With it being Kings Day, we decided to go straight to the source for some perspective on the Sacramento Kings. We reached out to Nate Hughart of Evil Cowtown, Inc. to answer some of our questions about the Sacramento Kings and preview the 2012-13 season:
Philip Rossman-Reich, Crossover Chronicles: Tyreke Evans is a huge mystery nationally. I think the memories and potential of his rookie year still color our perception of him nationally. So, heading into a contract year, what does Evans need to do to re-affirm that award winning season and be part of the Kings' long-term plans?
Nate Hughart, Evil Cowtown, Inc.: I think Tyreke needs to have a better mid-range jump shot (something that Tyreke has worked on with Kings President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie, among others, this offseason), a better left hand around the basket, and, in general, better, quicker decision making with or without the ball.
Defensively, and this is arguably the most distressing part of Tyreke Evans' game to date in my view, Tyreke needs a lot of work defensively. His awareness, effort, intensity and desire need to increase defensively for Tyreke to tap into his potential as a lockdown defensive player. While I don't think Tyreke has the total talent of LeBron James, I do think Tyreke has a similar ability that includes using his physical tools to impact both ends of the court the way LeBron James does.
If nothing else, I would like to see Tyreke simply work harder defensively this season and that hard work combined with Tyreke's exceptional physical tools would mean increased results defensively for Tyreke and the Kings.
What will it take for Tyreke to cement his future with the Kings means an All-Star caliber season, and given the events of the past two seasons that seems a very distant long shot at this juncture. It's still possible, and I think the Kings might be open to giving Tyreke a big new contract next off-season if significant, even if it's not All-Star progress, is made. A significant, and I mean significantly better than the 16.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.3 steals season than last year. That's a tall order for any player, and thus I'm not bullish on the idea Tyreke makes that jump at this point.
I do believe, for whatever it's worth, that Tyreke can make the jump. I'm just not sold, until at least more significant data comes in, that Tyreke is ready to take that step. I'm ready to be proven wrong anytime however. If Tyreke were to have an All-Star caliber season, that would be the most pleasant surprise for me as a fan since the Kings were considered championship contenders post Chris Webber microfracture knee surgery.
CC: Is DeMarcus Cousins the best kept secret in the NBA or is he just simply the best player on the Kings? Is he a franchise cornerstone or is Sacramento still searching for that player to build around?
EC: DeMarcus Cousins isn't a kept secret at all. Virtually every NBA writer knows who he is, Cousins played at one of the most visible collegiate programs for one of the most prolific collegiate coaches of his era, and Cousins didn't exactly not have his name mentioned while playing for Kentucky either. So, I would disagree that Cousins is a kept secret.
I think if anything, for many casual fans who have not seen Cousins on national TV much with the Kings that it feels like Cousins has faded away into obscurity because the Kings haven't been on national TV much the past few seasons (and won't be again this season either).
Cousins can be a cornerstone type of player, but based on data from his first two seasons I wouldn't say that any such step is guaranteed to become imminent. While Cousins typically is seen by the Kings fanbase to be the face of the franchise, and numerous Kings media people to boot, I'm not convinced that Cousins is capable of being reliable to play 34-36 minutes per game (it was a serious challenge to get Cousins up to 30 MPG last season), and I'm not convinced that Cousins lack of defensive presence is due to Cousins' youth and immaturity.
Cousins' physical presence when compared to his skills is not held in the highest esteem, and I believe that hurts Cousins more on the defensive end than the offensive end. I would simply like Cousins to learn his strengths (his 16-foot jumper, passing from the high post, offensive rebounding, high hoops IQ) and stay away from his weaknesses (trying to be a post player, dribbling into the lane) a lot more. That would be significant progress for Cousins from where I stand.
Anything beyond that at this point is a bonus, and I'm not convinced that Cousins is capable of much more than being a supremely gifted and skilled offensive player who is an exceptional rebounder. That's what DeMarcus Cousins projected to be coming out of Kentucky, and two years in Cousins hasn't shown that the rap coming on him out of Kentucky was off base by a significant margin.
