The 2013-14 season has been a whirlwind for the Sacramento Kings. We keep saying this, but new owners, new management, new coaches and new players have invigorated a franchise left for dead. Change has been the name of the game from the moment it was announced that the Kings would stay in Sacramento.
It has been a wild ride so far this season and even more change is expected between now and the Feb. 20 trade deadline. But are more changes necessary?
Coach Malone and his staff have already integrated Rudy Gay, Derrick Williams, Quincy Acy and to a lesser extent, Aaron Gray into the rotation. With veteran Carl Landry nearing a return, you have to wonder if it isn’t time to let the pot simmer for a while.
For the first time in years, players have defined roles with the Kings, and they are beginning to flourish. It isn’t a perfect NBA roster, but continuity can sometimes be as valuable as talent.
The Kings have three quality scorers and a solid grouping of role players. They have won four of their last six games and while they still rank 14th in the Western Conference, you can feel momentum building with this young team.
It all starts with DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings went out on a limb during the offseason, giving their 23-year-old center a four-year extension. He’s struggled with foul trouble and continues to pick up technical fouls, but the former Kentucky star has elevated his game to All-Star level.
Cousins is currently riding a 13-game double-double streak and averaging 23.4 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. He is arguably the best center in the game and his resumé against other elite big men speaks for itself. The gamble has paid off for Sacramento. Cousins is the cornerstone of the franchise and a player whom the Kings will continue to build around.
Isaiah Thomas has been amazing since taking over the starting point guard position 20 games ago. The third-year guard is averaging 20.1 points and 7.4 assists in 37.3 minutes per game as a starter. He has come a long way toward proving he’s a legitimate NBA starter.
Can the Kings improve at this position? Not without mortgaging the future. Thomas has his flaws, but so does every other point guard in the NBA. The Kings need him to give the same effort on both sides of the court, but when one’s playing time jumps to more than 37 minutes per game, it’s difficult to maintain intensity on both ends of the floor.
Since joining the Kings, Gay has been stellar. Whatever issues he had in Toronto are long behind him. In 18 games with Sacramento, Gay is averaging 20.7 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 51.7 percent from the field. More than the points or the rebounds, Gay has brought a new level of professionalism to a team in desperate need of leadership.
The Kings will wait with bated breath to see if Gay opts out of his $19 million option for next season. General manager Pete D’Alessandro and crew will most likely look to either extend Gay during the offseason or lock him up long term. A player with this type of skill has only made his way to Sacramento a handful of times. It’s hard to see the Kings letting him slip away.
This is your “big three.” From the outside, it might look like an undersized point guard, an overpaid jumpshooter and a malcontent, but this trio is second only to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in combined nightly scoring.
The goal now is to put the appropriate pieces alongside these three. Jason Thompson isn’t a perfect fit, but for now, he will do. They Kings would love to have a shot-blocking defensive stalwart next to Cousins instead of a well-balanced player like Thompson. But Thompson is starting find his place in the Kings’ crowded frontline.
Over eight January games, Thompson is averaging 7.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and shooting 56.6 percent from the field in 28 minutes of action. If Thompson can consistently provide the defensive effort that he showed against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night, he’ll become extremely valuable going forward.
Where the Kings continue to need improvement is at the shooting guard position. Marcus Thornton’s struggles are monumental and well documented. He is back in the starting role, but only because rookie Ben McLemore isn’t ready to take the job full-time.
Thornton makes too much money and is under-performing, which is a deadly combination when trying to deal a player. If D’Alessandro can find a home for the 26-year-old guard, he will, but the Kings hope that McLemore is the long-term solution at the two, so any move that’s made will be with that fact in mind.
The addition of Landry will further bolster a bench that has begun to play at a high level. Williams and Jimmer Fredette have provided a nice one-two punch for the second unit. With Landry in tow, Malone’s bench will, in a way, mirror the Kings’ big three in the starting unit.
No, Jimmer, Williams and Landry won’t match the production of Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins, but they can continue the same style of play that the first unit has established.
Jimmer is getting a solid look for the first time in his three seasons in the NBA. No, he isn’t getting 18-24 minutes a game, but he is finding a way to be extremely productive in the limited minutes he’s been afforded. He’s running the second unit well and shooting 50 percent from behind the arc. Plus, his numbers will improve with the addition of Landry in the post.
Williams has found a nice home off the Kings’ bench. It’s not what the 22-year-old former second overall pick envisioned when came to Sacramento, but the Gay trade changed everything.
Being a quality NBA role player means finding a niche and playing to your strengths. Like Thompson, Williams has found his stride in the month of January, averaging 11.5 points and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 56.3 percent from the field in 25.5 minutes.
This is the core of players that should finish out this season. Acy, Gray and Outlaw will get opportunities, but once Landry returns, Malone will have a solid 10-man rotation to work with and close to 40 games to build some momentum for next season.
He needs time to fully implement his defense, build trust amongst his players and finally build the chemistry and culture for which this franchise is striving. Making another substantial deal will only disrupt that process.
A solid draft pick and a few offseason tweaks to the roster will prime this team for major improvement in year two of the new Sacramento Kings era.
Barring a can’t-miss move that improves this team now and requires only subtle change, it’s probably time to put down the phones and start focusing on the now. This team needs stability, and it needs time to show what it can accomplish together.