For the first time in eight years, the Kings will open the regular season without DeMarcus Cousins in the starting lineup. How strange will that be?
(a) Very strange? (b) Not strange at all? (c) DeMarcus who?
The All-Star center, who was traded to New Orleans in February, makes his debut as an opponent when the Pelicans visit Golden 1 Center on Thursday, Oct. 26. The game – and all its cowbells and whistles and drama – will be televised on TNT, and presumably, with Charles Barkley chiming in from the studio.
A week earlier, the Kings open the season against the Houston Rockets on Oct. 18, one night after James Harden and Chris Paul play the NBA champion Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.
The continuation of Vlade Divac’s aggressive rebuild begins with a roster that features rookies De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles, Frank Mason III and Bogdan Bogdanovic, along with second-year guard Buddy Hield, and the addition of veterans George Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph.
While youth movements invariably result in losing records and appearances in the draft lottery, here are five games Kings fans will want to circle on their NBA calendar:
Kings vs. Rockets, Oct. 18 – Harden lost out to Russell Westbrook in the MVP voting, but he will have a lot more on his mind when he makes his official 2017-18 debut in the G1C, like expunging memories of his shocking Game 6 meltdown against the injury-depleted San Antonio Spurs.
Convinced that Harden was physically worn down from his dual role as the team’s primary playmaker and scorer, general manager Daryl Morey went out and acquired All-Star point guard Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers. There might be more moves to come. The Rockets are among the teams flirting with the idea of trading for the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, which very likely forces former Oak Ridge High star Ryan Anderson to change zip codes.
Kings vs. Pelicans, Oct. 26 – Be honest. Who isn’t eagerly anticipating Boogie’s return? What will the moody big man say? How many invectives will he direct toward Divac, the Kings GM who tired of the turbulence and traded him in a deal involving Hield? Will the crowd be divided or shower him with applause?
Kings fans tend to embrace the departed, except for Spencer Hawes, the outspoken center who apparently committed an unforgiveable sin when he endorsed the Kings’ relocation to Seattle four years ago. Cousins’ loyalty to Sacramento was never in question. His issues pertained to conditioning, mood swings and an overpowering, at times disruptive presence in the locker room.
But this is an important year for the big man. He can become a free agent next summer and would significantly enhance his options with a productive, issue-free season. Additionally, the effectiveness of a Cousins-Anthony Davis pairing has yet to be determined, and the Pelicans did little to resolve their weakness at the wing position. No matter. Boogie’s abilities make it hard to turn away. And someone out there will tender a max offer next summer.
Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Nov. 22 – Lonzo Ball was drafted (No. 2) ahead of Fox (No. 5), was twice outplayed by the Kings’ rookie during their only college seasons and sat out the Kings-Lakers matchup last month in the Las Vegas summer league. But the long-awaited duel between the celebrated, if contrasting young point guards finally resumes.
Ball is stoic and long-limbed, and has exceptional court vision, as showed at UCLA, where he led the nation in assists. His height allows him to see over defenders and dazzle with an array of passes reminiscent of his boss, Magic Johnson. Fox, a charismatic, expressive Texan who played at Kentucky, is a slight 6-foot-3, but with the speed of a sprinter. He wins the races between the baselines and uses his quick hands for deflections and steals that lead to fast breaks.
Both of the rookies need to improve their perimeter shooting and, as they will discover, the transition to the pros after one year in college is particularly difficult for point guards.
But how much fun will these two be to watch? Here’s hoping Lonzo’s father stays in his lane – and stays out of Lonzo’s way.
Kings vs. Golden State Warriors, Feb. 2 – The champs will make the short trek to the G1C and very likely will make short work of the Kings. In other words, school is back in session. This is a rebuild, remember. We want to see how the Kings’ kids fare against Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, the MVP of the Finals who is fast becoming a Bay Area all-time favorite. Plus, we want to hear what coach Steve Kerr has to say about our political climate. And who are you taking in a Kerr-Trump standoff?
Kings vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, Dec. 27 – I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t appreciate the all-around brilliance of LeBron James. Wait. Scratch that. Forgot about Kyrie Irving for a moment. Assuming Irving isn’t traded by the holidays, a James-Irving-Kevin Love triumvirate is eclipsed only by that group at Golden State. Besides, James made his NBA debut in Sacramento, so at least until he signs with the Lakers next summer (why not?), Kings fans won’t apologize for feeling all warm and fuzzy when the King enters the building.
Finally, in the organization’s ongoing transition, the majority of home games once again will tip off at 7 p.m. The start time was moved back to 7:30 last season while team officials evaluated the parking situation, traffic flow and public transportation near the new downtown arena.