Ailene Voisin: Kings pulled off biggest upset of the year

Out with the old, in with the new, and guess which NBA franchise didn’t relocate to Seattle? Any conversation about events that transpired in 2013 and developments that might occur in 2014 begins and ends with the team that pulled off the biggest upset of the year: the Kings.

There is a new owner, a new general manager, a new coach. True, the Kings always have a new coach, but this is different. Vivek Ranadive (owner) and Pete D’Alessandro (general manager) wanted Michael Malone and believe he’s doing a good job despite the team’s record.

The pertinent question asked and answered: Who do you want teaching DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, among others, during the demolition and construction of a franchise?

While Kings fans sip the bubbly and enjoy the prolonged and indefinite honeymoon – for obvious reasons – here are a few more thoughts, observations, predictions and reflections on the sports world, as it turns.

• If DeMarcus Cousins can maintain his composure the next several weeks, avoiding a suspension for getting too many technicals (he has nine), and behaves like an emotional, impassioned professional, he will be named to his first All-Star Game. He has improved virtually every aspect of the game. His offense is more versatile, patient, effective. His defense is gradually improving, though he would benefit from a long, lanky shot-blocker at power forward. He has become a more willing, creative passer, and he always has been a tremendous competitor. The next phase of his development involves two elements: continuing to improve his conditioning and keeping his cool when calls are missed. It would help, too, if the Kings won some of these games.

• Cousins doesn’t realize this yet, but Rod Thorn’s return as the supervisor of the NBA’s officiating crew will benefit him. Thorn, who ran the league’s basketball operations before becoming the GM in New Jersey, is a rational, engaging individual who watches the tape and tells you exactly what he sees. There is no agenda. (See his comments about the non-foul call Monday on Kevin Love). And back before a young, irascible Charles Barkley matured into everyone’s cuddly old uncle, Thorn was one of the first high-ranking league executives to embrace his, ah, unique qualities.

• The best personnel move by the Kings’ new regime: acquiring Rudy Gay.

• The most questionable of the Kings’ moves: Dispatching Robin Lopez to Portland in the three-team Tyreke Evans/Greivis Vasquez trade that eventually led to the acquisition of Gay. Lopez is giving the Trail Blazers length, interior defense, shot-blocking, and rebounding. Can’t tell me his presence wouldn’t have helped the Kings.

• Logan Kilgore, the one-time Jesuit backup quarterback, ended his college career with Middle Tennessee State’s 24-6 loss to Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl. The latest of late bloomers – think of a 6-foot-3, 206-pound Isaiah Thomas taking five-step drops – set a bowl record with 14 passing first downs. Kilgore and his family remained in Fort Worth, Texas, to interview agents. Once he signs later this week, he plans to begin training for the NFL combine, possibly under Brett Favre’s tutelage in Mississippi.

• Besides the location for the proposed downtown sports and entertainment complex being precisely where it belongs, the decision to reduce capacity to approximately 17,500 (just up from Sleep Train’s 17,317) and design a structure that keeps fans close to the action makes sense. The league’s newest arena – the Barclay Center in Brooklyn – adhered to a similar philosophy, with just 17,732 seats. In other words, why not exploit the passion and emotion of a home crowd? Phil Jackson often sneered at the cavernous Staples Center, calling it a “church” because its sheer size and bowl-like design muted the noise.

• Giants general manager Brian Sabean is ignoring the calendar and counting on Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong, two aging, recently injured pitchers, to bolster a starting rotation that dipped last season like one of a young Barry Zito’s 12-6 curves. But buyer beware. Older players returning from injuries come with significant risk. Hudson, 38, was not particularly sharp (3.97 ERA) before he fractured his ankle in his final season with the Braves and jumped at the Giants’ two-year, $23 million offer. Vogelsong, 36, who missed 12 weeks with a broken hand and labored for most of the year, was waived and then re-signed for a reduced one year, $5 million deal. Besides the decision to lock up Tim Lincecum for two more years at $35 million, the most interesting maneuver is the addition of Michael Morse. The left-fielder also is coming off an injury-hampered season (broken pinky, strained quads) and hit only .215 with 13 home runs. At 31, however, the Giants envision him regaining his health and providing some much-needed power in left.

• Departed A’s closer Grant Balfour, 35, is furious with the Baltimore Orioles for yanking their two-year, $15 million offer, ostensibly because of concerns about his shoulder. Did the A’s have similar concerns? Or was this another example of Billy Beane being unwilling to spend big dollars on a closer because he always comes up with a more cost-effective, quality replacement? In this case, he acquired Orioles closer Jim Johnson (one year, $11 million) for utility infielder Jemile Weeks. Johnson is coming off consecutive seasons of 50-plus saves, but he also led the league last season in blown saves.

• NBA Commissioner David Stern retires next month, but from what I’m hearing he isn’t going far away. High-ranking league types say incoming commissioner Adam Silver has asked Stern to remain as a consultant and oversee the league’s global growth.

• Unlike the NBA – Stern years ago designated Silver, his deputy commissioner, as his successor – there isn’t an obvious replacement for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, who says he is retiring next January. Meanwhile, the A’s still slog along in that dreadful excuse for a ballpark …

• Just wondering why 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick feels compelled to be so rude. He undoubtedly has been influenced to some degree by his coach, Jim Harbaugh –“Harbaughtomized,” as I like to say. And it is true. Players and teams tend to reflect their coach. But Tom Brady remains a class act despite the humorless man under the hood, Bill Belichick. Entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. Ten minutes of pleasant conversation with media members once or twice a week shouldn’t be difficult..

• Unless something changes within the next several hours, Raiders coach Dennis Allen will return for his third season, which is only fair. General manager Reggie McKenzie can’t speak openly and repeatedly about gutting a roster, dumping bloated salaries and overhauling an organization, and then fire the coach who he hand-picked to endure the makeover. Besides, who’s the quarterback? Until the Raiders resolve that dilemma, the franchise is doomed.

• Don’t include me among those feeling sentimental about the demise of Candlestick Park. The place is a dump. It is similar to all the other outdated multi-use stadiums (see Coliseum) that should have been demolished years ago. But if San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee lures Paul McCartney for the final performance before the implosion, I would hit up my savings account, grab a ski parka, make the trek, and maybe even dab at the eyes a time or two for this reason: The Beatles’ final concert was at Candlestick.

• Finally, imagine if little Isaiah Thomaskeeps this up? He is either a starting point guard for years to come or an annual frontrunner for the Sixth Man Award.