Well, that wasn’t much of a Super Bowl, was it? At least it wasn’t the competitive nail-biter many had predicted it would be. Instead, it turned out to be a good excuse to watch the commercials, which, as far as I could tell, were a disappointing mix of the overly sentimental (Budweiser and Pepsi in particular trying all-too-hard to align themselves with patriotism) and the just plain silly (with punch lines that weren’t funny or themes that had seemingly nothing to do with the products being promoted).
So, Seattle, which barely beat the 49ers to get to the big game, was far superior to Denver, which boasted the league’s MVP in QB Peyton Manning. Go figure.
Or not. For those of us in Sacramento, once the Niners were knocked out by a last-play Richard Sherman deflection of an attempted winning TD pass, attention focused once again on our claim to fame as a major league sports town: the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.
The team, under the previous owners (whose names shan’t be mentioned here, as they are not worthy of the space I would then have to devote to vilifying them), had been on the edge of leaving town (first for Anaheim and then for Seattle) before it was rescued by Mayor Kevin Johnson, who used his NBA ties (as a former league all-star) to convince the league to deny permission to those former owners to move the team, and by Vivek Ranadive, who appears by all signs to be the kind of owner a city can love.
And the new arena that will be built in the heart of downtown (thanks to the City Council that voted the funding and, again, Mr. Ranadive) has just about everyone in a tizzy of excitement (save for those no-growth types who are convinced the arena will cause all kind of problems and drain the city’s treasury to the detriment of everything else that needs to be done).
But the team itself—by which I mean the group of players who currently constitute the team—is something else, something all too familiar to long-time fans of the franchise. Simply stated, the team is abysmally bad, among the worst in the league. And what makes this fact doubly discouraging is that it remains so miserably deficient despite a flurry of trades and other player moves in the last year that have all but transformed the roster.
Those moves have included trading during the recent off-season for a supposed defensive-oriented small forward (Luc Mbah a Moute) only to trade him before the season was one-third over, and a supposed star point guard (Greivis Vasquez) only to trade him shortly after the small forward was traded. Several other players who were supposed to turn the team’s fortunes around have also been traded, and the team’s first-round draft choice, a supposed can’t-miss shooting guard (Ben McLemore) has so far shown that he most definitely can miss (well over 50% of his shots to date while he has also struggled to play NBA-level defense).
The new ownership brought on a new General Manager (Pete D’Alessandro) and a new head coach (Michael Malone), both “highly regarded” by NBA insiders. To date, D’Alessandro has been trading players like a kid with a plethora of unwanted baseball cards while the team continues to lose at a rate of two out of every three games. Malone, who had never been a head coach before, is said to be a defense-oriented coach, but with the season well past the halfway point, the Kings are still one of the worst defensive teams in the league (if not the worst).
On offense, the current roster has one legitimate star, center DeMarcus Cousins. Based on his stats, Cousins should be an all-star, but he has had anger management issues (to put it mildly), leading the league in technical fouls in each of his first three seasons. This year, he has controlled his anger a little better, although he is still leading the league in T’s. Otherwise, his game is pretty awesome (averaging over 22 points and 11 rebounds a game). The last trade D’Alessandro pulled off brought in Rudy Gay, a high scoring small forward who has scored a bunch of points for the Kings since arriving. The third leading scorer is diminutive point guard (all of 5’9”) Isaiah Thomas, who is also averaging close to 20 a game.
But behind those three are a bunch of guys who rarely break into double digits, and the team often has trouble scoring 100 points (while it quite often gives up that many and more). The role players are all, well, role players, which is fine, since every team needs a bunch of them. But with the Kings, there are too many who don’t seem capable of elevating their game (or playing their roles all that well).
It wasn’t always thus. In fact, the Kings had a stretch not all that long ago that saw them making the playoffs annually (eight straight years, from 1999 to 2006). Since that run, however, the team has posted winning percentages (starting with the 2006-’07 season) of .402, .463, .207, .305, .293, .333, and .341. The percentage so far this year is again right around .333.
And, while Sacramento certainly qualifies as a small market team, the payroll is not among the lowest in the league and the current owner has shown a willingness to take on big contracts. (And the fans, at least to this point, are still turning out to the old arena to cheer on the team).
Things will change eventually. They have to improve. But will the current coach be the one to lead the players back to glory? Will the current roster (or at least most of it) be the players who get over the hurdle and ascend to greatness? Will Mr. Ranadive maintain his enthusiasm for the team he owns?
Kings fans waited a long time (from 1985 when the team first arrived until 1999) to get the last winning streak. Hopefully, they won’t have to wait that long for the next one.