SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- You'd be hard pressed to find any publication that sees the Kings escaping the bottom of the standings.
It's been that way for the past seven seasons as the Kings tumbled down the ranks as one of the worst teams in the NBA.
But it would be a mistake to assume these are the same old Kings.
Barring the magical addition of a rookie sensation, fixing a bad team, especially one as downtrodden as the Kings in recent years, doesn't happen in one season.
Finally free from constant ownership issues that had the team on the verge of relocating twice, and a front office that botched deals while being financially hamstrung, the Kings are undertaking an extensive rebuilding project.
New ownership is finally settled. The front office is free to be aggressive and not limited to deals where the bottom line is all that matters.
And the players know there is order and structure. Coach Michael Malone runs the team with full support of ownership and management instead of having all the authority of a substitute teacher like previous coaches, who knew it was only a matter of time before they would be dismissed.
The Kings now have the foundation of a stable franchise. That alone will make this a better team.
Even if the Kings don't surpass last season's 28 victories this season, it won't necessarily mean the campaign was a failure.
It takes more than a month of preseason games to erase years of bad habits and a culture that fostered disinterested players and selfish motives on the court.
The Kings are on course to change that. It will just take time.
"I am very patient in terms of the overall outlook and the process and journey that this is going to be," Malone said. "I am impatient when it comes to lack of effort, lack of discipline and not getting better. Those are things I have probably zero tolerance for, but I fully understand where we are at as an organization."
For several seasons, the Kings have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, indifferent to stopping the opposition.
Their study habits have been spotty at best, causing veterans new to the team to lament the lack of mental preparation.
The offense has been about everyone getting his statistics at the expense of team harmony.
The psyche of players who had to worry about franchise relocation more than defensive rotations also can't be ignored.
"That's why the only goal we have this year -- we haven't talked about playoffs one time -- our only goal this year is let's get better every single day we're on this floor," Malone said. "Find a way to get better as a franchise."
While the preseason no longer matters, there were signs the Kings are willing to do what is necessary to turn things around:
There was less finger-pointing on defense and more talking about how to fix problems.
They tried to run Malone's offense and not resort to dribbling out the clock to launch contested shots.
And the coaching staff has installed a game plan that makes sense to the players and observers.
"If we can be a competitive team that (becomes) a playoff team by the time we move into our new arena (in 2016), that would be a great step," Malone said. "But we have to lay a foundation. We have to build this from the ground up.
"This year, for me, will not be judged on wins and losses. It will be judged on how well our guys bought in -- did we become a team that defends, did we become a team that's unselfish, and are we going to be a team that competes and plays hard and outworks our opponent on a nightly basis?"
If the Kings display those intangibles they'll be a lot more fun to watch. And they'll be a better team.
But even if the wins don't immediately pile up, things are already better.
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