Back in March, there was a genuine fear around Sacramento that the city was about to lose its basketball team. After a sales tax to build a new downtown arena was shot down, many conceded the Maloof brothers were going to pack up operations and flee to Las Vegas, leaving California's capital without its only major sports team.
As the new NBA season dawns, the Kings' possible departure is no longer much of a concern. Instead, there's cautious optimism that the team will build its future home without the need for a tax increase.
|New coach Reggie Theus isn't feeling any pressure, at least not yet. (Getty Images)|
Sacramento's run of eight consecutive playoff appearances ended with a resounding thud last season, and the hiring of former Kings star Reggie Theus as the third coach in as many years won't yield immediate results.
Theus has installed a midnight curfew on the road. He has banned cell phones on the team bus. He has told Mike Bibby that playing defense is mandatory. Privately, he might have even counseled Ron Artest to ensure his kitchen utensils stay in his kitchen.
Despite Theus' best intentions, the Kings are a flawed basketball team in need of more than the quick fix new leadership often provides. Mismatched personnel is the problem. Sacramento lacks a shot blocker or strong rebounding presence inside. Despite Artest's presence, which will be absent for the first seven games because of a suspension, they're awful defensively.
Many of these same criticisms were voiced about Rick Adelman's teams that won 50 games or more for five consecutive years, but those guys shared the ball and made the most of the unique talents of Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic. None of them was ever a factor on defense, but the unselfishness on offense made up for it. Those players liked each other and felt comfortable in their own skins.
This version? Not so much.
Bibby doesn't feel appreciated, because it's no secret Sacramento has actively shopped him around and will trade him if it can get a fair offer. Artest, who can opt out of his contract at season's end, has campaigned since his arrival that he should be the primary offensive option. That doesn't play to his strengths, and chemistry between him and Bibby has been non-existent.
Only Kevin Martin looms as a definite bright spot, which is why the Kings made sure to lock him up with a five-year, $55 million extension over the summer. He's the new face of the franchise, with the underlying message that he's the only one guaranteed to be around awhile.
Theus can count on him. Everyone else can be outfitted with a question mark in lieu of a uniform number.
Fortunately, Kings fans have proved to be patient and resilient, and it helps that they're thankful their team is likely staying put.
At least I think they're thankful. It's one of those deals similar to parents having to love their kids -- even if they're ugly.
|Power Ranking Rank: 26th|
|Projected Record: 26-56, 5th Pacific|
|Best case scenario: Ron Artest distances himself completely from his cousin, controversy, flourishes under Reggie Theus and combines with Kevin Martin to lead the Kings back to respectability.|
|Worst case scenario: The downward spiral continues, with No. 10 pick Spencer Hawes' early knee problems just the start of another injury-plagued season.|
|X-factor: How long is Mike Bibby going to be on this team? Getting that question answered, one way or the other, will allow the Kings to move forward.|
|Early season schedule: Sacramento will be present for the NBA's full-time return to New Orleans on Oct. 31 before a back-to-back at San Antonio and Dallas. An 0-3 start is likely, especially with Artest out. The Kings have the misfortune of playing West front-runners San Antonio and Phoenix twice in the opening month.|
|2007-08 NBA Team Previews|
|Boston Celtics||Chicago Bulls||Atlanta Hawks|
|New Jersey Nets||Cleveland Cavaliers||Charlotte Bobcats|
|New York Knicks||Detroit Pistons||Miami Heat|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Indiana Pacers||Orlando Magic|
|Toronto Raptors||Milwaukee Bucks||Washington Wizards|
|Denver Nuggets||Dallas Mavericks||Golden State Warriors|
|Minnesota Timberwolves||Houston Rockets||Los Angeles Clippers|
|Portland Trail Blazers||Memphis Grizzlies||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Seattle Supersonics||New Orleans Hornets||Phoenix Suns|
|Utah Jazz||San Antonio Spurs||Sacramento Kings|