Before anyone in the Kings' front office whines about the disadvantages of small-market franchises, says the only draft pick that matters is the one belonging to New Orleans, or suggests the arena debacle has sucked the creativity out of the brain trust, let's pre-empt the pity party.
Kings fans love their team more than they loathe the owners.
Start with that.
Now imagine what would happen if Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie went retro this offseason and assembled a squad that was entertaining, distantly familiar, and destined for something beyond another lottery?
Such a dramatic shift in conversation not to mention a leap in the team's win-loss percentage would require both a significant roster upheaval and the return of an appealing and recognizable style of play.
Back when the Kings had a distinct system that emphasized movement, passing and rebounding, the players were multidimensional, their personalities diverse and complementary, much like the small-market teams competing in the Western Conference finals.
"The Spurs remind me a lot of us," Doug Christie said before the San Antonio-Oklahoma City series began. "The backdoor plays, the extra passes. France, Argentina. We had players from Serbia, Turkey. You don't say, 'They're loaded with superstars,' but they're deep and everybody can play. And it works because Pop (coach Gregg Popovich) has a system and sticks with it. They can beat you inside or outside. They can run. They all pass the ball. They defend better than we did, which is one difference. But the continuity puts the Spurs ahead of the curve, because the old guys teach the new guys."
With four NBA championships since 1999 and a chance at claiming a fifth, the Spurs are a case study on how to succeed. Small markets. Big markets. Mid-markets. The notion that one size fits all has been reduced to myth; San Antonio ranks 36th in the Nielsen Designated Market Area television rankings, well below Minneapolis (15), Miami (16), Denver (17), Cleveland (18), Orlando (19) and Sacramento (20).
Yet year after year and for more than a decade the Spurs have been regarded as the pre-eminent franchise and at least a few chess moves ahead of everyone in coaching, scouting, negotiating and drafting, with the vast majority of their selections either late first- or second-round picks.
And their salary cap management is an art form. The lucrative salaries for stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are balanced by the lower contracts of complementary players such as Boris Diaw, Danny Green and Gary Neal. When mistakes are made and no franchise is immune from temptation the error is quickly recognized and eventually overcome; Richard Jefferson and his bloated contract were dumped on the Warriors.
"The NBA is a league that copies," Kings coach Keith Smart said after the Kings secured the No. 5 pick in the draft, "and teams look at trends.
"The trend right now suggests the game is coming back to a time where the floor is open, teams have stretch fours (power forwards who can shoot), and point guards who can make plays for themselves and their teammates. When you look at the Spurs, how many times do you see a guy dribble, then pass? They just pass. They also get into their offense so fast, it allows for more time to move the ball to the open player."
Smart, who played for Popovich and remains an ardent admirer, openly swipes from the master. He is organized, disciplined, intense and a tireless worker.
Since replacing Paul Westphal seven games into the shortened season, he has transitioned the Kings from the sluggish, dribble-heavy offense that began about the time Vlade Divac left town to a group that plays faster and more willingly shares the ball.
He envisions a maturing team with a more specific, appealing identity, and, as next season approaches, is intent on attacking a woeful defense.
But before any of that can happen, Petrie has to decide what he wants the Kings to be when they grow up. Reminiscent of the old Kings, or more recent Kings teams that took far too long to recognize DeMarcus Cousins as their major talent?
Petrie simply can't have another offseason like last year's: signing overweight Chuck Hayes and ineffective Travis Outlaw, reacquiring John Salmons (a duplication of Tyreke Evans), and bypassing in the draft a much-needed small forward Kawhi Leonard could have been here for the smaller Jimmer Fredette.
So, seriously, how often do we hear Popovich whining?
He just wins. He just wins.