New Kings coach Dave Joerger can 'feel the passion' of Sacramento
For the third consecutive year, the Kings will open training camp with a new coach.
It’s Dave Joerger’s turn to see if he can do what George Karl and Michael Malone did not, which is last long enough to change a culture marked by losing and dysfunction.
Again, the offseason was spent retooling a roster that failed to meet the front office’s expectations. The two longest-tenured Kings are center DeMarcus Cousins, entering his seventh season, and guard Ben McLemore, entering his fourth.
And after talk of making the playoffs entering last season, expectations might be lower, with a focus on simply improving on their 33 wins last season.
For that to happen, Joerger has a lot of work to do to bring cohesion to the court and camaraderie to a locker room among players, not to mention among players and coaches. Those things have been hard to come by for the past 10 seasons in Sacramento.
With training camp opening Tuesday, here are five areas Joerger will look to address before the season opener Oct. 26 at Phoenix.
1. Defense, anyone?
The Kings have been bad on defense for several seasons. Last season, the defense was embarrassingly bad at times, serving up season and career highs to All-Stars and also-rans.
A key will be shoring up the often shoddy perimeter defense. Will the additions of Matt Barnes and Arron Afflalo help? Perhaps McLemore will establish himself with the new coaching staff by becoming the versatile backcourt defender the Kings have lacked.
The Kings allowed a league-high 109.1 points per game last season, which negated being the third-highest-scoring squad at 106.6 points per game.
2. Should Kings emphasize playing big?
The Kings drafted a center in the first round for the second consecutive year, giving them four in a league where playing small has been the trend.
Cousins is certain to start, but will Joerger pair him with Willie Cauley-Stein, last year’s first-round pick? That might improve the Kings’ defense.
Center Kosta Koufos is a solid veteran who figures to warrant playing time, which will leave rookie center Georgios Papagiannis on the bench to learn by observing.
3. Should Kings emphasize playing small?
In July, Joerger said Barnes will play a lot of power forward in small lineups. Rudy Gay and Omri Casspi also could be used as stretch fours at times. That would free up time for more two point-guard lineups or allow the Kings to match up better with teams playing small.
Gay was uncomfortable playing a lot of power forward, but Joerger already has said Barnes will play both forward spots.
4. How much will rookies play?
The Kings have three first-round draft picks in Papagiannis, Malachi Richardson and Skal Labissiere, and a second-round pick in Isaiah Cousins. Sacramento isn’t going with a full youth movement this season, but the rookies need playing time to develop.
That might mean a lot of watching early with stints in the NBA Development League to follow. Camp will be their chance to show they can contribute sooner rather than later.
5. Point guard shuffle
Darren Collison returns to the starting lineup after backing up Rajon Rondo last season. Collison, however, must wait before assuming the starting job. He faces a lengthy suspension by the league after pleading guilty to misdemeanor domestic battery.
The competition at No. 2 point guard will come down veterans Ty Lawson and Jordan Farmar and the rookie Cousins.
The Kings probably won’t ask their point guard to dominate the ball as Rondo did, and Joerger likely will put the ball in DeMarcus Cousins’ hands more. Plus, few guards are as gifted at passing as Rondo.
Whoever plays the position, he must be solid defensively. The Kings were a swinging gate for point guards last season.