CC: What are the Kings looking for out of first round pick Thomas Robinson? How about second-year guard Jimmer Fredette? Sacramento has had decent drafts it seems, is the draft a bright spot for this franchise or something that is still holding it back?
EC: I think Thomas Robinson is expected to be a backup power forward at worst all season long. If Robinson has locked down the starting power forward spot, that would be a major-league, big-time bonus in the gift that you hoped for but wasn't expecting to happen that quickly kind of thing.
Really, Robinson isn't expected to be a star, but fit alongside Evans and Cousins who are the top two guys despite whatever has ailed both of those two in the recent past. If Thomas Robinson averages 12 points, 8 rebounds and a block per game, I'll be thrilled. In part because it probably means that Robinson has earned enough minutes to displace Jason Thompson as the starting PF, and in part because it would mean the Kings gain a better backup center than Chuck Hayes in Thompson. It would mean an upgrade at two positions really, and there is no scenario where there is not a win-win.
As far as Jimmer Fredette, I would say that Jimmer is on the outside looking in as far as the regular rotation minutes go. I would expect that Isaiah Thomas, Aaron Brooks (whom the Kings signed during Las Vegas Summer League), Marcus Thornton and Evans will all soak up most of the backcourt minutes for the Kings. That doesn't leave Jimmer many more minutes, and that doesn't include any minutes John Salmons might get in the backcourt either. Right now, I would say Jimmer has a lot of work to do to get into the rotation, and in the long run that might not be a bad thing for Jimmer's long term prospects. For this season, the prospect of Jimmer receiving regular minutes seems pretty slim and unlikely though.
CC: We cannot talk about the Kings without mentioning the elephant in the room. The arena issue. It is ugly. It sucks. Nobody wants any franchise to go through it. Is this going to become a Dwight-mare-like distraction in Sacramento? Can this get resolved this season with the team staying in Sacramento?
EC: Oh yes, the arena question. The real answer is that all of this is in limbo, and the final answer I think comes down to David Stern and the NBA Board of Governors.
Part of that answer will include whatever ownership groups that the NBA believes will provide the greatest long-term benefit to the NBA by being part of the ownership ranks, and who among that potential ownership bracket would be willing to purchase the franchise while staying in Sacramento. That, I think is priority number one for the NBA at this point. Because the general trend of the NBA is to seek out a significant public subsidy, and the previous arena proposal that the NBA, AEG and the City of Sacramento agreed to had the city of Sacramento paying about 65 percent of the arena cost, that fact has not been lost on the NBA owners and Stern.
Where does Seattle fit into that? It depends on what happens with a potential ownership group that would be willing to keep the Kings franchise in Sacramento, and it also depends on how willing David Stern would be to actually open up expansion for discussion in regards to Seattle. There is a lot of things in the air right now, and I suspect the decision from the NBA's point of view will align with whatever decision they see as being the best long-term benefit to the NBA's bottom line.
Does that mean Sacramento is out of the game? Not really, no. I don't think anyone knows the long term future of the Kings because of all the unknown variables in the game at this point that anybody, including Stern and the owners themselves, do not even possibly know yet. That said, I doubt relocation happens next off-season unless something incredibly drastic with the Sacramento arena project falls apart.
CC: What would make this year a success for Sacramento?
EC: Oh goody, a simple question! Success for me would be a .500 season for this team, Evans flirting with an All-Star season, Cousins having an All-Star season or flirting with an appearance in the All-Star game, Isaiah Thomas locking down the long term PG spot for good, Thomas Robinson locking down the power forward spot as the long term power forward, and a bench veteran or two (particularly Salmons and Hayes) having a rebound year from down seasons a year ago.
Many thanks to Nate from Evil Cowtown, Inc. You can follow him on Twitter @EvilCowtownINC. Have any more thoughts on the Kings? Share them with us in the comments below or on Twitter by using the hashtag #KingsDay.