We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season. Today:
Can Dave Joerger get DeMarcus Cousins, rest of Kings on the same page?
This season is a crossroads in Sacramento.
In two weeks the Kings will play their first preseason game in the beautiful new downtown building that kept the Kings in Sacramento. It’s the season that owner Vivek Ranadive desperately wants to see end with a trip to the playoffs — it would be the first time the Kings made the postseason in 10 years. It is the season the Kings need to show that they are developing a basketball culture that can win, which matters because it is the last chance to convince their All-NBA, gold medal winning center DeMarcus Cousins that this is a franchise headed in the right direction and he should want to stay. (Cousins is a free agent in the summer of 2018, if the Kings can’t get a commitment from him after this season the team has to consider trading him;, they can’t afford to lose him for nothing.)
That’s a lot on the shoulders of new coach Dave Joerger.
Considering the roster he was given, and the timeline to meet, maybe too much.
Joerger was brought in to work with GM Vlade Divac and turn the Kings from a laughingstock organization to something respectable — a team that wins consistently. The kind of franchise where it’s star player doesn’t tweet things out on draft night about how much he hates the picks (but sure, he tweeted about hot yoga).
Joerger had a lot of success in Memphis building on the “grit and grind” culture that Lionel Hollins had established. He’s a strong Xs and Os coach who puts players in good positions, playing to their strengths. Joerger had good relationships with some challenging personalities on that Grizzlies roster (Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol at times, and others). It’s why Sacramento wanted him, management saw someone who could handle their roster and start building a culture.
A new coach in a new building for a new day.
Joerger seems to have passed the one big summer test — he and Cousins get along. At least so far, before Joerger calls him out on a missed defensive assignment or gets in his face over effort getting back in transition. This summer Joerger has been seen golfing and speaking with Cousins, trying to build a bond between himself and the elite center who is not always trusting of coaches. To put it kindly. At least this summer we have seen no snake in the grass tweets from Cousins, it’s been all good.
Cousins is coming off winning an Olympic gold, and while he never figured out FIBA officiating — which is not all on him, FIBA officials have all the consistency of Jim Carrey’s acting career — players coming out of the ultra-competitive, high-level Team USA practices and environment often have one of their best seasons.
The Kings are going to need that from Cousins, and a culture from Joerger that catches on quickly, because they have some other serious hurdles to overcome this season if they are dreaming of the playoffs.
• Their starting point guard is Darren Collison, and the Kings were better with him on the court last season than Rajon Rondo. Collison looks for his own shot first but is an efficient scorer who can get into the lane or hit the three. This all sounds good except for one problem: He is going to be suspended to start the season. Collison pled guilty to a domestic violence charge and the last player to do that was suspended 24 games (Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor). That’s a quarter of the season where Ty Lawson and Jordan Farmar (with maybe some Garrett Temple) will run the point for the Kings, and that is a considerable step down.
• Their starting three is Rudy Gay, an inefficient isolation scorer who loves to shoot from the midrange — a guy who doesn’t fit in the modern NBA. And a player who has said he is leaving as a free agent at the end of the season, so the Kings are shopping him around. That will be a distraction.
• Can a bench of Kosta Koufos, Omri Casspi, Matt Barnes, Anthony Tolliver and a few others keep the team close in a deep Western Conference?
And that’s not even getting into the questions of Willie Cauley-Stein‘s fit, Ben McLemore‘s development, Skal Labissiere‘s development (I think he could become a quality stretch four next to Cousins in a couple of years), why Georgios Papagiannis was drafted that high (a Cousins’ replacement?), or what Arron Afflalo has left in the tank?.
I believe Joerger can build the kind of culture and — with some roster tweaks — team that can make the playoffs and start to turn things around in Sacramento. But it is going to take one thing:
Which has never been owner Ranadive’s strong suit. Last time he had a coach who got along well with Cousins and understood how to build a culture, Ranadive fired him mid-season because Cousins got sick and the owner wanted a faster style of play.
Plus, the Kings don’t have much time to win Cousins over, assuming that can still be done (the conventional wisdom around the league is that it is too late and he is gone, the only question is how much the Kings get in return). Sacramento is not going to make a rash decision here, they are going to keep Cousins in Sacramento the full season in the new building and work to make him want to stay. But next summer, if there is no commitment from him, the team has no choice, it needs to get something for him before he walks.
I see the Kings as a 35-win team this season, give or take a couple. About where they were a year ago, but with a foundation being put in place for the future.
That may not be enough, or at least fast enough.
It’s a lot to ask of Joerger. He’s walked into maybe the most challenging coaching job in the NBA. Good luck.