SACRAMENTO -- This season was supposed to be the start of a "new era" for the Sacramento Kings, as owner Vivek Ranadive proclaimed over and over again when he took over last year.
Instead, it felt an awful lot like the old era.
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Sacramento (28-54) stumbled to the same record as a year ago to wrap up an eighth straight losing season. DeMarcus Cousins drew two suspensions and 16 technical fouls, even after signing a four-year, $62 million contract extension before training camp and promising to change his behavior. And first-year coach Michael Malone never showed signs of turning the Kings into a defensive-minded team as he had hoped, though the constant roster changes didn't help.
In what has practically become an annual traditional each spring, the only thing the Kings can still win is the NBA draft lottery May 20. Sacramento has the seventh-best odds to land the top pick.
Ranadive, Malone and general manager Pete D'Alessandro have preached patience from the start. But they also know that the team's loyal fans - most of whom began the season just happy the Kings remained in Sacramento after years of relocation chatter finally ended with the ownership change - will not be so patient if they don't start showing progress soon.
"We need to improve next year across the board," Malone said. "From how we play, how I coach, and more importantly, to make sure we win more than 28 games next year."
While a new downtown arena could break ground as soon as September, the Kings are likely due for another reconstruction on the court this summer.
How much Sacramento reshapes the roster will largely depend on what Rudy Gay decides. He holds a $19.3 million player option for the 2014-15 season. Point guard Isaiah Thomas also will be a restricted free agent after the Kings extend him a qualifying offer.
"I have to talk to Pete and coach Malone and see how we can elevate this team for the future, what we can do and what moves can be made," Gay said. "But at this point in my career, I really want to win. Obviously, an opt-out is good if you are not going to do it there, you can find somewhere else to do it. So I am definitely willing to take an advantage of that. Right now it's about my family. Pete and coach told me to take my time and they'll be able to come out to see and talk about it."
If there was any progress on the floor, the constant changes made it difficult to measure.
This season alone, Sacramento sent Luc Mbah a Moute to Minnesota for Derrick Williams, acquired Gay in a seven-player deal with Toronto, traded Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn for Jason Terry and Reggie Evans, and got Roger Mason Jr. from Miami - then quickly waived him - for a heavily protected 2015 second-round draft pick and cash. The Kings also bought out the contract of former first-round pick Jimmer Fredette.
The Kings ranked 24th in the league in defense, giving up 103.4 points per game. They also struggled all season defending the 3-point line, allowing the opposition to shoot 38 percent from beyond the arc, which ranked 29th out of 30 teams.
Cousins anchored an offense that, at times, had no problems scoring. He finished his fourth season averaging career highs of 22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He also shot a career-best 49.6 percent.
But the center's predictable pattern of unpredictable behavior continued to raise questions about whether he can be the centerpiece of Sacramento's rebuilding project like Ranadive had hoped.
Cousins' two suspensions this season - the first for punching Houston guard Patrick Beverley in the stomach, the second for reaching 16 technical fouls that forced him to sit out the finale Wednesday night - actually represented an improvement from last season, when he was suspended three times - twice by the league and once by the team.
Cousins said he still thinks "the future is bright" for the Kings. Malone echoed those sentiments, saying changing a culture of losing is definitely ongoing and "I do think we are heading in the right direction. It doesn't happen overnight."