30 Teams in 30 Days: Kings, Cousins look to move forward
New coach, roster changes mark team after a tumultuous season
Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason. NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record — during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule
Today’s team: Sacramento Kings
2015-16 record: 33-49
Who’s gone: F Quincy Acy, G Marco Belinelli, G Seth Curry, G Rajon Rondo
Who’s new: PG Isaiah Cousins, C Georgios Papagiannis, C Skal Labissiere (via Draft); G Arron Afflalo, F Matt Barnes, G Ty Lawson, G Garrett Temple, FAnthony Tolliver (via free agency); SG Bogdan Bogdanović, SG Malachi Richardson (via trade)
The lowdown: Since 2005-06, the Kings have both missed out on the playoffs and on a winning season.
Their summer was summarized by a DeMarcus Cousins tweet on Draft night: Lord give me the strength.
He claims it was a response to a yoga class, but don’t get it twisted: The franchise player once again finds his emotions stretched in all sorts of directions because of the direction the franchise is taking.
It’s never a good sign when Cousins isn’t doing cartwheels over the Kings, and even more dire when the season hasn’t yet begun. Basically, the Kings haven’t inspired much confidence in Cousins about the present or the near future, and you wonder how much longer this marriage will survive. Rather than applaud the Draft and free-agent decisions made by GM Vlade Divac, Cousins simply shrugged.
“I do my job. I control what I can control. I let them do their job.”
Sounds like another fun season in Sactown.
There is good news. Sacramento hired coach Dave Joerger to replace George Karl, who often clashed with Cousins. Joerger who was well-received during his nine-season campaign with the Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant coach and then, as its coach the last three seasons. Joerger works hard, keeps good relationships and did a solid job in Memphis despite inheriting an aging (and sometimes injured) roster that lacks a big-time scorer. The only downside is Joerger is Cousins’ fifth coach since 2012.
The Kings didn’t attempt to make wholesale changes, which of course would’ve meant trading Cousins. They halfway tried to surround him with help last summer by bringing in Rondo. They wound up missing the playoffs for the 10th straight season and endured plenty of turbulence and frustration with Karl as coach. It was another spectacular failure by a franchise that still hasn’t found the right formula.
And if you placed Cousins’ hand on a Bible, he’d say they still haven’t. Sacramento took two raw big men in the first round (Papagiannis and Labissiere), much like they did in the 2015 draft with Willie Cauley-Stein.
There are new things in Sacramento, starting with a new arena downtown (the Golden 1 Center) and new logos and new uniforms. The Kings are trying to revamp their image and find their personality, but this will be a chore once again. Besides Cousins, the roster is lacking in assets and the young players haven’t proven themselves yet. Trading Cousins has always been an option yet the Kings don’t appear ready to do so.
For starters, they know that Cousins, despite his unhappiness with the lack of basketball success, loves Sacramento. He has never demanded a trade. This could backfire on the Kings in two summers, when he becomes a free agent. The longer they wait, the more leverage they’ll lose, because few teams will be willing to rent Cousins for a year and surrender assets in return. Then, the Kings will be at the mercy of Cousins and whether he’ll want to stay or move on.
Sacramento didn’t bother to try to keep Rondo, who signed with the Chicago Bulls. They’ll open camp without much depth at point guard. At the swing positions they have Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore but neither has shown much in terms of staying power. Gay is always on the trading block while McLemore doesn’t appear to be the scorer as advertised when he came out of Kansas.
The Kings signed Afflalo as insurance, but he’s a value buy whose his best years are behind him.
There aren’t many teams with centers possessing the skill set of Cousins, whoadded a 3-point shot last season and sharpened his skills while playing for Team USA in Rio this summer. That Olympic experience allowed Cousins a chance to see what it felt like to play alongside talented players and what winning tasted like.
How will he cope with the prospects of another losing season in Sacramento? In a best-case realistic scenario, one of the Kings’ youngsters comes along quicker than anyone thought, Gay becomes trade bait and McLemore finally emerges as a dependable scorer. And even that wouldn’t guarantee a playoff berth or Cousins’ happiness.
Thus, Joerger has a tough job right away. He must deal with the realities on hand and also cope with Cousins’ confidence and many moods. That’s two jobs in one.
Coming Next: Denver Nuggets
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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him onTwitter.
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