Posted by: Kingsguru21 | April 17, 2011

Recap of the 2010-11 season

Well, it’s finally done. This season was a pisser from start to finish. So here goes. I’ll start with the low rotation guys, and work my way up to the big names. I’ll finish with evaluations of the coaching staff, and management/ownership.

The bit players

Starting with Pooh Jeter and Darnell Jackson, let’s just say I hope they come back to the team. I have my reasons for this. One is that I think Pooh is the great kind of change of pace PG who just simply has an extra gear and leadership for this team. The problem is that playing Pooh 10 minutes against 2/3 of the teams in the NBA is not likely to yield in much success for the team. Looking at his numbers, I think it’s obvious to see why Pooh has such a low TS%: He’s not good at shooting 3’s.

Pooh took 30 3 pt FG’s all season. If he wants to stay in the NBA, he’ll simply have to be able to hit that 3. If he can’t, I hope he sticks in the NBA, but I doubt he will. He does everything else though, and that’s why I do like him. Hopefully he can find a way to become more reliable from range because, like I said, I wish the Kings could hold onto him.

As far as Darnell Jackson goes, the same thing goes for Darnell Jackson as Pooh. But, unlike Pooh, I think D-Block can stick in the NBA for awhile if he continues to do what he has. Big men are harder to find than small G’s, and thus D-Block can probably have a job being the 4th or 5th big in a NBA rotation (especially for a bottom feeder). I do like D-Block for several reasons. He plays hard, he can hit a mid range perimeter J, plays low post defense, is a decent rebounder, and simply do what he is asked to do. Additionally on a team that is rather turnover prone this season, Jackson had 23 TO’s in 59 games. I suspect not all of those 23 TO’s were necessarily D-Block’s fault. Additionally, D-Block plays hard without requiring shots. He took a total of 158 shots in 59 games. You need role players that will do the dirty work without requiring the ball and attention. Guys who are perfectly happy with doing their jobs without need attention or shots are not necessarily guys who hurt a team. Especially a team like the Kings with some major league personalities like Dalembert, Cousins and Evans who have inclinations of wanting the ball a lot (or more than they get it in Daly’s case).

As far as Jermaine Taylor, my initial thoughts when the Kings acquired Marcus Thornton was that Taylor and Thornton were relatively similar in talent. It turned out I was quite wrong. Taylor turned the ball over too much, is too streaky in terms of shooting, and didn’t do enough on defense consistently. I like JT2, but I don’t know if he will get much time in terms of a rotation in the next few years for the Kings. However, JT2 is not guaranteed for next season beyond this August 1st, and I think the Kings should consider JT2 as a development project who can fill in when needed. He has warts, but he may be a nice filler in a trade for a team looking to make a deal with the Kings. There is many way the Kings can use Jermaine Taylor both for their own needs and in terms of trades. It’s one of the many advantages the Kings do have right now. In the right pairing (and I don’t think JT2 has even come close to finding it yet), I think Jermaine Taylor could still be successful there. The good attitude and talent is there. He’s like many young players in that he hasn’t put it all together yet.

In regards to Luther Head, I don’t dislike him. I just don’t think his strengths (shooting and defense) worked much on a team that needed him to handle the ball so much as this Kings team did. Head ended up being waived on March 19th, and that pretty much says a lot about Luther Head’s season.

Hassan Whiteside and Antoine Wright don’t deserve mention here. So I won’t bother. (I’m not on the Hassan Whiteside bandwagon.)

The role players

In what’s going to remain a short blurb on Carl Landry, he never became the player I thought he could be. That is, an efficient big man who could provide inside offense consistently. Some of the initial problems I think overall were related in figuring out how to utilize Carl effectively, but there were plenty of issue’s that Carl had in Sacramento I never did understand. The biggest issue was Landry’s FT shooting as it was very come & go for no reason I could find. That said, I appreciate Carl Landry’s professionalism and his abilities as a basketball player. The fact that he is a talented big who can score inside effectively is an useful thing to have, and it just turned out not to be so for the Kings. The other side to Landry is that he was cheap allowed the Kings to trade for Marcus Thornton. There is no way the Kings could have ever pulled off a trade to New Orleans with Kevin Martin and Marcus Thornton as the principles. In many ways, and it probably won’t be seen this way by most (if not almost all) Kings fans, but Landry was valuable both coming and going for the Kings.

Omri Casspi had a very up & down season. The biggest thing I like about Omri is his fire, willingness to work and improve, and he can shoot when things are going well. The things I don’t like? This isn’t necessarily a longer but it certainly is a nastier list. Omri gets gun shy in shooting too often. This leads to inconsistent production, and thus less playing time. The other issue I have with Omri is that he believes that production in Europe translates to production in the NBA. It doesn’t.

I like Omri as a player. I really do. He rebounds well, plays enthusiastic if not quality defense at times, and can shoot the ball with confidence. I do think part of the problem with Omri is two-fold. One is that he needs his shots created for him, and of all players other than DeMarcus Cousins, I thought Omri was hurt the most by Tyreke Evans injury. Tyreke, and his pitch-outs, help Omri a great deal more than some realized. (I thought initially Omri was hurt by Tyreke. Turned out I was rather wrong. I find that kind of revealing.) The other part of this equation is that I think Omri would play more effectively in a slower tempo team with top tier talent that took pressure off him to create his own shot.

Why do I think Omri doesn’t work for Sacramento? I think his mindset is a very European mindset, and while there is nothing wrong with that mindset in any way, it clashes with what the coaching staff and the strengths of the best players on the team who are significantly better and effective NBA players in that style.

