Sacramento Kings 2016-17 Season Preview

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The Sacramento Kings have under-performed for years, winning just 33 games last season despite higher expectations internally.  Dating back to last offseason, the Kings were in turmoil with former coach George Karl and All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins at odds.

The organization tried to push through, hoping fences would be mended along the way, but the team stumbled on the floor and eventually Karl was the casualty.  The team has since hired head coach Dave Joerger, who was with the Memphis Grizzlies until this summer.

Joerger is tasked with getting Cousins to engage fully as the Kings’ best player, building a winner with a franchise that hasn’t made the postseason since 2006.  The team has a talented roster – at least offensively – but it remains to be seen if Joerger can get his squad to produce on both sides of the court.

Basketball Insiders previews the Sacramento Kings’ 2016-17 season.


We have spent the better part of the past few years laughing at the instability of the Kings, so many of the moves they made this past summer have gone unnoticed. I mean, their rotation is likely to consist of a few tough veterans in Arron Afflalo, Matt Barnes and Kosta Koufos, some youngsters in Malachi Richardson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere and some players whom we already know can play in DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and the newly acquired Ty Lawson. The Kings aren’t going to supplant either the Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Clippers in the division, but, at least on paper, they appear to be a better team this season.

Traditionally, players who bring gold medals home enjoy productive seasons. We’ll see in short order whether Cousins bucks the trend. Either way, I don’t think the Kings are making the playoffs this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they improved upon last season’s 33 wins.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Moke Hamilton

Generally speaking, the Kings are no less confusing now than they were a year ago, which means we’re probably in for one more year of the disgruntled version of DeMarcus Cousins. It’s a shame, too, because the happy version of Cousins was such a joy to watch this past summer as a member of Team USA. He’ll be trading in the likes of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson, two free agent signings that capped off a pretty baffling offseason for the Kings. Getting Skal Labissiere as late as they did in the draft was a steal, except he’ll never see the floor on a team collecting centers like Pokemon. They’ve got a patchwork roster with plenty of talent, but nobody has any idea how it’s all going to come together. New head coach Dave Joerger should help put the pieces together, but even a good chef can only do so much with odd ingredients.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Joel Brigham

It seems like forever since the Kings were annually competing for a trip to the NBA Finals in the early 2000s. But over the past decade, the team has had a rather tumultuous ride. Coaching changes, failed rebuilding projects, relocation threats and constant front-office shuffling led to the Kings seemingly hitting rock bottom on more than a few occasions. The 2016-17 team figures to have its own set of drama to conquer with point guard Darren Collison’s offseason incident looming and the future of All-Star DeMarcus Cousins with the organization a daily discussion. Still, there is enough talent here to make some improvement, but don’t expect a huge leap in the standings.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Lang Greene

In some ways, I’m still processing the Kings’ offseason. I didn’t love any of their moves and I didn’t necessarily hate any of them either. A big part of this is the unstable front office situation, which has led to multiple coach hires and fires over the last few seasons and the lack of direction. Is this team trying to win now, or is it more concerned about acquiring young talent for the future? The Kings are bringing in several young players this season, including Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere, Malachi Richardson and Isaiah Cousins. But they also brought in veteran players like Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Garrett Temple, Ty Lawson and Anthony Tolliver. Perhaps trying to become as competitive as possible now is geared toward keeping DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento long-term, but this group of players isn’t likely to make much noise in the Western Conference. Being split between competing now to appease a star player and bringing in young talent to prepare for his possible departure is probably not a recipe for major success, so I’m just not a huge fan of Sacramento’s offseason. Having said all of that, I am a fan of the Dave Joerger hire and am cautiously optimistic that he can establish an identity for this team. If things go well, this team could potentially compete for the third seed in the Pacific Division (but that doesn’t seem likely).

