Sacramento Kings 2014-15 season preview

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Change is still the name of the game in Sacramento.  And after another 28-win season last year, it has to be.

There are new expectations this season, although nothing specific.  Winning more games would be nice, but this is still a team in transition.  The Kings are counting on buzz words like pace, chemistry and culture this season to help get them over the hump in a loaded Western Conference.

Only five players remain from the team that opened the 2013-14 season.  There is very little time for this team to mesh together and begin to gel as a team and a brutal schedule in the month of November doesn’t help.

Here is a look at the 2014-15 Sacramento Kings hours before the season tips off at Sleep Train Arena against the Golden State Warriors.

The Roster

Who jumped ship?

The Pizza Guy has left the building.  Fan favorite Isaiah Thomas was traded to the Phoenix Suns for a player that we haven’t heard from since summer league and a traded player exception.  Also leaving the Kings are Jason Terry (Rockets), Quincy Acy (Knicks), Travis Outlaw (76ers), Jared Cunningham (Clippers) and Aaron Gray (FA).

Who’s new to the island?

With Thomas leaving, Pete D’Alessandro brought in a pair of point guards to man the position.  Darren Collison is the starter, but we will see plenty of Ramon Sessions as well.  Rookie Nik Stauskas was brought in to compete with last season’s lottery pick Ben McLemore.  At the wing, Omri Casspi has returned after three years away and will compete against Derrick Williams for reserve minutes behind Rudy Gay.  Undrafted free agent power forward Eric Moreland has made the roster, but will likely be inactive early in the season and maybe even spend some time in Reno with the Bighorns.  Veteran big man Ryan Hollins rounds out a large group of new faces in Sacramento.

Who’s survived the cut?

Jason Thompson is the longest tenured King and he is only 59 games away from setting the franchise mark for most games played in a career.  24-year-old center DeMarcus Cousins is the second-longest tenured Kings player.  Carl Landry is back after missing all but 17 games last season due to injury.  He will fight for minutes with veteran Reggie Evans, who joined the club at the deadline last season.  Gay decided to opt in to his $19.3 million salary for this season.  Behind him at the small forward position is Williams, who came over from Minnesota last November.  McLemore looks much improved after a shaky rookie season and Ray McCallum is back, but buried deep on the Kings bench.

The Starters

Darren Collison – Point Guard

The 27-year-old veteran will man the point guard position.  Collison spent last season in Los Angeles backing up Chris Paul, but he has 254 career starts in his five seasons in the NBA.  Coach Malone will rely on Collison to be his coach on the floor, and there is hope that a change at the position will lead to better ball movement this season.

Ben McLemore – Shooting Guard

McLemore had a rough rookie season, but at just 21-years-old, the for former Kansas Jayhawk has plenty of upside.  The Kings are hoping the game slows down for the young guard and they can tap into his incredible athleticism.  McLemore has the potential to be a very good two-way player in the NBA, but patience is needed.

Rudy Gay – Small Forward

With Team USA stunned by the loss of both Paul George (injury) and Kevin Durant (left team), Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski called on a familiar face to help the club going into the World Cup this summer.  Gay stepped right in and provided leadership and solid bench play for a team in need of both.  He opted to return to the Kings to play out the final year of his contract and will enter this season with an incredible amount of pressure to perform in his free agency year.  Sacramento is hoping that Gay wants to stick around long-term and that a summer in Europe with Cousins will reap major benefits for the Kings this season.

Jason Thompson – Power Forward

Once again, Thompson has earned the starting power forward spot for the Sacramento Kings.  At 28-years-old, Thompson recommitted himself to the game this summer, trimming down and adding a long range shot to his repertoire.  He has serious competition for minutes at the four with veterans Landry and Evans nipping at his heels, but he looks mentally and physically ready to fight for his minutes.

DeMarcus Cousins – Center

Cousins is the anchor in the post.  Coming off a gold medal summer with Team USA at the World Cup in Spain, the Kings’ cornerstone looks primed for an All-Star season.  He has had issues with turnovers throughout the preseason, but once the regular season tips off, coach Malone will give him every opportunity to show the league that he is a top-tier player in the league.

The Rotation

Ramon Sessions

Sessions is the backup point, but will also steal away some minutes at the two when Malone goes with a two-point guard look.  The eight-year veteran is a slasher, distributor and gets to the free-throw line an impressive 6.1 times per 36 minutes throughout his career.

Nik Stauskas

The rookie out of Michigan can really shoot the ball.  Stauskas’ perimeter game will open the floor up for Sessions, Cousins and Gay when they are on the floor together.  While he might start out the season as a catch-and-shoot player, the 21-year-old guard has great court vision, above average handles and can really pass the ball.  Stauskas will surprise people this season and it won’t be long until he is fighting McLemore for the starting spot.

Omri Casspi

Casspi appears to have won a spot in the rotation with his versatility and high basketball IQ, but Derrick Williams has made a late charge.  Either way, these two are fighting over scraps behind Gay.  Both can play the three and the four, but Casspi is the better defender and facilitator.

Carl Landry

The Kings spent a lot of money on the 31-year-old big man last summer and they are still waiting for a return on their investment. If Landry is healthy, he provides above average low post scoring, toughness and a bit of rebounding.  If the Kings have Sessions and Landry going off the bench, with Stauskas and Casspi firing away from the perimeter, this could be one of the better benches we have seen in a while in Sacramento.

Reggie Evans

Father time has yet to catch up to the 34-year-old Evans.  Still in impeccable shape, Evans is one of the better rebound per minute players in the NBA, and he has become a mentor to Cousins.  When Malone goes to his bench, opposing players will take notice. Landry and Evans are about as tough as they get in the NBA.

The Rest

Ray McCallum

McCallum looked good last season filling in when Thomas was injured, but the former second round pick is on the outside looking in to start the season.  He will see limited action, unless there is an injury to one of the four guards ahead of him in the rotation.

Derrick Williams

Williams is a free agent after this season and came into camp in great shape and with an improved jumper.  It still doesn’t look like it was enough to unseat Casspi in the rotation.  If the Kings get off to a slow start, Williams might find a spot as a spark off the bench, but it will be shocking if the 23-year-old wing is still on the roster after the trade deadline.

Eric Moreland

Moreland will sit in street clothes to start the season as the 14th man on the club.  Barring injury, the idea is to bring the defensive specialist along slowly, including a few trips to Reno to get some D-League action in.  The Kings like his potential, but at this point, Moreland is raw and will need time.

Ryan Hollins

Hollins is a solid veteran that will provide a defensive presence and energy when called upon.  With a crowded frontline, that call may not come anytime soon.  For now, Hollins will continue to mentor Cousins and provide veteran leadership from the sidelines.

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About: James Ham

James Ham is the senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news since 2010. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also contributes to ESPN.com and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".