The Kings, predicted by many to have a season full of story lines worthy of a reality-television show, are ready for the 2015-16 campaign to begin.
The great offseason experiment centered on Vlade Divac – the Kings’ third general manager since the end of the 2013 season – who brought in nine new players to accelerate a rebuilding project. Divac would like to focus the discussion on basketball rather than the speculation of drama returning to Sacramento.
“We’ve got two roads this year,” said All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. “We could surprise a lot of people and prove them wrong or let them be right. So it’s on us.”
The road Cousins prefers, where the Kings surprise many pundits and make the playoffs, begins Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Kings’ final home opener at Sleep Train Arena is sold out.
“I have a lot of confidence in this team, and I think we can get it done,” Cousins said. “The way we’re going to do it is playing together, playing the right way. I’m not really concerned about the opponent; I’m concerned about the guys in purple uniforms.”
Cousins is the longest-tenured King as he enters his sixth season. That also means he’s endured more losing in Sacramento than anyone on the roster. So he’s cautiously guarded about expectations. The Kings started the 2014-15 season 9-5, managing just 20 more wins while plowing through three head coaches.
“Last year we started off hot and we see how that went,” Cousins said. “Just go in and take it a game at a time, play every game like it’s our last and just win games.”
The infusion of new players is a reason the Kings believe they can win a lot more games.
“At the end of last year, we didn’t have enough skills, we didn’t have enough versatility,” said Kings coach George Karl. “We didn’t have enough knives in the drawer to really be a good team. I think right now we have a substantial amount of talent to be a really good basketball team.”
Too soon to make the call?
But it’s still too soon to call the Kings a good team.
“We’re not there yet,” Karl said. “We’re building a team. We’re constructing, hopefully, a winning attitude and a culture of success.”
Players and coaches have been pleased by many new players already making strides. The team is considerably older than recent Kings teams that relied on young players trying to lead them out of a losing culture.
Cousins said the veterans have made a difference.
“Just veteran guys and just knowing how to play the game,” Cousins said. “Guys willing to sacrifice their egos and their games. It’s a combination and mixture of all that. But like I said, I’m not over-excited about the preseason or the team on paper. The ball tips up (Wednesday) and we’ve got to go out and win.”
That won’t be easy against the Clippers. Los Angeles is a team some believe could win the NBA championship this season with three players – Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan – who made All-NBA teams last season, and an improved bench.
They also are likely motivated by the disappointment of losing to Houston in the Western Conference semifinals in seven games after blowing a big lead in Game 5 with a 3-1 series lead.
“They’re a veteran team,” said Kings guard Darren Collison. “Each individual in the starting lineup understands their role and they understand the difference between a real good shot and a real bad shot.”
That’s a goal of the Kings that will take some time to achieve.
Sacramento could be shuffling its lineup depending on if Rudy Gay is available after his wife gave birth to their second child.
“Training camp is experiments,” Karl said. “We’re hoping experiments will be successful. There will be some that won’t be successful. I think we’ve built a nice foundation. Now we’ve got to move forward, getting it bigger, stronger, more fortified and the marathon race of an NBA season just begins.”