Baller Mind Frame is collaborating with SB Nation’s NBA Previews. Look out for links for every team from some of the best blogs out there that SB Nation offers. Here are questions put forth by SB Nation:
Last Year’s Record: 28-54
Key Losses: Tyreke Evans, Maloof Family
Key Additions: Greivis Vasquez, Carl Landry, Ben McLemore
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season? The Kings’ biggest free agent signing of the offseason was Landry – who could very likely end up being their backup power forward – and yet they had the biggest overhaul of any team in the league. After Kevin Johnson and the City of Sacramento convinced the NBA to keep the team put, the franchise was able to shed itself of once-loved owners that had become poisonous to the organization and its fan base. Out went the Maloof family, who’s intention or financial ability (or both) to succeed had disappeared, and in came the Vivek Ranadivé-led ownership group, which has injected new life into the franchise and has begun to establish a culture that already feels like a complete 180°.
Before even hiring his general manager, Ranadivé brought in Michael Malone from Golden State as head coach. Malone brings a stern, defensive mentality that the Kings haven’t seen in decades. Aside from hires like Malone’s father, who coached under Chuck Daly, and Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, Ranadivé rounded out the Sacramento brain trust with general manager Pete D’Alessandro – a highly praised front office mind who learned from Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri in Denver.
With management in place, the organization was set to begin laying out their plans for the Kings’ future. That future – at least the near future – they decided, would involve a lot of DeMarcus Cousins. After publicly supporting Cousins, one of the front office’s first moves was to trade Tyreke Evans, further tying its fate to the controversial young big man before eventually extending him with a max-contract. Evans’ play his rookie season made him a fan favorite, and he’s likely to be missed, but his departure allows the Kings to launch into their future (whatever that entails) sooner rather than later.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths? Though volatile, there’s no denying Cousins’ immense ability, and he helms a frontcourt that, with the addition of Landry, should prove formidable to the opposition. Aside from the volcano that is Cousins – waiting to burst with either a tantrum or a dominate performance – the Kings have talented depth to pair next to him at power forward.
With his mid-range touch, athleticism and decent post game, Thompson is a multi-talented player that could make sizable progress by polishing his game, becoming more focused on efficiency. Landry returns to Sacramento after short stints in New Orleans and then Golden State, where he was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. On a developing roster, his lunch-pail mentality, experience and consistency off of the bench could have a marked impact that won’t show up in the box score. Finally, Patrick Patterson gives Malone stylistic lineup options. At times, Patterson’s ability to stretch the floor to the perimeter may prove more valuable than the mid-range to post-oriented Landry and Thompson. But overall, Patterson is probably the least skilled of the three, which may make him the odd man out in the rotation unless Malone wants to go big.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses? For a decade now, the Kings’ defense has been a doormat for the rest of the league to walk over en route to the basket. Since the 2003-04 season, Sacramento has finished better than 20th in the NBA in defense efficiency only once. Sure, players and coaches have come and gone over that time, but the recent iterations of the Kings – with players on this season’s roster – have been the worst, finishing 29th in the league in defensive efficiency the last two seasons.
That’s what Malone has been tasked to change, among other things. In about the same time as the Kings’ defense has dwindled into an abstract display of bullfighting, Malone has directed blanketing defensive units. In each of his last three stops as an assistant coach, teams have experienced drastic improvement on the defensive end. Most recently, and perhaps most impressive, he helped transform the Warriors, a run-and-gun team that starts Stehpen Curry and David Lee, into the league’s 14th-ranked defense. The short-term may still be a rough going, but after the growing pains, Malone’s track record suggests Sacramento will develop into a respectable defensive squad.
Another challenge Malone will have to contend with in his debut season as a head coach is the instability of the Kings’ backcourt. He’ll have to rely on veterans Marcus Thornton and Greivis Vasquez to provide consistency and leadership in the backcourt. Aside from the youth of the team’s guards, there’s plenty of backcourt talent in Sacramento – a two-sided blade. Vasquez’s ability to distribute will be valuable and Thornton, McLemore, Isaiah Thomas and Ray McCallum can all score in a variety of ways, but at least one of them will get the short end of the stick when it comes to playing time because of the amount of near-equal talent; and that’s not even taking into account Jimmer Fredette, who, while he has plenty of shortcomings, is an outstanding shooter. Malone’s management of the backcourt will be a tough test for his inaugural season and may have lasting effects if the young guys don’t get enough experience.
4. What are the goals for this team? This season, one should look at the court rather than the scoreboard to measure improvement. Sure, the Kings have been a bottom feeder for years, but they need to walk before they can run. They’ll need to polish rough, less tangible details before results begin to manifest in the win-column. Sacramento needs to mature, develop and establish Michael Malone’s system. Winning is nice, but fans should shift their expectations to less tangible signs of progress. Can Cousins become a leader? Have defensive effort and rotations improved? Will the team’s mentality transform from immaturity to a veteran mindset? These are the questions the Kings need answers to before being able to set their sights on a competitive record or playoff spot.
5. Is Jimmermania dead? Jimmermania isn’t six feet under yet, but it has become an underground movement like some resistance in an apocalyptic blockbuster. Throughout last season, Fredette was one of the biggest casualties to Keith Smart’s unpredictable lineup rotations. Smart’s stifling of Fredette was met with occaisional rumblings from the Occult of Jimmer, and there’s still a defiant belief that he can become a rotation player. His unparalleled shooting ability lends credence to that opinion (I may or may not be a Jimmer-Cult acolyte), but his total inability on defense may sink any hopes of being some kind of instant offense role player in the NBA. Malone’s defensive acumen, though, may prove advanced enough to hide Fredette for spurts defensively. There is hope yet for Jimmermania.