Critical year for Kings


Critical year for Kings

SACRAMENTO -- (AP) Paul Westphal glanced around the Sacramento Kings practice facility on the first day of training camp, smiling with his eyes wide open in awe of his surroundings.

"It just feels great to be back," he said. "It's hard to believe that we're even here, but we're here."

Westphal was referring to the NBA lockout being lifted and the season starting. Of course, the coach's words also might describe the past and present situation of the franchise.

On the verge of moving to Anaheim last summer for a fancier arena, the Kings are back in California's capital city -- for now -- and ready for one of the most important seasons in team history. There is newfound optimism with an emerging roster of young and athletic playmakers and around the city that the 2011-12 campaign will be the start of Sacramento's return to glory.

"I think it's going to be an interesting season," said point guard Tyreke Evans, the 2009-10 NBA Rookie of the Year. "We're going to try to run teams out of the gym."

Maybe even start the process to move into a new gym, too.

The focus will be as much off the court as on the court this season. City efforts to help finance a new arena are on pace to meet NBA Commissioner David Stern's March 1 deadline, or at the very least show enough progress for an extension before the Kings again explore relocation.

The Sacramento City Council has approved several preliminary measures for an arena project led by Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star. A final vote is not expected until at least February on the entire financing plan that will ultimately decide the fate of the town's only major professional sports franchise.

"We're optimistic guys, always have been. We look at the positive parts," Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said. "We think as long as the mayor continues on with his ideas, we'll see if they can come to fruition."

Until that time, Kings players will do their part to build momentum.

The Kings were horrible for most of last season, owning the Western Conference's worst record for a few weeks and finishing 24-58. Evans missed 25 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and he often looked injured when he played.

A late-season surge behind a healthy Evans gave hope that the Kings might not be that far off from returning to the playoffs. Sacramento should certainly be better this season, if for no other reason than it's hard to be any worse, and a winning record is not out of the question if the Kings can overcome a stretch of having 22 of their first 33 games on the road.

Only time will tell whether they're ready to make a major leap.

"Pretty much everybody has improved, so we've got to try to jump over several of those teams. And we think we can," Westphal said. "I know we're going to be better, but who are we going to jump over? That's why they play the games. We'll find out."

The roster has only matured since last season.

Evans and second-year center DeMarcus Cousins anchor a talented core that is still searching for consistency in the professional ranks. The Kings re-signed scorer Marcus Thornton and rookie Jimmer Fredette has dazzled in training camp in the fashion that turned him into a BYU sensation.

The Kings believe the 6-foot-2 Fredette will work well in a backcourt with Evans and Thornton, although the rotation is still unclear, Fredette will likely come off the bench and see starter's minutes. The 6-foot-6 Evans has the ability to match up with bigger guards defensively and move to shooting guard, where he might be an even stronger scoring threat.

Sacramento also added veteran forwards John Salmons and Travis Outlaw, and rookies Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Honeycutt will also be expected to contribute. With nothing guaranteed next season, the Kings are all-in for 2011-12.

"We know this is the year we got to get it," Cousins said. "You're going to see a big difference this year."

Patience needed for young and inexperienced Kings


Patience needed for young and inexperienced Kings

The Sacramento Kings are attempting to do something rarely seen in the NBA. They’ve paired four first round selections from the 2016 NBA Draft with another five rookies for the 2017-18 season. They’ll open the season with nine players with one year of NBA experience or less and three others with two years in the league or fewer if you include two-way contracts.

Veterans Vince Carter (40), Zach Randolph (36), George Hill (31), Garrett Temple (31) and Kosta Koufos (28) push the average age of the Kings to 26.1. According to RealGM, they’ll enter the 2017-18 season tied for the 15th youngest roster in the league.

If you remove the veterans, the Kings youthful core averages less than 22 years of age. But age doesn’t tell the entire story.

Entering his third NBA season, Willie Cauley-Stein has seen action in 141 of a possible 164 games. On the current roster, he might as well get lumped in with the veterans.

Buddy Hield donned a Kings uniform for 25 games last season after coming over in a midseason trade from the New Orleans Pelicans. He played 82 games in total between the two clubs, which is five more combined contests than his fellow 2016 draft mates Skal Labissiere (33 games), Georgios Papagiannis (22 games) and Malachi Richardson (22 games) played in.

Sacramento selected three first rounders in the 2017 NBA Draft, including De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles. They also landed point guard Frank Mason III with an early second round pick and convinced 25-year-old former first rounder Bogdan Bogdanovic to leave the European game behind and join the club.

Without bringing two-way players Jack Cooley (16 games) and JaKarr Sampson (147 games) into the discussion, the Kings have a major experience issue. They’ll walk into the season with 10 players having a combined 300 games of NBA experience and 223 of those games were played by Cauley-Stein and Hield.  

Sacramento’s veteran group has appeared in 3718 regular season contests. Dave Joerger will have no choice but to turn to the group for plenty of minutes as the Kings’ young players learn on the fly.

Patience is necessary. Vlade Divac and his team have assembled a lot of talent, but they will need time to develop. Joerger has a strong staff in place, including Elston Turner, Bryan Gates, Duane Ticknor, Bob Thornton, Jason March and Larry Lewis. Phil Ricci was also added to the staff as a player development coach this season with the influx of young players.

Even with an expanded staff, there is no way Joerger can fit all 10 of his youngsters into the rotation. They’ll need playing time to develop and there is a good chance that some of these freshman and sophomore players will spend time with Darrick Martin and the Reno Bighorns.  

DeMarcus Cousins: 'Take all them motherf****** down'


DeMarcus Cousins: 'Take all them motherf****** down'

Some professional athletes take a stand by kneeling on the sidelines or raising a fist into the air. Some write succinct tweets expressing their dismay with the current political climate in the United States of America. Others just get right to the point with a poignant off the cuff statement to a waiting camera.

Former Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins has certainly mastered the art of the cryptic tweet, but he’s also never been one to shy away from a direct question when asked. When an inquiry was thrown his direction about confederate statues in New Orleans and his home state of Alabama, Cousins was brief with his words, but very clear.

"Take all them mother****ers down," Cousins told TMZ while navigating a security line at the airport. "Take 'em all down.”

Cousins may not have chosen the most eloquent words, but his point of view is shared by plenty of others. He isn’t the first athlete to take a stand with regards to race in America over the last week as racial tensions have spilled out into the streets in Charlottesville, Virginia. Social media is filled with professional athletes adding their thoughts to the conversation.

The Warriors’ Kevin Durant has made it clear that he will not visit the White House and President Donald Trump, a visit most teams make following an NBA championship.

"Nah, I won't do that," the 8-time All-Star told ESPN on Thursday. "I don't respect who's in office right now.”

"I don't agree with what he agrees with, so my voice is going to be heard by not doing that,” Durant continued. “That's just me personally, but if I know my guys well enough, they'll all agree with me."

Garrett Temple has used Twitter to make his thoughts known as well. Recently named the Kings’ Players Voice Teammate of the Year by the National Basketball Players Association, Temple has used his position as an NBA player to speak out multiple times.

Over the last week, he’s fielded questions and had plenty of discussions through social media on the issues of race and equality. His Twitter timeline is littered with thoughtful replies and some not so thoughtful ideas as well. Plenty of fans thanking him for using his position to further the conversation and of course, there is the occasional, “stick to sports” comment.

Agree or disagree, today’s athletes have huge platforms to share their opinions. From Cousins to Temple, there are varying degrees of engagement, but the time of players staying out of the discussion is long gone.