Read that line again. Omri is a certain style of player, and he clearly can have a NBA career if he learns a few things and is in the right situation. That’s true of almost all young players really. The difference is that the issue’s with each young player are very different, and the ability to pick up these things remain different from player to player. Read this blurb from the Brandon Jennings piece in 2009 that Chad Ford wrote:

Jennings’ game is all about his athleticism,” one prominent European GM told me. “Like many of the Americans we see come to Europe, he just doesn’t have a great feel for the game. No one ever taught him how or when to pass. Speed and athleticism are fine. But I want a point guard who puts the team above their own individual game. I don’t blame the young man for this. He is just the product of a corrupt development system that is ruining American basketball.

To say that many of the Italian opinions I heard on Jennings also conformed to stereotypes that many European scouts and coaches have about virtually all American players, white or black, is regrettable, but true. Much of the world doesn’t hold American hoops in the same high regard as it did a decade ago. A few dysfunctional Team USA performances and some young international prospects who were ruined when they went to the NBA play a large part in how the world sees the American game.

This first quote is very useful I think in a way. But the 2nd quote, from Nenad Trajkovic (a Serbian who helped develop Vlade Divac among other players) is very telling IMO:

“I promise you. If you brought LeBron James over from high school straight to Europe, we would have messed him up,” Trajkovic said. “We demand different things. It is not enough to do something. You must do it correctly. Everyone who comes, young or old, from America, has to adjust. He was able to do it better than most I have seen. One more year in Europe, and he would be a star. I don’t know if the NBA feels the same way.”

Think about this. Omri’s entire understanding of basketball is entirely opposite from the American style, and thus, you will see it argued that Omri needs more time with the Kings to show that he can make that adjustment. But I’d argue 2 years is enough, and adjusting to the NBA’s style is not really Omri’s problem. It’s the style of team he’s on, and, if you’re an Omri fan who loves the Kings, he might be traded for precisely that reason which will make you unhappy.

However, I’m not one of those who holds ill-will against Omri. I just think his time is up.

Speaking of time and up, I thought that in January, I’d be writing about this in regards to Donte Greene. It turned out to be Omri, but there are several other significant factors in this. One is the emergence of Francisco Garcia as the starting SF. (I’ll highlight why I think this is.)

If Donte Greene did anything to put himself back in the rotation, I think it was that he kept a positive attitude and continued to work. The issue I think with Donte and his poor numbers is simple: He simply hasn’t figured it out yet. The one thing that Donte did late in the season was pass up shots he would have taken earlier in the season.

I don’t know if I really believe in Donte Greene at this point as I believe Omri Casspi and Donte Greene are probably similar players in talent. But where I’m not sure Donte could be anything more than a marginal player on a team like the Kings, I’m sure Omri could be better with a change of style of team and talent around him. That’s the difference as much as anything I think.

That said, I’d trade Omri in a heartbeat for an older more experienced SF and wouldn’t worry about losing Donte. The difference in that sentence is that I think Omri has more value to more teams than Donte really does at this point even if their talents aren’t greatly different.

Francisco Garcia. Some facts. Cisco’s TS% of 55.1% was the 2nd highest on the Kings to Beno Udrih. Cisco’s ORtg of 113 was 2nd on the team as well. (What do you know? Shooting that’s efficient helps the team score more points consistently. Shocker? Perhaps not.) Another factor that I really love about Cisco: His TOV% is 8.1%. Over Cisco’s career his TOV% has declined (getting better with age? no way!), his rookie season he had a TOV% of 16.9%. (The point? Rookies have worse decision making at the beginning of their career as opposed towards the middle/end of their career.) That 8.1% is the lowest of any player on the team, and yes, Cisco’s shooting is hardly perfect. But a bad shot is always better than a turnover that gives you no chance of getting points. With a bad shot, you can always make the shot, or, especially with this team, grab an offensive rebound.

Francisco Garcia is a rare bird in an unusual situation. By all accounts, Cisco is really a better SG than SF. Especially when you talk about rebounding. However, with Dalembert and Cousins around, rebounding is not a huge issue for the SF. (That’s one area where Omri got crowded out with. He goes to a team where he can grab more boards, he will be much more productive.) That’s one reason why inserting Cisco at the SF works so well. His defense, as it were, is about the same defending SF’s as it is SG’s. His rebounding, an issue with a lesser rebounding frontline, is not an issue with Daly & Cuz on the front line gobbling up boards. His shooting spaces the floor. And, again, Cisco doesn’t turn the ball over at the rate the rest of his teammates do. Again, when you have a guy who is top 10 in TOV% in the entire NBA (Cisco didn’t have enough minutes to qualify), this is what happens when you have a more effective offense by simply being able to get more shots up. If you think I’m being funny, look up the 50’s Boston Celtics. That was exactly Red Auerbach’s philosophy. Lots of shots all game long. To hell with shooting 50%!

One thing it certainly accomplished was that the Kings were significantly better defensively with Cisco in part because he also didn’t turn the ball over. One reason the Kings defense improved was when the team didn’t turn the ball over, they weren’t giving up easy debilitating baskets in transition. It’s often assumed that defense and offense don’t really have much relation to each other, but coaches will very much disagree with you. It’s often said by some announcers that defense can fuel offense. It’s also true that a smart offense can protect a defense in the same respect as defense can fuel offense.

Young players don’t necessarily get that concept. Young players don’t understand the nature of the NBA. Francisco Garcia isn’t a star or anything, but he’s a smart role player who provides the Kings with talents they absolutely need. He’s the rare role player whose weaknesses aren’t important because they coincide with team strengths, and the strengths of Cisco help against the many weaknesses the Kings had on offense. It’s a nice trade-off that helps the Kings improve in a number of ways. The only real negative is that Cisco only played in 58 games this past season. A total closer to 70 would be very useful to say the least.

