Waiting for dominance – the 2017-18 Sacramento Kings season preview

This year Sacramento Kings fans find out what happens when the front office sends 28-10-5 to the New Orleans Pelicans.

That was the stat line, night in and night out, of Demarcus Cousins in Kings purple. Some say he was toxic, others disagree. That’s irrelevant now. The issue at hand is that, personality aside, Demarcus Cousins put numbers on the board and his teammates often stood around watching it happen.

That can’t happen in the 2017-2018 season. The Sacramento Kings have not obtained the sort of numbers player whose pure dominance makes every game winnable.

Of course, there’s the outlandish “next Steph Curry” proclamation made by owner Vivek Ranadive that Buddy Hield, the player swapped for Cousins, probably wishes would disappear. There’s De’Aaron Fox, one of the top point guard prospects in the 2017 Draft. There’s even the chance that Frank Mason III–an early second round steal–is the next Isaiah Thomas, or that Serbian shooting sensation Bogdan Bogdanovic is the next Peja Stojakovic.

Unfortunately, through six preseason games that dominant force is not wearing a jersey. Yes, the Kings are young and a little banged up, but that only presents more opportunity for someone to step into the spotlight. And no one did.

It’s not just that they traded Cousins’ 28-10-5. Remember Rudy Gay’s “welcome to basketball Hell“ comment? It led to an all-out roster overhaul, which unfortunately was not from hard decision making by the front office. Players wanted out of here out of fear they would retire in below .500 purgatory.

Darren Collison inked a deal with the Indiana Pacers two days into free agency opening. Gay is now with the Spurs. Omri Casspi joined the defending champs. Tyreke Evans was not open to giving the team that drafted him a second chance and signed with the Memphis Grizzlies. Ben McLemore also joined the Grizzlies. Arron Afflalo signed with the Magic and Ty Lawson moved to China.

Year after year, the Kings score reasonable praise for their free agency acumen, making the most of the limited supply of players who will actually agree to a contract in Hell.

Last year it was the proven consistency of Afflalo and the risk/reward flyer on Lawson. It was NBPA leadership and most beloved teammates in Garrett Temple and Anthony Tolliver. For every questionable signing in how exactly coach Joerger planned to “change the culture” with Matt Barnes’ off-court fights and Lawson’s DUIs, there was a balance on the scale in players voted most likely to break-up a fight or volunteer to be the DD.

This year, the Kings swayed George Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph–the latter two likely due to serious sweet-talking from Joerger. Last year it was 11 new additions. This year it’s 10 additions, five of which are draft picks with considerable potential. The backcourt is almost entirely refurbished with only Temple, Hield and Malachi Richardson (who spent most of last season with the Reno Bighorns) returning. In the front court Skal Labissiere is progressing nicely–that much is apparent. Meanwhile, Willie Cauley-Stein remains aloof despite an entire year in Joerger’s system.

Cauley-Stein will be joined by nearly a dozen others likely to show signs of aloofness, in what is being referred to as the Youth Movement. The age gap goes through dramatic leaps on this roster. Five rookies and four one-year players will attempt to mesh with a couple seven- to nine-year vets and two guys who entered the league when the rookies were learning to walk.

Possibly the only upside is that the veterans are almost exclusively comprised of players long-familiar with Joerger’s system. That desire to make the Kings one of the best defensive teams will still take time, but there’s little chance of a youth mutiny. They will have to buy in. At least until February, when they are so far out of playoff contention that the veterans start clocking PTO.

Last year Coach Joerger emphasised that he was here to change the culture and the team would play defense. The Kings ranked in the Top 5 of dunk attempts, meaning they were regularly at risk of being posterized at .055 percent. When it came to made dunks they gave up 337. The only way to feel good about that is to keep in mind our division rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, suffered a league-leading 454 dunks.

It’s going to take defense, no doubt. That’s a given in the NBA, where the most dominant players will never be held under 20 points. It’s how you handle the remaining four players on the floor that matters. On the offensive side, the best players move without the ball, the best teams seek out efficiency hot spots, rather than creating isolation opportunities.

But even if the team gels, development quickens, and potential is proven, the Kings still won’t be sending an All-Star to the Staples Center in 2018 , even with the new format. There’s a big question mark in the locker room and in the team store.

Whose jersey is taking center stage?

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Blake Gillespie
Blake Gillespie is a freelance journalist based in Sacramento. He's a former co-owner of Impose Magazine and has contributed at the Sacramento News & Review, the Sacramento Bee, the East Bay Express, Comstock's and Vice.com. His decade-plus of experience is in music, arts, sports, political and culture coverage.