Projected Record: 29-53 (13th in West)
Head coach: Michael Malone
2013-14 record: 28-54
2013-14 ORtg: 102.9 (T-19th)
2013-14 DRtg: 106.3 (23rd)
Players in: Deonte Burton, Darren Collison, Wayne Ellington, Eric Moreland, Nik Stauskas, Jeremy Tyler, rights to Alex Oriakhi
Players out: Quicy Acy, Jared Cunningham, Aaron Gray, Travis Outlaw, Isaiah Thomas
Projected Starting Lineup: Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins
Theory: did the Sacramento Kings let point guard Isaiah Thomas walk to their division rival Phoenix Suns because they drafted him thinking he was Pistons legend Isiah Thomas and wanted to cop to their mistake? Because that’s the only explanation that makes sense.
With Thomas out the door, the Kings turn to former Clippers backup Darren Collison, apparently figuring, ‘Hey, why not replace an undersized, offense-first point guard who struggles on defense with another worse one?’
Worse, with the eighth pick in a loaded draft class, the Kings took a shooting guard… the position they filled with their 2013 lottery pick. Nik Stauskas might be better than Ben McLemore, but it’s still an odd move, especially when they could’ve picked either point guard Elfrid Payton — an obvious position of need for the team — or power forward Noah Vonleh, who’s an instant defensive upgrade over Carl Landry and a better long-term prospect next to DeMarcus Cousins than Jason Thompson.
Instead, their point guard combo is made up of Collison and Ray McCallum Jr., while at shooting guard, they’ve got two super-talented shooters who won’t be able to log big minutes together.
There’s plenty of depth in a frontcourt rotation consisting of Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Derrick Williams, Reggie Evans, and $19.3 million worth of Rudy Gay, but all hope of a Kings resurgence after eight playoff-free seasons rests almost exclusively on the broad shoulders of DeMarcus Cousins.
If Cousins rounds out his game to include some vestige of defense (something Mike Malone was brought in specifically to help with) and becomes a leader for the team, rather than a constant distraction, new Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé will feel much better about his $534 million investment. Hopefully Cousins’s part with Team USA for the FIBA world championships helps the maturation process; especially considering he has the potential to be the game’s most dominant big man not named Dwight Howard… and he’s only 24.
In the meantime, the Kings will be a young team trying to figure out how to play defense under Malone, all the while trying to figure out how to pass the ball. Collison may help a little with playmaking, but they’ll miss the underrated energy and drive Isaiah Thomas brought to the team, while hoping like hell that the Stauskas/McLemore duo works, and that the Cousins/Gay duo displays more of the promise they had towards the end of last season. If either of the oft-rumoured trades for Rajon Rondo or Josh Smith happen though, their entire outlook changes.
Best Case: Trade for Rondo and Smith and make the playoffs… but more likely, 10th in the west; Cousins, Gay and any sort of improved defense could make the Kings a frisky outsider for a low playoff seed, but the Western conference is populated entirely by hellfire and exploded dreams
Worst Case: Cousins sulks through the season until Reggie Evans puts him in a headlock, and Stauskas is crushed underneath the two of them… and the Kings still end up with only the 9th pick in the 2015 lottery.