That overpowering noise in Sleep Train Arena? It isn’t what you think. It isn’t the cowbells. All celebrations and warm and fuzzy feelings aside, it’s the sound of the 2013-14 Kings hitting the ground with a thud.
New owner, new head coach, new general manager, newly renovated arena. Same old Kings.
There is rank and there is rank, and as the Phoenix Suns visit tonight, the Kings are near the bottom in field-goal percentage (26th), assists (22nd), defensive rebounds (27th) and blocked shots (last), not to mention entertainment value.
A pass? Someone? Anyone? A screen? Someone, anyone? A fast break? More than once in a while?
“We make our runs, and then all of a sudden, we play terrible basketball,” Greivis Vasquez said. “It’s tough on everybody. It’s going to click eventually, but we’re suffering right now. And obviously if you lose, you don’t want to lose this way, in your house.”
In a house that has beencleaned up, by the way, and filled to capacity for three of the seven home games. So what’s the fix? The broom will be an increasingly useful tool. Talent in the NBA is almost everything, and the Kings still have more holes and inherent glitches than the national health care program. The solution will come from a combination of elements, foremost another high draft choice, a series of shrewd trades, astute salary cap management and free agency.
And one more factor: time.
Seven years of chaos, poor personnel decisions and severe financial limitations twice brought the franchise to the brink of relocation (Anaheim, Seattle). Six months after the ownership change, the Kings are only beginning to breathe, newcomers Vivek Ranadive, Pete D’Alessandro, Michael Malone still moving into the building and just starting to grasp the enormity of the undertaking.
“Like any team that hasn’t had a lot of recent success, we have to be aggressive,” D’Alessandro said Monday. “You look at everything. First, we’re focusing a lot of our time and scouting on the colleges and the international talent pool, which we as a franchise have to do. And, secondly, we’re evaluating our players and looking at moves that make sense.”
The Kings are thought to be actively pursuing trades in anticipation of Dec. 15 – the date when most free agents signed during the offseason can be dealt. The problem isn’t a lack of desire; the lights in the personnel and coaching offices stay on until the wee hours. But without relinquishing future first-found draft picks or including center DeMarcus Cousins or rookie Ben McLemore – neither is available – the Kings lack the assets to package in a transformative deal.
Marcus Thornton’s contract ($17 million through next season) is a liability. Jimmer Fredette becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, which limits his contract value in any swap, and remains unproven. The more likely trade scenarios involve Jason Thompson, Patrick Patterson, Isaiah Thomas or John Salmons, the veteran small forward who still has considerable appeal because of his versatility and expiring contract.
Meantime, Malone somehow has to extract more out of his current group. The Kings should be more competitive and preferably even more entertaining, at least at home. Their 2-7 start is particularly surprising given their spirited, selfless efforts throughout the preseason, which hinted at improvement both offensively and defensively. They screened, they defended, they rebounded, they ran, they even reduced their chronic tendency to over-dribble.
Cousins is the critical component, of course. The game is organic. One pass leads to another. Malone canceled Monday’s practice and spent much of the day huddling with his staff, undoubtedly pondering ways to interject better ball and body movement into a sputtering, stagnant offense.
And after tonight, the road only gets tougher. The following three games are on the road.
“We’re trying to massage the roster and develop our young players,” added D’Alessandro, “and that can be difficult. But what we appreciate most is the patience of the fans. At the end of the day, we’ll do everything we can to turn this around.”
SUNS (5-4) vs. Kings (2-7)
• Time: 7 p.m.
• Where: Sleep Train Arena
• TV: CSNCA
• Radio: KHTK (1140)
• 1. Perimeter defense: Eric Bledsoe is the kind of guard who gives the Kings problems. He can get to the basket and pressure the defense. He can also disrupt the offense with steals.
• 2. Inside advantage: DeMarcus Cousins should put up big numbers against the Phoenix front line, especially with heralded rookie Alex Len out due to injury. Cousins is coming off a subpar showing against Memphis.
• 3. Full focus: The talk of energy and effort is becoming a tired excuse. There’s no reason for the Kings to come out and not play all out as they continue to pile up losses.
No. Player Pos.
10 Greivis Vasquez G
16 Ben McLemore G
33 Luc Mbah a Moute F
34 Jason Thompson F
15 DeMarcus Cousins C
No. Player Pos.
2 Eric Bledsoe G
1 Goran Dragic G
17 P.J. Tucker F
8 Channing Frye F
22 Miles Plumlee C