The Kings have been playing for next season for a few months. But with this season close to being over and George Karl having been the coach more than a month, there’s a better understanding of how the Kings want to look entering next season.
The question is who from this wild and crazy season will return. There has been turnover at head coach, but the roster has remained relatively intact unlike last season, when the Kings were making plenty of moves.
The offseason will bring roster changes, but now the Kings are playing their best ball since November, winning their fourth consecutive game by defeating the Phoenix Suns 108-99 Wednesday night at US Airways Center.
“The flow and nature of how we want to play has been ingrained into them, but the foundation has to be better,” Karl said. “I think in the next (11) games we’ll be a little bit better, and then we’ll go into the summer swinging for the fences.”
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The Kings’ winning streak is their longest since they won five in a row under Michael Malone to start the season.
Karl said there’s still plenty of time for players to impress him as the team prepares for the offseason. Karl’s first 19 games have been about him becoming familiar with his players and treating the final 30 games like a training camp.
Wins aren’t the primary goal, but Karl wants them so he can see the Kings’ competitiveness and who might fit in next season.
“There’s no question,” Karl said when asked if players still have time to sway opinions. “I don’t know how many free agents we have, but I know it’s a large number. I know nothing about that. I don’t spend any time looking at those lists right now.”
Omri Casspi, Andre Miller, Reggie Evans and Ryan Hollins will be unrestricted free agents. Derrick Williams will be unrestricted assuming the team does not extend him a qualifying offer that would be worth $8.7 million.
The Kings also figure to be actively looking to trade players to end the nine-year playoff drought.
“We’re going to try to put a great roster together,” Karl said. “There will be some pieces that are held over from this year’s lineup, and there will probably be some new ones.”
How the Kings have played lately is what Karl wants, regardless of who is on the roster. Against the Suns, the Kings had seven players score in double figures and the team tallied 27 assists.
Sacramento still committed too many turnovers (19). But the hope is the success and the way the Kings played on offense and defense, holding the Suns to 43.7 percent shooting, carry over into next season.
“I’m going to be here, so I hope so,” Kings forward Rudy Gay said. “Obviously, it’s a whole different thing, playing now and starting the season off, and hopefully, what we’re doing now can spill into next season.”
It might be easy to dismiss the Kings’ late-season wins. They don’t have the pressure of competing for a playoff spot, and it’s not uncommon for teams in their situation to play better late in a season.
The Kings aren’t looking at the rest of the season that way. After the turmoil that surrounded the team and going through three head coaches, the Kings need to rediscover the energy and chemistry that got them off to a good start under Malone.
DeMarcus Cousins has been around for some unusual endings to seasons, including twice not knowing if the franchise would even be in Sacramento the following season. He sees the recent play as a positive for this season and beyond.
“It can definitely build confidence, and it’s something this team needs,” Cousins said. “We took a lot of hits during the season, so this can be a positive point for us during the season. Continue to get better and be a training camp for next season. We’re just starting early.”