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

Garrett Temple talked to Basketball Insiders in July about Sacramento’s offseason moves and explained that the Kings entered the summer badly wanting to change the culture around the organization. That’s why they signed veterans like Temple, Arron Afflalo, Matt Barnes, Anthony Tolliver and Ty Lawson and hired head coach Dave Joerger (who had a successful stint with the Memphis Grizzlies). I don’t think Sacramento will make the playoffs this year, but I do expect the team to beat last year’s 33 wins. Joerger and the incoming veterans should do well alongside the team’s returning players to help set the foundation for the future. There are still question marks surrounding the team though, especially when it comes to Rudy Gay’s future with the Kings and whether DeMarcus Cousins is happy with the franchise’s direction.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Alex Kennedy


Top Offensive Player: DeMarcus Cousins

Cousins is arguably the best scoring center in the NBA.  Last season, he led the Kings with 26.9 points per game.  He is powerful in the post and near the basket, but he also has range that extends all the way out to the three-point line – taking 210 attempts last year and converting 33.3 percent.  Cousins isn’t necessarily the most efficient scorer (shooting 45.1 percent from the field), but he’s a high-volume powerhouse who is very tough for opposing big men to guard.

Top Defensive Player: Willie Cauley-Stein

Now a sophomore, Cauley-Stein has tremendous potential as an NBA defender.  A true seven-footer, Cauley-Stein is mobile and athletic and may get the opportunity to start alongside Cousins.  Whether Cauley-Stein does so at center or power forward isn’t necessarily significant.  He’d likely draw the assignment on the opponent’s strongest offensive player night after night.  Cauley-Stein is agile and long enough to bother smaller, quicker players on the perimeter.  The Kings have not been a strong defensive club in recent years, but Cauley-Stein could be an important part of a culture change.

Top Playmaker: Darren Collison

Last season, Collison came off the bench behind one of the NBA’s top assist men in Rajon Rondo.  With Rondo off to the Chicago Bulls, Collison projects to be a high-minute starter this season for the Kings.  Two years ago, Collison started 45 games in Sacramento, averaging 5.6 assists per game.  While he’s not as dynamic a playmaker as Rondo, Collison will have the ball in his hands a lot this season and will look to set up his teammates.  The Kings have invited Ty Lawson to camp.  Should he make the team, Lawson is more of a true point guard than Collison.  Just two seasons ago (2014-15), Lawson averaged 9.6 assists a game for the Denver Nuggets.  Outside of Lawson, it’s unclear if any other players on the roster can play the point behind Collison.

Top Clutch Player: Rudy Gay, perhaps?

The Kings went into last season with higher expectations, but really struggled to close out games.  As a team, Sacramento wasn’t especially clutch.  Defensively, they gave up 109.1 points a game.  They played at a fast pace (scoring 106.6 points nightly), but down the stretch, they rarely seemed to get important stops.  Whatever clutch offense they got seemed overshadowed by their struggles on the other end.  Rudy Gay was often the primary option in the final minutes of games and while he had some success, the team rarely did.  The Kings really need Cousins to emerge as that guy this season, and they need to get the corresponding stops to get the wins.

The Unheralded Player: Omri Casspi

A number of players could fit this bill, from newcomers Arron Afflalo and Anthony Tolliver to under-utilized players like Kosta Koufos and Ben McLemore.  However, Casspi has emerged as an ideal small-ball stretch four, a mobile 6’9 forward who shoots the three.  Last year, Casspi hit 40.9 percent of his shots from behind the arc.  His effective field goal percentage was 57.1.

Top New Addition: Arron Afflalo

Afflalo is a solid two-way guard, who can also play some small forward.  The Kings need to play a more mature level of basketball to get wins, and Afflalo fits that well as an experienced veteran. He should be a great locker room presence for the Kings, just as he was during his successful stint with the Orlando Magic.  Last season, Afflalo shot 38.2 percent from behind the arc with the New York Knicks.  He’s also a capable scorer from the post.

– Eric Pincus


1. DeMarcus Cousins

From a pure talent standpoint, Cousins is among the most talented players in the league – big or small.  He played an important part in Team USA earning a gold medal in Rio this summer.  If he can improve as a leader and contain his emotions on the court, Cousins may climb into the “Most Valuable Player” discussion. However, to date, he hasn’t been able to take the Kings to the playoffs.  Cousins isn’t far from a “Who We Don’t Like” list, to be honest.  His career arc is still very much up in the air.

