Sunday Musings: Chemistry is key to 2014-15 Sacramento Kings

Jason Thompson helps up teammate DeMarcus Cousins. (Photo: Tobin Halsey)

Chemistry is an interesting concept when it comes to professional sports.  For the Oakland Athletics, incredible chemistry led to a spectacular first half of baseball this season.  A team known for its lack of star power placed six players in the 2014 All-Star game.  For three months of the season, the A’s looked like a record-breaking team on its way to a deep playoff run.

Unsatisfied with his team’s potential to win tight postseason series against teams like the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers, A’s front-office guru Billy Beane made a series of blockbuster deals to fortify his pitching staff.  But somewhere along the way, his team lost the chemistry that had made it so tough to beat each and every game.

Despite the additions of Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the A’s have completely gone in the tank.  Maybe it was the loss of slugger Yoenis Cespedes or a string of minor injuries, but after Saturday’s loss to the Phillies, the A’s have gone 12-26 since Aug. 10.

With seven games remaining in the season, they are on the verge of missing the playoffs and going down as one of the great collapses in MLB history.

Why do I bring up the A’s when writing about the Sacramento Kings?  Because their early season chemistry was what made them great, and their lack of chemistry down the stretch has led to their undoing.

Without a major acquisition this summer, Sacramento Kings fans should be leery about the upcoming season.  This team won 28 games last season and lost one of their best three players, Isaiah Thomas, via free agency.

This is where the idea of chemistry comes into play.  It didn’t matter that Thomas scored 20.3 points and led the team in assists at 6.3 per game last season.  The Sacramento Kings had horrible chemistry on the floor and part of that was due to Thomas’ style of play.

While Thomas, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins feasted on offensive touches, the remaining 10 active players starved.

There is no question that the team got along better off the court, but on the court, atrophy became apparent.  Players like Jason Thompson, Ben McLemore and Derrick Williams withered away down the stretch and all but disappeared.

It’s hard to stay engaged in a fast-paced game like basketball when you are completely ignored on one side of the floor.

The easy answer is to blame the team’s three 20-point scorers, but there is more than one way to be selfish in a team game.  As the Kings’ role players became less and less a part of the offensive scheme, they began doing less and less to help the team win.

Every aspect of the team concept dissipated until each game had the look and feel of a 3-on-5 contest.  Defensive rotations began to slow, screens looked more like open doors and isolation was the only offensive playset.

This isn’t about coaching, Michael Malone was too busy trying to figure out how to piece together an ever-evolving roster.  It’s tough to instill your defensive principles when half of your team is traded or waived throughout the season.

It’s also not about Pete D’Alessandro’s constant tinkering.  He was handed a broken roster and worked tirelessly to rebuild it.  He still has a long way to go, which he openly admits.

The Sacramento Kings were not successful last season, because they had zero chemistry on the floor.  It was a collection of five individuals, doing their own thing on every possession.  You can point to a fluctuating roster, but the real issue was with individuals putting their personal motivations (or lack thereof) ahead of the team concept.

D’Alessandro didn’t hit a home run, but he is hoping that he has assembled the right cast of characters to build some sort of chemistry with this team.

Bringing in Darren Collison, Ramon Sessions, Nik Stauskas, Omri Casspi and Ryan Hollins doesn’t feel like it’s enough to make this team better in the win column.  And asking this new group to instantly mesh with Cousins, Gay, McLemore, McCallum, Thompson, Williams, Carl Landry and Reggie Evans is a tall task as well.

But, presumably, anything is better than what we saw last season.  Malone isn’t looking for someone to fill Thomas’ shoes. Rather, he’s looking for a more balanced team that plays for one another.  It starts with Cousins and Gay, the team’s two star players, but it has to permeate through the entire roster.

Malone has been working with players all summer in hopes of building some camaraderie with his new group.  He needs more talent, which D’Alessandro is still working the phones to find.  But more than talent, he needs players who are willing to buy in and make their teammates better.

The 2014-15 Sacramento Kings will live or die as a team.  Last season, they perished.  One can look at the roster and have concerns, but lesser teams have been successful in the NBA by playing as a cohesive unit.  If the Kings can find chemistry early, they have a chance to succeed.

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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".