Kings preview

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.

  • Kat Luca

    Wishing the Kings good luck with their new coach, Paul Westphal. PURPLE ROCKS!

  • …can’t wait for the young guys to bring back the purple pride…

  • Steve Tuck

    I’m confident this season will be worth watching, even with the growing pains and the learning that is needed. We seem to have some nice talent this season.

  • Great to see you back, Marty Mac!! I always enjoyed reading your columns and really appreciate your insight!!

    That being said, as a St. Louis Cardinals fan and a Mizzou grad, last night was the ultimate “junk punch”!! It’s a “Black Friday” here in Stanford Ranch!!

  • Since Kenny Thomas is in the last year of his contract, I’d like to see the Kings get something out of him too – like a trade! Expiring contracts are desireable for some teams. Let’s dump this stiff! Thanks for the Kings story MartyMac!

  • I am in agreement to a certain extent. As as coach, I like to look at the upside. Yes, there will be growing pains, but if the boys have a desire to be men it could happen. And yes, I am the fish that saved Pittsburgh!

  • i cant wait to see how every one gels together
    go purple

  • Melissa Warren

    We can’t wait for the season to start. We’ll be wearing PURPLE with pride! My 8 year-old son is especially excited. He met Bobby Jackson a couple of weeks ago and had his basketball signed by him. I was impressed with how kind Bobby was to everyone he met. I hope he’ll be back on the court with the Kings this year.

  • Melissa Johnson

    Pretty PURPLE… Sacramento Kings rock!

  • Glad to see Marty McNeal covering the Kings again. I can’t wait for the season to start so I can see the man child Tyreke Evans represent the PURPLE and Black.

  • You are right about the Blazers. They are loaded & will be great if (big IF , I know) Oden stays healthy. He doesn’t even have to stay out of foul trouble since he has Pryz backing him up.

  • I’m ready to deck my kids out in Kings purple. This team seems poised to score more points this year.

  • Orange doesn’t rhyme with purple.

  • John Gladding

    I’m excited about the upcoming season… we have our purple mardi gras beads ready to go. I don’t have the heart to tell them Mikki Moore doesn’t play with them anymore (they just like his hair)