For a while this spring, it looked like Thursday’s NBA preseason game at the MGM Grand Garden was going to have the Los Angeles Lakers playing the Seattle SuperSonics instead of the Sacramento Kings.
Billionaire Chris Hansen had cut a deal with the Maloof family to buy the Kings and relocate them to Seattle. But the NBA’s Board of Governors did not sign off on the move and the Maloofs ultimately sold the team on May 31 to a consortium led by Vivek Ranadive and was recently bolstered by the addition of Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal as an investor.
With new ownership, the promise of a new arena in downtown Sacramento, new leadership in the basketball operation with general manager Pete D’Alessandro and coach Mike Malone, perhaps the days of the Sad Sac Kings are over.
Welcome to “Shaqramento.”
“It’s a fresh start for everyone,” said center DeMarcus Cousins, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds Thursday as the Kings defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, 104-86, in an NBA preseason game in front of 10,188 at the MGM Grand Garden. “The new owners care about winning. We’re all on the same page now.”
The 23-year-old Cousins, who has averaged 17.1 points and 9.9 rebounds in his first three NBA seasons but has alienated people with his immature behavior at times, showed his faith in the franchise’s future by agreeing to a four-year, $62 million contract extension just prior to the start of training camp.
Jimmer Fredette who has been with the team for two years, said it’s nice not to have to answer questions about living in Seattle.
“It’s great to see the franchise moving forward,” Fredette said. “We needed a boost of energy, and we have it.”
Malone helped bring the Golden State Warriors back to life as an assistant to Mark Jackson. While the Warrior blueprint doesn’t necessarily apply to every downtrodden organization, Malone said, there has to be some accountability throughout, and that’s what he’s stressing to his players.
“When you are trying to change a culture, it’s about buying in,” Malone said. “We want to be a work team. We want to be a better defensive team. It starts there.”
Chris Granger, who spent 10 years working for David Stern at NBA headquarters and was hired to be the Kings’ president and chief operating officer, said he had the luxury of seeing the systemic failures of the franchise and had an idea what was needed to bring stability and breathe some fresh air into an organization which had gone stale.
“In my time, I’ve never seen an ownership group so focused,” Granger said. “There’s no question there’s a new swagger, a new energy. It’s a new franchise.”
Gary Gerould has been the radio voice of the Kings since they moved from Kansas City to Sacramento in 1985. There’s little he hasn’t seen with the franchise. He shares the newfound optimism surrounding the team.
“Everything is new, from top to bottom, and that’s something I’ve never experienced,” he said. “The thing that impresses me is that there aren’t any weak links. The foundation is solid.”
Gerould wasn’t sure he or the Kings would be in Las Vegas on Thursday.
“Honestly, I thought they were gone going back to 2011 with Anaheim,” he said. “Last spring, it looked like they were going to be leaving, but there was that glimmer of hope that maybe something would happen. And when Vivek put that ownership group together, and the mayor (Kevin Johnson) came up with a plan for a new arena, I started to believe they were staying.
“What has happened has been a re-birth of a franchise. It’s going to take time but the fans are just saying, ‘Show me continued progress,’ and if you tell me this team can win 35 games and be competitive most nights, I’d say that would be a successful season.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.