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NBA AM: Teams Have A Small Window To Make it Work

NBA teams have a small window of time to make things work with the players they draft… Why Kyle Korver got in the All-Star game.

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The Window To Make It Work: The funny thing about the sports world is the implied expectation of loyalty from players. What’s often left behind in the notion that a guy should always remain with the team that drafted him is that, in almost every case with a few very few exceptions, players do not choose where they get picked.

A team selects the player they want and if that player wants to play in the NBA, they sign that first contract. That locks them in for roughly four years. The salary cap rules are also constructed so that the first chance to sign a monster payday comes from the team that drafted them. Getting anywhere close to the kind of life-long financial security the home team can offer in an early rookie-scale extension or in restricted free agency is extremely tough and almost no one passes on that.

This concept is relevant for what’s playing out in Sacramento and, to a certain extent, what’s likely to play out in Oklahoma City.

Kings center DeMarcus Cousins went on record yesterday about Sacramento’s coaching situation, issuing a statement to reporters to clarify that he has played no role in the hiring of a new coach and that he just wants the team to make a decision, pick a direction and stay there.

Cousins was the fifth overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft. At the time, he was considered a risky pick because of a long history of impulse control and attitude problems. He was an explosive personality, but far and away one of the better talents in that draft class. Executive after executive said that the team that could endure Cousins’ growth might end up with one of the best talents in the draft. Five years later, that proved to be very true.

Cousins inked his four-year rookie deal in 2010, and signed another four-year contract extension worth $62 million in September of 2013, locking him into Sacramento through the 2017-18 NBA season.

The Kings had hired a tough-minded coach in Mike Malone, who was able to reach Cousins in a way almost no one had, and Cousins had really turned the corner in many regards.

Things seemed great. Then, on December 15 and seemingly out of nowhere, the Kings fired Malone and put the franchise into chaos.

Cousins, who was out at the time dealing with viral meningitis, was said to be unhappy with the move. Still, he was going to throw his support behind interim coach Ty Corbin and give him his best effort. A ton of heartbreaking losses later, the Kings re-opened their coaching search and started zeroing in on veteran George Karl, who looks like he’ll be named the next coach in the coming days.

All of this is important to know, because for most players there is a romance involved in being drafted. A team chose you. They made you wealthy beyond imagination. They put your face everywhere. They loved you. They committed to you. You were their guy.

That’s intoxicating.

Usually, three years later, they show up with more money than you can imagine and offer it to you on a silver platter. That too is intoxicating and hard to turn down.

However, like most intoxication, it eventually wears off. When you have more zeros in the bank than you can count, things change. You may be making maximum money, but if you are not winning it is somehow your fault. What was once a honeymoon that seemed like it would never end becomes a mountain of expectations that are very hard to meet.

The financial component becomes less and less important, and the competing and winning part takes center stage. Winning – and winning big – becomes the challenge and that’s where the Kings and ultimately Oklahoma City are going to find the challenge they may not be able to overcome.

The list of star players who have begged out of the franchises that drafted them in recent years is pretty significant. Carmelo Anthony dumped Denver after he felt the team went as far as they could as a franchise. Chris Paul turned on New Orleans, ultimately forcing his way out. Dwight Howard left Orlando after a run to the NBA Finals and the downward spiral that followed. Even uber-star LeBron James left his home team in Cleveland (briefly) to find his rings in Miami.

At one point, each of those guys publicly professed how much they loved where they were and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Yet once the intoxication of the situation wore off, they each realized they’d never get what they really wanted where they were.

Now, some may argue that Howard, Paul and Anthony haven’t done much better in their new situations, but they chose those situations. They chose where they would live, where they would play and ultimately who they would play with.

That’s where the draft process gets fuzzy. Cousins didn’t choose the Kings. Kevin Durant didn’t choose the Thunder.

Teams get a window with the players they draft. They get the first four years to decide who a player is, and then they usually get four more years to try and build something with that player. After those eight years, things become a lot more about winning than anything else and players look forward to the chance to choose for themselves.

So when you ask yourself, why do the Kings care what Cousins thinks about the next coach? It’s because there will come a day fairly soon when Cousins will get to choose for himself, and if he isn’t on board or doesn’t like where the franchise is headed, he too could join the group of stars that pledged that they love their current situation only to walk away when it became clear that he couldn’t win there.

Why are the Thunder so manically trying to get into the postseason, rather than swinging for a lottery pick? Because there will come a time fairly soon when Durant will get to make his own choice independent of money, and that choice will hinge on a belief that the franchise he is with gives him the best chance to win a championship or achieve the personal goals he has for himself.

In the NBA, you don’t get to keep the players you draft for their entire career; you usually get eight years to prove to them that they can get where they want to go. If you are not there after eight years, you can safely assume you are losing that guy because that’s how it almost always plays out.

Kyle Korver In:  Yesterday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver named Atlanta Hawks swing man Kyle Korver to the 2015 NBA All-Star teams, replacing Miami HEAT guard Dwyane Wade, who will be out due to injury.

The initial reaction from fans was dismay. How can a guy averaging 12 points a game make the All-Star team? While that may be a valid point, especially considering the seasons guys like Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan are having, there is something that’s easy to overlook: how good Korver’s Hawks team has been this season and, more importantly, how good Korver has been this season.

While Korver’s individual stat numbers are not great – 12.9 points and 4.3 rebounds – when you look a little deeper, he has the top field goal percentage of any guard in the NBA at 51.6 percent, he is the best three-point shooter by percentage in the NBA at 52.8 percent and the second-best free throw shooter by percentage at 92 percent.

If the season ended today, Korver would be the first qualified player in NBA history to shoot over 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from three and 90 percent from the foul line, and he currently has the top recorded true shooting percentage of any player.

Isn’t a record setting season as a shooter worth something? Doesn’t being the best shooter in the game mean you are a star?

Commissioner Silver revealed his logic on replacements when he named Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins as a replacement for Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, saying that he selected the next player from the coaches votes, hence whey he passed on Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard. Silver got another chance to get that right, naming Lillard to replace Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin.

The selection of Korver isn’t crazy or even out of left field. It’s likely a reflection of how the coaches voted for reserves, and was validated by Silver.

Having arguably the best shooting season ever means something. Korver’s individual stats may not jump off the page compared to numbers from other deserving guys. But he’s playing well and perhaps the best reason to have Korver in the All-Star Game is that his team is sitting at 43-10 and the coaches reward winners.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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