This will not be an easy season for the Sacramento Kings. After a year that saw the team and its fans fight a possible relocation, you'd think the Kings might be afforded some breathing room. They'll probably find some peace as the year starts, but even with new, not-evil owners and an overhauled coaching staff, "Here We Stay" will eventually give way to "Now Do Something."
This isn't to say that expectations will be unreasonably high. Nobody is predicting playoffs for this group. But what we would all like to see is something fun. After the high drama off the court last season, the Kings would do well to exchange for some on the court in this one.
Prediction #1: Jimmer Fredette will be traded.
Some key personnel changes will help the Kings this season. New coach Michael Malone will have the opportunity to work with a renovated roster that includes promising rookie Ben McLemore and point guard Greivis Vasquez, who averaged nine dimes a game last year. The Vasquez pickup will be especially helpful to a Kings offense that ranked 25th in the league in assists per game last season. Isaiah Thomas played admirably in that position, but Vasquez brings a different approach better suited to a young team looking for focus. Even better, Thomas' presence off the pine could help the Kings offense in the second unit, as it looks to improve what was a middle-of-the-pack offense.
But with minutes needed for McLemore, there's likely to be an odd man out of the Kings' guard rotation. Based on preseason rotations, that odd man out appears to be Jimmer Fredette. If Marcus Thornton gets the start at shooting guard, as he did for much of the preseason, that leaves backup minutes for McLemore or Fredette. It might also be that McLemore moves to start midseason, but in any case, the Kings just won't have enough minutes to go around at shooting guard. Based on Malone's preseason rotations, I'd put my money on Fredette not finishing the season as a King.
Prediction #2: DeMarcus Cousins will not be ejected from a game this season.
There are few players in the NBA who warrant your attention whenever you see them on the court. There are even fewer of these players on bad teams. DeMarcus Cousins, I'd argue, is in that select group, having created what many affectionately refer to as "The DeMarcus Cousins Experience."
Will he take the ball the length of the court and embarrass someone with a ferocious dunk? (Sorry, Danny.) Will he cross someone over with a surprisingly graceful move to the basket? Will he throw an ill-timed temper tantrum in the game that leads to an ejection? Will he find a way to start a fight with an opposing team's color commentator?
There's no way of knowing. Highly skilled, occasionally awesome, often petulant - DeMarcus Cousins is an enigma.
Well, I'm here to tell you that this is the year he starts to figure things out. And while I'm partially biased, having selected him as the starting center on my fantasy team, it's just impossible to ignore how much this season seems to be setting him up for success.
Cousins is about to start his fourth year in the league. He's already begun to figure things out, which isn't an easy thing to do when you've been playing on a team in a situation as chaotic as the King's these past few years. As Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney noted, Cousins has improved his FG% every year, and now that he's got a dish-first point guard, one would think that trend will continue.
In addition to his own natural improvement, he'll be able to put away any contract concerns as he learns from a legend. Shortly after signing DeMarcus to a 4-year extension worth $62 million, the Kings announced that Shaquille O'Neal had become a part owner of the team (a surprising move, perhaps, in that it's only been a decade since O'Neal dubbed the team the "Queens"). Shaq has already expressed a desire to work with Cousins, and watching the way Cousins plays, the tutorship makes a lot of sense.
Hakeem Olajuwon's services are currently in vogue as big men around the league look for novel ways to expand their games, but Olajuwon's pupils don't often possess the footwork necessary to approximate the Dream's moves. Today's big men would do better to find tutors whose skills match their own. Cousins, for example, uses his large frame to muscle his way in for easy scores, something Shaq did so well in his hall of fame career. The pairing makes a good deal of sense.
Last year, DeMarcus Cousins led the league in technical fouls (17) and was one ejection away from leading the league in those, too (4). He was an angry man. His team was a confusing mess. But this year feels different. He has the contract. He's got a legendary tutor. He's got a new coach. He's got a team with a plan. With all that set, what's left to be mad about?