Know thy enemy: Sacramento Kings
It's back! Our yearly tour of the Western Conference. We'll go in reverse order of last year's finish, leading up to the start of the season.
Last Season: 17-65 (.207, 5th in the Pacific Division, 15th in the Western Conference. Had there been 20 teams, they'd likely have been 20th.)
Key Additions: Drafted Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi, and Jon Brockman. Signed Sean May, Desmond Mason. Traded for Sergio Rodriguez.
Key Subtrations: Guys like John Salmons and Brad Miller went to the Bulls at the trade deadline last year. Other than that, they really didn't have many key players to subtract. Can Shelden Williams and Bobby Brown be considered "key?" It's a reasonable question.
Arco Arena may be filled with barn-like "aw shucks" charm and deafening noise when the team is good, but when the Kings suck- and they suuuuuuuuck- it's a horrible venue. Genuinely awful. It should be replaced, but when that'll happen is an open question. The Maloofs say the team isn't going anywhere, but at the same time acknowledge that the economy, particularly in California, isn't exactly conducive to the construction of this sort. (You may have heard the economy has taken a bad turn?) So, at least in theory, they'll wait... and in the meantime seem unlikely to spend any money bettering the squad. That means a foreseeable future in which the Kings rarely win and the building is rarely filled, save those nights when the Lakers come to town and the place is packed with Kobe jerseys. Or maybe they'll move after all.
Either way, the citizens of Sacramento deserve better. What else do they have?
They also lack any semblance of a post game (Hawes loves to step outside and shoot rather than bang down low), were a truly wretched defensive team by any measure last year with little hope of improving in '09-'10, and have really ugly uniforms. (Not that it should matter, but I believe firmly that it's hard to play well when a team isn't dressed well.)
Nor were they some unlucky squad on the wrong end of close games. No, they were routinely crushed like Cabernet grapes last year, not simply losing more than any team in basketball but by an -8.8 point differential, tied with the Clippers for the NBA's worst. They'll be better this year if Evans contributes, Martin stays healthy, and guys like Thompson and Hawes develop. Rodriguez can help as well, since Udrih has plenty of limitations. A new coach in Paul Westphal can't hurt, or at the very least, can't be less popular than Reggie Theus (and later Kenny Natt) in our state capital.
File all of that under "faint praise," often teams win more than 17 games just by accident. All we really know is that the Kings are awful, and therefore the odds that the Lakers will carelessly drop a game against them and set the Internet on fire with questions of their heart, character, and focus. That's a separate issue. Big picture, while I'm guessing they'll pick up a few extra victories, Sacramento could also defend their title as the least-winning team in the NBA.
Prediction: 23 wins, 5th in the Pacific.