By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Posted Oct 19 2010 1:31AM
This is not the time for subtlety. Not in the aftermath of 17 and 25 wins, not with a move from Sacramento a looming possibility as every attempt to build a new arena turns to dust, and not in the wake of home attendance averaging less than 14,000 both of the last two seasons.
The Kings need to send a message. So, the outside walls of Arco Arena. Two massive rectangular banners, each 35 feet tall and 118 feet wide with purple backgrounds and white all-capital lettering, one attached high on the northeast side of the building, one on the southwest. They read:
The Kings have a promising foundation, and they are almost literally shouting it from the rooftops. Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins are the future of the roster and the present of the marketing machine straining to re-ignite ticket sales for a losing team in a region with deep economic bruises. A second-year player, a rookie -- and franchise hopes revolve around them. But no pressure.
As storylines go, it's good drama. As roster building goes, though, it's even better, with the real potential that the Kings are set at point guard and center in a league where point guard and center are the toughest positions to fill.
If those two spots are locked up -- there is uncertainty about whether maturity issues will keep Cousins from becoming an interior force -- the roster offers more hope than at any time since the bungled slow-footed reaction to the end of the Chris Webber-Vlade Divac-Mike Bibby-Peja Stojakovic era. The Kings need points, but adding complementary scoring wings is simpler than finding a ball handler like Evans with range to control a game at both ends. They need proven backups at several positions and perimeter shooting to replace Kevin Martin, but those fills are less demanding than landing a center with Cousins' physical gifts.
"I think it's a huge advantage," said Suns coach Alvin Gentry, an admirer. "It's easier to find a second guard or a small forward or something like that than it is to go out there find a center or a point guard. It's just the way the league is."
This is not necessarily all their doing. If the Timberwolves took Cousins fourth, the Kings would have ended up with Wesley Johnson and we'd be talking about the exciting young backcourt instead. But now that it did break this way, now that president Geoff Petrie was willing to take on the Cousins risk-reward as part of the plan to get tougher, now that the opportunity has fallen into their laps the same way as the Grizzlies passing on Evans in the 2009 draft, having major prospects at the two positions hardest to address becomes a giant step forward in the rebuilding.
Now to the part about actually getting to that bright future.
Cousins was arguably the second-best talent in the 2010 draft, a power player with advanced passing skills whose lone season at Kentucky offered flash-bulb coming attractions of a successful pro career. But it also left NBA teams wondering if Cousins, out of shape and often lacking focus, had the necessary determination to max out the potential. He blamed the negative perception on the media, a failure to take responsibility that drew more head shaking from the front-office people who had scouted him. When the 52 top college players in attendance took physicals, Cousins had the second-highest percentage of body fat.
There were encouraging moments in summer league and also in the first exhibition games. But there was also coach Paul Westphal being asked during camp about Cousins' work ethic and approach and replying, "It's interesting. I think he thinks he's working hard. But he's not working as hard as he's going to work."
Evans is the proven commodity after last season, when he won Rookie of the Year and joined LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only first-year players in history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, prompting Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan to say "I really feel he's got some Magic in him," -- as in Johnson. Now Evans returns for his second season with the promise of an improved perimeter shot, hoping to address the obvious weakness in his game.
He is not the typical newcomer and they are not the typical young tandem, not with the position fits. And definitely not with the vantage points from high on the arena.
"Gotta live up to the hype, man," said Donte Greene, one of the candidates to start at small forward. "They know what's at stake."
But no pressure.
1. FINDING DEPENDABLE WINGS
They need consistent contribution at shooting guard and small forward to support the rising-star point guard and enviable depth at power forward and center.
2. SCORING FROM THE PERIMETER
Defenses will collapse inside until the Kings prove they can connect from the outside and even hit a three-point shot.
3. HANDLING FRUSTRATION
There will be a lot of losses. The test will be to not fall back on old ways and getting derailed by losses.
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LAST YEAR: 25-57, 5th in Pacific
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
TYREKE EVANS, GUARD
20.1 PPG | 5.3 RPG | 5.8 APG
Reigning Rookie of the Year worked a lot during the offseason to improve his outside shot, the weakness in his game.
BENO UDRIH, GUARD
12.9 PPG | 2.8 RPG | 4.7 APG
Could become a permanent starter after the commendable bounce-back season of 2009-10 turned him into an important contributor again.
OMRI CASSPI, FORWARD
10.3 PPG | 4.5 RPG | 1.2 APG
Casspi wants to build consistency to play an entire season the way he played the first half of his 2009-10 rookie campaign.
DEMARCUS COUSINS, FORWARD
Likely ticketed to eventually become the starting center, he will get a lot of time at power forward as well to stay on the court.
SAMUEL DALEMBERT, CENTER
8.1 PPG | 9.6 RPG | 0.8 APG
The Kings obviously love his shot blocking, hoping it becomes a difference maker on defense, but also like his veteran leadership.
|Francisco Garcia||6-7||195||G/F||Potential starter at either wing spot brings versatility, vocal leadership, experience and ball handling.|
|Donte Greene||6-11||226||F||Kings still hoping he develops into big-time offensive threat and create mismatches at small forward.|
|Carl Landry||6-9||248||F||Former Sixth Man candidate could return to reserve role or push to remain a starter.|
ADDED: DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside, Antoine Wright, Samuel Dalembert, Darnell Jackson
LOST: Sean May, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Jon Brockman
DEMARCUS COUSINS, FORWARD
On talent, he was arguably the second-best prospect in the draft, after John Wall. But questions whether Cousins had the passion to turn the talent into a successful pro career or whether maturity issues would stand in the way of greatness. The Kings got him at No. 5 with the chance for a major payback, or setback.
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