NBA PM: Fixing The Sacramento Kings

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The Sacramento Kings announced they will pay for die-hard fans to get a tattoo of their new logo, rewarding those who show the ultimate dedication and team spirit. However, fans may want to know how the team plans to improve before making that kind of decision. The Kings have plenty of work to do this summer if they finally want to turn things around in a town current minority owner Shaquille O’Neal now calls “Shaqramento.” Clever nicknames and updated logos aside, the Kings are now faced with the task of finding some consistency in terms of organizational unity and with the coaching staff while also determining whether to consider a total reset of the roster and direction.

Following a 33-49 season that featured rumors about their head coach’s termination as many as three separate times (and they did ultimately fire George Karl just after the season), random ejections and stories of on-court and off-court trust or chemistry issues, Sacramento has some issues that need resolving. There are plenty of questions to be answered over the next few months for the Kings, and we took a look at several options for them to consider:

Make the right coaching decision so the franchise can establish some stability.

Remember when everyone thought Vinny Del Negro was somehow “holding the Los Angeles Clippers back” after leading them to a 56-win season, but failing to guide them past the second round of the playoffs a few years ago? It turns out Del Negro may have been more of a scapegoat than anyone realized at the time, which makes the news about his interest in Sacramento’s vacant position that much more intriguing.

Although boasting an overall 210-184 coaching record, Del Negro hasn’t manned the sidelines for a team since being let go by the Clippers following the 2013 season. The million dollar question with the Kings will always be how the coach ultimately vibes with DeMarcus Cousins, but whether the team decides to head in a different direction in terms of their franchise player remains to be seen. It would be fun to see Del Negro eventually get another shot with a young core once again.

Mark Jackson and Sam Mitchell are also names that have been linked to the position. Mitchell’s seven-year coaching career is highlighted by the 47-35 record his upstart 2006-07 Toronto Raptors ended with, but he’s just 185-242 overall – at least, in part, due to roster limitations. Jackson, to his credit, took an inexperienced Golden State Warriors team from 23 wins to 47 wins in his second season, before ending his run in Oakland with a 51-31 record. The Warriors qualified for the postseason in back-to-back years with Jackson at the helm (2012-14) for the first time since 1990-92.

Kevin McHale, fired by the Houston Rockets earlier this season, is another intriguing name to surface during Sacramento’s coaching search. Even though McHale won 54 and 56 games in consecutive seasons (2013 and 2014), it still didn’t earn him much leeway as he was rather unceremoniously terminated just 11 games into the year (4-7). Like Del Negro, McHale is considered to be a “players’ coach” and does have a history of (at least initially) getting through to players with peculiar personalities over the past few seasons.

Regardless of whether general manager Vlade Divac and owner Vivek Ranadive select one of these candidates or even one of the top available assistants (Jay Larranaga, Ettore Messina and the like), this franchise needs stability and a united vision moving forward. Additional defensive-minded players and a coaching staff that can establish a defensive identity wouldn’t hurt, either. But first things first, as they say.

Figure out what to do with franchise player DeMarcus Cousins moving forward.

The latest logo and team slogan updates are great in theory, but it will take more than a new paint job to get this car running again. While letting George Karl go makes it at least appear that they’ve made their choice in terms of which faction to build around, there are still those who believe the organization won’t be able to fully turn the corner without a complete overhaul.

Cousins has seen five coaches come and go since being drafted back in 2010. While his skills are undeniable and he’s almost universally regarded as one of the game’s top big men, the Kings haven’t been able to capitalize on his production in terms of actual team success. In fact, while there was a brief glimmer of hope during former head coach Mike Malone’s early tenure (prior to being terminated after just 24 games into his second season), their overall record during Cousins’ career is a paltry 162-312. Beyond the idea of finding the “right” coach to guide their mercurial star player, the front office needs to also determine whether Cousins is a player who can be the focal point of a playoff contender at this point in his career.

While the production is undeniable (averaging 26.9 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 65 games this season), neither are the results – in terms of wins/losses and in his actual behavior on the court or within the locker room. Although the Kings did finally cross the 30-win plateau in 2015-16 for the first time in Cousins’ career, the sum of the parts – at least on paper – still isn’t quite adding up, especially in a year when much of the bottom half of the Western Conference was either in a full-blown rebuilding mode or dealing with major losses due to injury.

Clearly, all of the dysfunction and problems cannot be laid at Cousins’ feet. However, he does have a certain amount of responsibility for his share of things as the main attraction for the Kings.

Fix this roster with a clear-cut vision of the type of team they want to be.

Successful teams aren’t built overnight and don’t develop chemistry simply by chance. It takes organizational stability and a united effort from top to bottom. While the jury may still be out on Willie Cauley-Stein, to say the Kings have had a questionable draft history over the last three or four years  would be putting it nicely. This year’s first-round pick could be a slippery situation depending upon how things go in the draft lottery.

Due to various transactions, the Kings have either their own pick or the Philadelphia 76ers’ pick, whichever is the lower between the two if the pick happens to fall within the top 10. If the pick falls outside of the top 10, then it is owed to the Chicago Bulls. Our latest mock draft has them selecting Notre Dame’s point guard Demetrius Jackson, which would likely signal a decision to go in a different direction at the position. Jackson is regarded as a good floor general who can do a little bit of everything in terms of scoring, playmaking and defending, but he could struggle against some of the longer guards initially (at 6’1) while continuing to develop and adjust to playing at the pro level.

Traditionally, this has been a franchise that has had difficulty luring top free agents to Sacramento, but they will have as much as $22.5 million to work with on the market this summer. That places them in the bottom-third of the league in terms of how much money they’ll have to spend, but it is difficult to say what they’d use it on as we simply don’t know which direction the franchise is headed at this point.

Caron Butler, James Anderson and Seth Curry have player options for the final year of their contracts and several others have non-guaranteed deals, but technically Sacramento’s only guaranteed free agent this summer will be point guard Rajon Rondo.

While Rondo can still impress the casual observer who still considers the stat sheet to be the holy grail when it comes to evaluating talent, there’s also a deeper way to factor in the actual impact of his production as well as how the enigmatic 30-year-old’s personality influences overall team chemistry. It would be unfair to reduce him down to a label of having “empty stats” or anything of that nature (after averaging 11.9 points, 11.7 assists and six boards per contest), but you also cannot completely ignore how ball-dominant he can be as well as his tendency to act abrasively with officials and coaches at times. Rondo and Cousins have clearly formed a bond, but that won’t necessarily guarantee his return to a team that is clearly looking to shift the general narrative and improve upon the negative stories that surround the organization.

There’s no easy answer when it comes to fixing this franchise, but this could absolutely be a pivotal summer in terms of reshaping what we’ve come to know as the current iteration of Kings basketball. With the coaching staff as well as what to do with the ultra-talented Cousins each in the balance, the 2016-17 Sacramento Kings could very well be the result of a total reset by ownership and management. Regardless of which direction they elect to go, fans in Sacramento probably deserve a bit more positivity surrounding their team for the first time in awhile.