If you could measure how low the bar has been set for Sacramento in recent seasons, the game of limbo would end in a draw.
Expectations for the Kings have finally changed this summer. The eternal youth movement came to a merciful end, and proven NBA winners were signed to bolster the roster.
Perhaps no change was more dramatic than in the frontcourt. In the five seasons since DeMarcus Cousins was drafted fifth overall, his partners at the four and five have been practically nonfactors. Players like Chuck Hayes, Thomas Robinson, Patrick Patterson, Carl Landry and to a lesser extent Samuel Dalembert did little to ease the burden off the Kings’ superstar, making the effort down low often seem like a one-man show.
Last season, contributions next to Cousins or in his absence were few and far between. Jason Thompson displayed stellar defense in the early goings but faded midway through the year and provided little else aside from rebounding. Carl Landry provided efficient scoring and offensive rebounding in spurts but disappeared when sharing the floor with Cousins. Rookie Eric Moreland sat with a shoulder injury, and journeymen Ryan Hollins and Reggie Evans were too inconsistent to be relied upon.
The drapes surrounding Cousins needed to be replaced. In the offseason came borderline starter Kosta Koufos, sixth overall pick Willie Cauley-Stein, hustling forward Quincy Acy and undrafted tweener Duje Dukan. Additionally Eric Moreland re-joined the team on Thursday as Kings general manager Vlade Divac made the final touches to his training camp ensemble.
The Kings’ “frontcourt fab five” should upgrade several of their team weaknesses. Cauley-Stein and Acy should remain at least competent guarding stretch bigs, who Sacramento struggled mightily to contain in 2014-15. Acy and Dukan will help spread the floor, after the quartet of Thompson, Landry, Hollins and Evans took a combined three 3’s. The Kings bigs project to be better rim protectors, and while the loss of Landry, Hollins and Evans hurts the glass cleaning department, Koufos, Cauley-Stein and Moreland are professionals in the field.
Looking at the finances, Koufos, Cauley-Stein, Acy, Dujan and Moreland are scheduled to make roughly $13 million combined this season, which is about $3 million less than what Thompson, Landry, Hollins, Evans and Moreland earned in 2014-15. When compared to their predecessors as a whole, Cousins’ new sidekicks won’t have to knock anyone’s socks off to surpass old standards.
The expectations based by their own reputations, however, is why the pressure is high for this new bigs crew.
Koufos will have to maintain the solid two-way play he displayed for playoff clubs in Denver and Memphis, while Cauley-Stein must live up to the billing of a lottery pick. Acy can’t perform any worse than he did his first time around in Sacramento, and Dukan will have to show more than his hot outside shooting from Summer League. Moreland must prove he can impact the game defensively at the NBA level.
The Kings’ search for help inside may have reached its conclusion. The aforementioned phrase has been muttered before, only to meet disappointment. Based on résumés alone, this is the best frontcourt rotation to join Cousins since turning pro. So anything less than pedestrian won’t be easy to swallow.