Kentucky Colonels Season Preview: A New Recipe for Success?
- By Wally Christensen, Day 6, 2024
After three rough years, culminating in last season’s 17-65 finish, the Sanders family decided it was time to take the team in a new direction. “We felt like the team had strayed from our traditional family recipe for success, and that it was time to clean house and go back to our roots” Harlan Sanders III told reporters. Enter GM Bisbo, who had just announced his retirement from a very short stint as the GM of the Las Vegas Scorpions. “Las Vegas is one of the best run franchises in the business” Sanders continued. “If Bisbo can replicate that here, we are going to eventually become one finger-lickin good team.”
Bisbo believes that building a good team is very similar to building a good fried chicken franchise: you need good wings. “With the addition of rookie Keyshawn Benjamin to the squad, and the termination of the “Akele at PG” menu option” we now have two very tasty athletes at those positions.”
The new GM faced lots of roster decisions: do we keep older veterans from a 17-65 team, or build for the future? How do we deal with Tyson Kuberka, a very talented but temperamental point guard with a $23.5 salary? How do we build value while preserving cap space for future moves? Several changes were made after Bisbo took charge. Here’s where we stand going into the 2024 season.
PG: Tyson Kuberka can ball, no question about it. But he comes with lots of baggage - a suspension to start the season, a very disruptive presence in the locker room, and $46 million in salary over the next two years. Age is starting to take its toll too, He’s not going to be a part of the team going forward, so the Colonels added three low-cost options at the position this offseason: Tex Ireland, Nakye Monroe and Dainan Wideman. Ireland is a capable ball handler with good court awareness, but is a defensive liability on the perimeter. Monroe plays great defense, can hit from the outside, and showed significant improvement in his ability to direct the offense in training camp. Wideman is a 2nd year player who has flashed some potential at the position. All three will get plenty of minutes in the preseason and at the start of the regular season. Look for Monroe to unseat Ireland for the starting position. We’ll re-evaluate Kuberka’s status when he comes off his suspension, but don’t count on him getting back into the starting lineup. Uman Ukele will return to his role as a 3 or 4.
SG: drafted with the 4th overall pick by the Colonels in 2022, Trendon Knox is locked in the starting role at SG. He averaged just under 20 PPG last season, and showed improvement at training camp this year. Jamari Neufeld is a capable young backup.
SF: 19 year old Keyshawn Benjamin, the #3 overall pick in this year’s draft, steps directly into the starting role at SF. He is an explosive talent who can score inside and out, and his 7’5” wingspan will make him a force on defense and the boards. He’s impulsive, and may not yet have the maturity needed to excel in the JBL, but Quadree Raitliff has taken him under his wing, which will help with his development. He replaces the well-traveled Pace LaGarde, dealt to the Warriors for two 2nd round picks and PG Dainan Wideman. Look for Benjamin to get some time at PF too. Garrett Cue, who had a very good training camp, will fill the backup role here.
PF: Bisbo’s first piece of business as the Colonels new GM was to make it clear than Uman Akele is not a point guard. He will return to the PF spot vacated by Randall Dozier, who was dealt to the Fireballs for C Keemar Campbell and a 1st round pick. Akele combines with Benjamin to give Kentucky one of the more formidable pair of wings in the JBL. Quadree Raitliff, a solid defender and rebounder, will fill the backup role.
C: Ante Bogdonovic and Evan Dupont are decent options for the rebuilding team, but Bisbo was excited to acquire Keemar Campbell in the Dozier trade - he’s a rock solid defender, shot-blocker and rebounder, who will not mind staying in his lane while Benjamin and Akele take the lead in moving the offense. He’s clearly the starter this year.
Outlook: Kentucky should improve on its dismal performance last year, but is not yet in a position to contend for a playoff spot. With ample cap space, some good young pieces, and a likely lottery pick next year, the team is well-positioned to carry out its rebuild plan over the next two years.