The Kings came into the season with high hopes. Tyreke Evans emerged as a star and franchise cornerstone, winning the Rookie of the Year race after becoming just the fourth rookie in NBA history to average 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists (joining Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and LeBron James). The Kings also managed to add some more size in drafting rookies DeMarcus Cousins (5th pick) and Hassan Whiteside (33rd), and also trading Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni to the Philadelphia 76ers for veteran Samuel Dalembert. With one of the easiest starting schedules in the entire NBA, things looked primed for Sacramento to get off to a great start.
The Kings did start the season well, going 3-1 in their first four games, but it all went downhill from there. The Kings would only win one more game in November, a close home contest against the New Jersey Nets. Coach Paul Westphal struggled to find a consistent rotation, moving players in and out of the lineup in search of one that would provide some consistency.
The biggest problem was perhaps the decline in Tyreke Evans' production. Evans had suffered an ankle injury over the summer while trying out for the Team USA Olympic squad, but that was not all that ailed him. Midway through November he was diagnosed with Plantar Fasciitis, an inflammation of tissue in the bottom of the foot. Evans' production fell well off the lofty standard he had set the year before, and there was a point where he considered having surgery and missing a good part of the season in order to take care of the problem. Fortunately though, Evans only ended up missing one game to deal with his foot problem, and it appears that the plantar fasciitis is no longer an issue for him.
Another problem was getting rookie big man DeMarcus Cousins accustomed to NBA life, both on and off the court. Cousins was widely regarded as one of the most talented players in the 2010 draft, but questions about his maturity caused his value to drop. These questions were not unwarranted as the Kings and their fans would find out. DeMarcus got off to a very poor start on the court, constantly being in foul trouble, shooting at low percentages (sub-40% for a big man), and turning the ball over too much. This led to frustration off the court, and this led to both fines and even one time where Coach Westphal threw DeMarcus out of practice. It seemed to work for the better though, as ever after the practice incident, Cousins began to put up much better numbers.
Still, better play from their young stars did not lead to more wins. After that 3-1 start, the Kings went just 2-21 over their next 23 games. The last game of 2010 came against Memphis, and despite what looked to be a possible win, the Grizzlies O.J. Mayo hit a very tough jumper in the final seconds to give Memphis the lead and what looked to be the game winner.
Then this happened:
Now that was a fun way to close out what had been a terrible year of basketball for Sacramento. The Kings carried the momentum from this game into the new year, and a much tougher schedule.
After just 6 wins in the first three months of the season, the Kings added 6 more in January, all against good teams. First they beat Phoenix in a game where DeMarcus Cousins carried the team down the stretch and finished with a career high 28 points. A few days later the Kings took it to the Nuggets on national television behind Tyreke Evans 27 points and 12 assists, beating them by 20. There was a brief rough patch in a road trip as Tyreke had to miss a few games with a sprained ankle, but they came back strong in his first game back with a strong road win against the Knicks in New York. They capped off a solid month with good wins in Portland, and two tremendous back-to-back wins, beating the defending champion Lakers in Los Angeles, and then breaking New Orleans' 10-game winning streak the next night in Sacramento. DeMarcus Cousins was instrumental to victory in both games, scoring 27 and 25 respectively against top notch defenders Andrew Bynum and Emeka Okafor.
Games against the Lakers and Hornets were just the start of a brutal stretch for Sacramento. Because they had one of the easier starting schedules in the NBA, they had to make up for it down the line, and that line came in February, with the Kings facing top teams from each conference night in and night out. The Kings were competitive in each and every game in February, but couldn't seem to pull out a victory in crunchtime, as opposing teams greater talent and experience came through in the end.
The frustration came to a boiling point just recently in a loss to Oklahoma City after Tyreke Evans missed a three point shot that would have won the game at the end. It was the third straight game the Kings had lost in the final minute, with Evans getting the ball in his hands late. Cousins was frustrated that he didn't get a chance to make the final play, as he felt he was open. He let his frustrations be known to Donté Greene, accusing him of going the safe route by passing to Evans instead of him, and the two came to blows before being separated. Cousins did not join the team to their next game in Phoenix.
Fortunately though, the issue seems to be resolved, at least for now. The Kings rallied behind Greene, Landry and Dalembert in an impressive win at Phoenix. Greene told General Manager Geoff Petrie that all was good between him and Cousins, and that the team needed Cousins back. DeMarcus was fined one games pay and then flew to join the team for the remainder of the road trip.
This experience as a fan has been like a bumpy car ride to an uncertain destination. Geoff Petrie is the driver, Tyreke is the engine and DeMarcus the gasoline. Will the Kings get where they're going, and will we like it? Its too soon to tell.