Where Do The Kings Go From Here?
The Sacramento Kings are team struggling to find an identity. They haven’t had a winning season since the 2005-06 season, they fired their head coach after an early-season confrontation with their young and often volatile center, DeMarcus Cousins, and now the Kings’ owners may be backing out of a deal that would have kept the team in Sacramento long-term.
With the recent purchase of the New Orleans Hornets by Tom Benson, the Kings may now be the team with the most uncertain future. With that in mind, here is a look at some potential moves the Kings could make this offseason to bring stability back to the team.
Decide What City They Are Going To Play In
Nothing is more important for the Kings, their fans and their players then figuring out what city they are going to call home. Right now the players are being asked every night how they would feel about playing in this city, or calling that city home, and it has to be a distraction. Stability starts with knowing that Sacramento or some other city is going to be your home.
At the moment, Kings fans have rallied around the team with the hope that they will remain in Sacramento. However, if the Maloof family, which owns the Kings, continues to clash with the city of Sacramento and Mayor Kevin Johnson over the specific details of a potential new arena, eventually the fans may get fed up and turn on the team and its players. This is a worst-case scenario for the Kings. If they lose the fans the team may have no choice financially but to move to a new city.
Management and Coaching
Keith Smart seems like the obvious choice to lead this young, up-and-coming team. Smart has connected with the often-volatile Cousins, who is key to their future. Athletic centers that can score and rebound are tough to come by. With Smart helping to channel Cousins’ emotions, he is having a breakout year, averaging 17.6 points per game and 11.0 rebounds.
Smart’s team-first attitude has rubbed off on the other players, as well, and he’s gained the respect of former Rookie of the Year winner Tyreke Evans.
“He just wants us to win and play hard. He’s just trying to run the team the right way and make plays for everybody and make everybody better.” Evans told HOOPSWORLD earlier in the season. “I think he is doing a great job.”
There doesn’t seem to be much downside to hiring Smart long-term. His players seem to love him, he has the respect of his young stars and he won’t cost as much as some of the other names that might be available, like Jerry Sloan or Jeff Van Gundy.
As for the Kings front office, Geoff Petrie has led them since the late nineties and ownership has given little indication it is ready to find a new GM. Petrie has gained the trust of the Maloofs and it seems likely he will remain with the team for the foreseeable future. However, if the team makes a quick change in venues, it’s possible they start over in a new city with a new GM and coach.
Power forward Jason Thompson will be the only significant free agent for the Kings this offseason, and the Kings will have the option of matching any offer he receives. The Kings have been committed to Thompson’s development, so it’s likely he’ll return next season.
There are two scenarios, however, that could see Thompson in a different uniform. If a team with cap space is willing to overpay for him, or if the Kings end up winning the lottery and earn the top pick in the draft, which would likely be power forward Anthony Davis from Kentucky.
The biggest roster question facing the Kings this offseason is whether or not to extend Evans before he reaches free agency. Evans is finishing up his third year in the NBA and is eligible for a five-year extension. The Kings have already said they don’t intend to offer him a ‘max contract’, but signing him to a fair market value contract would probably be beneficial to the Kings as well as Evans.
The Kings may be bringing back most of their current roster next season, but they are still committed to only $44 million for the 2012-13 season. With the salary cap likely to land somewhere in the $57 million range, the Kings could be major players in the free agent market this offseason.
Recently, the Kings have been building through the draft and have been committed to the youth movement. Last offseason they pursued and signed veteran Chuck Hayes and since the Kings currently start five players under the age of 25, they would be wise to look for more veteran help either in the starting lineup or off the bench. Players like Kris Humphries or Carl Landry could fill in nicely for the Kings if they decide to let Thompson walk in free agency.
This could be an excellent opportunity for the Kings to add a quality big man to their rotation. The Kings currently own the fourth-worst record in the league and are primed for a top five pick in what could be a very good draft.
The obvious choice if the Kings win the lottery is Davis, but even if they end up picking fourth or fifth they could still find a difference-maker. The Kings currently have a lot of depth at the wing positions with Evans, John Salmons, Jimmer Fredette, Marcus Thornton, and Isiah Thomas.
What the Kings need is a defensive-minded big man to play next to Cousins down low. Connecticut’s Andre Drummond struggled in his freshman season, but most scouts agree he has a NBA body and the potential to be a difference maker on the defensive end. The question is whether the Kings would be willing to take the risk.
Thomas Robinson appears to be a perfect fit next to Cousins. He can block shots, he’s willing to do the dirty work, and he doesn’t need the ball to have a positive affect on the game. Robinson has been predicted to go as high as #2 in this year’s draft and is likely to land inside the top 5. In fact, in HOOPSWORLD’s latest mock draft the Kings selected Robinson with the fifth pick.
This is a crucial offseason for the Kings. The first step to getting them back into the playoff hunt is determining what city they are going to be calling home. The next step is making the right decisions this offseason in free agency and at the draft. With the right moves, the Kings could find themselves back in the playoffs as soon as next season.