In some respects, the Sacramento Kings are right back where they began when Reggie Theus was a shooting star on the original roster that moved from Kansas City to California's capital.
The Kings are a mix of underachieving veterans and raw talent, with low expectations and an even lower national profile. Their leader is still Theus, though he's now wearing one of his many stylish suits on the sideline.
A year after Sacramento's run of eight consecutive playoff appearances ended, the Kings are underdogs again, an NBA afterthought. Even their famously loyal fans sense rebuilding is in progress: After several years of consecutive sellouts at Arco Arena, the club's Web site was still selling tickets Tuesday to next week's home opener.
``It's going to be a new chapter of history here, no matter what we do or how successful we are,'' said Theus, who will get his first NBA coaching experience on the fly. ``This is a period of change for the organization, and what we can do is go out there with a positive attitude and see what we can accomplish.''
The Kings open the season Wednesday night at New Orleans, kicking off a three-game road trip before welcoming the Seattle SuperSonics on Nov. 6.
Theus knew he was starting his NBA coaching career in a humbling position - and that was before point guard Mike Bibby injured his thumb last week, keeping the longest-tenured Sacramento player out of the lineup for at least six weeks. The Kings already were prepared to begin at a disadvantage without forward Ron Artest, who's suspended for seven games.
``Mike is our floor leader, and he's also one of the best point guards in the league,'' said guard Kevin Martin, who faces high expectations after getting a five-year, $55 million contract extension. ``Somebody needs to come in and pick up some of the slack. We need to do it as a unit. One person can't do it.''
Theus hopes to mask his club's weaknesses with an aggressive, run-based offense. Though the Kings won't erase any memories of coach Rick Adelman's high-flying clubs earlier in the decade, Theus' strategies have received mostly positive reviews so far from players who enjoy the freedom.
Though Bibby and Artest will be absent early on, many familiar faces are still wearing Sacramento purple. Brad Miller, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, John Salmons, Kenny Thomas and Francisco Garcia return as solid contributors from last season's club, which struggled for respectability in coach Eric Musselman's only season.
The Kings made two 7-foot additions during the summer, signing energetic free agent Mikki Moore and drafting Washington center Spencer Hawes. They're also hoping Miller returns to something close to his All-Star form after losing 25 pounds in the offseason.
Quincy Douby and Orien Greene will team up to replace Bibby, with Greene expected to start early on in his first year with Sacramento.
Theus knows he has an intriguing mix of talent on his bench to support the veteran starters, but he won't know how to use it until he's been through the effort of a full season. Just as the original Kings did more than 20 years ago, Theus will be searching for the combination that adds up to consistent efforts from a team in transition.
``The No. 1 thing is they have to get after it defensively,'' Theus said. ``The other thing they have to do is push the basketball. It's time for them to grow up and mature overnight. We don't have room, nor do we have time, for a young guy to be a young guy right now. If that's the case, then we'll have to find an old guy.''
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