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2011-12 Sacramento Kings Preview

After surveying their roster, Kings basketball chief Geoff shortened 66-game season.

The franchise decided to accentuate its young legs by adding "contributors," players that can give Westphal solid minutes every night and let him hit the opposition in waves.

After adding Chuck Hayes to an interior core that features up and coming star DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson and J.J. Hickson, and re-signing scoring machine Marcus Thornton to pair with Tyreke Evans and rookie Jimmer Fredette in the backcourt, Sacramento continued implementing its plan by claiming athletic former New Jersey small forward Travis Outlaw on amnesty waivers a week before the season was to start.

Outlaw, of course, was released by the Nets after a disappointing season last year in which he averaged just 9.2 points on 37.5 percent shooting. The Kings, however, feel they got a bargain when they won the waiver bidding by offering to pay Outlaw, a player that once averaged nearly 13 points a game in Portland, $12 million over the next four seasons.

Outlaw figures to fortify a small forward position already boasting John Salmons, Francisco Garcia and Donte Greene.

The Kings' plan was thwarted a bit earlier this week, however, when Hayes' four-year, $21 million dollar deal was voided after he failed his physical, specifically a stress test due to a heart problem. The Cleveland Clinic, however, later cleared Hayes, making this whole issue a bit of a mystery.

It's tough to imagine a 24-win team from a year ago making much noise in the much-improved Pacific Division especially without Hayes but the Kings do look poised to take a small step forward.

2010-11 Results: 24-58, fifth in Pacific; Missed playoffs.

ADDITIONS: G/F John Salmons, G Jimmer Fredette, F J.J. Hickson, F Travis Outlaw, G Isaiah Thomas

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:

PG- Tyreke Evans SG- Marcus Thornton SF- John Salmons PF- J.J. Hickson C- DeMarcus Cousins

KEY RESERVES: F Donte Greene, F Jason Thompson, G/F Travis Outlaw, G Jimmer Fredette, G Francisco Garcia

FRONTCOURT: Cousins has more than enough skill to be an All-Star center down the road and desire will likely tell the tale in the end. The big man was knocked for his conditioning habits before the draft but was still All-Rookie last season after averaging 14.1 ppg and a team-high 8.6 rpg. Expecting those numbers to rise to say 17 and 10 now that Cousins will be a full time starter is certainly plausible, especially if he develops a solid, professional work ethic.

The burly Hayes averaged career-highs in points ( 7.9 ppg), rebounds (8.1 rpg), and assists (2.7 apg) last year with Houston and although he is just 6- foot-6, the Kentucky product would have offered a presence on the glass and provided defense and consistency to a front line that needs both. He could be back.

Ex-Cav J.J. Hickson figures to take over the power forward spot in Hayes' absence. An energy player, Hickson is a banger down low that really gets after people and has developed nicely on the offensive end.

"He's going to have to defend, which he can do, and hit the boards and get a few post-ups and score on opportunity plays," Westphal told the Sacramento Bee when talking about Hickson. "We're not going to just come down and try to necessarily run a lot of plays for J.J., but I would expect him as a starter to be in double figures in scoring and rebounding most games."

Salmons is no superstar, but he is a 6-foot-6 wing player with solid offensive skills and the ability to match up on the defensive end with the NBA's top scorers on the wing.

BACKCOURT: As a rookie Evans joined LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only first-year players in NBA history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists but a sophomore slump was looming. The Philadelphia-area native, who has a spotty work ethic, battled a painful case of plantar fasciitis and was limited to just 57 games. He averaged just 17.8 ppg and his shooting percentage was only 40.9 percent. Needless to say the Kings need a bounce back campaign from Evans, who figures to be the lead guard. Coming off his Rookie of the Year campaign it looked like an improved jumper was the only thing missing for Evans but now he must improve his practice habits and turn into a true professional.

Thornton came over from New Orleans last season and was a revelation at offensive end, averaging 21.3 ppg in 27 games with Sacramento. A streaky shooter, Thornton can go off for 30 on virtually any night and an improved effort on the defensive end could prove his viability as the long-term answer here.

BENCH: Outlaw is a great athlete with a defensive mentality and could swing between both forward positions off the bench. He broke his right hand and needed surgery during the lockout but is on pace to play.

"I think that after that time we can expect to see him at various times in the game coming off the bench at either forward position," Westphal said.

Swingman Francisco Garcia is a solid player that offers versatility, experience and solid ball-handling on the wing while the 6- foot-11 Donte Greene has rare athleticism and big time offensive ability but has never put things together on the floor. Jason Thompson, meanwhile, offers Westphal big body that likes to bang.

Ownership won out over the basketball people with the Fredette selection. Jimmer can certainly shoot and unlike most one-trick ponies, he can also handle the basketball so he's got a leg up. That said there are still plenty of question marks on how his game will translate to the next level.

Athletic big man Hassan Whiteside, a project that could pan out down the line is also still around.

COACHING: Westphal likes to push the ball and a condensed schedule certainly plays into that. That said, the veteran coach hasn't really shown up as a mentor with his young talent to this point and 2011-12 could be his last hurrah without significant improvement.

OUTLOOK: The Kings seem to be creating a solid group of contributors that can compliment what they project to be the two stars, Evans and Cousins. The problem is both guys they are counting on have been criticized at times for their lackadaisical approach. It would be foolish to expect miracles this season but a jump from what should be a very young, energetic group with enthusiasm should be expected.