Jason Thompson. I like JT as a 6th man first big off the bench type. He can play both the C & PF spots, which is a nice thing to have with 2 guys like Samuel Dalembert & DeMarcus Cousins who switch between the PF & C spots themselves. Having 3 bigs, all of whom do really different things that complement each other well, is an unusual thing. A big reason for that is JT finally figured out how to be effective towards the end of March and into April. JT shot a 62.7 TS% for April, and over his last 10 games (including the last 2 games of March). Why is this such a big deal? In either the 08-09 season, or the 09-10 season, JT has had 4 months of 57+ TS%. In TWO YEARS. In otherwords, he’s been very inconsistent and has played well to end the season.

He’s never done this while playing behind players like Cuz and Daly though. That’s why I’m intrigued that Jason Thompson can turn the corner and do the important things like finish near the basket. Only once has JT ever had a month where he finished over 80% in eFG at the rim, and that was in March of ’10.

Only time will tell, but JT did improve in some area’s. He fouled about one less time per game. His eFG% for the season improved a few percentage points. (He finished shots better in otherwords.) The only real negative for JT was that his FT shooting declined this season. Perhaps he can get back to his 70% threshold he was at in his first two seasons.

Slammin’ Sammy Dalembert

Here’s a list of players who have had at least 100 blocks in the Sacramento era. Dalembert has the highest D-Reb% of any player in the Sacramento era, and the 2nd highest D-Reb% from the earliest date it can be recorded (in 1973-74). (LaSalle Thompson has the highest in case you’re wondering.) That makes having 3 players with 20+ D-Reb% on the same team. What makes Dalembert’s year on the boards so unique? He did it with the guy who has the 6th best individual season in D-Reb% during the Sacramento era, DeMarcus Cousins. (LaSalle Thompson has 2 in the top 5.) Let me put this a different way. Here’s a list of players with 8+ Rebounds a game. There are a few set of teammates on here. Al Horford and Josh Smith of the Hawks. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom of the Lakers. JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche of the Wizards. Luis Scola and Chuck “Chuckwagon” Hayes of the Rockets. Sammy D & Cuz of your Sacramento Kings.

Sammy Dalembert is not perfect. His shooting from October thru December was nothing short of putrid. But, Dalembert finished with a 50.9 TS% for the season. If you take out that putrid start (a 43.5 TS% from Oct-Dec), it’s more like a 53.1 TS% if you only take January until the end of the season. There is no question that is still too low, but a big part of that is that Dalembert too often had to create for himself in situations that he really shouldn’t have even had the ball. If some of that is Daly’s fault, than some of that is also the bi-product of being part of a young team that hasn’t figured out the NBA very well at this point. This is a young improving team that is working to get better. Dalembert could easily return to his typical career TS% if he’s not playing next to a young big in Cousins who isn’t turning the ball over constantly or shooting ridiculously poor shots. Or, this will shock you no doubt, simply playing with Cousins more often.

If anything, and it’s a minor beef with Dalembert, I wish he had blocked more shots this season. Although in fairness to Daly, it’s not like he could be as aggressive as he probably wished he could be given the amount of defensive attention he had in helping other teammates defensively. Dalembert is one of those players that even if his numbers don’t capture all of his value, one way you can capture Daly’s defensive value is that he had the lowest DRtg on the entire team (along with Cousins).

So why did Dalembert struggle? One reason was his injury in training camp. Daly ended up missing 2 games all season long (the season opener in Minneapolis and a game in December for Phil Jasner’s funeral–the longtime Sixers beat writer for the Philly Daily News–whom Daly had an excellent relationship with among many Jasner had in his lifetime) and he ended up being 2nd in the Kings in games played. The 1st? DeMarcus Cousins. Again, Dalembert’s value may not seem like much, but the team badly needed a defensive anchor to help many of these young players figure out defensive roles and allow pieces like Garcia to be played without hurting the team in the rebounding end of things. Dalembert allowed for all of that to happen.

Whatever warts Samuel Dalembert had coming from Philly, and we saw all of them, his strengths at this point outweigh his weaknesses. Even in what you could easily consider a down season from Dalembert, he maintained his leadership and poise throughout the season when the team needed him the most. He played hard, often setting the tone for the team, and did the bit of a good soldier. While this wasn’t necessarily a surprise, I thought Dalembert’s passion for the game helped his young teammates and older one’s alike.

The Kings were a team that won 24 games , had numerous injury issue’s to Tyreke Evans throughout the season, had a very up and down young rookie big man, a void at SF more often than not, difficult matchup’s in the backcourt without Evans, too much reliance on Beno Udrih for offense for too much of the season, too many young players and too much inconsistency and unfamiliarity, and Dalembert was there for all of it.

There is a lot to be said for that.

There are role players and then there is Beno Udrih

Everything I just attributed to Sammy Dalembert could be applied to Beno Udrih. Only, Beno’s has an excellent TS% on the season at 58.7%. If you count all G’s, and filter it out for players with only 20+ minutes, Beno had the 15th best TS% among all G’s. Not PG’s, not SG’s, Guards. Additionally, Beno had the best ORtg on the team at 118. How unusual is that? There are 26 guys who played 20+ minutes and had a 118 ORtg or better. Amir Johnson, Kevin Love, Anthony Tolliver are the only other 3 players who can claim they played on a bottom 10 offensive team and have an offensive rating that matches or exceeds Beno Udrih’s this season. Beno also had his lowest DRtg of his Kings career too. (You probably can attribute this to playing with Daly.)

Again, what Beno Udrih did this year was pretty special in it’s own right given all the challenges this team had.

Marcus Thornton and all that entails

This is what I wrote about the Marcus Thornton trade at the time in February. Well, in a way I was kinda right and kinda wrong.

Wrong that Thornton couldn’t make an impact beyond a marginal point. Right that the issue of shot creation wasn’t a simple solution of adding Thornton to the rotation. Then, 15 games in, I wrote this about Thornton. So what happened? Why did Thornton’s TS% drop 4 points?

