If Nobody Else Loves You, Sacramento Will

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Since their blistering 5-1 start, the Sacramento Kings have cooled to the tune of 6-5. But, if there has ever been a young, unproven team that deserves unconditional love, it is this one. They are no longer a sulking, amorphous mass of isolation basketball, rather they are a collection of the spare parts of the league that nobody else wanted, that somehow, has become decently entertaining to watch.

The “everybody is against us” trope is as old as when Og got Ugh and Oogh psyched for their big game of CaveBall against the rather imposing rival village in 10,000 B.C., but for the Sacramento Kings, the cliche is true.

Demarcus Cousins

Boogie Cousins is the unquestioned leader, spirit animal, and cornerstone of the Sacramento Franchise, but it took him a while to ripen into the burgeoning star he is now. During the 2010 draft, questions stuck to him about his maturity that he is just now resolving finally. These questions dropped him into Sacramento’s welcoming arms at the number five pick. But, Demarcus has been a handful these past couple of years.

He butted heads with Paul Westphal, yelled at Sean Elliot, and lead the league in technical fouls. Everyone was fixing to write off Big Cuz as an intriguing talent that never got his act together.

But could you blame him? Cousins has a passion for basketball like Guy Fieri has a passion for fat-filled fusion food. Testifying to this, there’s a new stat called the Boogie Board for how many times a player fights off foes to successfully put back his own shot, and Cousins leads the league.

His burning desire for winning was stifled by the tire fire that was the rest of the team. If you ever need a reason to vomit, just look at some Kings rosters from the past few seasons and you’ll have all the motivation you need.

Demarcus’s outbursts were not the actions of a deranged lunatic with a basketball body, they were the desperate cries for help from a man that only wanted to compete.

But then, Boogie started to channel that passion. The new owner committed to Cousins with a plump extension. He feasted on opponents in the low post and was a critical member of Team USA.

The stage was set for his coming out party and he has not disappointed, throwing up a nasty 18-10 stat line for the beginning of the season. Boogie has finally become the player that the Sacramento faithful fantasized about when he was first added to the squad. It is easy to see how this step forward took place as for the first time in his career Big Cuz has a complimentary second banana in…

Rudy Gay

In the the last half decade, Rudy Gay dropped from a borderline all-star to the lightning rod of mockery for the analytics crowd. Rudy was regarded around the league like he had leprosy. But, the truth is he just got put in a tight spot.

Rudy’s major crime was his massive contract that will pay him around 19 million this season. With such a hefty price tag, Rudy was expected to play at a superstar level. Only one problem, Rudy Gay is absurdly good at basketball, but he’s no superstar.

Frustrated, the Grizzlies sent him to Toronto. With the pressure of his contract, Rudy tried to do too much and captained the Raptors to misery. He jacked way too many contested midrange jumpers that he didn’t make. He didn’t pass enough. He played porous defense.

But, it wasn’t his fault. He was blamed for failing to perform up to our false expectations for a position that he never should have occupied in the first place, kinda like George W. Bush.

The Raptors became desperate to unload him, and the Kings tossed four rotation cogs their way in exchange for a player who had once subjectively belonged among the top-five small forwards in the league. His contract was shudder-worthy, but Sacramento recognized that potentially great players do not fall to them often. The new GM, Pete D’Alessandro committed to taking on good players with bad contracts in the hope that maligned players would turn things around and accept a more reasonable salary.

And that is exactly what has happened. Rudy signed a modest extension and has been throwing up 21 ppg at a solid 44% shooting percentage. He rarely forces shots. He uses his condor wingspan to drop in the most buttery finger rolls in the league. He has reinvented himself from an overmatched top option to a potent beta dog that gives the Kings some necessary star power to navigate the thick unforgiving death jungle that is the Western Conference.

Darren Collison

The Kings’ starting point guard stayed plenty cool over the summer with the tremendous amount of shade that was thrown his way. When Isaiah Thomas left the Kings, critics believed it was another example of #JustKingsThings. The talking heads thought Sacramento had yet again sabotaged itself into staying at the bottom of the Pacific Division.

The critics did have a point. Collison had never proven himself at the professional level as he struggled in stints with Indiana, and Dallas. He’s only shined as Chris Paul’s back-up in New Orleans and Los Angeles. He hadn’t shown he could replace Thomas’s 20 ppg.

But, the Kings didn’t need scoring. Isaiah had captained the squad into mediocrity with his unwillingness to feed our main scorers. The Kings needed someone to initiate and facilitate on offense, and frustrate on defense. Collison has done both marvelously. He may be a slightly worse player than Isaiah, but he has allowed the Kings to gel into a state of cohesion not seen in years.

The Rest of the Team

Ben McLemore was labeled a bust in a historically weak draft, but he has gotten his act together by knocking down a few clutch buckets this season and generally looking more like a competent basketball player. He has still only cooked off the surface level of rawness, but he is stupid athletic and may be the heir to the Ray Allen throne of most gorgeous jump shot in the league.

Jason Thompson, the starting power forward, has been wildly inconsistent his entire career, but in his sixth year, he has developed into an acceptable defensive foil for Demarcus.

Carl Landry has become a solid second-rotation scorer after last season was marred with injury. Ray McCallum parlayed a late second round draft pick into the Summer League MVP trophy and a spot in the rotation.

Derrick Williams has become an energetic role player in the process of slowly shaking off his mega-bust status. Reggie Evans is devouring rebounds and throwing his weight around. Nik Stauskas is a promising work in progress, and Ramon Sessions has found some semblance of a home in California’s capital.

Team History

The Kings have built their team in a way that defies convention, but that’s the way they’ve always done it. The turn-of-the-century Kings were comprised of wild-card Jason Williams, unwilling Chris Webber, and over-the-hill Vlade Divac. They take the league’s leftovers and turn them into a surprisingly palatable entree.

Sacramento is not a free-agent destination like Miami, LA, or NYC. Risks must be taken  to get decent players because most times players won’t come unless they’re drafted or desperate. But, once the players arrive, it’s hard to leave.

Sacramento may not be the most glorious city, but it’s still in California. The weather is delightful 90% of the time, the sun frequently smiles upon the valley and it’s a hop-skip-and-a-jump from some of the freshest, finest food in the world.

Plus, absolutely nothing else commands the attention of Sacramentans during basketball season. They don’t have any other professional teams. They don’t have a rollicking night life. They don’t have an uber-vibrant culture scene, but boy do they ever give a damn about the fellas in purple.

The fans set the world record for loudest indoor stadium roar. They cry when the team is about to leave. They revere a woman who makes signs.

Sacramento may not be the sexiest city in the league, but they’re content to be the back-up plan. When other cities chew up and spit out stars, Sacramento coddles them back to their full potential and this unwavering devotion makes players forget they’re playing in a “cowtown.”

The lovefest is a bit premature as the Kings are still a piece or two away from true contention. But, to any maligned stars out there –*cough* Josh Smith *cough* Rajon Rondo *cough*- if no one else loves you, Sacramento will.

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