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2013-14 Sacramento Kings Preview

<p>Mike Malone was tabbed as head coach back in June and was the top assistant to the Warriors' Mark Jackson the past two seasons. He was previously an assistant coach for the Knicks, Hornets and Cavaliers, and is the Kings' 25th head coach, replacing Keith Smart, who went 48-93 in two seasons in Sacramento. The Kings finished 13th in the Western Conference with a 28-54 record in 2012-13 and it was time for a facelift.</p>

Mike Malone was tabbed as head coach back in June and was the top assistant to the Warriors' Mark Jackson the past two seasons. He was previously an assistant coach for the Knicks, Hornets and Cavaliers, and is the Kings' 25th head coach, replacing Keith Smart, who went 48-93 in two seasons in Sacramento. The Kings finished 13th in the Western Conference with a 28-54 record in 2012-13 and it was time for a facelift.

"Michael Malone is one of the best and most talented coaches in the game," said Kings owner Vivek Ranadive. "As vice chairman of the Warriors, I developed a great relationship with coach Malone and witnessed first-hand how instrumental he was to the success of the team. His work ethic, passion, and vision for the game will create an entirely new culture and style of play. Hiring coach Malone is our first step in giving the best fans in sports the excellence they deserve."

Ranadive, of course, headed the investment group that inherited controlling interest in the franchise from the Maloof family and ownership of Sleep Train Arena for an NBA record $534 million. The Maloof family was at the controls since 1999 and had been trying to sell the club after repeated efforts for a new stadium deal continued to fall through.

The team was even rumored to depart Sacramento.

"We are pleased for both the Maloof family and the Ranadive group, but particularly pleased for the fans of the Kings," said NBA commissioner David Stern in a statement.

Ranadive also announced that Pete D'Alessandro is the Kings' new general manager and Chris Granger left his post as executive vice president of team marketing and business operations for the NBA to take over as team president. Hall of Famer Chris Mullin was named as an advisor to the chairman.

Sacramento's spring cleaning exercise included trades and two promising additions via the NBA Draft. And for a franchise that hasn't won more than 38 games in the past seven seasons, it was time for some alterations.

The biggest deal this offseason was trading Tyreke Evans to the New Orleans Pelicans for point guard Greivis Vasquez as part of a three-team swap. Evans is the 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year who's averaged 17.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists for his career and dealt with injuries the past few seasons. The dream of Evans and center DeMarcus Cousins making the Kings relevant again have been dashed.

Sacramento also welcomed the return of forward Carl Landry and he is back in a Kings' uniform after playing parts of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 season with the club. He averaged 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds off the bench for the Warriors last season. Forward Luc Mbah a Moute was added from Milwaukee and the Kings drafted guards Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum over the summer. McLemore was the seventh overall pick.

The new regime is doing its best so far to put smiles back on the faces of fans now that the Maloof's are gone. The starting lineup is generally the same with Cousins, Jason Thompson and John Salmons expected to start with the rookie McLemore and floor general Vasquez.

"(Greivis is) a facilitator, he's a floor leader (and) he's going to make plays for his teammates," Malone said. "That goes into changing our culture and getting guys who are willing to move the ball and pass up good shots to get great shots."

It won't be peaches and cream right away for the Kings, as they are expected to compete with the Phoenix Suns for last place in a division with the Lakers, Clippers and Warriors. So patience will be a virtue with a franchise entrenched in a tough division and Western Conference.

2012-13 Results: 28-54, 4th in Pacific

ADDITIONS: HC Mike Malone, G Greivis Vasquez, F Luc Mbah a Moute, F Carl Landry, G Ben McLemore, G Ray McCallum

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:

PG- Greivis Vasquez SG- Ben McLemore SF- John Salmons PF- Jason Thompson C- DeMarcus Cousins

KEY RESERVES: PG Isaiah Thomas, PG Ray McCallum, G Marcus Thornton, G Jimmer Fredette, F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, F Carl Landry, C Chuck Hayes, F Patrick Patterson

FRONTCOURT: The front office overhaul may not change the sometimes-erratic behavior of Cousins, but it may get the big man's attention. Cousins tends to let his emotions get the best of him and he was suspended four times last season, including three separate occasions by the NBA. He has the ability to be a perennial All-Star and ranked ninth in rebounding last season (9.9 rpg). Cousins led the Kings in scoring with 17.1 ppg and posted 35 double-doubles. The Kings have no choice but to build around Cousins, who posted 36 points and a career-high 22 rebounds in the last game of the season. They proved that by signing him to a multi-year extension in September.