He took a lot of long 2’s (and even made them!). He also had a few bad games along the way in his last 12 games.

So what happened? Did Thornton’s balls drop? Did he become afraid of the caped crusader? Probably not. Teams figure out that the rest of the Kings expected him to bail out the offense, and, too often, Thornton was resigned to do exactly that.

Again, and I mean this wholeheartedly, but as much as Marcus Thornton proved valuable to this team, the major egregious issue’s (and fixes) will come from DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans. They are the 2 best players on this team (or talent wise they are), and in the NBA teams go as their best players (or talents) go. Tyreke was hurt for the majority of the season and ineffective for a lot of the time he did play. DeMarcus Cousins struggled with a lot of things rookie big men struggle with in the NBA. It’s not a recipe for success to stand around and watch Marcus Thornton take long 2’s. That’s exactly what the Kings did, and that’s exactly what teams like the Spurs, Grizzlies and Lakers did for a lot of the games in the games where Evans and Thornton participated in the game together.

Again, I could sit here and say this that or the other about Thornton. He’s an important piece like Udrih or Dalembert are. But, he’s not the best player on this team, and this team won’t go as Thornton goes. What Thornton does, that I didn’t notice (and I should have) was that he is not a turnover machine. I simply overlooked it when looking at his numbers in New Orleans. Thornton may not get up incredible shots every time, but he gets up a shot almost all of the time. He is not a turnover machine, and, with a team that has a turnover machine in DeMarcus Cousins, that’s rather important.

However, saying that, one could reasonably assume that the necessary 3rd piece to complement Evans and Cousins is now in play with the existence of Marcus Thornton. The only question with Thornton will be for how much and how long with regards to his upcoming contract negotiations.

Cuzzy Cuzzzy Cuz Cuz Cuz!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Some facts about our 20 year old Center from the University of Kentucky via Mobile and Birmingham Alabama.

* Cousins has the best rebounding season of any rookie in the Sacramento era
* Cousins is the only rookie big man to have 200+ assists in a single season in the Sac era.
* Cousins TS% for the season was 48.6%; Spencer Hawes TS% rookie season was 48.8%.
* Cousins was 5th in the NBA in total Turnovers.
* Cousins led the NBA in Personal Fouls with 332 (he was nearly 60 ahead of Amare Stoudemire who was 2nd with 274).
* There were 36 players who averaged at least 8 boards on the season. Cousins was one, and one of 2 rookies (Blake Griffin the other) to be on this list.
* Cousins was 2nd in USG% for rookies, 2nd in rookies with total points, 4th in Assists (behind Wall, Griffin and Eric Bledsoe), 2nd in total Free Throw Attempts, was a narrow 1st over John Wall for most turnover’s committed (8 more than Wall to be exact), 2nd in total rebounds (well behind Griffin), tied for 3rd in blocks with Derrick Favors, 3rd in offensive boards behind Griffin and Greg Monroe (who quietly had a very impressive rookie season), 4th in total minutes played, and played 81 games of a tumultuous up and down rookie season.

Now, I won’t tell you should be happy with Cuz’s rookie season. There were good parts, bad parts, surprising parts, irritating parts, frustrating parts, predictable parts, and than there was the media coverage.

There were people who say that Cuz is overrated and there are people who say that he is misunderstood. Those people are wrong. Cousins is not misunderstood nor is he overrated. DeMarcus Cousins, for what he is and isn’t, is an unique player and personality that many simply have lumped into a category. Not only is it ill-advised; it’s simply ignoring the complexity and weight when discussing a player like Cousins from a 360 degree angle.

It’s not as simple as saying the media is picking on Cousins. He has made bad choices on and off the court. Mark Kreidler once said that Chris Webber was the most complex athlete he had ever covered at any point in his career. I’ll bet that Cousins, especially if the Kings end up staying in Sacramento, could give Webber a run for his money in the same vein. Cousins is not a simple player, and like Calipari said in the pre-draft, if you want the best player you can get, you take Cousins. Like Calipari warned, it wasn’t easy.

Many of Cousins issue’s I outlined on draft day about why I felt scared about him. And, fortunately, or unfortunately (I prefer unfortunately), I was right in many respects.

Difficulty not getting the ball? Check.
Attitude issue’s? Check.
Conditioning issue’s? Check.
Foul prone particularly offensively? Check.
Turnover prone? Check.
Issue’s with his shot selection? Check.
Good on the low block? Wrong.
Takes too many perimeter shots? Wrong.
Wouldn’t block a lot of shots? Check
Tremendous rebounder? Check
Questionable athleticism? Check
Passing? Very wrong.
Poor defense? Wrong.

Thus the conundrum of DeMarcus Cousins continues to, well, continue. On one hand Cousins attitude and conditioning need work. On one hand Cousins needs more experience to reduce the amount of offensive fouls that he gets by dribble driving (especially that) and turnovers in general. He gets in trouble when he starts looking around frantically or acting out of desperation to make a play. Not all of this is unusual for a rookie mind you.

Cousins surprised me that he had more trouble in the post than I thought he would. I was surprised by how good his perimeter game was. Cousins has a tremendous difficulty creating shots in the post using his strength and long arms. Some of that is inexperience, and some of that is struggling adapting to the NBA. Some of that is Cuz too often got swallowed up in ways that suggest as he gets older, more experienced (a better attitude?!?) he will struggle in some ways in the post.

Cousins did establish that he could score over players at his relative height or a bit smaller. What Cuz struggled with was scoring on the Andrew Bynum, Tim Duncan’s of the world. Those teams had issue’s with Cuz in both respects. On one hand Cuz could score on bigger players, but mostly as a perimeter player. Too often Cuz insisted on driving to the cup rather than taking an open shot. Some of that is simply inexperience, but I think an issue in that was that Cuz was trying to compensate for difficulties in post up’s in a more conventional situation.

