The Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings underwent eventful offseasons, with personnel changes that included new coaches for both teams.
While the Nuggets hope their shakeup can help them remain a Western Conference contender, it seems the Kings could continue to struggle.
Denver hits the road Wednesday night for its first game under Brian Shaw and seeks its 10th consecutive win over the Kings, led by Mike Malone.
Shaw was hired to replace George Karl, who was fired after nine seasons, eight of which ended in first-round playoff exits. The first-time head coach is doing away with Karl's up-tempo style in favor of a more methodical approach.
By the time January rolls around - maybe the All-Star break, at the latest - Shaw envisions his team fully embracing his system, one that hinges on half-court sets, a powerful presence in the paint and smothering defense.
Until that time, Shaw's willing to overlook some of the growing pains that go along with the transition as he steps in after Karl led Denver to a franchise-best 57 wins.
"We know that they're going to fall back into the ways that they know," said Shaw, a longtime assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers before joining Denver. "So I guess it comes down to this: If it works, it's OK. If it doesn't, try it the way we're trying to get you to do it. For the most part, it's a process that's going to take time. But they're getting it."
This carries a lot of clout, too: Shaw has five NBA championship rings - two as an assistant coach and three as a player. His players are soaking up his brand of basketball because it's "championship-caliber basketball," Randy Foye said.
"You look at those teams that always get up and down, and do a lot of great things in the regular season, in the playoffs that ain't happening," added Foye, who was acquired in a sign-and-trade deal that sent swingman Andre Iguodala to Golden State. "The playoffs are grind-it-out basketball: Who can score after a timeout and then who can get a stop after a timeout. That's something he's trying to teach us."
Denver will try to weather the loss of Iguodala, part of a three-team trade that saw the Nuggets receive Darrell Arthur from Memphis. Also gone are starter Kosta Koufos and key reserve Corey Brewer.
They'll try to find a scoring punch elsewhere with Danilo Gallinari sidelined until December due to a torn ACL he suffered in April.
The Italian forward had a team-leading 135 3-pointers a year ago. "We will try to hold down the fort until he comes back," Shaw said.
The Kings are under new ownership after Vivek Ranadive's purchase from the Maloof family in May helped ensure they would remain in Sacramento.
"It's a new era," Ranadive has declared repeatedly.
The TIBCO software chairman has delivered on that promise so far. He hired a new coach (Malone), new general manager (Pete D'Alessandro) and a Hall of Fame consultant (Chris Mullin) along with bringing in a flashy new minority investor (Shaquille O'Neal) that will surely bring more attention to Sacramento.
On the court, the Kings are still a long way from being a winning organization.
The Kings (28-54) are coming off their seventh straight losing season and are just beginning a rebuilding project that's likely years away from completion. Ranadive is trying to lay a solid foundation first - right down to fixing all the potholes in the parking lot of Sacramento's suburban arena.
The new owner's first major move was making center DeMarcus Cousins the franchise player by signing him to a four-year, $62 million extension. The Kings are counting on Cousins, who has drawn multiple suspensions from the NBA and the team for his behavior, to keep his cool and show he can lead the franchise's new era.
"I've got big shoulders, so I can handle that," said Cousins, drafted fifth overall in 2010 after one season at Kentucky. "I consider myself a leader on this team, so I take all the responsibility that comes with it. I've had pressure from the beginning, so I don't have a problem with it. I was doing it in the beginning, so I definitely don't have a problem doing it now."
Nobody disputes Cousins' talent. He averaged 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game last season and, at times, looked dominant against the NBA's best big men. But he has struggled with defense and discipline, and he couldn't co-exist with coaches Keith Smart or Paul Westphal. If Cousins can control his emotions and channel his talent, he could be the key cog in Sacramento's resurrection.
The Kings are also hoping their latest lottery selection will provide an immediate spark. Seventh-overall pick Ben McLemore averaged 15.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and two assists as a freshman on a Kansas team that went 31-6 and won a share of its ninth straight Big 12 title last season. McLemore will get a chance to shine whether he starts at shooting guard or comes off the bench.
The Associated Press News Service
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