Sunday Musings: So much riding on one season
As the 2015-16 Sacramento Kings season draws near, a tension is building. We have finally arrived at that season where there are no more excuses. Winning is all that matters. Building toward something bigger means a .500 or better record and a shot at the playoffs. The team may fall short of the ultimate goal of reaching the playoffs, but another top-five or six pick in the NBA draft would signify a majorly disappointing season.
With a new arena just a little over a year away, we have seen the Kings go all out for a great coach. Move past the issues between George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins for a minute and recognize just how accomplished he is. We are talking about a coach who will walk into the Hall of Fame when he is done. Sacramento Kings fans hold Rick Adelman in the highest regard, and Karl has been more successful over his career.
It’s blasphemy in these parts to compare anyone to Adelman. However, Karl’s brand of hoops is not only entertaining but proven. If you want to win at the highest level, adding an all-time great is a spectacular start.
Of course Karl isn’t without his warts. He can rub folks the wrong way, and his relationship with Cousins was almost his undoing in Sacramento after just three months on the job. After 27 seasons as an NBA head coach, Karl wants one more chance to win a championship. The Kings are that chance.
You need a star to win in today’s NBA, and sometimes you even need three of them. DeMarcus Cousins is a top-five producer and plays a prime position. For the first time he will find not one, but two All-Star-quality players flanking him.
On the downside, Cousins has never led a team to 30 wins, let alone a playoff spot. Before he can be an MVP candidate, Cousins must transform the Kings into a winner. He has all of the tools, but the Kings have a 131-263 record in his five seasons in the league. To take home regular-season awards and develop Hall-of-Fame credentials, you must affect the win column in a positive way.
Rudy Gay belongs in the second tier of NBA wings, trailing superstars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. After that MVP duo, you don’t have to travel far down the league’s small forward depth chart to find Gay’s name. He is a perfect second option next to Cousins, and his versatility will allow Karl the chance to mix and match his lineups all season long.
At 29 years old, Gay has played in a total of seven playoff games in his career. Bad luck? Maybe. But it can also be used as proof for the naysayers who say that his inefficient game is a detriment to his team. Gay decided to stay in Sacramento, knowing that the franchise was in flux. He has plenty riding on the success of this team.
He may not be the player he was before, but Rajon Rondo is a 29-year-old former All-Star with a lot to prove. Unfortunately, he had a lot to prove a season ago, and he failed to do so. Vlade Divac has been railed for his decision to pay Rondo his asking price, but starting off on the wrong foot with the volatile point guard isn’t a good look. Rondo should come to camp happy and hungry to move forward with his career, and his relationship with Gay will hopefully keep him in good spirits.
If Rondo can return to his former glory, the Kings have one of the best 1-2-3 punches in the league. He isn’t a great shooter, but if you told Kings fans three seasons ago that you would enter Cousins’ prime with Gay and Rondo as his running mates, there wouldn’t be in an empty seat in the arena.
Continuity is another plus when developing a winner. While the Kings have almost completely turned the roster over twice in the last two seasons, Cousins, Gay, Ben McLemore, Darren Collison, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, Omri Casspi and Willie Cauley-Stein are all under contract for two or more years.
Quincy Acy, Caron Butler, Seth Curry and James Anderson are also possibilities over the next two seasons, but the Kings will have roster options and the ability to get over $30 million under the projected 2016 salary cap of $89 million. With a core in place and locked up, Divac will have room to make a push for an NBA star. Whether he can land a big fish in the new NBA landscape likely depends greatly on the Kings’ success this season. If Sacramento is on the cusp of something special on the floor and can take a prized free agent on a tour of a shiny new arena, Divac may have a shot.
You can’t leave owner Vivek Ranadivé out of this equation. The Maloofs were never going to win again at the NBA level. They weren’t committed to spending the necessary funds to run a quality organization. I’m not just talking about players. That was a humongous issue, but to keep up in today’s NBA world, you have to drop serious cash on every aspect of the team. We have seen the effects of a cash-poor owner mixed with a small market. It’s devastating.
Ranadivé may have helped make some wild decisions, but you can’t say that he won’t spend. Be it the training staff, arena upgrades to a failing Sleep Train Arena or hiring Karl and his first class staff, Ranadivé and his ownership group have put their money on the line. He has shown a lack of patience and understanding for the long-term nature of building an NBA winner, but he is neither an absentee owner nor cheap.
The Kings will face tremendous pressure to move forward this season, not just as a team, but as individuals. Karl wants to prove that he can win in one more spot. Cousins has to show that he can turn numbers into victories. Gay is still trying to move past his label, and Rondo is a former All-Star clinging to NBA life.
If it all works out, the Kings will move into a beautiful new building next October with momentum. They will chase upgrades and hopefully put a product on the floor that matches the home where they play.
If things go south, it’s back to the drawing board at a very inopportune time.