Sunday Musings: Do the Kings have what it takes to improve?
There are four major components to the basketball side of an NBA franchise – ownership, management, coaches and players. For the last decade, the Kings have found it nearly impossible to find common ground between all four of these factions.
We often use the San Antonio Spurs as the gold standard of the league and for good reason. The Spurs have made the playoffs in 35 of their 39 seasons in the NBA and they are currently in the midst of 18 consecutive years in the postseason. It’s an incredible feat. One that may not ever happen again. They have survived injuries and age and have five championship trophies for their trouble.
The reason we once again bring up the Spurs is because they aren’t just a model team on the court. They have mastered the art of balance which is nearly impossible to find in professional sports. The Spurs have Hall of Fame players in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. They have a Hall of Fame coach in Gregg Popovich. But they also have an incredible general manager in R.C. Buford and a supportive owner in Peter Holt.
It takes all four aspects to find success in the NBA. That and a little luck.
Since the golden age of Kings basketball (1998-2006), the Kings have struggled to master any of these four areas of the game. The Maloof family fell on hard times financially and stopped putting the necessary money into the business. Geoff Petrie hit a cold streak, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac got old and the coaching carousel spun out of control.
But we are in a new era of Kings hoops. Everything is fresh and after this next season, there will even be a new home for the team in the heart of Sacramento. How do the Kings fair in the four categories necessary for success?
There are plenty of teams that would love a base of DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Darren Collison. What separates this group from what the Spurs have? Wins. Potential and individual accomplishments mean very little for a team with larger aspirations, and that’s the next step for the Kings players.
Coming off his best season yet, Cousins is probably the best big man in the league. His talent is undeniable and now that he has an All-Star appearance under his belt, it’s time to start winning.
The same could be said for Gay. One of the fluid athletes in the game, Gay has played in just seven playoff games in his nine-year career. The 28-year-old wing finished 12th in the league in scoring and is a strong compliment next to Cousins. He may not be a number one option, but he’s one of the best number two’s in the game.
Collison isn’t a sexy player, but he looked like a free agent steal for Sacramento before he went down with a core muscle injury. The Kings may look to improve at this position during the offseason, but Collison is affordable, solid and a good fit in George Karl’s system.
The Kings have a strong start and plenty of young players like Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas and Ray McCallum. What they need now are dependable role players and a defensive stopper with their lottery pick.
Sacramento needs help in this category, but they may not be as far off as it seems. This team was better than its 29-win total.
Having three coaches in a single NBA season is a horrible idea. Karl has Hall of Fame credentials and 1,142 career wins. He also has a three-year contract and a plan to track down Don Nelson as the all-time leader in wins.
Can he co-exist with Cousins? Can he repair the damage done by the chaotic 2014-15 season? Can he turn things around like he has in all of his other stops? These are major questions that he will have to answer, but few are betting against him.
Karl is a historically great coach. He is as close as you can get to a sure thing.
This is where the big question marks begin. Vlade Divac was brought in to tighten things up, but he has zero front office experience. If being a great person and having an ability to create a winning culture as a player translates to front office success, Divac will be a star executive.
The jury is still out on general manager Pete D’Alessandro. The Rudy Gay trade looks like a winner and so does the addition of Collison. D’Alessandro also cleaved major salary off the books before the 2014-15 season began. A series of savvy salary moves have put the Kings in position to land free agents this summer. If we end there, D’Alessandro looks solid.
But we can’t end there. Passing on restricted free agents Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas in back-to-back seasons looks suspect. As was the handling of Michael Malone and Tyrone Corbin. Leaks and miscommunication have put D’Alessandro on the hot seat and his fate will be tied directly to how well this offseason goes and he works with Divac.
Mike Bratz is a NBA lifer and a solid addition to any front office. Dean Oliver is an analytics maestro with a talent for converting numbers to real life game situations.
This group has a lot to prove, but if they can mend some fences with the players, make a few smart offseason moves and gel as a unit, they may be able to right the ship. A salary cap wizz, an old school talent evaluator and a new age genius is what Divac has to work with.
Money is no object. Unlike the Maloofs, Vivek Ranadivé and his entourage can and will spend. Where they have struggled is with their inability to let the basketball people do basketball things.
Ranadivé has good intentions. He wants to win and he wants to provide a first rate experience for his customers, but he just hasn’t figured out how to accomplish these goals yet. You want your ownership to be invested and having a room filled with out-of-the-box thinkers is okay as well. Hopefully Randivé has learned that surrounding yourself with quality basketball people who know the NBA business is paramount as well.
It could be worse. The Kings could have cash-strapped owners looking to relocate the team. Ranadivé is learning on the fly. The people of Sacramento are a forgiving lot, but they are going to need to see that the franchise is heading in the right direction.
The Kings are a work in progress. They aren’t the Spurs just yet, but there is a foundation that is being built. They have a few players, an outstanding coach, a front office that needs time to work out the kinks and an engaged owner willing to put his money where his mouth is. Now they need to find stability and have all of these pieces pulling in the same direction.