What’s a perfect compensation? I’m not sure. I don’t have access to every daily activity DeMarcus Cousins partakes in. I do know that he needs to slow down, take his time, not let every call get in his head (I think he led all rookies by a longshot in tech’s), and generally show poise and purpose. Again, this isn’t uncommon for a rookie and there is a lot to say that Cousins has a bright future provided he listens to those trying to help him and grows from his experiences as a rookie.

As far as the fight with Donte Greene, the arguing with Paul Westphal and the coaching staff, it is what it is. I don’t know that harping on it means much either way as I”m not sure fighting with a teammate constitutes a malcontent. If Michael Jordan kicks the crap out of Steve Kerr in practice, does that mean Michael Jordan is an insatiable asshole who can’t adapt? I think not. (Well, MJ is an insatiable asshole. But, in NBA terms, the answer is no.)

Like most things, how Cousins works on his game and is able to adapt it to NBA games will be the ultimate test. A few every generation can do it. Most don’t even get the chance, most of the rest who do get the chance never adapt. Maybe Cuz is one of the 5 or 6 in his generation of about 100 million (or so) who manage to do this very thing. I would say the biggest change Cousins needs to undergo is studying his opponents, figuring out a way to utilize his vast talents to score easier and more efficiently on the block, and work on FT shooting.

The biggest issue that Cuz has is his conditioning and experience level. There are little things that he can improve on that would go a long way in terms of player relations and coaching staff relations. Like what? Ask the other players and coaching staff. They are the one’s who have to deal with DeMarcus Cousins on a daily basis throughout the season.

Tyreke Evans

I’m not going to launch into a soliloquy about why Tyreke’s season sucked. What I’ll say is that his plantar fasciitis was frustrating to watch him play through, and I hope that he’s healthy for all of next season.

Tyreke still has issue’s that need to be worked on (who doesn’t?), but I’m going to highlight a few of them.

* A post up game that would allow Tyreke to post up smaller and big guards
* A consistent mid range game
* FT shooting in the low 80’s (he’s in the high 70’s now)
* Drawing Free Throws in the 8 range next year
* Playing 80 games
* Becoming at least an average efficiency shooter and player (55 TS% or thereabouts)
* Defending more difficult matchup’s like a Kobe Bryant (just one instance) consistently
* More leadership when it really counts

Now, some of those things won’t be answered by the end of next season. That’s unrealistic. But a better mid range game? That’s possible. A better post up game that’s effective against 80-90% of the G’s in the NBA? That’s realistic. Drawing Free Throws in the 8 range? Russell Westbrook didn’t even draw 6 FTA’s in either of his 1st 2 seasons and went up to 8 FTA’s this past season. It’s not unreasonable for Tyreke to be able to draw 8 FT’s a game.

Speaking of health, I’ll say this and push on to the coaching staff and management/ownership. Tyreke needs to play better when he’s hurt and play through it. One evaluation of stars in the NBA is to play through the minor pains and aches that are guaranteed to come by playing in the toughest basketball league in the world night in night out against the world’s best players. I don’t think Tyreke lacks commitment, but I would say that posing concern for how Tyreke channels his focus on improvement is the single greatest issue this franchise has at this stage.

Paul Westphal and the coaching staff

First, I’m in the minority on this, but I think firing Paul Westphal would be a silly mistake. James Ham recently put up this conversation he had with Paul Westphal and PW shared this point:

It’s a young team and there is a lot of improvement that needs to be made internally and the summer is the time to do that. We will emphasize that in the largest possible degree that this is the time to improve, that we haven’t done anything yet and if we don’t get better over the summer, it’s going to be a long summer. If we do get better, and we should get better, we can have something special with this group.

I thought the most important point was when PW said:

James Ham: With the way that your team is playing right now and knowing that you have cap space and another top five pick, how excited are you to be here next year- where ever here may be- and to coach this team and see where it can go?

Coach Westphal: I’m extremely excited about it. I took this job two years ago, it was acknowledged as a rebuilding job from a team that had the worst record in basketball. On top of that, it was acknowledged as a rebuilding job where we weren’t going to spend a lot of money on free agents. The way you do that is you draft wisely, develop young players, look for a trade you can afford to make and try to build a solid foundation. I think we have done all of those things. The next step is really an exciting one. The first thing we needed to do was just learn how to compete and then you have to learn how to win after that, and I think we are pretty well through that step the way we are playing now. We know we have some pieces to add and we know we have some pieces to develop, but I think that two years ago the foundation was not in place, now it is.

Now I bolded a lot of stuff in this because it’s important that people get a grip on some things. First off, you can’t just rebuild and then expect a playoff contender a year and half into it. That isn’t realistic. (Which doesn’t stop some, but whatever.)

When the Kings hired Paul Westphal, they had Kevin Martin, Francisco Garcia, Beno Udrih, Kenny Thomas, a slice of money owed to Mikki Moore, Andres Nocioni, Jason Thompson, Donte Greene and Spencer Hawes.

Kevin Martin was traded for Carl Landry at the trade deadline in 2010. Landry was traded for Thornton at the 2011 trade deadline. Again, like I mentioned in Landry’s blurb, the Hornets would have never swapped Martin fro Thornton. Martin’s value as a scorer has less when that’s all he does and he’s making a contract, while reasonable from evaluation standards, makes it difficult for teams who are paying players who are better higher sum’s. Most teams can’t afford to go into luxury tax to acquire a Kevin Martin. That simply reduces Martins’ value, and thus, the Kings were stuck with a trade that is unpopular with certain sects (StR) but almost certainly necessary.

