Pretty Much Screwed: The Sacramento Kings

  • Spencer Lund

Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: the Sacramento Kings, where the Maloof Brothers have screwed the pooch and Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and DeMarcus Cousins have a competition to see who can get shots up faster.

The Sacramento Kings have experienced a pretty big fall since they reached an apogee of basketball relevance with their early-aught Rick Adelman-coached offensive juggernauts. They’ve fallen on hard times both financially – the Maloof brothers are on the precipice of bankruptcy and willing to do anything to get outta Sacramento – and on the court, where they’ve won a grand total of 88 games over the last 4 years. They’ve got a young nucleus with a former ROY, a dominating big man, and a sometimes mesmerizing point guard with a baffling spelling for his first name. All that, and they may be out of Sacramento by this time next year. It’s gonna continue to be a bumpy road Kings fans.

They’re too young and they can’t shoot.

Last year they were the youngest team in the league. Without adding or subtracting much this season, they’ll still be one of the NBA’s youngest, and that usually means more inconsistencies (unless you’re the Oklahoma City Thunder). It’s good for the future, but after finishing 22-44 last season (prorated for a full-length season, that’s 27-55), what sorta future are we talking about here? So far, they’ve failed to deal Evans before he becomes a restricted free agent this summer, and everyone else is so young that Geoff Petrie has talked himself into waiting to see what sort of players he’s got.

Shooting-wise, they were dreadful from long-range last season with only the lowly Bobcats shooting a lower percentage from beyond the arc. As a whole, their team field goal percentage was good for 26th in the league (via hoopdata). Sure, Jimmer Fredette is going into his second year now, but he’s 3rd on the depth chart behind Isaiah Thomas and new-hire Aaron Brooks, and he’s not really a point anyway; he’s simply been thrust into that spot because he’s too undersized for the off-guard spot. Brooks is, at least ostensibly, an upgrade in the long-range department, but top scorer Marcus Thornton shot under 44% from the field last season. Not to mention DeMarcus Cousins, who still isn’t shooting over 50% even though Sacramento as a team got more looks in the paint than 80% of the league (in case you didn’t know, DeMarcus Cousins is very good at getting to the bucket for high percentage shots). Look for their shooting to continue to be abysmal from beyond the arc and slightly improve as a whole.

They’re pretty awful on defense, too.

Last season they were 3rd to last (trailing only Charlotte and Brooklyn) in Defensive Efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions), and finished the season giving up 104.4 points per game overall as a team – that was good for dead last in points allowed as a unit, besting the next highest team, the fast-paced Denver Nuggets, by more than 3 points per game (via Hoopdata). That’s just dreadful. If it weren’t for Brooklyn and Charlotte, we could be talking about the worst defensive team in the league. With Tyreke Evans switching over to small forward this season, expect even more lapses as he attempts to guard bigger players while touching the ball less. It follows past evidence that Evans will be less inclined to play defense when he’s not touching the ball as much on the other end of the floor.

The Devil reneged on his deal with the Maloof brothers, but still has their souls.

The Maloofs, Joe and Gavin, made a deal with the Devil when their family purchased a minority stake in the franchise in 1998, but instead of leading them to the championship, they fell just-short during the Adelman years, and – as evidenced by the aborted deal keeping them in Sacramento – the Devil still has their souls. Faustian allusions aside, these guys have pissed off the city of Sacramento time and again as they seek to find public funding for a new arena, while also looking to move the franchise to a larger market. If you want an idea of the acrimony they’ve engendered in California’s capital, just read a couple articles by the excellent Ailene Voisin at the Sacramento Bee. Or take a cursory look at any Sactown Royalty thread about the embattled owners.

The Maloof brothers ownership of the Kings has come to resemble the Real World Las Vegas house, which the Maloofs own, only after a Yeager-infused bacchanalia. You can just make out Seattle developer Chris Hansen eyeing the team if they do relocate. After Mayor Kevin Johnson, yes that Kevin Johnson, put together a proposal to keep the Kings in Sacramento, whereby AEG and the NBA would pay $7 million to the Maloofs and loan them another $63 million, they agreed to the deal. But then, just a week later, held a press conference in New York to announce the deal was getting torn up, followed by some harsh words about Sacramento as a sports town. They’re likely gone at the conclusion of this season (regardless of their new arena sponsor, appropriately titled: The Sleep Train). Nothing has actually happened yet, so Sacramento fans attempt to push on, gamely staring towards a future that’s anything but certain.

One reason you might not be screwed: DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, and Isaiah Thomas.

Demarcus Cousins is a legit front court star capable of drawing a double team and scoring at will against the paucity of true big men in the league. Already pretty trim since coming out of Kentucky with a little sass in his ass, he’s rumored to have lost another 15 pounds this offseason. Augmenting that increased mobility is the hunger to succeed after Jerry Colangelo’s unfounded criticisms (he’d never spoken a word to Cousins before going on record about him) during Cousins’ USA Olympic tryouts this summer.

Tyreke Evans is a bit more of a wildcard, but he’s still someone that averaged a 20, 5 and 5 in his ROY-winning opening season. Yes, he’ll have to adapt to larger defenders in his new spot at small forward, but he’s talented and even in a tough year in 2011-12, where newcomer Isaiah Thomas took over his starting point duties, he still averaged over 17 points per game and almost 5 assists and 5 rebounds. He’s big enough to handle most small forwards, so expect the same production on offense from him if he gets the ball.

Isaiah Thomas took over starting point guard duties from Evans during last season when he shot close to 38% from 3-point range and 45% from the floor while doling out over 4 assists per game. Now that he’s secure in his spot at point with Evans moving to the 3, look for more nights like the 28-point, 10-dime performance he had against the Spurs in late March last season.

The Kings will improve a tad next season, but any talk of a playoff berth is extremely premature. It also remains to be seen whether they’ll even be back in Sacramento at the start of the 2013-14 season. If fans tune them out, expecting the team to bounce after the year ends, look for less enthusiasm as this young team plays in front of half-empty stands towards another lottery-bound offseason of uncertainty.

Actual season prediction: 33-49, 4th in the Pacific Division and 13th in the Western Conference.

Read the rest of our NBA previews here.