It’s safe to say the Sacramento Kings are no longer that cute little team out West.
No, the Kings aren’t winning much more this season (they’re 12-22 entering Sunday’s home game vs. Cleveland), but they are starting to figure things out a little.
Just like any team with a new coach, the Kings are in a constant search for the right starting lineup and a regular rotation.
Many of their promising players — center DeMarcus Cousins, point guard Isaiah Thomas, rookie shooting guard Ben McClemore — are awful young, too.
On top of all that, Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro is trying to rebuild this team on the fly. Like coach Michael Malone, the GM is in his first year in Sacramento, and first year as the main man.
Already this season, D’Alessandro has traded for starting small forward Rudy Gay (from Toronto), a borderline All-Star, and reserve forward Derrick Williams (from Minnesota), an improving third-year player.
So the Kings have new ownership, a new GM, a new coach and some new capable bodies.
Pretty soon, they might even have a new downtown arena.
But for the Kings, it all starts with Cousins. He’s averaging 23.5 points and 11.5 rebounds. This could be the year he finally makes the All-Star team. More importantly, Cousins has stayed out of trouble. He’s not a bad guy, he just had a tendency to disrupt things in the past.
The Kings explored trading Cousins in the offseason, but now they’re probably glad they didn’t. This year, it’s so far, so good for Cousins.
The Kings are also the rare team with a talented center and a talented point guard. Thomas was the final overall pick (No. 60) in the entire draft the same year the Cavaliers chose Kyrie Irving at No. 1. But Thomas may be the second best point guard from that 2010 class (behind Irving).
Throw in an athletic and scoring swingman like Gay, and the Kings have promise.
Especially since Malone holds his players accountable. He’s called them out for their rebounding and defense (or lack thereof) a few times this season.
Malone understands this is a young team, and he’s made it clear who’s in charge. He is. It appears the Kings respect and therefore listen to their coach.
The Kings enter Sunday riding two straight wins. They beat surprising Portland in a close one (123-119), then walloped Orlando (103-83).
The addition of Gay has been a major factor. He was obtained Dec. 9, and is averaging 23.4 points and shooting 56 percent from the field. Sacramento has won four of seven and is an impressive 10-3 when scoring at least 105 points.
"Rudy has helped us out so much and gives us another option offensively," Cousins said. "He’s been a great addition."
Gay said the recent upswing is more a result of the Kings sharing the ball and getting out and running more.
Whatever it is, the Kings appear to be flaunting several signs of hope. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, and they’re not likely to qualify this season.
But the Kings are no pushovers these days, and hey, that alone is a significant improvement.