With 14 games remaining in the 2016-2017 regular season, the Sacramento Kings find themselves in an all too familiar position. Currently, at 27-41, the Kings are staring down 11 consecutive seasons of playoff-less basketball and their 11th straight sub .500 record. Where did it all go wrong?
Well, in a lot of places. The Kings, once a playoff powerhouse in the early 2000s, have seen the success of their franchise undone by years of poor management as well as questionable draft, free agency and trade decisions. However, with the jettison of superstar center DeMarcus Cousins from the team, the Kings have a real chance to tackle the coming offseason and build a team for the future.
As a franchise, the Kings would be best served by first addressing its situation in the front office and its ownership. While changes are unlikely to be made to the positions of both Vivek Ranadivé and Vlade Divac as team owner and general manager, respectively, the most effective way to incite change is to start at the top. Questionable decisions and the combo of Ranadivé and Divac have gone hand in hand; the poor handling of the aforementioned Cousins trade; Ranadivé wanting to play four-on-five defense; Divac trading then rookie Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson and two pick swaps and an unprotected first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for cap space. The list goes on and on. So, realistically, where can the Kings start?
Take Stock Of, Develop The Current Roster
With changes in management out of the question, the best place for the Kings to start is the current roster. As it stands, the roster is a hodgepodge of young talent fresh out of college and veterans looking to earn money and win some games. With a long road ahead of them, the Kings need to figure out who will be in it for the long haul.
Obviously, Sacramento is (hopefully) going to stick with their young guns. Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Buddy Hield, Georgios Papagiannis and Malachi Richardson are all under team control for the next few seasons. Cauley-Stein, Hield and, more recently, Labissiere have had good showings in the few weeks following the Cousins trade. Labissiere, in particular, has come on quite strong. After sliding to the Phoenix Suns at No. 28 on draft night, he was traded to the Kings and subsequently buried on the depth chart, appearing in just eight of the 58 games the Kings played prior trading Cousins. However, since the trade, Labissiere has appeared in all 11 of the Kings’ contests, including two starts. Even better? He’s averaging 22.6 points and 13.2 rebounds per-36 minutes over that stretch. Not bad for a 20-year-old. The Kings need to run with, but also encourage and nurture, the development of these younger guys in order for them to be successful at the next level.
The rest of the team consists of vets that, excluding maybe younger guys in Ben McLemore and Langston Galloway, are expendable. Guards Darren Collison and Tyreke Evans are likely to leave the team in free agency while Ty Lawson figures to be tied up in legal trouble for the foreseeable future. Forward Rudy Gay, who has a player option, also appears ready to jump ship. Other vets, including Arron Afflalo and Kosta Koufos, may not want to stay trapped on a rebuilding team and are likely seen as trade bait by the Kings front office.
Acquire Draft Capital And Other Assets
When the Kings traded Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans, they acquired the Pelicans first-round pick (with a top-three protection) in the upcoming draft. While at the time it was met with heavy criticism, the likelihood of the Kings receiving a top-10 pick from the Pelicans has increased and, with the regular season nearly over, the Kings look set to have two top-10 picks in a loaded draft. As of now, barring a surprise in the lottery, the Pelicans would convey the sixth overall pick to the Kings, who would also likely maintain their own pick which currently falls in the eight spot.
However, the Kings shouldn’t just stand pat with those two picks. The front office should continue to stockpile draft capital for this season and future seasons by trading the vets on the roster who are under control past this season. Afflalo, Koufos, Anthony Tolliver and Garrett Temple, all who would likely skip town following next season, should be shipped out to the highest bidding contenders who are looking for a spark off the bench or some depth in their lineups. All four players could see a bump in their trade value, given that they will be on expiring contracts.
It should be noted that the draft is not the only way for them to acquire young talent. While in some cases it is a long shot, it can’t hurt the Kings to throw some money at some younger restricted free agents. This would allow them to acquire proven talent without having to spend whatever extra draft capital they may acquire while also maintaining a youthful roster.
Sign Some Veteran Mentors For Cheap
Rather than bringing in vets who are looking for a chance to win a title, the Kings should be looking for guys in free agency who are willing to take a step back and hold a more advisory role with the team, à la Kevin Garnett when he returned to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2015. Teaching and developing the young guys they have now as well as those they bring in the future should be the team’s top priority.
Guys like Luis Scola, Chris Anderson and the like, free agents who have made their way around the NBA, would be perfect mentors to teach the younger guys the ways of the business. Not only that, but they could do it for relatively cheap, costing the Kings little in terms of future cap space.
Draft Well and Trust The Process
No, Joel Embiid is not on the Sacramento Kings. It is also unlikely that Sam Hinkie gets involved with the front office. However, that shouldn’t stop Divac from adopting the approach Hinkie took during his time in Philadelphia. While they can find talent and youth in restricted free agency, the draft is really the only place they’re going to find their guy. The longer they dwell in the bottom of the Western Conference, the better the chance of them finding their next franchise player.
However, the Kings must draft well (easier said than done). Poor draft decisions, including taking three centers in the first round over the past two years while DeMarcus Cousins was still on the roster, have really hit the franchise hard, leading to a lack of young talent at key positions. Those poor decisions now leave them in a position where they must hit on nearly every upcoming draft selection in order to become relevant again — not exactly the easiest thing in the world. The Kings need to find the right balance of high upside guys who also have a safe floor, talent wise, to build up the roster to a point where they can start competing with the upper echelon of the conference again.
The last decade of Sacramento basketball has been one to forget for Kings fans and the roster isn’t going to suddenly transform overnight. However, if the Kings draft well and develop the young talent already on the roster, they should have a bright future ahead of them.
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