Sunday Musings: Does hope spring eternal for the 2014-15 Sacramento Kings?

Ben McLemore and Rudy Gay against the Memphis Grizzlies. (Photo: Tobin Halsey)

It is the joy of fandom.  Wins and losses are momentary.  Seasons come and go, but there is always next year.

Hope springs eternal, sports fans.

Call it rose-colored lenses or blind optimism.  Fans are going to believe what they want to believe, and for most, the beginning of a new season means a fresh start and a hope that this year will be better than the last.

But that’s not always the case.  Not all professional franchises are created equal.  Not every team actually has an opportunity to compete, be it for a championship or even a winning record during the upcoming season.

Do the 2014-15 Sacramento Kings have a legitimate chance of competing in the powerful Western Conference this season?

ESPN doesn’t think so.  In its yearly “Future Rankings” (Insider), the Sacramento Kings come in at 29 out of 30 NBA teams.  It is the same rank they received last season, but their score of 27.2 out of 100 has dipped dramatically from last season’s score of 34.

The biggest loss in scoring comes from the management ranking.  A season ago, the new ownership and management group pulled 27.6 points in the poll, which was tied for 28th in the league.  This season, that number tumbled to just 7 points out of a possible 100.

“Much of this can be traced to the new ownership, which has all the hallmarks of being too ‘hands-on’ without having a clear idea of what it’s doing,” ESPN’s Amin Elhassan writes.  “The franchise is signaling that it wants to think outside the box for the sake of thinking outside the box. Unfortunately, the end result is an inferior product on the court. Simply put, this is not a good team and the process indicates that won’t change soon.”

Future Rankings are the opinions of four ESPN personalities and should be viewed as just that – an opinion.

But it gives us a point of conversation.  Are the Sacramento Kings doomed to fail again this season or over the next three seasons as predicted by ESPN’s panel of experts?

First and foremost, the Kings front office has gone out of its way to make sure that everyone in the league knows the Kings are open for business.  This aggressive approach has made them a target at times, but it has also yielded a near All-Star-level talent in Rudy Gay and a mountain of cap space next season.

Losing Isaiah Thomas is also a blow to a franchise that still lacks overall talent.  Thomas was arguably the second-best player on the Kings last season behind center DeMarcus Cousins.  Without his motor and flamboyant scoring outbursts, the Kings weren’t anywhere near a 28-win team.  ESPN isn’t the first to question this move and Thomas will do his best to make sure the Kings pay for letting him walk.

On top of the Thomas decision, the additions of Darren Collison, Eric Moreland and Omri Casspi aren’t sexy moves.  Neither is the drafting of Nik Stauskas, but passing judgment on a 20-year-old rookie is foolish.  You can judge these moves now and that is a big part of the ESPN ranking system.  But you can also allow these moves to play out in actual NBA games.

The Kings are counting on a more balanced attack this season.  They see the additions of Stauskas and Casspi as perimeter shooters who will improve one of their biggest weaknesses.  They see Collison as a better defender and more willing distributor than Thomas, and they like the potential of Moreland as a defensive stopper next to Cousins.

In addition to this group, Sacramento’s front office is counting on production from last summer’s free agent acquisition, Carl Landry.  They are hoping that the Team USA experience will help both Gay and Cousins excel this season.  And they are praying that their young nucleus of Derrick Williams, Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum takes a big step forward in its progression this season.

Lastly, the Kings are hoping that the coaching staff in Year 2 will show improvement.  Defensive-minded Michael Malone added Tyrone Corbin to the squad, but the rest of the staff has remained intact.  Continuity has to count for something.

Sacramento didn’t chase LeBron James or jump at the opportunity to trade for Josh Smith.  There wasn’t one single defining moment for the club this summer.  But this team traded or waived seven rotational players during the 2013-14 season.  It has made more moves this summer to both change the roster and clear up bad contracts.  And I’m not sure that the front office is done dealing.

This roster doesn’t look like a playoff team, but that is just an opinion.  No one will actually know what this team can accomplish until the season begins.  That may not be enough time either.  You may need to wait until the 20-game mark of the season or possibly even the trade deadline.

The Sacramento Kings are a work in progress.  There are plenty of preseason polls that will rank them in the bottom of the league once again, but for Kings fans, I say hold out hope.  Stranger things have happened in the realm of professional sports.

It’s not all doom and gloom in Sacramento.  DeMarcus Cousins looks like an All-Star and possibly more.  Rudy Gay is a perfectly good no. 2 option, even on a good team.  Darren Collison will get another opportunity as a starter, and he is already working with the team’s young players in Sacramento.   Stauskas, like a handful of other lottery picks, has a shot at the Rookie of the Year trophy.

If you are a true sports fan, hope springs eternal, just like every other year.

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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".