Programming note: Catch the Kings on Friday when they take on the L.A. Clippers in Sacramento -- coverage begins at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California
The Sacramento Kings remained Sacramento's. They overturned their front office and coaching staff. They married themselves to the Sacramento power structure. They are now architects, marketers, economists, politicians – all seeking out the cutting edge of the new frontier that the franchise has never really been. They are in many ways an expansion team, with an open field to define themselves in any way they want.
That’s what nearly being shipped off to another state can do for you. It clears your head to the reality that the old ideas stop being ideas and just become old. It is, in many ways, the best thing that could have happened to this franchise.
But now comes the hard part. Winning games and being noticed. That's going to be a much longer process.
The Warriors did that, but if you ask for the blueprint by which it occurred, they cannot provide it for you because so much of what they are now is due to a combination of brains and luck.
They are now America’s new crush, chosen to an almost irrational degree to be The Next Big Thing. They did not plan it to go this way, to be sure. They got desperate enough to blow up the old template, and then lucked into a series of moves that worked out beyond their wildest dreams. They hired an ex-agent to be the general manager. They hired a preacher and talking head to be their head coach. They built their team around their shooting guard, an old Warrior concept, but actually spent more energy building their inside and defensive games. They stopped saying how good their fans are, gave them things they didn’t expect, and rewarded them for being so good.
The Kings are hoping to recreate that 90 miles up the road, but it won’t work just that way. It can’t. Even with a new owner (Vivek Ranadive), general manager (Pete D’Alessandro), coach (Michael Malone) and focal point (DeMarcus Cousins, if he really is keen to reinvent himself), this is an ocean liner and it takes time to turn it about.
First, though, they have to acknowledge their history clearly and frankly. Joe Lacob didn’t want that burden in Oakland, repeatedly saying, “That history isn’t ours,” but of course it was, as he found out on multiple occasions, most notably the Chris Mullin Night gaffe-o-rama. The history lingers until new history is provided.
Ranadive has not yet provided that history – only new faces and the hope of a brighter day. His move on Opening Night should be clear and unambiguous – a brief statement that goes like this:
“Don’t trust us yet. We’re new, and we will make mistakes. Even if we are lucky enough to find our own Stephen Curry, and even if Mike Malone is as skilled a people person as he is a tactician, and even if DeMarcus Cousins really is a new man, you shouldn’t buy any of that based on our say-so. Make us prove it to you. Make us show you that we walk what we talk. You’ve watched too much bad basketball for too long for us to promise anything like a quick fix. You deserve that level of honesty.”
And part of that honesty is acknowledging that the Kings are a .333 team with a lot of rebuilding to do. Cousins is intriguing because of his immense talent and his agreeable work rate in the preseason. The defense, which has been God-awful in the past, was more like merely substandard in the preseason, already a dramatic improvement. Isaiah Thomas can be equally troublesome either as a starter or coming off the bench for Greivis Vasquez. Ben McLemore will be a useful rookie, and Patrick Patterson is hugely important, at least for the now.
This is, however, a roster that looks in one significant way like the Warrior roster of two years ago. Much of it will be gone. The Lacob Warriors needed two years to figure out what they didn’t have and to go out and get it, and it is fair to assume it will take a similar time for the Ranadive Kings.
As long as Ranadive, D’Alessandro, et.al. openly and honestly acknowledge what the Kings have not been, and what they are now, the easier will be the transition to what they can become. Percentages say this will be a long, hard slog, but the Kings are at least and at last positioned to go in an actual direction. In comparison to six months ago, even this must seem like the Western Conference semifinals.