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Sacramento Kings 2015-16 Preview

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Can Rajon Rondo help propel the Kings into the playoffs for the first time in nine years?

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 IN REVIEW
29-53
4th in Pacific Division
13th in Western Conference

Last year's Sacramento Kings failed to reach the 30-win plateau for the seventh consecutive season, marking nine years in a row without earning a trip to the playoffs.

On the bright side, DeMarcus Cousins elevated his game to another level and posted career highs across the board with 24.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting a career best 78% from the free throw line. Cousins earned his first NBA All-Star appearance along with a spot on the All-NBA 2nd Team.

Along with Rudy Gay scoring a career high 21.1 points per game, point guard Darren Collison played some of the best ball of his career as he controlled the keys to the car. Collison put up a career best 16.1 points per game to go along with 5.6 assists, but missed 37 games mostly due to a hip injury.

In his absence, second year guard Ray McCallum produced 11.2 points and 4.3 assists through 30 starts.

The Kings went in another direction in February when the organization reached a four-year, $15 million agreement with George Karl to become the team's new head coach, a change that would immediately remove Tyrone Corbin from the bench.

DeMarcus Cousins expressed his displeasure regarding how unfair the move was to Corbin, who he had respected and taken a liking to. Rumblings would later suggest that there was some tension between Cousins and Karl, especially after Karl said that anybody on the team was tradable.

All hoopla aside, the Kings went 11-19 under Karl throughout the last 30 games of the season, but that was only enough to bring them to 29-53 for the year, standing as the third-worst record in the Western Conference.

SUMMER OF 2015

Key Additions - Rajon Rondo, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, Caron Butler
Key Losses - Jason Thompson, Andre Miller, Ray McCallum, Derrick Williams, Carl Landry

To kick off their summer, Sacramento selected Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein with the sixth overall pick in the draft. Cauley-Stein, by all accounts, was the best defensive prospect in this year's draft class and he's got an extremely high ceiling as a multi-talented athlete that can cover more ground than most players in the league. His upside as a pick n' roll and help defender makes your jaw drop, and it makes you feel even better when you consider how hard he works on the court.

Cauley-Stein has a long way to go on the offensive end and at just 22 years old, he's got to mature and learn the game though experience, which he doesn't have much of. Should he pan out, however, the two-way frontcourt tandem of Cauley-Stein and DeMarcus Cousins could absolutely demoralize the competition down the line.

In order to clear some cap space to make room for free agents, the Kings traded Jason Thompson, Carl Landry and Nik Stauskas to Philadelphia in exchange for the right to swap first round picks in 2016 or 2017, along with the rights to European prospects Arthuras Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic.

Sacramento went on to sign NBA champion and four-time All-Star Rajon Rondo on a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the hopes of resurrecting his career. You all know how his season went last year, and it didn't end well after butting heads with Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, leading to the organization sending Rondo home for the remainder of the playoffs.

With that said, I find it hard to believe that the version of Rondo we saw last season is the best that he can give. He may not be quite as explosive as he was a few years ago, but he can still play and quarterback an offense with the best of them. We all know what kind of competitive fire Rondo has inside of him, and he is well aware that his reputation is at an all-time low right now.

Rondo has a lot to prove this year, both mentally and physically, and this is the point in his career where he's either going to get back to a high level or his career could take a serious turn for the worst.

To add depth up front, the Kings went after Grizzlies free agent center Kosta Koufos with a $33 million contract spread out over the next four years.

Sacramento also went out and picked up a pair of veteran wings, as Marco Belinelli signed for three years at $19 million while Caron Butler inked a two-year deal for $3 million, including a player option on the second year.

Belinelli will especially make an impact as a much-needed floor spacer in a situation where he can benefit from playing with an All-Star big man and a playmaker like Rondo.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C
- DeMarcus Cousins / Kosta Koufos
PF - Willie Cauley-Stein / Omri Casspi / Quincy Acy
SF - Rudy Gay / Caron Butler / James Anderson
SG - Ben McLemore / Marco Belinelli / Seth Curry
PG - Rajon Rondo / Darren Collison / David Stockton

X-FACTOR - Buying In
This Kings roster has a lot of good things going for them, but the leaders of the team are extremely strong personalities with egos that may or may not clash to the point where they can't get on the same page.

George Karl doesn't take any mess, while both DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo voice their opinions without much of a filter. Rudy Gay doesn't seem like someone that would tear apart a locker room, but you know he wants to take a lot of shots.

If these strong personalities can come together and work as one to accomplish the same goal, this team is talented enough to exceed their expectations in 2016. However, there seems to be an equal chance that this thing could blow up from a mental standpoint, and there will be no happy medium. It's either going to work or it won't.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
Best case scenario, the Kings have the ingredients to at least make a push to contend for the eighth seed if everything goes well.

Even if everyone buys into coach Karl's philosophy, it's going to be very difficult to make the playoffs out west. Considering the number of quality teams in the conference, there's likely a better chance the Kings fall short.

Regardless of their record, it's going to be very interesting in Sacramento this year. That much is guaranteed.

PROJECTED 2015-16 STANDINGS
4th in Pacific Division
10th in Western Conference

Sacramento Kings 2015-16 Preview - Sactown Royalty - SBNation.com

This is a team that is trying to make the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade.  That may seem like a lofty goal for a team that hasn't hit 30 wins in 7 seasons, but it seems doable given the talent increase this summer.  I wouldn't say that this season would be a failure if the Kings don't make the playoffs, but it probably is if they aren't even in contention down the stretch of the season.  This is a team that has a mandate to win now, so there's a lot of pressure to do well this year.

That's the question on seemingly everyone's mind after last year's debacle.  Nobody believes in the Kings right now and to be fair, the Kings haven't given them any reason to.  This summer saw George Karl feuding with DeMarcus Cousins (a situation that seems to have been resolved according to the two of them), the addition of a Point Guard who publicly feuded with his head coach, and a big gamble by Divac that everything is going to work out for the best.  There's a lot of optimism around this team from within, but it will take actual on-court results before the national narrative begins to change.

Sacramento Kings 2015-16 Preview - Basketball Intelligence

Most of the Kings’ new players are established veterans, somewhat unusual for a team that wants its young core to grow toward playoff relevance.  While bringing stability to a previously wildly dysfunctional setting was one goal, no doubt another was a win-now orientation so that fans will experience  a product of reasonable quality in advance of the opening of the Kings’ new arena complex in the Fall of 2016.