Lost amid the circus sideshow of the Maloof brothers tragicomic inability to sell the Sacramento Kings without pissing off everyone around them has been their equally tone-deaf stewardship of a basketball team that is in desperate need of attention. Benign neglect was one of the linchpins of the Maloofs' move-at-all-costs gameplan, and it's come with a heavy cost.
It's been seven years since the Kings made the playoffs and four since they bottomed out with 17 wins in 2008-09. Despite four straight years of top-7 picks, the Kings are still stuck in perpetual mediocrity with no obvious plan for improvement, unless you count adding John Salmons and Travis Outlaw as proactive.
The constant in all of this has been Geoff Petrie, who has been running the basketball operation for almost two decades. There have been massive changes across the NBA universe in scouting, player development and cap management during that time, but the Kings have been two beats behind the learning curve for years.
If ever there was a franchise that needed a fresh start, it's this one. There's some talent on hand, notably wildchild center DeMarcus Cousins, but beyond DMC. the roster is an uneven mix of high-usage scoring guards, offensively-challenged big men and wings who can't shoot. There have been five coaches in six years and still no visible signs of an identity either on offense or defense.
With $41 million committed to nine players, a handful of free agent decisions and another high draft pick on the way, the Kings are standing at the intersection where a rebuilding project can go in either direction, yet they have been aimless while the ownership saga plays out.
Cousins is the first big issue to address. His numbers (17 and 10) and age (22) point to future stardom, but his attitude and on-court demeanor remain troublesome. He's eligible to be extended this summer, but the smart play would be letting him play out of his fourth year. Cousins is a max-contract talent, but that designation comes with an expectation of responsibility. DMC hasn't demonstrated that he's up to the task.
There's a nature vs. nurture argument to be had with Cousins, and the Kings have squandered the first three years of his career by surrounding him with equally unproven talent and overmatched coaches. Now, they're running out of time to make an informed decision, which makes this upcoming season even more important.
Time has already run out on the Kings' other building block, Tyreke Evans, who went from Rookie of the Year to injury-plagued enigma in search of a position. He finally got healthy and moved off the ball full-time this season and responded with a strong bounce-back campaign, posting a True Shooting Percentage of .558 and a PER of 18.1.
Still just 23 years old, Evans appears back on the right track, but he'll be a restricted free agent this summer. The Kings will have the right to match, and considering the extension deals the other lead guards received from his draft class, Evans should be in line for something in the $32-40 million range over four years, give or take. That's a long-term investment.
Keeping Evans would be wise for a team that needs size in the backcourt next to Isaiah Thomas, who has been a revelation at point guard. The problem is one of duplication. Marcus Thornton is a scorer first, second and third and Jimmer Fredette has showed signs of being a capable instant offense guard, but with so many similarly-minded players, Kings games often devolve into one-on-one contests with little ball movement, flow or direction.
There's a trade to be made here, but under Petrie, the Kings have been notoriously difficult to deal with. Again, fresh eyes and ideas are needed.
In the frontcourt next to Cousins, Jason Thompson is reasonably paid as a second or third big man and well-suited to the task, while Chuck Hayes is the requisite veteran banger and sage. But the Kings need more grown-ups who can play, not just role players.
After arriving in a deadline deal for Thomas Robinson from Houston, Patrick Patterson's outside shooting was a much-needed addition. The Patterson deal could wind up being the kind of smart swap Petrie was known for in his glory days, but in dealing a top-5 pick who had a disastrous rookie season, it was either a tacit admission of poor scouting or a very bad fit.
Like the guards, the Kings' frontcourt is an underwhelming collection of mildly interesting individual talent that seems ill-suited to function very well together.
There are big decisions to be made at almost every position and somewhere out there is a young executive with bold ideas and vision. The Kings are (hopefully) about to become more stable in the owner's suite, but the transition will only be half done.