Beno Udrih’s value has probably risen at least to reasonable in most NBA teams eyes now. When Westphal took over, Udrih was considered an albatross among the Kings collection of them.

Kenny Thomas never did much for the team (outside of a few moments in the early 09-10 season) under Westphal, and never really had much of a chance to.

Francisco Garcia has injury problems, and I’m not exactly sure how Paul Westphal has control over that. But, when the team badly needed a consistent presence at the SF, and it was clear that Omri Casspi and Donte Greene were not ready to grab that brass ring, Westphal created a rotation that primarily played Cisco at the SF spot. Not every coach in the NBA adapts well in what amounts quite often to being a no-win scenario. Especially in the eyes of fans who want to project what an Omri Casspi can do when he doesn’t consistently do it.

Spencer Hawes ultimately was traded after losing a power struggle with Westphal and the coaching staff. Jason Thompson has shown he can be the first big off the bench, and less times than more up to this point, be productive in that role. Again, of all the players that Westphal inherited, Thompson, Udrih and Martin have had the most value. One was a limited star who has limited appeal to 2/3 of the NBA, and the other 2 guys are starters on a bad team or very valuable bench players (especially in Beno’s case).

Since Westphal has become the head coach, the Kings have brought in the following players through draft, free agency or trade:

Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Marcus Thornton, Samuel Dalembert, Carl Landry, Omri Casspi, Jon Brockman, Darnell Jackson, Pooh Jeter, Desmond Mason, Antoine Wright, Luther Head, and Hassan Whiteside.

If you didn’t have money to spend, whether realistic or part of the plan, the reality is that the team has made smart trades.

Hawes and Nocioni became Dalembert. Did that trade not work out for the Kings? It’s not like Dalembert’s salary was so exorbitant to the point where the Kings couldn’t bring in other players. The Kings were the NBA’s lowest payroll (for good reason) this past season. Jackson and Jeter showed they can play in the NBA in limited fashion. (Which is what you would expect.) That isn’t development of players? The Kings got a 2nd round pick and Jackson for Jon Brockman. I’m not really sure why Milwaukee did that trade other than they wanted Nessie, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I was ecstatic at the time and ecstatic about it now. Jackson is everything the Kings need, and that 2nd round pick, well, I’m not optimistic but it’s better than nothing I guess.

Westphal has done a terrific job coaxing 24 wins out of a beat up roster that has done a slow overturn without a big Free Agent signing (unlike in 1999 when Divac, Maxwell, Barry, and Pollard were all Free Agents signed before or during that season).

Is Paul Westphal perfect? No, he can’t create miracles or make Omri Casspi into an All-Star. Guess what? There’s a reason Casspi went 23rd in the draft. This is why. I’m not saying Omri can’t turn into a bonafide player because of course Omri can. But, it’s a difficult process on a young team with so many young players trying to establish themselves and become the “man” in a few cases.

Not every young player ends up with a long term career. Potential doesn’t mean a player will have a 10 year NBA career. Potential gets you drafted in the 1st round of the draft. Everything after that is about how hard you work, the situation you end up in and, quite often, injuries. Why do you think there is a NBA draft every year? So Jonathan Givony and Chad Ford have something to do? So fans have a reason to argue in May and June over non-playoff related matters?

I think that remembering that the Kings won 38 and 17 games prior to Westphal’s arrival (with a much older roster), and won 25 and 24 games his 2 seasons coaching says a lot. What coach looks good in the situation where the franchise (rightfully so) isn’t spending money in Free Agency? (Can’t, won’t doesn’t make much of a difference in reality. Not yet anyway.) Let me ask: Is winning 55 games with a limited mediocre roster worse or better than winning 49 games with a primarily overturned and younger roster?

Francisco Garcia was considered an albatross. He has 2 years left on his contract. Beno Udrih was considered an albatross. He has 2 years left on his contract and is probably going to be sought after by a lot of teams if the Kings make him available. Players like Beno Udrih do not grow on tree’s.

Let me ask this: On a team that had limited, or poor, asset’s, since Westphal has taken over, what has Westphal done to make the team worse than it was before? This is the roster today:

Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Marcus Thornton, Samuel Dalembert, Beno Udrih, Jason Thompson, Francisco Garcia, Darnell Jackson, Pooh Jeter, Omri Casspi, Donte Greene, Jermaine Taylor and Hassan Whiteside.

Your worst assets are cheap. Your best asset’s are 2 young players that teams generally covet and can help you win games with a bit more maturity. Dalembert, Udrih and Garcia are all veterans that can help a team win. Thornton is a perfect 3rd wheel to Evans and Cousins. There’s a top 8 pick in the upcoming draft, lots of cap room (that can help facilitate a draft day deal), and plenty of cheap young asset’s that teams usually like to have in trades for more expensive veteran players.

This wasn’t the case 2 years ago, and it’s Paul Westphal’s fault that after 2 years of rebuilding (to like, I don’t know, help aid and move the Kings along in getting back to the playoffs) the Kings aren’t an elite team? What world do you live on where that makes sense?

Westphal and his staff have been dealt a challenge, dealt with it as best as any coaching staff could, and have found a way to improve a roster that needed dramatic improvement when being hired in 2009.

I’ll say this about Jim Eyen, Mario Elie (DUI excepted), Truck Robinson and Otis Hughley: Nothing suggests that they are incompetent or have struggles to understand the NBA game. All of them know the game. That goes a long way. Robinson has been credited by Thompson and Cousins in helping them improve their post defense. Evans and Elie have a strong relationship. Hughley is known for player development other than being Cousins HS coach for the last half of his HS career. (Cuz played half of his HS career in Birmingham; the other half in Mobile under Hughley’s tutelage.) Again, nothing I’ve seen suggests that this is a coaching staff that is incompetent.

