What To Expect When You’re Expecting

With a 17-win team you’re always wondering how they’ll improve and how long it will take for that improvement to come to fruition.

In fact, you’ve probably gone over the possibilities of the schedule already and how it will play itself out. Can the Kings improve on their six road wins last year? Is it possible for them to get worse? Will Tyreke Evans make as big of an impact his rookie season as Derrick Rose made for the Bulls last season? Will Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes make improvements that greatly impact the team? If the WLAF comes back and the Sacramento Surge look to win another title, should Jon Brockman be an inside or outside linebacker?

These are all questions that I’ve been asked and/or pondered myself.

Well, in trying to figure out how good this team could possibly be next season I came across two excerpts from national writers that don’t bode well for the Kings.

The first came from Sean Deveney at The Sporting Blog in a piece in which he was discussing the various challenges posed to all of the new coaches this coming season.

Paul Westphal, Kings. Chance at succeeding: Longshot. Westphal is walking into a tough job. He is the team’s fourth coach since Rick Adelman left in 2006, taking over a group that won 17 games last year and finished 29th in attendance. He’s also the lowest-paid coach in the league. The Kings have eight players who are 25 or younger and whether Westphal (who is 58 and didn’t exactly excel in his tenure at Pepperdine) is the right guy for such a young team is questionable. He also carries a reputation as an offensive coach, which doesn’t seem to address the Kings’ most pressing concern—their utter lack of defensive ability. “I really try to deal with every player as I wanted to be dealt with,” Westphal said. “I hate to be characterized as an offensive coach, but I know I am not characterized as a defensive coach. I think I coach the whole game. The idea is to be ahead at the end of the game.”

Personally, I don’t think his experience at Pepperdine has much to do with anything related to his potential success or failure in the NBA. I’ve never put much stock into college coaches making the leap to the NBA. Guys like Mike Montgomery, Larry Brown, Tim Floyd, P.J. Carlesimo, and Reggie Theus (he’s going to hate me for mentioning him) have all experienced varying degrees of success.

I’d put much more stock into Westphal’s stints with the Suns and Sonics before I worried about his coaching ranks (although I guess to a degree, it’s worth noting).

The second excerpt came from John Hollinger as he assessed the pecking order in the Western Conference. As you can probably guess, he wasn’t high on a Kings team that won 17 games last season and didn’t make any significant signings or trades outside of their draft selections.

Shell-shocked by increasingly horrific economics in Sacto and the woefully outdated Arco Arena, the Kings locked down financially while they wait to find out where their next home will be. If it’s a new building in Sacramento, great, but if not, San Jose, Anaheim, Kansas City and others await with open arms. Either way, they won’t spend a nickel without some certainty on this front.

The Kings did pick up a potential star in the draft in Tyreke Evans and a low-budget breakout possibility in Sergio Rodriguez, plus Kevin Martin should be healthier. That should keep them run-of-the-mill bad rather than historically awful, but optimists won’t find a lot of ammunition here.

Now, maybe I’m becoming secretly enamored or more forgiving with this team over the course of keeping my eyes more closely on them throughout the past two months but this doesn’t look like a historically awful roster to me. Does it look like a good team? Absolutely not. But historically awful makes me think of the Thunder under P.J. Carlesimo or the Mavericks of the mid-90s. The current makeup of the Kings at the end of last season wasn’t THAT bad.

In trying to figure out how big of an impact Tyreke could have on this team and how history would dictate if this team would improve or decline, I first decided to look over the schedule with a careful eye and based on road trips, back to backs, and other factors for their opponents throughout the season try to figure out a rough estimate of this team’s record for this coming year.

I came up with a record of 27-55 – a 10-win improvement from last season. I had them improving to 10-31 on the road from 6-35 last season and 17-24 at home after six fewer wins at the Gas Pump in 2008. It seemed like a good, fair improvement in my eyes as I tried to be as objective as possible in figuring out if they had the goods to win most nights in the NBA.

But does history agree with that estimate?

I decided to poor over some data, transactions, and anomalies over the previous 10 seasons in order to see if the Kings improving 10 wins seemed logical or not. I took the five worst teams from each season since the lockout shortened 1999 campaign. Then I threw out the improvements to the five worst teams in the 2003-2004 season because the impact of the additions of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony seemed unlikely to repeat itself with the 2009 draft class. So that left us with 41 teams in the other eight seasons (I took six teams from the 2007-2008 season because the Knicks and Clippers tied for the fifth worst record) and I came up with some interesting facts:

– Only 11 of the 41 teams (26.8%) failed to improve on their record the next season.

