The Sacramento Kings underwent a change in management over the summer, with Vlade Divac taking over as general manager. Despite rumors that center DeMarcus Cousins would be traded near the draft in June, Divac and the Kings held fast and are still planning to build around their 25-year old center. After going 29-53 last season, the franchise still has a long way to go to compete in the Western Conference.
Basketball Insiders previews the 2015-16 Sacramento Kings.
As far as I know, I am in the minority. I am one of the seemingly few that believes that Rajon Rondo still has something left to offer an NBA team and I still believe that he has the instincts and ability to see the basketball court in such a way that can enable him to still be considered one of the top distributors in the game. I believe that Marco Belinelli has long been underrated as a talented NBA shooting guard, and overall, think that the Kings have had a phenomenal offseason. Willie Cauley-Stein is arguably the prospect whose draft stock rose most dramatically during the pre-draft process and will join Kosta Koufos as new additions in the front court in Sacramento. There is no question that DeMarcus Cousins is a top-10 talent in the NBA today, so when you look at the Kings roster in its totality, it is difficult to write them off completely. What I am concerned about with regard to the Kings is the chemistry that this team will have on the court. Rondo is already regarded as a head case, and on a one-year deal worth just $9.5 million, I wonder if he will be able to put the team ahead of his want to prove himself. George Karl has never been known to back down from a fight, so the relationship that those two forge and maintain will certainly be worth watching, as well. In the end, I would expect the Kings to be a team who wins games they seemingly have no business winning and losing to teams that, on paper, seem inferior. As talented as they are, they are not necessarily built around strong leaders, so I feel confident keeping them outside of the playoffs out West and certainly below the upper-echelon teams in the conference.
3rd Place — Pacific Division
– Moke Hamilton
The Kings will show some improvement over last year’s 29-win record, but I’m not expecting drastic progress this season. DeMarcus Cousins is the best center in the NBA and I’m excited to see what he can do in his sixth NBA season. I also expect another strong year from Rudy Gay, who quietly turned in a terrific 2014-15 campaign. But outside of those two players, I have a lot of questions. Will Cousins and head coach George Karl be able to co-exist with so much tension between them? Will Rajon Rondo be able to return to form after a horrendous stint with the Dallas Mavericks (and will he add to the coach-versus-players drama)? Was Willie Cauley-Stein really the right pick at No. 6 and how will he fit alongside Sacramento’s other big men? How much will veteran additions like Kosta Koufos, Marco Belinelli, Caron Butler and Omri Casspi help the team improve? It’s going to be an interesting year for the Kings. I can’t see them coming close to a playoff spot in the brutal Western Conference, but they’ll certainly be entertaining.
4th Place – Pacific Division
– Alex Kennedy
When a team is bad, as the Sacramento Kings were last year, they can either toil in that badness long enough to earn the draft picks necessary to rebuild, or they can flat-out overhaul the roster, and the Kings took the latter route this summer to mixed reviews. One thing’s for sure; they’ve built a really interesting roster around DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, and I’m convinced that they’ll either be a very competitive playoff team or one of the worst five teams in the NBA. There’s really no gray area here. Adding a sharp-shooter like Marco Belinelli and a rim protector like Willie Cauley-Stein are the kinds of moves modern front offices love to make, but the Rajon Rondo signing was a heck of a lot riskier. Good or bad, though, the Kings are going to be very entertaining this season.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Joel Brigham
The Sacramento Kings haven’t finished a season with a winning record since the 2005-06 campaign. Not surprisingly, the franchise’s absence from the postseason spans the same time period. From a talent standpoint, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo form an interesting core at the top of the lineup. However it remains to be seen if Cousins, Rondo and head coach George Karl can find cohesion. The Kings’ supporting cast is nothing to sleep on with Darren Collison, Kosta Koufos and Marco Belinelli each establishing themselves as capable role players. It isn’t out of the question to expect a 10-win improvement over last season, but in the competitive Western Conference it won’t be enough for a playoff berth.
3rd Place — Pacific Division
– Lang Greene
The Kings will be a team to watch, and for more reasons than just basketball. The relationship between head coach George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins made waves this offseason and it will be interesting to see how this plays out as the season progresses. Throw in the addition of Rajon Rondo and there is no shortage of personalities on the team. Of course their focus is moving in a winning direction, and they have talent on the roster to do so. The question is, will they be able to succeed in spite of the outside noise?
5th Place — Pacific Division
– Jessica Camerato
Top Of The List
Top Offensive Player: DeMarcus Cousins
Cousins was a powerhouse in his fifth season, averaging 24.1 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.6 assist a game. The Kings relied heavily on their 6’11 big-man scorer. The team averaged a solid 101.3 points a night as a team, but the bigger issue last season was on the defensive end. Offensively, Cousins is both versatile and relentless. He’s a go-to scorer in the NBA, although his field goal percentage needs to improve (46.7 percent last season).
