The Brooklyn Nets (5-2) begin their annual west coast trip today, taking on the Sacramento Kings today at 6 PM Eastern (3 PM Pacific). The Kings are 2-7 and already have significant turmoil: both of their frontcourt pieces of the future — center DeMarcus Cousins and power forward Thomas Robinson — have been suspended by the league for infractions this season. (Both are back and will be in uniform tonight).
Plus, their arena’s name is Sleep Train Arena. So there’s that.
Joining me to talk about the Sacramento Kings is ESPN TrueHoop blogger Jonathan Santiago, who helps manage the fantastic Kings site Cowbell Kingdom. Jonathan is also a contributor to SLAM Online and follows the Kings about as closely as anyone, so read close if you want good nuggets on tonight’s opponent.
As usual in the one-on-one’s, I’ve asked Jonathan three questions about the Kings, and he’s asked me three on the Nets. Onward!
Jonathan on the Sacramento Kings
Devin: So… the Kings aren’t very good. Regardless of Gerald Wallace’s status, should the Brooklyn Nets expect to win this one?
Jonathan: Right now, the Kings are in disarray and it doesn’t look like they’re coming out of their funk anytime soon. Since the suspensions to Thomas Robinson and DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings have been headed in a downward spiral. They’ve let poor showing on offense affect their play on defense, which was actually the reason they were competitive in their first six games. Their home court advantage is non-existent right now due to their lackluster play combined with the uncertainty of the team’s future in Sacramento. The Brooklyn Nets are entering tonight’s game off two days rest and a win, so they should feel confident that they can come away victorious at Sleep Train Arena.
Devin: Tyreke Evans won Rookie of the Year in 2010 and has fallen apart since then. What happened?
Jonathan: To put it simply, he just hasn’t gotten any better. Evans is the same player that garnered Rookie of the Year honors in 2010. While the talent around him has been significantly upgraded since his first season, he’s just been unable to evolve his game. He’s still a bull when it comes to attacking the basket, but the Kings aren’t creating enough opportunities in transition or spacing the floor well enough for him to find success. He’s also culpable in his regression because of his inability to score from the perimeter. According to Basketball Reference, the Kings swingman has shot 9-of-49 on jump shots this season, which equates to an astonishingly low 18.4 percent.
Devin: What are your thoughts on Keith Smart as a coach, and how he’s affected this franchise?
Jonathan: He’s a great person, nice guy, has an ability to make you feel important or like his friend. But so far, he’s talked a big game and hasn’t delivered. Smart focused on team building and changing the Kings’ culture from the ground up this offseason. However that doesn’t seem to be holding up as they’re cracking under the pressure of losing. Fortunately for him and the fans of Sacramento, the Kings are heading into just the 10th game of the season, so there’s still time to turn things around. But he’s got to right this ship now because the schedule skews more road heavy after this month. Last year, the wheels fell off a lot sooner.
Devin on the Brooklyn Nets
Jonathan: What’s the ceiling for this Brooklyn Nets team? Do you believe they have the talent to be a perennial championship contender?
Devin: Not really. The Nets are a very good team, with the capability to win on most any night. They’ve got enough firepower to make that possible. But they’re not elite. Miami is a clear step above them, a healthy/figured-out LA Lakers team is a step above them, Oklahoma City is above them, and the way they’ve played to start the season, maybe even San Antonio and Memphis. They were likened to the Hawks a time or two in the offseason; a team that’d make frequent stops in the playoffs and frequent first- and second-round exits. I think they’re a little better than that — they might be able to sneak a Conference Finals — but barring injuries, I don’t think they’ll step beyond that.
Jonathan: Travis Outlaw used to be an athletic, smooth shooting wingman for the Portland Trail Blazers. But after signing a big free agent deal with the Nets a few years ago, he’s seems to have lost that spark. Since joining the Kings last year, he’s been unable to find that magic. What happened to him in New Jersey?
Devin: I think it was whatever happened before then. He came to New Jersey an out-of-shape mess and left that way, too. I’m not sure the foot surgery he had in Portland ever healed 100%. Outside of a rocket-hot start — in his first ten games in New Jersey, he couldn’t miss — he was a complete and abject failure, and I saw no reason to think he’d improve from there. He didn’t have speed, energy, a consistent shot, or exhibit defensive effort. He was awful, and outside of the fact that he was long and skinny you’d never know that he’d had a successful career. I don’t know if it was apathy or injury or just a downward spiral, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Outlaw we saw in New Jersey that’s now in Sacramento is just the Outlaw you’ll get from here on out.
Jonathan: How long do the Brooklyn Nets have before the luster of the Barclays Center wears off and the focus shifts on to wins and losses to draw in fans?
Devin: It’s slowly started to happen. Fans booed when the Nets blew the 22-point lead to Minnesota, they cheered when they took down the Boston Celtics. They’re not “there” yet as the proper puppets a stadium needs to back its players and call-and-response with a PA announcer, but they’re getting there. That said, I’d be remiss not to note this: Barclays Center is beautiful inside. The inside is sleek and clear. The walkways in the upper levels are a little tight, which makes getting in and out of there difficult, but everything else is done excellently. The stadium lighting gives it the impression that you’re watching not just a basketball game but a cultural event. That luster will wear off, because we’re not fans of architecture, we’re basketball fans. But it’s definitely a great space to watch basketball.