If Scott Brooks had coached the first 2 full seasons of Kevin Durant’s career, he would have had 43 wins combined. (Asssuming nothing changes. Which, in of itself, is faulty logic. Just go with me.) Is Scott Brooks an idiot? Don’t think so. Wasn’t an idiot when he had a 22-47 record in the 08-09 season. Brooks wasn’t an idiot when PJ Carleismo hired him. Brooks was even liked by a blogger with a last name that starts with Z.

Again, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.

The season before Westphal took over, the Kings lost games by an average of 8.8 points a game. Even in a tough season this year, the Kings lost games by 5.3 points with some unusually awful blowouts and bad timing (to say the least). The Kings played a ton of close games the last 2 seasons, often against quality competition, and won their share of surprising games over the course of the season. When Westphal had a real team over the last 18 games of the season, the Kings were 9-9. Of course, with talk of moving to Anaheim, and a poor record for most of the season, the kind of talk generated at the beginning of Westphal’s tenure was never going to happen.

For the record, the coaching by Westphal (like the zone against Memphis) was superb by my estimation (and I’m no genius in this regard) has earned him a shot at coaching this team for another year at a bare minimum. I would submit that no coach would be successful with Evans’ injuries, Dalembert’s slow start (fueled by missing training camp that a young team desperately needed to have to start the gelling process), Landry’s sub-par showing for most of the season (sometimes things just don’t work and I’d place Carl in that category), Cousins’ temper tantrums and legitimate on-court struggles, and general lack of talent at the right time. The Kings had a lot of bad luck this season. They caught a lot of top teams at the exact wrong time. They did so without Evans in the lineup too often. The Kings had a lot of games where they were up and managed to fold down the stretch.

The Kings also won more games (13) on the road than at home (11). When’s the last time a team in turmoil and that young achieved that?

Again, I think Westphal is being blamed for things that really have nothing to do with his coaching. He’s earned the right to coach this team for another year if not two. Did he want this job? Yes. He knew the deal. But it’s not really reasonable to expect a head coach with a young roster and limited resources from the franchise to improve to come up with a playoff berth in the 2nd season. Especially when the best player, all of 21 years old, is hurt for almost the entire season and never really got off the ground this year.

When you draft young players, you have to be patient and earnest with their development. The Kings have done that. Evans hasn’t gotten worse in his career. It’s just that many fans have become impatient in his development. Cousins hasn’t gotten worse in his career. Casspi has flatlined in his career, but some of that could simply be circumstance in a lot of ways. Not every player finishes his career with the team he’s drafted by. Greene is probably going to be a marginal player who can play at the bottom of a 10 man rotation on a good team. Thompson is a steady player and has not really regressed under Westphal. If anything, where JT has regressed this past season (FT shooting mainly) Westphal can’t actually be blamed for. If there’s any one thing almost every player needs to work on, it’s getting better at the FT line.

We need to remember how we got to this place. I would submit (as this long winded Westphal section might have clued you in to) that Westphal is part of these players success; not part of their lesser traits. (Kurt Rambis anyone?) Success is not a given, and not automatic. It’s worth remembering when discussing whether a head coach is effective.

Front Office and Ownership

Ignoring the Anaheim issue, I’ll do the blurb on the Maloof’s first. I think it’s fair to say that after the 08-09 team flopped for much of the season badly, they felt they had no choice to rebuild. It was a good choice. Sometimes ownership isn’t easy, and won’t make fans happy. Spending money this past off-season is a classic example of that. The Maloof’s issues with Sacramento are of their own making, but one rap they haven’t earned is bad basketball owner’s. They haven’t acquired a bad Free Agent (Mikki Moore anyone?) that teams often do when trying to remain competitive or stretch an existing roster further than it’s capable. After creating a situation where eliminating much of the money, to John Salmons and Brad Miller especially, for the 09-10 season owed to certain players was accomplished before the 2009 Draft. The Kings got a Rookie of the Year, and a player worth keeping in some circumstances in Omri Casspi. The Kings drafted DeMarcus Cousins in 2010. They’ve traded for Sammy Dalembert and Marcus Thornton, traded Kevin Martin and Carl Landry and did all of it under limitations. In this case, I think the limitations have caused restraint that created a necessary emphasis on internal development and growth. Making a trade to make a trade is usually a poor idea. Signing a player to show that you’re interested in making the team better is always a poor idea.

The Kings may have not signed an impact Free Agent, but given their circumstances, the likelihood of signing a major impact Free Agent is less than a Pooh Jeter showing promise as a NBA player. That’s the reality. You may not like it, and you may not like the Maloof’s. I certainly don’t. But their ownership, at least in terms of basketball moves anyway, has not limited the franchise but helped it.

The problem with the Maloof’s is that they simply don’t understand how to create an effective business model that can create long term sustainability in tougher times such as this current period. And, that is certainly a fault they have created almost entirely on their own.

As far as Geoff Petrie, and his front office staff goes, what has he done really wrong? Show me a case where Geoff Petrie has messed up. Show me a player GP has missed in the draft. Show me a trade the Kings passed up on. Show me a player willing to sign in Sacramento that GP declined to sign. Show me how this had a negative impact on the team.

Philadelphia, for instance, declined to go after a more talented player in the draft in 2010. They had the 2nd pick. They missed players that were better than Evan Turner. Yet, they took Evan Turner anyway because he was a polished player who could help them “now”. Again, ownership and the front office have a similar basketball vision and that helps an incredible amount.

