Jerry Reynolds has seen just about everything when it comes to the Kings. Whether he was coaching, working in the front office or sitting courtside as the team's TV color analyst, Reynolds has seen a lot of Kings basketball.
And last April 13, Reynolds, like most at Power Balance Pavilion, wasn't sure he'd see the Kings play again in Sacramento.
The Kings had lost their season finale to the Los Angeles Lakers in overtime. With it apparent the team would relocate to Anaheim upon league approval, fans some weeping held "Stay" signs from their seats. Others waved goodbye to the players. Most of the Kings remained on the court, waving goodbye to fans.
Working that game on TV was emotionally taxing for Reynolds.
"It really was tough, on so many levels," Reynolds recalled. "The crowd was so good. And selfishly, from my point of view, it's been 26 years of my life and not hearing the words Sacramento Kings was going to be tough.
"Not just the job part of it, but I'm a fan of NBA basketball."
Fortunately for Reynolds and Kings fans, that game in April wasn't the last NBA contest to be played in Sacramento.
The league persuaded the Maloofs to keep the Kings in Sacramento for another year while the city and team try to come up with a plan to build a new arena.
Last April felt like goodbye
The 2011-12 season Reynolds and most Kings fans thought they'd never see in Sacramento will begin Monday against the Los Angeles Lakers at Power Balance Pavilion. It's a shortened 66-game schedule because of the 149-day lockout, but Sacramento will take it.
"I think we were all hoping that wouldn't be the last time, but we all knew it might be," said Kings coach Paul Westphal of the 2010-11 season finale. " With the lockout and all the uncertainty, it will be very special to be out there."
The Kings played improved basketball to end last season, giving hope the team is ready to move up from its last-place finish in the Pacific Division the past three seasons.
Will anyone pick the Kings to win an NBA title? Not likely. Making the playoffs would even be a surprise this season.
But considering the Kings were close to being Southern California neighbors of the Lakers and Clippers, there's genuine excitement about the 2011-12 Kings.
"Just being around town fans want to talk about it," Reynolds said. "I speak to a lot of groups, and I think there's a lot of hope and excitement. I think expectations are reasonable."
Those expectations are based largely on Tyreke Evans being healthy, DeMarcus Cousins' improvement, Marcus Thornton's scoring and the addition of rookie Jimmer Fredette.
Ticket sales have improved from recent seasons and fans have hit the team store, buying the new black jerseys the Kings will wear in the season opener against the Lakers.
The team will also hand out black shirts at Monday's game to "Black Out" the arena.
"It does remind me, the level of excitement, of the first year when the Kings came to town," Reynolds said. "And I think the year after we made the playoffs in '96, going into the season there was a lot of excitement. And also the lockout year of '99. The fans just sensed things were going to be exciting and they were."
Kings will be more active
Whether that excitement translates into victories remains to be seen. The Kings won eight of their final 15 games to finish 24-58 last season, one win less than the previous season.
Westphal vows the Kings will be different this season, focusing more on ball and player movement on offense.
Big men standing around on the court quickly hear Westphal calling for them to move or set a screen. Cousins and Chuck Hayes will be asked to make good decisions when passing the ball. Cousins, Hayes and J.J. Hickson will be counted on for their rebounding and defense, especially when the Kings play small.
Standing and dribbling isn't part of Westphal's game plan. He believes with Evans, Thornton, Fredette, and the addition of John Salmons and rookie Isaiah Thomas, the Kings have plenty of players who can handle the ball and get the team into its offense quickly.
"Our perimeter players are interchangeable," Westphal said. "It will depend on who they can defend."
Defensively, the Kings look to use more full-court presses to force turnovers and get into the open floor.
If the Kings are going to play with a small backcourt at times, players need to be frenetic on defense.
The Kings aren't imposing in the frontcourt, so the more they can speed up the game with their defense, the better it will be for the team.
"That's what we've got to do to be a good team," Evans said. "We've got to play defense."
Reynolds likes direction
For the Kings, it's time to start winning. Losing more than two-thirds of the games again may not quell the excitement, but it will have many wondering if the nucleus of a future playoff team is on the roster.
The scene at Power Balance Paviliion last April coupled with the Kings playing well down the stretch provides hope.
"It shows how much that (fans) just don't love the city, they love us even during the tough times," forward Jason Thompson said. "During that last stretch we beat some teams and gave some a run for their money, so they can see the potential we have. We don't want to let them down, and as long as they come and bring that energy it's going to be tough for us to lose at home."
Having seen it all in Sacramento, Reynolds believes the Kings are on the right track.
The young players need to mature on the court and more growing pains are certain, but Reynolds believes the excitement in the community is back.
"Our fans certainly want to be back to the (Chris) Webber, Vlade (Divac) teams, but you can't re-create those things," Reynolds said. "I think the team can get back to being a playoff team, a consistent playoff team."
Before that happens, Reynolds, like Kings fans, are happy there is still basketball in Sacramento.
"I'm just thrilled to get another opportunity," Reynolds said. "This is my home. I'm not moving anywhere."