Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Kings are improved and we'll soon see how much

It seems like it has taken a long time for the Kings Season Opener to get here, but really it’s just another opener.

So that it is a remodeled squad playing its final season supported by a fan base filled with hope before moving into a sparkling new downtown arena will have nothing to do with tonight’s outcome against the Los Angeles Clippers at Sleep Train Arena.

The bottom line is this is one game after which 81 will follow. And regardless of what anyone and everyone thinks and feels and think it knows, we must wait and see what this team becomes.

No need to listen to me. Check out Coach George Karl, who by the way will start his first full season at the helm. He was asked if these Kings are similar to any of his previous squads.

“It’s tough right now,” he said. “I think it’s a team whose personality is evolving. I’m hoping I’ve got enough of it where I can coach’em and win some games. I think 20 games into the season; we’re still going to be evolving. It’s gonna be fun. It’s gonna be fun to see (Rajon) Rondo and (Darren) Collison together.”

Listening to Karl, and he and I go back to Golden State in 1986, can be very interesting. He usually tells you something more even when it is not the focal point of his comment. No doubt, the Kings you’ll see tonight likely won’t be the same crew a month or two months.

It’s a team that first has to learn what IT is about before it can figure out how to get what it wants. Unquestionably, with nine players who weren’t on last season’s roster, the Kings must see how individuals react to certain situations and each other. Under game pressure, they may find their early thoughts were exactly right, totally wrong or somewhere in between.

Yet, when Karl spoke of the Rondo-Collison combo, it likely means that pair, at least early, will get consistent time together. And it makes sense. Both are smart and athletic enough to make plays at each end of the floor, although neither is a prototypical shooting guard. The game always has been about making plays. Good teams make key plays to win games. Struggling teams make them to lose games.

Karl sounded as if he believes it will be hard to keep Collison off the court.

“I think people forget Darren Collison had a great year last year before he got hurt,” said Karl, who was named Kings coach 10 days after the guard began missing games with a core muscle injury. “He’s had probably the best camp of anybody. He had one bad game in Phoenix.”

The coach said the team’s new personnel have changed the team’s personality changed.

“Kosta (Koufos) and Marco Belinelli, Willie Cauley (Stein) add personality to a team that needed more personality,” he said. “And then you’ve got Rudy (Gay) and (DeMarcus Cousins), who I think are searching to be winners and all-stars. We need them to have the best years of their careers.

Karl was asked if being winners and all-stars was something he has focused on with Cousins.

“I’m not a big fan of all-stars,” Karl said. “I’m a big fan of winners. For me, the game of basketball is fun when you’re on a winning team. The best coach in basketball is a winning team. And losing is the exact opposite. Losing is heavy. Losing is frustrating (and) difficult.

“I think Rudy and DeMarcus want to move on from what has been here the last three years and put it in a better place. I thought they had a little bit of a nightmarish year because of injuries and the way the flow of the season was last year. I’m hoping they can let that go and (kind of) start fresh and ready.”

There is no doubt one of the keys to any success Sacramento has this season is the performance of Rondo.

Monday I was part of a group of reporters interviewing Rondo after practice. It was the first time I’d spent any time speaking to and listening to him. It was enjoyable. The first impression is he’s smart enough to know how smart he is without telling you.

He’s a natural leader who understands the game. For a team that basically has been rudderless, Rondo is in a perfect position. It’ll be interesting to see if this team is mature enough to handle what he can bring.

He was the point guard on the 2008 NBA champion Boston Celtics and the 2009 crew that lost to the L.A. Lakers in the Finals. Rondo knows winning and knows a team’s path to winning begins at the defensive end.

“I don’t think offense will be a problem,” the pass-first point guard said.” Obviously, you win championships with defensive stops. So our communication as a team has to get better. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to progress during the season and (start with) our transition defense running back.”

Rondo wants his teammates to become more vocal, but said he likes where the team’s collective head is – now.

“I think we have a positive vibe. A lot of guys are pretty positive people. A lot of (them) are quiet as well, but for the most part we continue to encourage each other and play for one another.”

Rondo, who will turn 30 in February, is an unabashed motor-mouth. Cousins joked Tuesday Rondo talked so much sometimes he wants to tell him to shut up. The center added though Rondo’s constant talking is a good thing for the team.

“I talk the most on the team by far,” Rondo said. “I try to make it contagious and I’m trying to talk positive… (Keeping) after my teammates, letting guys know where they should be on the floor, both offensively and defensively. I’m trying to get big Cuz to talk because he’s the back line of our defense, him and Kosta. If we can continue (to talk) we’ll be a better team.”

Rondo said he feels fine after having his first training camp in two years. Gone are any remnants of a January 2013 ACL injury.

“I was 26 years old when I tore my knee up,” he said. “I’m 29, about to turn 30, so it was a while back and I don’t actually think about my knee.”

Rondo was asked about his defensive abilities after the knee injury, among others.

“I was a decent defensive player,” said the two-time first-team and two-time second team all defensive selection. “It was our (Boston) team concept. We were all for one another and if I can get our team to buy in and believe that, they are going to make me a better defensive player and vice versa.”

I have no idea how many wins the Kings will get this season. I’ll wait to see what the team looks like in good times and bad before projecting what it will become.

The Kings clearly are more talented than last season’s edition. How that translates into wins and losses will be revealed. Barring major injury, I believe they’ll contend for a playoff berth. That’s saying a mouthful for a 29-win team last season.

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