The Sacramento Kings went and got themselves in a great big hurry. Somewhere along the way they traded a rebuild for something else, and now they are sprinting towards a very uncertain fate.
You could see it coming before this past season, but it was on full display once DeMarcus Cousins got ill. They didn’t have the patience to ride out the season with Michael Malone or Tyrone Corbin. They couldn’t wait until the offseason to hire George Karl.
They are making the moves that a team makes when they are trying to get over the hump for a championship, not the 30-win plateau. At this point, they have pigeonholed themselves into a win-now mentality, but they don’t have a win-now team.
How does this change the Kings’ summer approach to building the team?
They no longer have the opportunity to develop players at a reasonable pace or gamble on a high upside player in the draft. It’s part of the reason that a player like Willie Cauley-Stein, a junior coming out of Kentucky, appears to be valued much higher than a high-ceiling prospect like Kristaps Porzingis.
Cauley-Stein is a great role player and a perfect fit next to Cousins and Rudy Gay, but Porzingis could develop into a superstar. If they pass on Porzingis for Cauley-Stein, it’s not a mistake, but it is a conservative approach that may come back to bite them in the behind.
It’s also the reason why it’s hard to see the Kings bringing back both of their inexperienced young shooting guards. They just can’t play four-on-five basketball 20 games a year like they have the last couple of seasons. Ben McLemore showed major improvement in year two and Nik Stauskas showed flashes near the end of the season. But the Kings would have been a better team if they hadn’t dealt Jason Terry or waived Wayne Ellington. How sad is that statement?
Two years into the new ownership’s reign and the Kings franchise is now forced to produce at the ridiculous pace that they want out of the players on the floor. That is what happens when you have an arena on the horizon, a young superstar who is running out of patience, a sixty-something-year-old head coach and a fanbase that was on the brink five years ago and is now hanging by a thread.
In the past, we’ve preached a slow approach before to the fanbase. A “never too high, never too low” mentality to a group that has been through the ringer with relocation attempts and horrible basketball. But at this point, it’s all or nothing for the Kings. That is the mandate from Vivek Ranadivé.
They don’t have the cap space to chase a star and they lack the overall assets to make another game-changing deal. That is unless Cousins and/or Gay are placed on the block and there is no telling what moves like that would do to either the fans or the team.
This is a moment a few years in the making. The loose message and overzealous revamping of the roster and coaching staff has put the Kings in a pickle. This is no longer a Geoff Petrie issue, only Cousins (who the new ownership signed to an extension) and Jason Thompson are left from the previous regime. It’s not a Maloof issue either, two years is plenty of time for everyone to put those guys in the rear view mirror.
The team plays at Sleep Train Arena for one more season. As promised, the new ownership group has spared no expense in building a state of the art arena in the core of Sacramento’s downtown. Slated for an October 2016 opening, the buzz was growing as the girders rose from the dirt, especially with the quick start to the 2014-15 season.
The basketball side of the operation killed that momentum in December. Eventually it was always going to be about basketball and the product on the floor has been abysmal, as has the decision making. Now there is a fear that the Kings will have a shiny new building and an unworthy team.
Karl is looking to make one more run at a ring. He is going to have a lot of input on the roster. He would love a few of his former Nuggets players to help propel his offense forward. His clock is ticking and he knows it. He will want grown men on his team, not a group of kids searching for their identity as an NBA player.
Management knows Karl’s wants and needs. They also know that they have a tremendous amount of work to do if they want Cousins to buy in once again. Five head coaches in five years is a lot of pressure to put on the All-NBA second team selection. And using him as a pawn in the battle to bring in Karl was a huge mistake as well.
If the Kings can’t begin the season the right way, the murmurs that Cousins wants out will grow to a fever pitch by the All-Star break. Again, this is no longer a marathon, it’s a sprint.
Maybe it all works out. Maybe Vlade Divac is able to pull off a miracle on draft night, cement a trade or three and sign a big-time player in free agency. Stranger things have happened, but it’s nothing you want to bank on.
So hold onto your hats Kings fans and whatever you do, don’t trot down to the team store looking for a specific player jersey just yet. The Sacramento Kings have put themselves in a position of desperation. They need to win now, but they lack the goods to fix what is broken. That’s a dangerous mixture. One that sets up another wild summer in the capital city.