Two traditions come with the opening of each new NBA season: fan optimism and boring team previews. DBB writers look to shred both by looking from a different angle at a few teams who are going to be absolutely lousy this year.
The Dark Tower series is a Stephen King’s magnum opus, a seven-part series full of adventure and intrigue, death and life. It took King 22 years to write from beginning to end, bookended by a simple but purposeful sentence:
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
In this tale, King repurposes the the idea of predestination as “Ka,” a force that moves everyone and everything into the place it is supposed to be. Ka is a wheel, its one purpose to turn, and in the end it always returns to the place where it started.
The Sacramento Kings’ Ka is to be terrible.
It feels good to say that. It feels good to KNOW that. In the ever-changing landscape of the National Basketball Association, it feels good to see stars fixed in the night sky, to have a thought you can hold to your chest to keep you warm and light the way ahead. It is comforting to know how a story begins and ends, but not what the journey in between entails.
I don’t say this to inflame or incite Kings fans. I have no small measure of understanding; I know the feeling of being broken on the wheel of Ka again and again, to spend your days having your liver clawed out and your nights healing of the pain. I feel the anguish of a quirk of geographical location at time of birth.
I am a Detroit Lions fan.
The Kings’ Ka this year intrigues me. The Kings have a new arena and new logo, as primal a scream you can make that you are trying to do things differently. They have signed veteran free agents (Arron Afflalo, Anthony Tolliver) to bring a measure of stability and veteran-ness that they felt was lacking. They have brought in a new front-office member (Ken Cantella) and a new coach (Dave Joerger) to discover and develop, respectively, talent across the league. They retain DeMarcus Cousins, as preternatural a big man as there can be in today’s NBA.
But they remain the Kings. Vivek Ranadive is still the proprietor, the engineer and businessman who doesn’t understand the basketball decisions he takes a very active hand in. Vlade Divac is still the general manager, the present embodiment of better days long gone, who has muddied the future beyond any reasonable prediction.
For every step forward (trading the eighth pick in a seven-player draft), there are two steps back (selecting Georgios Papagiannis and Skal Labissière with the return). For every problem they address - signing Garrett Temple to bolster the backcourt, bringing Omri Casspi in as a modern NBA power forward - they create two more: Not acquiescing to Rudy Gay’s not-so-subtle trade requests. Being another stop on the Ty Lawson Express to irrelevance. Bringing in Matt Barnes, who possesses no NBA-level talent at this point in his career. Not retaining Seth Curry for no discernable reason.
Ka is a wheel, it’s one purpose to turn, and in the end it always returns to the place where it started.
The NBA, on the whole, is getting smaller and more skilled. Teams are embracing small-ball and the post-positional evolution of basketball. Do tall men protecting the paint matter as the two men who’ve amassed the most threes in a season bombard you from orbit? Does it matter what position LeBron James plays when he plunges his arms into your chest and rips out your heart?
The Kings’ response to this changing reality is to get bigger, and less skilled. To engineer a roster where it makes sense to play DeMarcus Cousins at the four on occasion. To keep, by my count, FIVE (DeMarcus, Kosta Koufus, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis and Skal Labissière) player who should be centers in today’s NBA, meaning you only have ten other roster spots to cover the other four positions on the court.
This would make sense if their stated goal were to build, if they desired progress on a timeline that did not coincide with The King chasing The Ghost, if they want to evade the enactment of The Durant Protocol. Experimenting with the confluence of size and skill could have favorable results; the Orlando Magic are preparing that very mixture.
However, their actions are one of a team trying to earn a playoff spot, trying to coerce fans into attending games at the new arena. This, of course, is a pipe dream, one that has consequences. Ask Phoenix, who flew too close to the sun one year and has spent the next few flapping their wings futilely as they plummet down the standings. Ask the Knicks, whose free-agent sins are as legion as their stans.
One day, after DeMarcus has been traded, Vivek has sold, and Vlade has fallen upwards once more, maybe the Kings will be good. They could even be great: The Clippers, a team with an even more desolate Ka, have managed it.
But Ka is a wheel, it’s one purpose to turn, and in the end it always returns to the place where it started.
And the Kings’ Ka is to be terrible.