– The average win total improved by 11 (including the Boston Celtics in 2007 who improved by 42 wins with the KG and Ray Allen trades otherwise).

– On average, the team with the fourth pick in the draft only improved their record by 5.6 wins.

– Excluding the 2003 Cavs (LeBron addition) and the 2008 Heat (since they missed Dwyane Wade for much of the previous season), the team with the worst record in the league improved by an average of 11 wins the next season.

– Only the Memphis Grizzlies finished with the worst record in the league and didn’t improve their record the next season.

– Four teams, that finished with the worst record in the league and then brought in a new, full-time coach, improved by an average of 10 wins.

Now, focusing on the teams outside of the ’03 Cavs and the ’08 Heat that finished with the worst record in the league, I decided to look at each team and determine if their success could be a good measuring stick for predicting how the Kings might improve their record in the 2009-2010 season.

The chart below shows the win total of these seven teams and their improved win total from the next season:

As I stated above, the Grizzlies were the only team that didn’t improve their win total. But they were (barely) on pace to eclipse their 22 wins from the 2006-2007 season before they traded Pau Gasol and their collective souls to the Lakers for Javaris Crittenton, Pau’s brother, someone pretending to be Aaron McKie and a former number one draft pick that Michael Jordan often referred to as a female body part. As for the other teams, only the 2001 and 2002 Bulls teams didn’t improve their record by double digit wins the next season.

So can the Kings add double-digit wins to their 17 victories from last season even though they were extremely quiet in the off-season due to being “locked down financially,” according to John Hollinger?

Of the seven teams from the chart above, only the 2002 Bulls and the 2007 Grizzlies had minimal roster turnover in the off-season following their league’s worst record. The ’07 Grizzlies added Mike Conley with the fourth pick in the draft and Juan Carlos Navarro in the off-season. They also added a new head coach in Marc Iavaroni before suffering through a poor first half of the season and eventually trading Gasol to the Lakers. This version of the Grizzlies definitely is not an encouraging example for the Kings next season. Luckily, there is the 2002-2003 Bulls team.

The Bulls came off a 21-61 record and only added Jay Williams (2nd pick of the draft) and Donyell Marshall to the roster along with having Bill Cartwright as the new full-time head coach. Through some growth of young big men (Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry) and the play of their young guards (Jamal Crawford and Jay Williams), the Bulls improved to 30-52 the next season. Doesn’t this sound much more encouraging for the Kings? Hell, doesn’t this sound a lot more like the Kings situation?

There’s a huge similarity in the quality of guards drafted by the ’02 Bulls and the ’09 Kings. Jay Williams was a terror on the court who didn’t exactly play like a traditional point guard in as much he played like a small shooting guard (people forget how scary good this guy was in college). The Kings picked up Tyreke Evans who is allegedly a point guard in a shooting guards body and capable of completely taking over games. Even though they’re nowhere near the same body type, their impact on the court seems to be pretty similar.

There’s also a decent similarity in the progression of the big men with the Bulls’ Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler and the Kings’ Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson. Now, I’m not talking about the types of players that these guys are. Hawes and JT are far more skilled than Curry and Chandler were/are still. But as Curry and Chandler made leaps from the previous season in terms of effectiveness, the Bulls became much better and a much harder team to beat. You can definitely see that happening with the Kings young big men this season. Thompson and Hawes will have another year of experience under their belts and with the pressure strictly on them to be a collective presence in the paint (no more Brad Miller), their progression will directly influence an improve or decline in last season’s record.

The ’02 Bulls’ nine-win improvement looks much more likely than the zero win improvement the Grizzlies gave their fans in 2007-2008. It’s also worth mentioning that the Kings are historically a much better home team over the past few non-playoff seasons than the Bulls were as they attempted to rebuild their once proud franchise. I think that still holds to be true in the quaint confines of Arco Arena and gives the Kings a boost of a couple of wins.

Throw all of that into a smoldering pot with the addition of Paul Westphal, the tough veteran presence of Andres Nocioni for a full season, and a healthy Kevin Martin and all of a sudden the 10-win, rough estimate of improvement that I originally came up with doesn’t seem so out of line. It looks more like a “run of the mill bad” team that John Hollinger expects instead of the god-awful 17-win season that Kings fans suffered through last year.

A 27-win season isn’t something that any fan base should be ecstatic about. Fans, especially Kings fans, want to win more than anything and see their team back in the playoffs. But when you’ve hit rock bottom, watching your team improve is what you should hope for and expect the following season.

And I think we can all realistically expect a double-digit improvement next season as the front office rebuilds the culture of Kings basketball.


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