Small Ball 2016-17 Season Previews: Sacramento Kings

Sacramento Kings – 33-49

Key Additions: Dave Joerger – head coach (FA – 4 yrs, $16M, which includes a fourth-year team option), Arron Afflalo – G (FA – 2 yrs, $25M), Matt Barnes – G/F (FA – 2 yrs, $12.25M), Garrett Temple – G (FA – 3 yrs, $24M), Anthony Tolliver – F (FA – 2 yrs, $16M), Georgios Papagiannis – C (Draft – #13 overall), Malachi Richardson – G (Draft – #22), Skal Labissiere – F/C (Draft – #28), Jordan Farmar – G (training camp invite at veteran’s minimum), Ty Lawson – G (FA – training camp invite at veteran’s minimum)

Departures: Quincy Acy (DAL), James Anderson , Caron Butler, Seth Curry (DAL), Rajon Rondo (CHI), Duje Dukan

The Sacramento Kings have to hope that this, finally, is the year. After having cycled through five head coaches in just the three-plus years of Vivek Ranadive’s ownership reign, the Kings organization desperately craves stability and optimism as the remaining hours tick away on franchise center DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins’s contract, and following the franchise’s tenth-consecutive sub-.500 season

Enter Dave Joerger. The former-Memphis Grizzlies manager often found himself on uneasy grounds with the team’s young and hands-on owner, Robert Pera, despite fitting seamlessly into the head coaching role with back-to-back 50-plus-win campaigns and three-straight playoff appearances in his three seasons at the helm. Promoted from Lionel Hollins’ bench, Joerger expanded upon his predecessor’s style of play by relying on veteran talent to play hard-nosed defense, while eking a manageable offense out of some limited spacing options. In Sacramento, he’ll largely be expected to do the same, only with a revolving door of veterans and while navigating one of the league’s most dysfunctional relationships, between his star player and his front office/ownership.

Unlike his predecessor, George Karl, expect Joerger to tailor his coaching style to his incumbent personnel and work to his team’s strengths, by slowing down the offense (to which the Kings led the league in pace last year, ahead of even the Golden State Warriors) and utilizing the countless options in his crowded frontcourt. The worries remain, however, that even if Joerger is initially able to replicate some of the (albeit limited) successes of another former-Kings coach in Mike Malone, by developing personal relationships with his players and getting them to buy into his defensive concepts, the remaining roster issues and the influence of ownership could again send the Sacramento Kings to a lottery finish.

SEASON/ROSTER OUTLOOK:

Vlade Divac was quite active over the summer as he enters his second season as general manager, in turning over half of the roster and replenishing his team’s supply of veteran role players through free agency. Anthony Tolliver and Arron Afflalo will provide positive voices in the locker room, even if their on-court production trends towards replacement level, which Divac hopes will counter the pessimism and lame-duck status of Rudy Gay. The signing of Matt Barnes should either flame out spectacularly (and loudly, likely on Twitter) or, instead, lead to him soaking up a ton of minutes on the wing and providing a “Bash Brother”-element alongside Boogie.

The toughest decision this summer concerned, as per usual in Sacramento, the point guard position. Rather than re-up Rajon Rondo’s one-year trial, Divac decided to roll the dice on Darren Collison (and his impending domestic abuse suspension) and a couple of buy-low resurrection projects in Ty Lawson and Jordan Farmar. Losing Rondo should help to make Joerger’s job a bit easier in the locker room and while coaching the defense (which was a bottom-ten unit in ‘15-16), but handing the ball-handling responsibilities to a couple of veteran castoffs while Collison serves his time won’t bode well for an offense that finished slightly above league average last season.

The NBA Draft was the area in which Divac was allowed to flex a bit, in trading back from the eighth spot for international guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, the number-13 pick (used on international center Papagiannis), and number-28 (Kentucky big man Skal Labissiere), plus a future second-rounder. While it provoked another classic tweet from Cousins at the time (see above), the Kings will still enter the season with five centers on their active roster and, with respect to Malachi Richardson, might not see a rotation player from their 2016 draft class for at least another season or two.

PREDICTIONS: 28-54

The 2016-17 Kings might be a mess as they adjust to yet another coaching change, in going from the fast-paced offense of George Karl to a more defensively-oriented effort from Dave Joerger. Their offense should again focus on the versatile skills of Cousins and Rudy Gay, who should at least be motivated to play for one more huge contract next summer, but without a consistent point guard in the lineup, it’s hard to envision a capable offense overall. The caveat, of course, is that if Ty Lawson can dial back the time machine to a couple of years ago and get back to using his speed to get to the rim while sucking in the defense for shooters, then the offense could survive as the defense tightens up under Joerger.

All of the trust and goodwill that Joerger will work to establish with Cousins might not ultimately matter if Boogie cannot fully invest in the franchise’s direction under Ranadive. The on-court pieces don’t necessarily fit into a coherent roster in 2016, with an overabundance of bigs and possibly the league’s worst point guard rotation (respect, this time, to the Brooklyn Nets), and a potential Cousins trade demand could pave the way for a total roster rebuild.

More likely, though, is that the passive-aggressive tweets continue unabated and the Kings franchise takes a step back, win-wise, in 2016-17 due to the complete lack of shooters and passers on the roster. Joerger’s hire can still be an upgrade over the Karl administration and yet lead to five-fewer wins this season, as he lays the foundation and defensive tenets that will eventually lead to winning basketball for the franchise. But until the Cousins situation is settled, the team is stuck between trying (and failing) to build a playoff team in the Western Conference, and adding assets years away from contributing.

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