Believe it or not, the Sacramento Kings are doing it right.
It all started with a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline.
DeMarcus Cousins was in his seventh season with the organization. He was beloved by the city and the community as the face of the franchise, but the direction of the Kings was at a standstill. Six different head coaches, no continuity and barely a sniff of the postseason.
Over the past two years, there were signs of improvement, but that progress still only came in the form of back-to-back third-place finishes in the Pacific Division.
Knowing this was probably the ceiling of the current roster, a move had to be made, so Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac decided to send away their franchise player to institute a rebuild around younger talent.
At the time, the ridicule for the Kings front office was off the charts. The chatter surrounding the so-called “weak” return was blown out of proportion. Of course, the knee-jerk reactionists picked the trade apart because Cousins was a five-time All-Star, but looking at the bigger picture, it was the smartest thing they could’ve done.
The first step in the process was acquiring Buddy Hield. To that point, the 23-year-old was having an underwhelming rookie season for the New Orleans Pelicans and needed a change of scenery. The move did wonders for Hield, as he finished out the year in Sacramento with flying colors. He received almost 10 more minutes of playing time, averaged over 15 points per game, and shot 48 percent from the field in 25 games.
Though Hield was the centerpiece player of the transaction, the most crucial asset was a first-round pick and an additional second-rounder this past NBA Draft. Adding players to continuously grow their young core was step number two.
This hasn’t been said often, but the Kings won the night. With their first selection, they took De’Aaron Fox as their point guard of the future. Following that, Sacramento traded back from the 10th spot to add another pick.
They used number 15 on North Carolina swingman Justin Jackson to address a small forward need with Rudy Gay’s decision looming at the time. The 20th overall selection was used on another highly-touted prospect as a low-risk, high-reward project, Harry Giles out of Duke. To wrap it up, Sacramento nabbed four-year Kansas point guard Frank Mason Jr. in the early second round.
The latest and final step, however, is what can benefit them both right now and in the long run. So far in free agency, the Kings have made another intelligent decision to bring in veterans to show the ropes to these rookies about doing things the right way in this league.
Fox was drafted to be “the guy” for Sacramento, so there won’t be a rush in his development, which is why George Hill was signed to a three-year contract.
With nine years of experience under his belt, he’s just about the perfect candidate to do two things: 1) Produce at a high level for the team, and 2) Groom Fox into a winner. It was a task for Hill to stay healthy last year, but when on the court he was playing arguably the best basketball of his career in Utah.
The other two guys the Kings have added to the mix have close relationships with head coach Dave Joerger dating back to their time together in Memphis. Zach Randolph and Vince Carter are both on the back nine of their careers, so there were only a couple of options for them in free agency—contending or teaching. They chose the latter.
Randolph still has plenty left in the tank as a bruising, physical presence on the block. He’ll likely resume a starting role after playing the sixth man role for the Grizzlies last season. The 35-year-old can crash the boards and score, all while taking the young frontcourt of Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein and Georgios Papagiannis under his wing.
As far as Carter goes, he’ll likely do the same for Hield, Jackson, and Giles. Half-Man, Half-Amazing isn’t quite the athletic specimen that he was in his prime, but he’s a savvy vet with a consistent perimeter jumper and can help all around.
The road to becoming a consistent threat in the NBA is far away, but this offseason couldn’t be going smoother for Vivek Ranadive’s ball club. The turnover on the roster has been major for sure, and it’s a good thing. The young outweighs the old, but the mix is perfect for a team trying to hit the reset button and move forward.
Sacramento is close to getting out of basketball purgatory, if you will, and this summer is tangible evidence of the start of something that could be special with the Kings. They’re building through the draft and Joerger can guide those rookies and sophomores throughout their careers.
It won’t be a bad thing to have those guys that have been around the block a few times to help him out, either.
Nobody knows how long it will take them to get back into the playoff picture in a heavily-loaded life in the West, but rest assured, the Kings won’t be the laughing stock of the NBA for much longer.
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