More than once, Kings coach George Karl said the players on this season’s roster had been through “basketball hell,” so he understood why the team sometimes played poorly.
Casual observers and fans would like to believe million-dollar athletes are like robots, devoid of emotion, even amid chaos in their workplace. These Kings proved repeatedly that you can’t expect players to simply lace up the hightops and perform well when there is upheaval in the front office.
Now, after going through three coaches this season, the Kings must decide who will return and whom to add. Sacramento needs more depth, shooters, defenders and passers to make steps toward its first playoff season since 2006.
The three core players – center DeMarcus Cousins, forward Rudy Gay and point guard Darren Collison – are under contract for the next two seasons. Cousins and Gay are locked up for the next three seasons.
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Forward Omri Casspi, centers Reggie Evans and Ryan Hollins and point guard Andre Miller are unrestricted free agents. Forward Derrick Williams will be a free agent once the Kings, as expected, decline to tender him a qualifying offer for $8.7 million.
After a 29-53 season, there’s no guarantee any player will be back. Karl says no player is “untradeable,” but the most marketable King is Cousins, who – along with Gay – essentially has been called untradeable by management.
Cousins is rumored to be available, so expect the Kings to field plenty of calls this offseason. Still, that doesn’t mean Sacramento’s lone All-Star is on the move.
The chances of Cousins being dealt remain slim, but Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar were traded and won championships with their new teams.
Assuming the Kings keep their core three, the plan becomes about adding at least one perimeter defender, more perimeter shooters and better passers while keeping those who fit Karl’s up-tempo style.
Cousins and Gay showed they can produce under Karl, but Collison didn’t play for him because of injury.
Of the free agents, Casspi and Williams benefited most from Karl. But keeping both would seem redundant unless the Kings plan to play Gay at power forward more next season.
Miller is a favorite of Karl and would not eat up much of the salary cap. Miller, 39, also has expressed an interest in returning to Sacramento and finishing his career under Karl.
The Kings will pick no lower than ninth in the NBA draft, but Sacramento has fared poorly there. The last player drafted by the Kings to make a significant impact was Isaiah Thomas, who was picked last in 2011.
The Kings’ three picks under Pete D’Alessandro – Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum in 2013 and Nik Stauskas last year – still need to develop.
That will mean a stint for Stauskas in the Las Vegas Summer League, where the Kings will look for him to gain strength and be more aggressive on both ends of the floor.
McLemore and McCallum showed flashes of good play but need consistency.
Perhaps the most important thing for the returning players is to put the “hell” of 2014-15 behind them. A letdown after coach Michael Malone’s firing was expected, but two months of lackluster showings was extreme.
The Kings struggled under Tyrone Corbin, but players said they respected his professionalism as he knew the team was negotiating with Karl for a job Corbin was signed to have for the rest of the season.
The players must follow suit. No matter how crazy the situation gets upstairs, they must give their all. They didn’t care for much of this past season.
It might take new players for the Kings to be more professional after a forgettable 2014-15 season.