Opening night is finally upon us. When the Sacramento Kings take on the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, they do so with plenty of new faces from the team that finished last season 33-49. Here is a quick look at the team that will take the floor during the 2016-17 campaign with the hopes of snapping the Kings’ decade-long playoff drought.
After Sacramento decided not to pursue Rajon Rondo, the former All-Star took big money to join the Chicago Bulls. Darren Collison and Ty Lawson will be asked to fill the void left by the NBA’s leading assist man from last season. Also leaving the Kings are Seth Curry (Mavericks), Quincy Acy (Mavericks), James Anderson (Turkey), Caron Butler (free agent), Eric Moreland (free agent), Duje Dukan (Croatia) and Marco Belinelli (traded to Hornets).
With Rondo leaving, Vlade Divac took a one-year, league minimum gamble on Lawson with the hopes that he can turn around his career. Veteran shooting guard Arron Afflalo was inked to a 2-year, $25 million deal with a team option in year two at $1.5 million. At the wing, Garrett Temple (3-years/$24 million) and Matt Barnes (2-year/$12.5 million) were added for depth. Anthony Tolliver was brought in to play the stretch four position. He’s on a two-year $16 million deal with a team option at $2 million in year two. With two draft day deals, the Kings were able to make three selections in the first round, drafting big man Georgios Papagiannis (13th overall), wing Malachi Richardson (22nd overall) and power forward Skal Labissiere (28th overall).
DeMarcus Cousins is entering his seventh season with the Kings and expected to play a huge role in the upcoming season. Despite politely asking for a new address during the summer, Rudy Gay is back for another season in Sacramento. Ben McLemore is entering his fourth season with the Kings after being selected with the seventh overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft. Forward Omri Casspi returns for his third straight season in Sacramento, although he’s played for the Kings for five of his eight NBA seasons. Point guard Darren Collison is in the final year of his 3-year, $15 million deal that he signed in the summer of 2014. Big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos are back for year two. Cauley-Stein was selected with the sixth overall pick last year and Koufos is in the second season of a 4-year, $33 million deal.
Ty Lawson - Point Guard
The 28-year-old veteran will man the point guard position while Collison is out for the first eight games of the season (league suspension). Lawson spent last year bouncing between Houston and Indiana, playing in a combined 66 regular season games. The speedy guard is coming off a down year and looking to get back to the player that averaged 15.2 points and 9.6 assists during the 2014-15 season in Denver. He is expected to lead the second unit once Collison returns to action Nov. 8 at home against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Arron Afflalo - Shooting Guard
Afflalo joins the Kings after playing last season for the New York Knicks. The 31-year-old shooting guard brings a stabilizing influence to the Kings’ backcourt. He’s bounced around the league a bit, but he can shoot from the outside (career 38.5 percent from 3-point range) and has a nice post game for a guard. He’ll be asked to play major minutes early in the year
Rudy Gay - Small Forward
When Gay signed a 3-year extension in 2014, it was with the understanding that he would form a nice 1-2 punch with DeMarcus Cousins under head coach Michael Malone. Three coaches later, Gay has already informed the team that he will opt out at season's end. He is coming off a down offensive season, but his role in George Karl’s system was limited a season ago. The 30-year-old forward has every reason to put up big numbers as he approaches free agency next summer.
DeMarcus Cousins - Power Forward
The franchise cornerstone big man is fresh off Olympic gold and looking for his first playoff berth. After averaging 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game last season, Cousins has clearly cemented himself as the game’s best pivot. He’ll be asked to open the game at the power forward spot, but will spend most of his season manning the center position. He’s taylormade to play in Joerger’s high-post style of play and primed for his third straight All-Star bid.
Kosta Koufos -- Center
Teams around the league like to start big and then make mid-quarter adjustments. Koufos knows Joerger’s system from their time together in Memphis. He will get the nod early, but expect plenty of Willie Cauley-Stein, Matt Barnes, Anthony Tolliver and Omri Casspi alongside Cousins as Joerger looks for the right mix. Koufos is a defensive-minded big that can rebound and score efficiently around the hoop. He’s in the best shape of his career and will likely be asked to open the game guarding the opponent's tough big.
While Collison is out, the Kings will ask Temple to play plenty of point guard minutes behind Lawson. After game eight, the versatile wing will play minutes at the 1, 2 and 3 as a perimeter stopper. He’s not a scorer, but Temple is a great locker room influence and plays with an infectious tenacity that fans will instantly appreciate.
After starting 190 games in his first three seasons in the league, McLemore will get an early shot to play behind Afflalo at the two. He’s had plenty of struggles, but the former first round pick can shoot, he’s a big time leaper and he has the tools to be a very good NBA defender. If he can’t show that he’s ready to play rotational minutes during Collison’s absence, it could be a long season on the bench for the 23-year-old guard.
Casspi was a lethal weapon last season as both a starter and a reserve for Karl. He shot an impressive 40.9 percent from 3-point land and 48.1 percent from the floor on his way to a career-best 11.8 points per game. Casspi is in a dogfight for minutes with Tolliver, Barnes and Temple. He missed time during camp with a hip issue and an illness, but he finished camp strong. When the Kings go small, expect Casspi and Barnes to form a strong forward combination.
At 36, Barnes showed that he has plenty left in the tank last season playing for Joerger in Memphis. Not always the most popular player amongst the fans, the Sacramento-native plays a gritty brand of basketball that has earned him the trust of his coaches and teammates. He’s likely not going to log 28.8 minutes or average 10.0 points per game like last season, but he’s a quality veteran presence that can still run the floor like a gazelle and lock down forwards on defense.
The Kings shocked the NBA world a bit with their investment this summer in the 31-year-old Tolliver. Another team-first guy, Tolliver can hit the open 3-ball, play defense and shock you with a sneaky block here and there. Joerger loves veterans and this is one handpicked by new assistant GM Ken Catanella. Can he bring the “Tolliver Effect” to Sacramento?
It’s not that Cauley-Stein has fallen out of favor in Sacramento, but he’s up against some serious veteran contenders for minutes this season. The lanky defensive stopper still looks slightly uncomfortable in the Kings’ new system. He will get his bearings eventually and make a nice addition to Joerger’s small ball lineups. Cauley-Stein has never been asked to run a high post or hit a 20-foot jumper in his young career. He’ll get minutes, but how many will depend on quickly he can acclimate to the new offensive and defensive schemes.
The rookie out of Kentucky has been the talk of camp. He has tremendous length and athleticism, but he’ll need time to develop. Labissiere will see time in Reno with the Bighorns, but expect the Kings to keep him around the team so their staff can develop this top tier talent.
Another young big that needs development time in Reno, Papa G has trimmed down considerably since we first saw him walk in the door. The Kings will be patient in bringing the 7-foot-1 center along. He is a giant with a soft touch both inside and outside. If he can learn the high-post system and continue to show improvement in his physique, the Kings might be onto something in year two and three.
Lost in a numbers game at the wing, Richardson will commute back and forth from Reno with his fellow rookie class. The smooth shooting guard/forward has great size and length to play the two, but his shot selection and accuracy must improve to make an impact at the NBA level. Coaches rave about his demeanor and he routinely beats veterans in 3-point shootouts after practice.