The Sacramento Kings always seem to be in the news for a variety of reasons. As a Western Conference opponent, Hawks fans only get two opportunities to see them each season. For that reason, we thought this was a perfect time to bring in a Kings expert to give us some background on the Kings and to help preview Wednesday's game.
Sactown Royalty's Akis Yerocostas was gracious enough to answer my questions about the Kings and gives his thought's on Sacramento's ownership situation, George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins. We appreciate him taking the time to join us.
Hawks fans know a thing or two about dysfunctional ownership. What is your take on the Kings' ownership situation? Has it been blown out of proportion by the media?
A: Yes and No. The Kings have been dysfunctional, that's for sure. It all started last year when the Kings made the absolutely terrible decision to fire Michael Malone after his team went 2-8 without their best player. That threw the team in disarray and is still causing some repercussions (it's my belief that much of the Cousins-Karl tension comes from the fact that Malone was the only coach Cousins experienced any success under and Malone and Karl's styles are vastly different). Still, I think a lot of the ownership issues come down to inexperience. Vivek is only in his third year as an NBA owner, and new owners tend to like to get their hands dirty. I think Vivek has learned a little from his mistakes early on and is stepping back a little bit and letting GM Vlade Divac handle things for now. Vivek was lambasted for his decision to put Vlade Divac in charge but I don't think Vlade's done a bad job, especially for a first time executive. He's a natural at building relationships and his moves this summer gave the Kings a lot of added depth.
Things appeared to be headed south for the Kings, but they have won three straight since a team meeting. What has been the biggest factor during their recent streak of solid play?
A: Having DeMarcus Cousins available. If we're going by the literal definition of "Most Valuable Player", Cousins might be it, because if you take him off this team, everything falls apart. The Kings are 4-3 with Cousins, and one of those losses he only played about a quarter before leaving with injury. He changes the dynamic for this team on both ends of the court, and now that he's hitting threes at a high rate is opening up even more options for this team.
Rajon Rondo's resurgence also has to be credited. He's coming off a week in which he posted three triple-doubles and played all but about 10 of the available minutes because of injuries to his backups.
SB Nation's Tom Ziller recently wrote an article suggesting that it might be time for the Kings to trade DeMarcus Cousins. What was your take on that article?
A: Tom's premise is based on the fact that if the Kings wanted to make a major change, the only real way they could do so is by unloading DeMarcus Cousins. He's their only real big-time asset, especially after the Kings unloaded a bunch of future picks and pick swaps to Philadelphia to clear cap room this summer. I think Tom's article came too early however. At the time the Kings had played a total of two games with a full complement of players, and went through a stretch where they had to play the Clippers twice, Memphis, Phoenix, Houston, Golden State and San Antonio.
Personally, I don't think the Kings can afford to trade Cousins. He's a star right now and he's locked up for two more years at the minimum. There's absolutely no way the Kings can get 1:1 value for him in a trade, and to go into another full-on rebuild would be a huge psychological blow to a fanbase that has already suffered through 10 years in the cellar.
The George Karl era in Sacramento has seemed a bit rocky. What are your thoughts about him as a coach?
A: There's no question that Karl knows his stuff, but he's a powerful personality himself. I wouldn't call him a player's coach, and the fact that he doesn't particularly interact with his players aside from on the basketball court seems to be one of the issues that Cousins had during his outburst. I think much of the rift between Karl and the team (because it's not just Cousins that has issues) is a lack of communication, and I think the well-publicized team meeting they held helped in that regard.
For example, Karl likes to delegate certain duties to his assistant coaches. Associate Head Coach Chad Iske is usually the one you'll see standing up off the bench to yell plays and defensive assignments, not Karl. Karl says he likes the delegation and that it worked at a high level when he was in Denver. But in Denver, he already had cachet with his players from all the years he'd been there. That's not the case in Sacramento, at least not yet. If the team keeps winning, I think that trust will grow as everyone starts to buy in.
How can Atlanta slow down Cousins on Wednesday?
A: I think Atlanta's actually a pretty tough matchup for Cousins because Al Horford is a good defender and they also have Tiago Splitter now to throw at him. That being said, I think there are a few ways to slow Cousins down. First, you have to crowd him in the paint and make him beat you with a pass. Second, you CANNOT foul him. If you let him get you in foul trouble and get a rhythm from the line, it's going to be a long night.
The problem with Cousins is he's now introduced a new wrinkle to his game with the three-pointer. He said he was going to shoot it a lot more this season, and most fans basically said "uh huh, sure, we'll see how long that lasts". That shot looks like it's here to stay with Cousins now hitting 44.1%(!!!) of his three point attempts, with most of them coming from the top of the key. You have to respect that shot now and that opens up a lot of options for Sacramento.
Preventing Rondo from getting good passes to him will also help. Rondo has assisted on 44% of Cousins' field goals this year. Cousins can definitely create on his own, but Rondo sets him up for a much higher percentage shot most of the time.