It’s been a wild first few days of free agency for the Sacramento Kings. They were raked over the coals for their decision to deal Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and a future first round pick to the 76ers for cap space. Armed with nearly $26 million to spend, the Kings swung and missed on Monta Ellis and Wes Matthews, despite offering more than the Pacers and Mavericks respectively. It was starting to look bleak for new front man Vlade Divac.
He didn’t land an A-list free agent on Friday afternoon, but the 7-foot Serb began the process of increasing the talent level of the team. The newly anointed vice president of basketball and franchise operations for the Kings added Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli in the span of an hour. Belinelli is the safer of the two additions, but Rondo is a former All-Star with a suitcase full of baggage.
Rajon Rondo – 1 years/$9.5 million
Value: Boom or bust. There is no in between for this volatile point guard.
Either Rondo will earn a huge payday next season by returning to All-Star form or he will wear out his welcome quickly and play himself out of the league.
When he is on his game, Rondo is a cerebral, defensive-minded gem with elite court vision. At 29-years-old, the former Celtics star is nearly two years removed from an ACL injury that slowed him considerably. If he can regain his pre-injury form, Kings fans are in for a treat.
Unfortunately, Rondo has a few holes in his game. A career 26.3 percent shooter from long-range, the 6-foot-1 guard will only exacerbate the Kings’ spacing issues. Teams sag off the former Kentucky product, slowing the offense and clogging the lane. He will need to push the tempo and fit seamlessly in the pick-and-roll with Cousins if he wants to succeed in Sacramento.
On the defensive end, Rondo appears to have lost a step. But again, severe knee injuries often take two years to completely heal. Rondo has the length and instincts to be an elite defender and his rebound numbers are off the chart for a guard. He led the league in steals one season and averages 1.8 swipes per game for his career.
Rondo will likely open the season as a starter. If he can break down the opposing defense and feed DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore, the Kings may have found gold. But if he is a liability on both ends of the floor and struggles to fit in, the Kings may have no choice but to take the salary hit and move on.
This is a risky signing, but one with a huge upside. When Rondo is on, he is one of the best two-way point guards in the league. When he is off, he is a malcontent with a penchant for destruction. Pairing him with Cousins and long-time friend Rudy Gay will either be a match made in heaven or a wild fire out of control.
Marco Belinelli – 3 years/$19 million
Value: A perfect fit with the Kings’ current roster.
When the Kings swung and missed on Matthews Thursday evening, it was a major gut punch to the fans and the organization. Belinelli isn’t as sexy an acquisition as Matthews, but he is a much safer addition at nearly a third the price.
At 29, Belinelli brings a veteran presence at both the two and the three. A career 39.2 percent shooter from long range, the Kings basically cashed in Stauskas for a proven, seasoned version of the same player.
Whether he is starting or coming off the bench, the Kings now have depth at the shooting guard position that has been a major Achilles heal for the past few seasons. Belinelli is a role player with championship pedigree from his days in San Antonio.
The Kings needed a support system in place for Ben McLemore and this is a player that makes a lot of sense. There have been plenty of nights over the last two seasons where the Kings received nothing from their shooting guard position. This addition should rectify that situation.
Belinelli isn’t a lockdown defender or a playmaker, and his rebounding numbers aren’t spectacular either. But he will fill it up from the perimeter and quickly earn the trust of his teammates in a way that Stauskas may not ever be able to do.
Divac bounced back nicely from a tough day of misses. While not everyone is going to love the Rondo acquisition, he clearly upgrades the Kings roster at a position of need. Darren Collison will still get plenty of minutes, but instead of Andre Miller and Ray McCallum eating up the majority of the time at the backup point, Sacramento now has a four time All-Star with a championship ring on the depth chart. Can he stay in his lane? Can he return to his former form? These are questions that will be answered down the road. Rondo is at the NBA’s furthest outpost. He has every reason to make it work in Sacramento.
Belinelli isn’t a home run signing either, but he is a nice solid double off the wall. The Kings ranked 28th in the league in both 3-point attempts and makes last season. Belinelli will improve that number greatly, as will Rondo with his ability to find the open man. The former Spurs gunner also brings a championship ring to the party and an understanding of his role.
Matthews likely saved Divac from himself, but you can’t blame Sacramento’s front office for taking a swing at one of the big boys. The Kings still have nearly $10 million to spend on the open market. That is plenty of cash to add high-end depth, including a big man and possibly Omri Casspi.
The Sacramento Kings are better today than they were yesterday.