As an aspiring GM with no qualifications or career prospects to speak of, and whose sole outreach into the world of the NBA is this distinctly amateur and unattractive site full of mild slander, I enjoy certain advantages. One of those is the ability to do what I want, to a half-baked standard, and then to abandon it prematurely. This explains what happened with last year’s “30 teams in 30 or so days” series of predictions, where I started well, fell behind early, and then gave up roughly half way through. Get in.
This year, we’re going to do it again. There will be predictions, and by the power of Greyskull, they’re going to be woeful. Even better than that, it’s October 19th, and the season starts in just over a week, yet there are 30 teams to cover. So don’t be surprised if I only do about…oooh, five? ShamSports.com – run by an amateur.
The few posts that will be made are to be undertaken in a completely random order, with no semblance of logic or reasoning. And with that in mind, we begin with the Sacramento Kings.
The Kings’ glory era ended a while ago. The days of the Adelman-era Kings, with Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Hedo Turkoglu, Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie and friends, are over. Webber’s knee stopped working, Turkoglu surprised us all by actually getting good, Christie’s now the white Dame Dash, and Divac now works for the Serbian government. Other than the incumbent Brad Miller, the final player from those days – Mike Bibby – was pawned off to Atlanta earlier this year for a rather generous return. And that was that.
With a end of an old era should come the start of a new one. “The King Is Dead”, and all that. But it didn’t. For three years, the Kings have done little but tread water. A 44-win season in 2006 has been followed up with 33 and 38 wins respectively, which put the Kings in that most dissatisfying of places – too good to lose without trying, not good enough to compete.
In that time, though, the Kings have had the right approach. Despite a couple of novelty oversized contracts to short-term veterans (thank you, Bonzi Wells’s former agent!), the Kings have used this time to clean out the old guard, save some money, and to bring in some decent young pieces. This trend continued this year, as the Ron Artest trade brought back Bobby Jackson (big expiring contract), Donte Greene (decent young piece) and a draft pick (a draft pick). Furthermore, they defied ESPN’s fan grade of “F” when they drafted Jason Thompson at #12, to everyone’s surprise and widespread condemnation, but a move which (very) early on looks to have been savvy. They signed Bobby Brown out of the German league, thereby once again disproving my already-tenuous theory that ever nobody goes to Germany and later gets back to the NBA. (Thanks to all those who already pointed out that Casey Jacobsen did exactly that last year. Dammit, I was being facetiousness. This is the price you pay when you feel a moral compulsion to try and be funny – you’re often wrong, as well as not funny.)
What the Kings have fashioned themselves is a roster full of decent young pieces. With the exception of Kenny Thomas – whose days as a viable NBA player are behind him – the Kings roster is filled with decent pieces, most of them young. Francisco Garcia is a nice piece. John Salmons is a nice piece. Kevin Martin is a very nice piece. Beno Udrih, Bobby Brown, Quincy Douby, Spencer Hawes and Donte Greene are all nice pieces, even if Greene is the most selfish player that I’ve ever seen. The much-maligned Shelden Williams is also a nice piece, who’ll never justify his draft position, but who can help an NBA team. And even Bobby Jackson will be a nice piece for a few months, before being bought out in February and signing with the Hornets. (You heard it here first.)
Additionally, the Kings have an identity on the court. With Brown, Udrih and Douby, the Kings have guards who excel in the open floor, and with wing players like Salmons and Garcia along with big men Thompson and Mikki Moore to run with them, the Kings should have free reign to push the ball as often as they can. Based on preseason, they will. The new Kings are a young, athletic and talented bunch, who should entertain, even when they lose.
Financially, the Kings have overspent a few times in recent years. Brad Miller is no longer worthy of his eight-figure contract, as the age and injuries are catching up with him. Mikki Moore is paid like a starting power forward, but a starting power forward he is not, even if he is. (Did that make sense?) The same poorly-phrased sentence can be used to describe Beno Udrih’s new salary as a starting point guard. Francisco Garcia’s new extension necessitates future improvements in his game to justify the salary and the number of years, or else it’s excessive. And Kenny Thomas’s contract is nothing more than dead weight. Yet, the Kings’ cap situation isn’t a problem, despite these small mishaps. Miller’s big salary comes off the books in 2010, as does that of Kenny Thomas. Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s contract will magically disappear soon due to the injury-induced retirement rule thing, and even if it doesn’t, that expires in 2010 too. As things stand – Francisco Garcia’s extension excluded – the Kings figure to have $25 to $30 million in cap space in the big-name 2010 offseason, with all of their significant players signed. That figure will no doubt decrease slightly over time, but it nevertheless represents a plan. A lot of teams already have, or will soon develop, plans for cap space in the summer of 2010 offseason, but the Kings are ahead of the game and already have one. And they’ll have some decent youth to add to that.
There are drawbacks, though. $25 million of cap space in 2010 should get anyone’s juices flowing, but it’s currently nothing more than speculative. In contrast, the facts of the current situation show that Kevin Martin is the Kings’ best player. Martin is a fine player, someone whom every team would want, but who also shouldn’t be your best player. If he is, you either need to be in the Eastern Conference and with an almost-perfect replication of the Pistons’ championship-winning team from 2004, or you’re not going to get very far. Sadly for Kings fans, it’s the latter. Additionally, for all of their strengths when pushing the ball, the Kings will often bog down in the halfcourt. With little creativity or playmaking from the point guard spot, and with not a great deal of consistent outside shooting in the rotation, a lot of the Kings’ halfcourt offence will depend on Martin, and the high post/low post passing of Miller and Hawes. When armed with comparatively few options, it becomes rather easy for the opposition to take the Kings out of whatever they want to do, and Sacramento has little individual creativity to overcome this.
On nights when it clicks, when the Kings make shots and run on all misses, it’ll look glorious. The young and athletic roster will tempt the fans, and hint at a good-looking future. But on other nights, the Kings will look like what they are: average.
The Kings have the right idea, and they are halfway to the right roster. But, for now, they’re several yards behind.
Short term future: Too good to suck, not good enough to compete.
Long term future: It could be beautiful. Or it could be anti-climactic.