Understanding the potential of next year’s Sacramento Kings takes but 48 minutes plopped in a cushy, courtside leather chair at Arco Arena. Seriously: This is how I spent last Monday night’s Tyreke Evans-less loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. And now I’ve seen the team’s future like no other.
Of course, it helps if you’ve got a proven track record. After watching 2008’s Reggie Theus-coached season opener, I wrote in these pages that “your 2008 Kings play a different brand of hoops, one that involves dubious half-court offense and questionable defensive effort.” And, sure enough, those scrubs went on to rack up the most ignoble record in Kings franchise history.
Anyway, last Monday’s Memphis bout was a good yardstick as to the team’s progress—and prospects. The Grizz, who were one of the three worst NBA teams last year (only 24 wins), are five over .500 this year. Impressive—and goes to show that one mere ingredient, namely a bruiser, such as Memphis’ Zach Randolph, can put you into the hunt.
Your 2011 Sacramento Kings can be this turnaround team. But first and foremost, reality and Spencer Hawes must collide.
Consider Monday’s duel: Third-year veteran Hawes, 22 in April, had a rough go with Grizz’s struggling No. 1 pick Hasheem Thabeet, 23. This didn’t surprise; centers East and West have tagged Hawes in the paint all season. But Thabeet, who’s scrubbed the D-League as recently as last month, shouldn’t outshine Big Spence.
Hawes’ sidekick in the box, sophomore Jason Thompson, also took a step back this year. And so this offseason, the Kings must play Name that Big Man. Brendan Haywood, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer—they’re all reasonably realistic unrestricted-free-agent options this summer.
The lesson learned, though: Get big, stay tough.
And stay versatile. Four small forwards—Francisco Garcia, Andres Nocioni, Donté Greene, Omri Casspi—cannot coexist. But Garcia is owed $17.4 million through 2013, and Nocioni $21 million through 2012; they’re unmovable.
So, the small-forward dilemma bares thorns. Who goes? Defensive standout Greene? Casspi, who’s been wailing on the rookie wall since the all-star break? Geoff Petrie must make a daring choice.
Yeah, we’ll have another lottery draft pick this summer, but all bucks for 2011 stop at Tyreke Evans, who should—what with a Coach Pete Carril-approved offseason shooting coach—be an all-star next year. Unless he spends more time doing what he did last Monday night: sitting hurt on the bench.
Because Evans is the only King who demands a double-team each and every night. And the only one who delivers in the clutch. He’s the hope. Don’t build a new arena; sell your soul to Satan and pray this guy stays healthy. I’d publicly finance that action.