Top Defensive Player: Willie Cauley-Stein
Cauley-Stein as top defensive player is more of a projection. The Kings drafted the Kentucky seven-footer to play alongside Cousins. It remains to be seen how quickly the rookie will find his place in the league, let alone the team’s starting lineup. Cauley-Stein is extremely agile for a player with his size. If his ability to guard multiple positions transitions from college to the pros, Cauley-Stein adds a vital missing element to the Kings’ rotation. Last season, Sacramento gave up 105 points a night – an area badly needing improvement.
Top Playmaker: Rajon Rondo
The Kings added Rondo as a free agent this summer after he struggled to fit in with the Dallas Mavericks last season. Rondo is still regaining his form since a knee injury while with the Boston Celtics. He’s still one of the NBA’s elite passers. Before his injury, he was one of the top defenders at his position. His playmaking and defense offset a missing jump shot. Rondo needs to prove he’s back to his own standards, especially at the free-throw line, where he shot just 39.7 percent last season.
Top Clutch Player: Marco Belinelli
The Kings’ top players are Rudy Gay and Cousins, but the combination has yet to overwhelm the NBA. Incoming free agent Belinelli, who spent recent years with the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls, has shown he has the clutch gene – enough to earn the trust of coaches Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau. With the game on the line, the Kings are going to rely on Gay and Cousins but don’t be surprised if it’s Belinelli who is taking (and making) the big shot.
The Unheralded Player: Kosta Koufos
Koufos has been unheralded throughout nearly all of his career, playing for the Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies. While the Kings develop Cauley-Stein, they have a very solid pro who may start next to Cousins at center in Koufos. While his career averages of 5.4 points and 4.7 rebounds a game don’t jump out, Koufos is a capable seven-foot center.
Best New Addition: Willie Cauley-Stein
The Kings have to hope that Cauley-Stein develops into their best addition. The team used their sixth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft on the 22-year old Wildcat. Last year, the Kings debated taking Elfrid Payton, but ultimately chose Nik Stauskas. Payton, taken by the Orlando Magic, was one of the best rookies in the league last season. Sacramento has already moved Stauskas in a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers. Cauley-Stein is a bit raw offensively, but if he can reach his potential defensively, they’ll have added on a key piece after struggling through a tumultuous 2014-15 season.
– Eric Pincus
Who We Like
1. DeMarcus Cousins: Cousins is one of the best players in the NBA. His versatility and intensity make him a very difficult cover. The key for both the player, and the team, is to find a way to translate his individual gifts into a winning product.
2. Willie Cauley-Stein: Again, the key word is potential, which is always tricky in the NBA. Cauley-Stein may be prove to be a high-impact defender, capable of switching onto smaller players despite standing over seven-feet tall. The Kings have plenty of scorers. They need their pick to make an impact on the other end of the floor.
3. Marco Belinelli: When the team needs a bucket late in games, Belinelli is the guy who wants to take the shot — and is capable of knocking them down in the final seconds.
4. Seth Curry: Whether or not Curry earns regular rotation minutes remains to be seen, but the brother of Golden State Warriors MVP Stephen Curry has taken a long road to the NBA. After tearing it up for years in the NBA Development League, Seth Curry finally landed a guaranteed deal (two years, player option on the second season). Now he’ll have the chance to prove himself on a bigger stage, without worrying about a looming cut-down date.
5. Kosta Koufos: Steady and solid, Koufos isn’t going to add any drama to what has the potential to be a volatile locker room this season. The Kings have a number of strong personalities in players like Cousins and Rondo, but Koufos is an unassuming, hard worker who, within his role, is very productive.
– Eric Pincus
The Kings have brought in a number of capable players to support Cousins and Gay, including Caron Butler, Omri Casspi, Quincy Acy, Rondo, Koufos, Belinelli, Curry and Cauley-Stein. Cousins is a monster. Gay is a proven scorer. Ben McLemore is growing as a player and Darren Collison should be healthy after undergoing “core muscle surgery.” There’s enough offensive fire-power on the roster to compete in the West, provided the team can also develop defensively. The seventh and eighth seeds in the conference may be within reach, if the Kings come together cohesively.
– Eric Pincus
The Kings couldn’t get stops last season. Can Rondo make an impact if he can’t shoot well from the field or the line? Will a team that has fundamentally lacked chemistry for years suddenly find it? Will Cousins emerge as more than just a tremendous basketball player, but as a positive and generous leader in both the locker room and on the basketball court?
– Eric Pincus
The Burning Question
Will the Kings and DeMarcus Cousins stay together or end in divorce?
Cousins found trust in former coach Mike Malone, who was fired midway through last season. He and Coach George Karl have yet to bond on a similar level, and while both sides have made public efforts over the summer, it remains to be seen if that marriage has longevity in its future. Naturally, the team can prioritize Cousins over Karl and fire yet another coach, if the relationship disintegrates – otherwise it may be time to move the All-Star. Heading into the 2015-16 season, both sides would like to build a future together. It’s just a question of whether or not they are able to, with the potential pressure of losing – provided the Kings are not a contender in the West.
– Eric Pincus
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