The Kings have problems. Of course they do. They can't score, they don't rebound, they make poor decisions. They are winless and offensively clueless as they entertain the Golden State Warriors tonight in the official christening of Sleep Train Arena.
So their immediate solution is this: amnesia.
The NBA is a full-time job, not temp work. Three games don't even account for an entire paycheck. Pretend the regular season is a 79-game marathon, conveniently forget about the blown opportunities in Chicago and Minnesota and especially during that double-overtime whammy in Indianapolis, and embrace the belief that the season starts with the 7 p.m. tipoff tonight in what is anticipated to be a sold-out or near-capacity crowd.
Now, if the familiar problems plague the Kings throughout a three-game homestand, which includes visits by the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs, and persist throughout a favorable early schedule? Then their issues are more serious than the scores and their efforts would seem to indicate, the masses will become restless, and Geoff Petrie's offseason decisions and his roster will be subjected to the type of scrutiny usually reserved for tax hike measures.
"It's tough," guard Aaron Brooks said after Saturday's loss to the Pacers. "Defensively, we're playing well. To go into double overtime and not get 100 (points) kind of baffles us. We're such a good offensive team."
But we don't actually know that yet. We know these Kings play hard and with greater defensive intensity. But we don't know enough to draw any conclusions excluding the obvious one: Even with the additions of Brooks, Thomas Robinson and James Johnson, placing the Kings in any playoff discussion is premature; that necessary major trade still awaits.
Expecting the Kings to be appreciably better than last season, however, both in terms of record and consistency, is neither premature nor unreasonable. The Western Conference isn't as intimidating or as stable as it has been in recent years, and injuries to key players (Andrew Bogut, Steve Nash, Brandon Rush, etc.) already are worth noting. The openings and opportunities are there. The Kings are young, healthy and deep.
Improving the league's worst overall defense at a minimum almost assuredly enhances the overall product. That much has been encouraging. Apart from an occasional breakdown and an ugly second quarter in Indianapolis, the Kings have been engaged and competitive. Tyreke Evans has been particularly impressive, bodying up and harassing opponents on the perimeter, fighting through screens and using his long arms and quick hands to deflect balls and initiate fast breaks.
Keith Smart is absolutely right. The Kings' identity has to be rooted in defense, rebounding and the transition game because, clearly, the lack of perimeter shooting and his players' dribble-heavy, one-on-one instincts in the halfcourt setting is a doomed combination.
Peja Stojakovic's shooting touch was never more appreciated than Saturday night. In the two overtimes against the Pacers, the Kings missed every shot imaginable, scoring a grand total of five and two points, respectively. There was more standing around than at a DMV office on a Monday morning.
For the Kings to re-establish a home-court dominance that provided an immense advantage, even during the lean years, additional things have to happen:
DeMarcus Cousins, trimmer and fitter, has to become a more willing and creative passer. He needs to find open teammates on the perimeter, in the corners and on the back cuts that once were a staple of the Kings' offense.
Cousins, Robinson and especially Jason Thompson have to start rebounding. The Kings were outrebounded in all three losses.
Finally, while Petrie assesses his roster for that inevitable trade, Smart has to reconsider a starting lineup that includes two non-shooters Evans at two-guard and Johnson at small forward. Opponents are sagging off and daring Johnson to shoot, leaving a crowd around Cousins, who at 22 is impatient as it is.
Defending, rebounding, running, moving, passing. Taking and finishing high-percentage shots. Playing with passion and poise down the stretch.
These Kings can be entertaining and exciting and, who knows, maybe even surprising. They can start over tonight.