2. Dave Joerger

Coach Joerger was successful in Memphis when the Grizzlies were healthy.  The team was among the best in the league defensively, advancing to the second round in 2015 before falling to the Golden State Warriors in six games.  Sacramento is desperate for leadership, and Joerger has the opportunity to help re-brand the Kings.  His first and primary job will be reaching Cousins.

3. Willie Cauley-Stein

Cauley-Stein can’t make Sacramento a defensive-minded team by himself, but he represents the path the Kings need to walk if they want to truly become a force in the Western Conference. Dave Joerger will try to maximize Cauley-Stein’s potential and get the team’s other significant contributors to step up on the defensive end alongside the second-year big man.

4. Omri Casspi

Casspi is scrappy, plays hard and can hit the three.  As is the case with Cauley-Stein, the team is not going to change its culture because of a couple of role players.  It has to start from the top – and that’s Cousins.

– Eric Pincus


The Kings dropped under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to sign Arron Afflalo, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple and Matt Barnes.  The team is over the cap, but still has it’s $2.9 million Room Exception.  The team has 14 guaranteed players, with one spot open for Ty Lawson, Lamar Patterson and Isaiah Cousins to fight over.  Lawson’s $1.3 million is a non-guaranteed summer contract, meaning he doesn’t even have salary protection if injured.

Next summer, Sacramento could have significant spending power under a projected $102 million salary cap.  The second years on Afflalo and Tolliver’s contracts (a combined $20.5 million) are guaranteed for just $1.5 million and $2 million, respectively.   Rudy Gay ($12.3 million) and Barnes ($6.4 million) also have player options.  Without all four, the Kings could reach $55 million under the cap – among the most in the league.  That number assumes Sacramento picks up Willie Cauley-Stein’s rookie-scale option before November.  The team also has until the end of October to give Ben McLemore an extension, otherwise he’ll be a restricted free agent if the Kings extend a qualifying offer in July.

– Eric Pincus


Cousins is a match-up nightmare for most teams.  Gay is a high-volume scoring forward.  Veterans like Barnes, Collison, Tolliver, Koufos, Casspi and Afflalo should help the Kings play a more mature brand of basketball.  Lawson is a wildcard; if he makes the squad, he could end up being the starting point guard or a solid reserve behind Collison.  Cauley-Stein isn’t much of an offensive threat, but he’s an important defensive component on a team that has struggled on that front.  The new start under Joerger, with the team moving to the new Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, should help the team put their unimpressive past behind them.  The Kings have an opportunity to make noise in the Western Conference, but they’re going to need to finally deliver on the court after years of underwhelming play.

– Eric Pincus


Sacramento has struggled for leadership.  In previous season, opponents just needed to stay close in games because they knew the Kings would eventually beat themselves.  The biggest issue has been on the defensive side of the ball, but Sacramento can be disjointed offensively as well.  Cousins’ talent is unquestionable, but he still has to prove he can be the best player on a good NBA team.  The team’s roster is not particularly well balanced, loaded with forwards and centers but weak at guard.  McLemore has yet to show he’s a consistent impact player.  Collison is a good, but not necessarily a great point guard.  The team needs Afflalo and possibly Lawson to make an impact in the backcourt.

– Eric Pincus


How long will the Kings’ marriage with Cousins last?

Cousins is under contract through the 2017-18 season.  As things are, given his bumpy history with the club, the odds are reasonably high that the All-Star will leave as a free agent in July of 2018.  If Joerger can help turn the team into a winner, the narrative could change significantly.  If not, the Kings need to at least explore moving Cousins lest they lose him for nothing.  Typically, the closer a star player gets to the end of his contract, the harder he can be to move for value.  Teams are often reluctant to give up a lot for a player who can walk away from them after one rental season.  This upcoming February may be the best time to move Cousins, if the Kings prove to be mediocre once again.  The team has not looked to move Cousins this offseason, preferring to see what happens with Joerger and the team’s new players.  The franchise clearly hopes for enough on-court success to engage Cousins for the long-term, but that’s easier said than done.

– Eric Pincus