It didn’t take long Wednesday night to recognize that this 2009-10 Sacramento Kings season could be long.
The young Kings are small and played even smaller Wednesday night in an 89-86 defeat by the potentially scary Portland Trail Blazers. The announced crowd of 10,454 at Arco Arena likely could see portents of the future before the first quarter ended.
New coach Paul Westphal and his coaching staff have major work ahead to make this team capable of winning nightly. His most physically gifted and talented player may be rookie guard Tyreke Evans.
He’s not a point guard at the offensive end, but likely may defend them. He’s an active and attacking offensive player, who will get to the basket. That’s his combination of skill, strength and determination.
Evans also is a rookie scorer and likely will play with veteran scorer Kevin Martin to form a backcourt that might need to average 50 points nightly between them.
And that’s not happening.
Westphal signed a two-year contract this summer, but he’s going to need lottery luck to get this squad into the playoffs while working on this deal.
The former Phoenix Suns and Seattle SuperSonics coach understands he’s less than two weeks into this daunting project. He was asked following Wednesday night’s game if he was getting a sense of identity with the team.
“No, not yet,” Westphal said with an immediate grin. “We need to get some key players back and healthy to figure out what our identity is. However, we’re going to fight. We’re going to hustle and scrap and if nothing else, that will be our identity.”
The Kings played without third-year center Spencer Hawes, who sprained his left ankle last week. Hawes played almost 24 minutes Tuesday night during a 98-86 loss in Portland, but did not run well.
Sacramento doesn’t play again until Oct. 15, so perhaps it was smart for Hawes to rest.
We’re not calling him soft, but he’s yet to earn a tough label, either. Hawes said he hoped to play against the Los Angeles Lakers next week in Los Angeles. If he doesn’t play, that ankle should be in a walking boot.
The Kings have to establish themselves as a much tougher team than last season’s squad. Perhaps Hawes doesn’t know his teammates, as well as others around the league, are looking at him. Then there is the possibility he doesn’t care. He is a 21-year-old who’ll earn $2.3 million this season.
Hawes, who loves to drift to the perimeter offensively, is the roster’s only center. His ability and desire to play around the basket will be a key to improvement on those dreadful 17 victories of last season.
Hawes possesses low-post moves, a quality few other teammates share. Scoring consistently without points close to the basket applies little pressure on the defense. The Kings will have problems finishing plays around the basket. Unfortunately, their opponents likely will not.
Sacramento’s lack of size and strength will be difficult to overcome defensively. Hawes’ absence made the Kings the equivalent of a small college team – and a weak one at that. Wednesday night, the ridiculously-deep Trail Blazers often used size and strength advantages to control the game.
The Trail Blazers are young, but the Kings are younger and have far less talent. Three Trail Blazers – Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla – who did not play at Arco would seriously contend for starting positions on Sacramento’s team. That’s if they weren’t awarded them outright.
It could be like that all season for the Kings, unless they display a defensive team unity and offensive execution that at this early date in the season appears unreachable.
The early guess at a rotation for opening night Oct. 28 in Oklahoma City would be Evans and Martin in the backcourt with Francisco Garcia and Jason Thompson as the forwards with Hawes at center. Veteran free agent Desmond Mason is a solid defender, whom if the Kings decide to play and pay, could start at small forward or come off the bench to play shooting guard.
Sacramento could use veteran and rarely-used Kenny Thomas as a banger, defender and rebounder. He’s in the last season of his long-term contract and the Kings would be wise to get something out of him.
In fact, getting something out of everyone on his roster will be what Westphal must do in order to move this team from nightly blowout candidate to competitor.