Sunday Musings: The Sacramento Kings begin rebuilding from inside out

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 Vivek Ranadivé and DeMarcus Cousins chat following Team USA practice. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

The Sacramento Kings were once a model small market franchise.  They mined the world for talent during draft season.  They took flyers on budget players like Bobby Jackson, Scot Pollard and Doug Christie who had struggled to find homes in the NBA. They spent money, ran a tight ship and even played meaningful NBA games.

But that was lifetime ago in the world of professional sports.

It was time for change and that is what we have seen over the last few months.  No, Pete D’Alessandro didn’t land Dwight Howard in free agency or trade for a franchise changing small forward, but he has been busy changing the direction of the franchise.

We haven’t seen the highly secretive and much ballyhooed NBA 3.0 plan unveiled by new Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé yet.  But what we have seen is the Kings spend money in ways that the previous regime never seemed to consider.

There is now a plan in place that goes beyond the moment-to-moment attempt to survive that we saw during the Maloofs tenure. The Reno Bighorns were snatched up as a hybrid affiliate, giving the team a true minor league club to shuttle young players to. Six assistant coaches have been added, each with varying degrees of experience.  And that is not the end of the support staff that has been added.

There is a new emphasis on player development.  An emphasis that is long over due.

That is the true failure of the previous regime.  The Kings have been bad for more than a half-decade.  With poor on-court showings comes high draft picks. As one of the youngest teams in the league, the Kings needed a support staff that could handle the task of converting talent into production.

We aren’t pointing fingers at Geoff Petrie or Paul Westphal or even Keith Smart.  Because of the youth of this team, more pieces were needed to support growth.  There wasn’t a budget for players, let alone luxuries like a strong support staff and that is the failure that goes straight to the top.

Season after season, the Kings sat at the bottom of the league in both wins and payroll.  The old adage goes – you get what you pay for, and what the Maloof family paid for were players like Antoine Wright, Luther Head and Desmond Mason – players who were on their way out of the league.

Sacramento became an NBA outpost for castoffs and malcontents.  And if you couldn’t play for the Kings, you couldn’t play anywhere. It’s hard to find a veteran leader, when most of the players you bring in were wishing they played somewhere else.

So the franchise needed a hard reset.  And with that reset comes a new way of looking at the game of basketball.

There are plenty of ways to spend money on a basketball team outside of player salaries. Sure, you want your team to bring in the best talent possible, but a solid infrastructure has proven to be more valuable than almost any singular player.

And that is what the new regime in Sacramento is building.  It started with the hiring of Michael Malone, but a single man cannot coach a team alone.  Chris Jent, Brendan Malone, Dee Brown, Micah Nori, Corliss Williamson and Ryan Bowen will have a tremendous impact on the way that this team is coached.

There are now 14 players on the Kings roster and seven total coaches to aid in the process of developing this team.  And when a player needs more than what these coaches can provide, the front office can and will turn to the Bighorns for a lift.

Founded in 2001, the D-League (formerly the NBDL) has been in business for 13 years.  Converted to a minor league system in 2005, the 17-team league is used as a proving ground for young players across the league.

The Kings have always been affiliated with the Bighorns.  But until this season, they was shared with other NBA teams and was hardly ever used.

“In the past, where we shared the team with two or three other teams, it was really hard to make sure that when you sent a guy down, that things we needed him to work on, he was working on,” new director of player personnel Shareef Abdur-Rahim told Cowbell Kingdom on this week’s podcast extra.

Only three Kings were ever sent down to the league and for the most part, the experiences were far from ideal.  Donté Greene played a total of five games for the Bighorns during the 2008-09 season.  He was extremely successful in his short stint, averaging 20.4 points per game in 32 minutes per game.

But Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Honeycutt struggled with the transition.  Whiteside was lost on the bench and Honeycutt never stood out.  But again, this was more about the Kings franchise than it was individual players.

Without a strong affiliation with a D-League team, Sacramento had very little say in player’s minute distribution or specifics on how a player would be developed.

That is now a thing of the past. Not only will coach Malone have his group of coaches in Sacramento, he will have another handful of teachers stashed in Reno, armed with a singular-franchise gameplan.

If a player needs more time on the floor and the Kings cannot provide it, they now have an option of handing him over to a system that will be an extension of the big club in Sacramento.

From DeMarcus Cousins to rookie Ray McCallum, the plan is to provide every player with the support they need to succeed. Some of these players will need help from multiple coaches and some come prepared for the long season ahead.

Will this plan make Cousins into the player that most people believe he can be?  Will it make Jimmer Fredette a lockdown defender or help Chuck Hayes once again become the player he was in Houston?  There is no telling, but the Kings new ownership appears ready to provide the necessary tools for both the front office and the coaching staff with the hopes of supporting all 14 players on the roster.

The fans would have loved to have seen Andre Iguodala signed in the offseason.  But outside of LeBron James, one player cannot change the direction of an NBA franchise.  It takes more than that. After a long stretch of futility, the Kings are finally rebuilding the team the right way – from the ground up.  Patience is needed, but the payoff could be huge.

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