[Jim Mora voice]Optimism? OPTIMISM? *scoffs* OPTIMISM!?!?!?!?!?[/Jim Mora voice]
Yes, folks. Optimism. It seemingly went out the window about a week ago, and for good reason given the Kings lack luster play and the Paul Westphal/DeMarcus Cousins breakup that rivaled manufactured drama from any episode of Jersey Shore. But despite the doom and gloom, all’s not lost in the land of Kings.
Granted, a 2-3 record five games in isn’t something to exactly be proud of – but at the same time, it’s not exactly poor for a team in the Kings situation.
Let’s not forget the Kings are essentially throwing out three new starters when compared to the 10-11 Kings. Three you say? Sure, both Chuck Hayes and John Salmons are the “newest” Kings but Marcus Thornton only played 20 or so games in purple and black to end the previous season, most of which didn’t feature Tyreke Evans (let alone a healthy one) in the mix. So while he may have a bit of a head start on Hayes and Salmons meshing with the team, he’s still in the learning process. Add in a rookie who’s getting significant minutes (who outside of his scoring ability might not be currently ready for heavy rotation minutes) along with new backups (such as Travis Outlaw, etc) getting minutes over Kings more familiar with Westphal’s “system” (l..o…l) like Francisco Garcia and Donte Greene, you have a recipe for a mild disaster. Simply put, these guys just don’t know how to play with each other yet. They’ve looked like a bunch of individual basketball players out there the past few games and there’s a good reason as to why – that’s what they are. They’re trying to become a team, but with so much turnover – it takes time – especially when you don’t have any practice time or a training camp.
Along with the lack of unity that will only come with time and experience, the Kings two building blocks in Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins have been nothing short of poor during the first week+ of the season. I’ve long said that as Evans goes, so do the Kings – and we’ve seen clear examples of that early in the season. In the Lakers tilt, Evans was absolute money and the rest of the Kings followed. The second half of the Portland game – the Knicks game – the first half of the Hornets game, Evans was, well, not Evans like. The Kings replicated his production – but when Evans finally hit his stride in the second half of the New Orleans game, so did the Kings who looked like a completely different squad. As for DeMarcus, much like Tyreke, he’s struggled early in the season – mostly with his efficiency as his FG% has been nothing short of blinding at 32%. Outside of the field goal percentage, you can see improvement as he’s turning it over less, averaging more rebounds, getting to the stripe more and hitting those at a higher clip. His assists are down, but the entire Kings roster has been struggling with that as they’re all still trying to come together as a team, learning each others tendencies and quirks.
Lastly, you have to look at the schedule. Again, 2-3 isn’t anything to pound your chest over but given everything the Kings have dealt with – you’ll take it. From the needless drama to the lack of training camp or any practice time, these guys just don’t know each other right now. Beating the Lakers, despite the fact that the Kings may have got them on a night where their pants were down shouldn’t be scoffed at – they’re still a very good team. Losing to the Blazers? They hung tough for a half but hit a wall – but the Blazers have looked quite impressive in their first four games this season and as we all know, the Kings almost never have an easy time at the Rose Garden. A loss to the Bulls? Expected. Sure, the Kings went down 15 in the game and looked lethargic, but it shouldn’t be ignored that the Kings also mounted a comeback to get within one against a vaulted defense against a league power. The loss to the Knicks? Can’t defend that one – but given the insane shooting percentages they threw up in the first quarter, not even the 01-02 Kings would have withstood that early assault.
There’s been a lot of negativity surrounding the Kings as of late, both fan and media reaction – and it certainly isn’t unwarranted, but given everything, it could be a lot worse. A win tonight (which wont be easy but Zach Randolph and Mike Conley are out for Memphis) and the Kings are sitting at .500 after six games. It’s only going to get better as the Kings grow into a team and learn how to play with each other. Even if the Kings fall to 2-4, time is on the Kings side. Expectations can be a dirty thing and when they flourish so quickly as they did in the Lakers game opening night, a false sense of what to expect can take you over. Frankly, the Kings, currently, aren’t that team – but they can be that team. And more importantly, at some point, with time and effort, they will be that team.