a free agent.
3. The Malone hire was no surprise -- he had been considered a head coach in waiting for years and as a former Warriors assistant had a connection with former Warriors minority owner Ranadive. Malone's development is worth watching in all the right ways. But it will also be tracked for the unorthodox approach of Ranadive himself making the decision before bringing on D'Alessandro to run basketball operations. Usually, the GM chooses the coach.
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