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Kings Lacking Commitment To Long-Term Rebuilding Process

The Sacramento Kings had a chaotic 2013, as the franchise was on the brink of relocating to Seattle. A new ownership group, led by Indian businessman Vivek Ranadivé, successfully battled to keep the team in Sacramento. The new owners represented a much needed change from the previous owners (the Maloof family) who oversaw a Kings franchise that won less than 35 percent of their games from 2008 to 2013. The regime change included the installment of a new general manager, Pete D’Alessandro, who to this point has pursued an inconsistent strategy that may hamper the team’s development. 

D’Alessandro’s first big decision after drafting Ben McLemore was not matching the four-year, $44 million contract that the New Orleans Pelicans offered to Tyreke Evans. The decision was sensible, given how such a contract would hamper the Kings’ financial flexibility over the next few years. It seemed as if the Kings’ front office acknowledged that a team led by Evans and DeMarcus Cousins is not one that can contend for a title. Evans’ uneven development in his four seasons with the Kings led to the possibility that the Kings would be stuck with a player whose production fell far short of his long and expensive deal. The Kings were compensated for losing Evans in the sign-and-trade by acquiring Greivis Vasquez, a pass-first point guard coming off a highly successful 2012-13 season. Vasquez’s superior court vision and playmaking ability was viewed as a potential remedy to the Kings isolation-heavy offense. Perhaps more importantly, they acquired Vasquez on a one-year $2 million deal, which would have little effect on the team’s long-term plans.

While letting Evans leave seemed to indicate an emphasis on the future rather than the present, the Kings executed two free agent signings in July that were counterintuitive to building for the future. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Carl Landry are veteran players who can be valuable bench players for teams on the brink of contention, but not for teams that should be looking to develop young players. Not only were the Mbah a Moute and Landry signings pointless, but they damaged the flexibility that the Kings were seemingly trying to preserve. Landry’s four-year, $26 million deal is dumbfounding in particular, because the Kings’ roster already included solid young big men in Jason Thompson and Patrick Patterson and a veteran backup in Chuck Hayes.

The Kings' next big decision was with regards to Cousins and whether to extend him or let him enter restricted free agency. In his first three seasons with Sacramento, Cousins has exhibited an impressive scoring and rebounding ability that qualifies him amongst the league’s premier young big men. However, his talent is coupled with a maddening immaturity that has led to inappropriate clashes with coaches, media members, and opponents. Ultimately, his ability was enough to persuade the Kings to grant him with a four-year, $62 million extension. It was never really in doubt whether the Kings would keep Cousins. Even if he does not improve, the skill-set that he possesses for a player his size means that he represents a valuable asset who is sure to attract constant interest from teams around the league.

D’Alessandro may have reconsidered his offseason transactions or perhaps he simply saw an opportunity that was too good to pass up when he traded Mbah a Moute to Minnesota for the former No. 2 overall pick in Derrick Williams. Taking a flier on the talented Williams represented a low-risk, high-reward transaction, which made a great deal of sense for a team building for the future. Sacrificing Mbah a Moute was not a large cost to see if Williams’ could erase the disappointing start to his career and live up to his lofty expectations coming out of college. 

Sacramento should have two main goals for the next few seasons. The first is to develop its young players, particularly Cousins, Williams, and McLemore, and emphasize ball movement and defense, both of which have been lacking during the Cousins era in Sacramento. The second is to acquire two high lottery picks with the intent of drafting a superstar caliber young player who can help provide Sacramento with a brighter future. Trading for Rudy Gay was counterproductive to both of these goals.

By trading for Rudy Gay, the Kings’ front office lost perspective and valued short-term gains over more significant long-term improvement. The Kings' two most significant problems in the 2012-13 season were selfish play on offense and porous defense. Their assist ratio (the percentage of a team’s possessions that end in an assist) was tied for third worst in the league and they allowed the second most points per 100 possessions in 12-13. What are the two biggest criticisms of Rudy Gay? You guessed it, selfish offense and disinterested defense. Gay’s isolation-heavy offense and his need for his 20 shots per game means less shots (and perhaps less playing time) for McLemore and Williams. Further, Gay plays consistently poor defense, as evidenced by how the Kings were dramatically better defensively with Mbah a Moute than Gay. 

Unit

MINS

DEF RTG (Pts per 100 Poss)

Thomas-McLemore-Gay-Thompson-Cousins

192.1

118

Vasquez-McLemore-Mbah a Moute-Thompson-Cousins

74.6

101

Stats via 82games.com

Vasquez and Thomas are both subpar defenders, so that difference can largely be attributed to substituting Gay for Mbah a Moute.

While Gay is definitely not good enough to vault the Kings into playoff contention, he may just be good enough to worsen the Kings chances at receiving a top-5 pick in the upcoming draft. The “tanking” contest is very competitive this year, as seven supposedly rebuilding teams have 13 wins or fewer. Before acquiring Gay the Kings were 6-14 and since the trade, they are 7-8, still subpar but not bad enough to warrant a top-5 pick in next year’s draft.

Sacramento’s transactions in the summer of 2013 and during the 2013-14 season are representative of a front office that does not have a clear focus. Their lack of commitment to a long-term rebuilding process could lead to continued distress for a Sacramento franchise that has not sniffed any type of success for many years.

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