One area where I think Geoff Petrie succeeded was in keeping the team from falling apart in late December by supporting Westphal. The Head Coach is the most visible representation of management and supporting that coach is critical to giving players the necessary understanding of whom controls the franchise and why. Again, I could sit here and talk about every move that Petrie made in terms of cutting costs and acquiring players, but I’ve already talked about that for almost exclusively the time of Westphal’s blurb. Petrie has a hand in all of this stuff, and the reality is that letting him run a NBA team is the best way to be successful. The Maloof’s have done that. Petrie has proven he’s not an idiot. Both sides have made mistakes, and both sides seem to have done better recently as a result.

Petrie having Westphal’s back when Cousins was difficult was an important point I think that had Cousins’ attention. Much of his early season antics was about control, and finding out how he couldn’t just mouth his way into scaring a head coach or front office was an important lesson for Cousins. His ego and immaturity led him to that very belief. One of the gameplans I think Petrie and Westphal had was using Cousins’ ego and immaturity to help them sort of break Cousins off his cross. By that I mean that Cousins clings to his views extremely hard, and so hard that he pushes everyone else to the literal brink proving he’s right. By throwing him in the fire, by giving him so much responsibility so early and often, by expecting him to produce in accordance with that very ego, sort of gave them a power advantage over Cousins in the early stage of the game. Cousins’ attitude and fire is difficult for many franchises to handle. Philly was flat out afraid of Cousins and Doug Collins didn’t want to deal with Cousins. Ed Stefanski, the Sixers GM, agreed. They played it safe. How much potential does Philly have to win a championship?

Again, the risk of Cousins was always great. The reward? Equally as great. By forcing Cousins to assess some of his strengths and weaknesses, in some ways Cousins simply found that fighting with a head coaching staff that has the same exact goals as Cuz was a learning experience for the growing man. There is no good way to help someone mature other than simply be consistent, firm and when he comes back for guidance, give the guidance.

Pitting Cousins against his own ego and immaturity was always a gamble. What was the alternative? Be timid and back down every time Cousins didn’t get his way? It’s not like the Kings are a championship team and Cousins’ is one of the most popular NBA players bringing you a ton of revenue. Cousins is a rookie who had solid rookie numbers with godawful fouling, turnover and shooting efficiency numbers. He’s the mixed bag as a rookie that he promised to be coming out of Kentucky.

Cousins had to find that what he thought he could do at the NBA level was not necessarily a solid plan. He had to find it out repeatedly early on and then come back to the coaching staff and front office to ask for help. He took steps back and steps forward. Rookies did that. But given Cousins’ personality, profile and penchant for stepping the spotlight for whatever he is doing, it was always going to be cranked up a bit higher whenever the spotlight came to discussing the growing man.

Do you think Cousins would have had much success on this team if Westphal, and with Petrie/Maloof’s backing no less, didn’t have that support from the franchise and the front office?

Summary (finally!)

It may not seem like it was the case, but the seeds for success were grown over the past 2 seasons. That started with Petrie and the Maloof’s finding common ground to run basketball operations. It was a step by step process that started with shedding salary at the 2009 trade deadline (Salmons and Miller), drafting Evans, Casspi and Brockman in the 2009 draft, trading Martin for Landry at the 2010 trade deadline, drafting Cousins and Whiteside in the ’10 draft, trading Nocioni and Hawes for Dalembert a week before the 2010 draft, trading Brockman for Jackson and a 2011 2nd round pick, signing Pooh Jeter to a contract, and trading Landry for Thornton.

When you get internal improvement (Beno Udrih and Jason Thompson), improvement in the draft (Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins), improvement in trades (receiving Samuel Dalembert and Marcus Thornton), that’s called getting the job done.

The rebuilding is really over now. Next year is about winning games and getting to the playoffs. That’s the critical point I’m trying to make. All the difficulties of the last 3 seasons have led to next season and the start of something that hopefully culminates in multiple championships. That is, after all, the point right?

Thanks for reading.

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Responses

  1. Great summary Pookey! Honestly, I don’t disagree with anything you said, particularly your points on Caspi; European basketball & Westphal. Thanx again for writing something so comprehensive you save the rest of us from coming up with anything at all. You’re a great time saver, my friend.

  2. Pook – just now starting to get back to reading about the Kings. Excellent season wrap up. You know I would read it if it was twice as long.

    When the season ended my thoughts about Omri was that he should return to the Euroleague. I don’t think he will ever make as much news in the NBA as he thought he would. I’m not sure he will be a star in the Euroleague but I’ve become convinced that he will never be in the NBA. I like him a lot but I don’t ever see him becoming the player we hoped GP had drafted for and I think anything less than that will always be a frustration for Omri. I’m totally down if we keep him or trade him, in the beginning of last season I thought he was part of the core.

    Not much I can add other than I thought Cuz was a great pick and ultimately be a better player than Derrick Favors. There was very little I was disappointed about in his season. He showed he could do more than I thought he could, even his shot selection while not at all good was better than I expected.

    The thing we’ll never know about Reke is how good he might have been this season without injuries. I have to admit that I’ve thought at times that his injuries bailed him out of having a below expectations season. I guess that the last games give tons of hope but until he becomes a more vocal leader and imposes his will on his teammates I don’t think he will ever do it against his opponents. You could argue DRose but his humility combined with his aggressive game makes his teammates play well for him. I don’t know, guess I’m saying I don’t know that Reke came into training camp prepared to elevate his game to the next level.

    I wrote off Donté after he admitted he came into training camp out of shape and didn’t practice or play hard during camp. His build and height will keep him in the NBA and his youth and potential may keep teams interested for a while. I don’t see much damage from trading him and his salary makes him an affordable keep while waiting to see if he ever matures. So he has reached the point that only the most hopeless é fan still thinks he can be anything meaningful to a team.

    Great take on Westphal and the rest of the coaching group and over all the best post season recap about the Kings or any team for that matter that I’ve read.

  3. […] discussed Cousins here & here. I ain’t doing it again in this […]


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