John Salmons is penciled in at small forward and posted 8.8 points and 2.7 rebounds in 2012-13. Salmons is a solid defender, but he won't be relied on to carry the scoring load.

Power forward Jason Thompson posted 10.9 points and 6.7 rebounds a season ago and may get pushed by Carl Landry, who had similar numbers with 10.8 points and 6.0 boards last season.

BACKCOURT: Vazquez's presence should make Cousins that much better because now he's dealing with a pass-first guard. Vazquez, who possesses a quick first step, averaged 13.9 points and 9.0 assists for the Hornets last season and his acquisition is a step in the right direction. Vasquez is now in a Pacific division with top point guards Chris Paul and Stephen Curry.

One day rookie guard McLemore will earn that same distinction, but first has to prove himself during the summer league and preseason. He averaged 15.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals, and 32.2 minutes per game in 37 appearances for the Kansas Jayhawks last season, and registered 11 games of 20 points or more, including three 30-point performances. The Kings could use that scoring touch now that Evans is gone and hope that McLemore and Vasquez can transform into a competitive tandem.

BENCH: The Kings' bench is a serviceable one with top reserves Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Chuck Hayes, Jimmer Fredette, Patrick Paterson and Mbah a Moute. Thompson or Landry could join the reserves by the start of the season and the former averaged 10.9 points in playing all 82 games last season. He was the only Kings player see action in every game in 2012-13.

Thomas posted 13.9 ppg and Thornton netted 12.7 ppg after leading the Kings with 18.7 ppg the year before. Thomas had an impressive sophomore campaign and was invited to compete in the NBA All-Star Weekend Rising Stars Challenge, leaving many wondering if and when he'll crack the starting lineup. Thomas averaged 17.3 points, 5.4 assists and one steal per game in 28 games after the All-Star break.

McCallum brings athleticism and speed to the Kings and hopes to see plenty of time in his rookie campaign. He improved every year at Detroit and was the Horizon League Player of the Year with a conference-best 18.7 ppg.

Patterson was one of three power forwards to average more than 10 points a game at 10.4 ppg and joined the Kings mid-season. Landry said he has more experience, maturity and a higher basketball I.Q. and the leadership qualities to bring to the team. The bench could be more important to the Kings' success than the starting five.

COACHING: Malone was brought on primarily to improve Sacramento's biggest issue: Playing defense. Malone was a part of a Golden State team that improved on the defensive end of the floor en route to a playoff berth. The Warriors improved immensely in rebounding (from 28th to 3rd), defensive rebounding (24th to 1st), opponent field goal percentage (20th to 3rd) and opponent three-point field goal percentage (28th to 7th).

Whether he can convert water into wine by transforming the Kings into a tough defender remains to be seen. Malone was also on Cleveland's coaching staff when the LeBron James-led Cavs reached the NBA Finals in 2007 and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009.

Malone will have to get Cousins to learn how to calm himself and explain how much better he can be with a point guard that doesn't mind giving up shots. Brendan Malone was hired as an assistant coach, along with Dee Brown, Micah Nori, Chris Jent, Ryan Bowen and Corliss Williamson.

OUTLOOK: The front office and roster reconstruction won't bear much fruit for the 2013-14 season and at least the Kings are making an attempt to improve morale and win back the once-devoted fanbase.

There won't be much of a high ceiling for the Kings, who gave a glimpse of improvement at season's end by scoring 100 or more points in 26 of the last 32 games and in 15 of the last 17 home contests. Sacramento also reached the 20- win mark at home for the first time since 2007-08, when it registered a 26-15 home record.

Malone hopes the enigmatic Cousins can form a strong bond with Vasquez because that will only make his first season as head coach smoother. The roster isn't the worst in the NBA, but expect another season with about 30 to 35 wins.

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