We are a long way from seeing a Sacramento Kings team that is distinctly Pete D’Alessandro. With the way the NBA salary cap is designed, building a team is a process that can sometimes take years to accomplish. On occasion, a team miraculously assembles over night, like the Miami Heat did before the 2010-11 season, but that is a rarity.
Building a winner is a slow play, a long con and most of the time, a fool’s errand.
Most folks remember the 1998-99 Kings team as some mystical beast that fell from the sky. In one offseason, Geoff Petrie added Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Williams, Jon Barry and coach Rick Adelman to a team that had won just 27 games the year before. For good measure, Scot Pollard was acquired on Feb. 24, 1999.
The eight-year run under Adelman is undeniably regarded as the “Golden Age” of Kings basketball. Sacramento became the greatest show in the NBA, but the years run together. Most people forget that the Kings were bounced in the first round of the playoffs those first two seasons. And they forget that it took four seasons to make it to the Western Conference finals and that they only made it that far once.
The wins and losses all run together when things are going well.
The truth is, Petrie took over the Kings’ franchise in 1994 and it took four years of positioning and a whole lot of luck to build the team that put Sacramento on the map.
Everyone remembers the Chris Webber trade, but they forget that it wasn’t just Mitch Richmond that went to Washington in the deal for the talented forward. Veteran Otis Thorpe was also included in the trade. Thorpe was in his second tour of duty with the Kings and had come back to Sacramento in a deadline deal for Bobby Hurley and fan favorite Micheal “The Animal” Smith, just months before the deal with the Bullets.
Lots of folks also remember the NBA Draft when Petrie chose Stojakovic over Syracuse scorer John Wallace in 1996. But I’m not sure that everyone remembers Peja spending two seasons in Greece before making his debut with the Kings in 1998.
Corliss Williamson was part of that first playoff run, but was later swapped for Doug Christie in a trade that really put the Kings over the hump. Shortly after being drafted in 1995, Williamson underwent back surgery that cost him nearly 30 games his rookie season.
The point is, building a winner is rarely a single-transaction deal. It is a series of events over the course of years, that culminate in a fragile serendipitous moment.
For most teams, it takes a whole lot of losing to become something more. Losses create draft picks and draft picks become assets and assets either grow into rotational players or are moved for different assets. It is the cycle of life for all professional sports, but more specifically basketball.
Winning takes time – time to find and develop talent; time to cultivate a winning personality.
For 19 years, Geoff Petrie was given carte blanche to mix and mold a franchise in his image. Sure, the last handful of seasons he was strapped with major cash constraints, but that plays into the cycle of creating a winner.
Petrie didn’t leave the cupboard bare on his way out the door like many would have you believe. DeMarcus Cousins is an All-Star-level talent at age 23. Isaiah Thomas is more than anyone could have hoped for. Tyreke Evans became Greivis Vasquez, and another losing season produced Ben McLemore.
The rebuild is behind schedule, but D’Alessandro has some pieces to work with. Is the new general manager of the Kings happy that he might have to wait two years for the contracts of Travis Outlaw, Chuck Hayes and Marcus Thornton to expire before he can make a major move in free agency? Probably not, but no one gets a clear slate when they take on an NBA team.
What we’re seeing so far is that D’Alessandro is savvy. He wasn’t willing to overpay for Evans, but he was willing to leverage him for a one-year tryout of Vasquez. He used two second-round picks to land Luc Mbah a Moute, but with the knowledge that there would probably be someone willing to give up young talent in exchange for a player that might help with a playoff run today.
D’Alessandro has said countless times that the Sacramento Kings will be aggressive, but that doesn’t mean that they will look to win every step of the way. Losing is part of rebuilding and this is the draft for which every bad team in the league has been waiting.
So if your favorite Kings player is moved to a contender for someone you’ve never heard of before, remember that sometimes you have to go backward to go forward.
Geoff Petrie was given this chance. It took time, but the results were well worth the wait.
The job that D’Alessandro is tasked with is not for the faint of heart. It is grueling and mistakes will be made, but rest assured, D’Alessandro isn’t waiting around for a phone call. He is busy working the phones every day. When was the last time you saw a November trade in the NBA?
The early returns have been good. McLemore is the most athletic player the Kings have had on their roster since Gerald Wallace was selected in the 2004 expansion draft by the Charlotte Bobcats. The trade of Mbah a Moute for former second overall selection Derek Williams has all the makings of a highway robbery.
Just months on the job and the Kings are already more palatable to watch. They have young, talented options at most positions and they are looking at another top-10 pick in an incredible draft.
It may a few years to get this team back to respectability, but the process is well underway.