SACRAMENTO (AP) — A plot of land in the downtown area is being cleared for a new arena, a sign of how far the Sacramento Kings have come since a pending sale threatened to relocate the franchise to Seattle only 17 months ago.
On the court, the progress of the team’s rebuilding project is more difficult to measure.
The ownership group, led by Silicon Valley software tycoon Vivek Ranadive, has stabilized the organization. General manager Pete D’Alessandro and coach Michael Malone are heading into their second seasons, and only two players — DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson — were on the roster when they began.
While the franchise endured constant changes last year, the Kings are counting on continuity to make strides this season. They have missed the playoffs eight straight years, and though a postseason berth remains unlikely, posting a 28-54 record again will not be tolerated.
“Last year when the season started, I said it wasn’t going to be about wins and losses,” Ranadive said. “When I came here and we bought the team, there was dysfunction in the locker room, there wasn’t mutual respect, the arena was literally falling apart, the roof was falling down. So we brought in a new team, we restored stability, we restored respect, we put in a strong culture.
“But this year, let’s be clear: it is about wins and losses.”
The Kings will count on Cousins, Rudy Gay and new point guard Darren Collison to shoulder the load on the floor this season. Sacramento also is hoping second-year guard Ben McLemore and rookie Nik Stauskas can grow and blend in with veterans such as Thompson, Carl Landry, Reggie Evans and Ramon Sessions — and do so quickly.
Ranadive has refused to say how many wins he expects this season. But, he said, he wants to see significant improvement to appease a fan base that is slowly getting tired of hearing promises of a better future.
“Clearly,” Ranadive said, “we have to do a lot better than we did last year.”
Here are some things to watch with the Kings this season:
COUSINS’ DEVELOPMENT: Any success will start with Cousins, the often unstoppable, often unpredictable man in the middle. The 25-year-old center is coming off his best season, averaging career-bests of 22.7 points and 11.7 rebounds while shooting a career-high 49.6 percent. But Cousins also has led the league in technical fouls the past two seasons and earned several fines and suspensions for his behavior. He played a big role in helping the U.S. win gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain this summer, and he’s again promising to control his emotions and become a positive team leader.
DEFENSIVE DEVELOPMENT: The Kings will need to show some semblance of defense to improve this season. Malone, who was considered one of the best defensive minds as an assistant, never got his philosophy to take shape as a rookie head coach. The Kings ranked 24th in the NBA 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.
NEW POINT MEN: The Kings signed Collison and Sessions to be superior defenders and distribute the ball more than the departed Isaiah Thomas ever did at point guard. Whether they do so is another matter.Sacramento ranked last in the league with only 18.9 assists per game last season.
SHOOTING GUARDS: McLemore came in with high expectations after being drafted seventh overall, but his rookie season was a disappointment. He shot 32 percent from 3-point range and 37.6 percent overall, averaging 8.8 points and one assist per game. Sacramento selected Stauskas eighth overall out of Michigan in this year’s draft figuring he or McLemore — if not both — can provide more production at shooting guard.
GAY’S GAME: Gay’s decision to pick up his $19.3 million option to return to the Kings was a big boon for the franchise this offseason. He joined Cousins on Team USA this summer and has been a solid performer since he arrived in a midseason trade from Toronto last year. Whether he can do more that pile up statistics and carry the Kings remains in question.