A man a little too well known for his proficiency in antagonistic behavior overshadowing his supreme talent in the purple and slate gray, DeMarcus Cousins, still looms as a central figure in Sacramento. He’s the catalyst, the kingmaker you could say, of the current happiness and hope emanating around Sac—a place once as bleak, colorless and jail-like as a Robert Bresson film. Yeah, maybe they didn’t win the trade with the Pelicans, or get the upper hand in anything relating to trades, roster moves, front office moves, or drafts prior to the last two offseasons, but the pieces are now there for a hapless, much maligned franchise to turn it around in a relatively short period of time.
It’s tough to sell “foresight” being the primary reason Vlade Divac and company jettisoned Cousins unexpectedly after rumors swirled around that they would never entertain trading the franchise big man, and playing Russian roulette with a top-3 protected first round pick (that may not have been a lottery pick at all) as a return, as well as their own pick (which could’ve been sent to the Chicago Bulls if they finished outside of the 10th spot) doesn’t seem like odds many teams would like to go all-in on. It’s easy to say in retrospect that Anthony Davis would be made of balsa wood, and that he and Cousins wouldn’t gel fast enough to produce wins, or that Joel Embiid would succumb to an injury yet again (after playing in only 31 fantastic games) and have the Sixers forced to tank another back-half of the season. These may be circumstances extremely likely to happen, but nonetheless, circumstances you wouldn’t like to bet on when it comes to your team’s future.
No, the answer is quite simple. The Kings made the most of what they had available to them—mainly a valuable trade chip in DeMarcus Cousins, even with his UFA-2018 label. They weighed their future with him as a part of it, pulled the trigger on an All-Star break trade, and proceeded to rely on a mix of tanking with youth for better odds, securing draft position with luck (Sixers, Pelicans), and put complete faith in their scouting department to wrap everything up and bring them home during the draft.
De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles, and Frank Mason III joined Sacramento on draft night as a stable of picks that aesthetically fit the bill—big name, talented, NCAA-friendly darlings that were all taken at spots that were palatable, which drew immediate post-draft crownings of a “draft winner” label for the Kings. It’s extremely easy to get enticed with the coup, to expect all of these picks to pan out in one way or another, especially from a franchise known lately only for screwing things up. In reality, the results have a good chance of being mixed. At worst they’ll be a blend of good picks, some who never reach their true potential or fully accept their roles at the next level. Nevertheless, they all have the chance to realize their respective potential(s) with the Kings. Two of them in particular have tantalizing ceilings in Fox and Giles, the former being the exact sort of point guard and leader they’ve been waiting to fall into their laps for the past five years.
Not everybody was a fan, though. The Fox and the Monk reunion fizzled in the oasis as the Kings traded back for the 15th and 20th picks, valuing the futures of Jackson and Giles over the consensus “BPA” in Malik Monk. We can revisit that in a few years before theorizing the goods and bads of the deal.
But it isn’t just luck and a well-received draft that will reverse fortunes in Sacramento, a lot of small factors not always noticeable in the whirlwind of NBA news have franchise altering possibilities.
First off, the Kings have no issue drafting sliders—boom or bust. Ben McLemore never took off as expected, but he had shown that he could hit the three-pointer at a reliable rate, and found a home in Memphis because of his age and talent. Skal Labissiere slid from the lottery all the way down to the 28th pick and showed a versatile offensive package during his rookie season with the Kings, throwing down numerous thunderous dunks and showcasing perimeter skills that many scouts didn’t believe in during the 2016 draft workouts. Not to mention, having patience with Willie Cauley-Stein resulted in the Kings being rewarded—handsomely. After a slow start to his rookie year, WCS followed with a sophomore year posting similar counting numbers, but with consistent play and a fantastic end to the season. At the very least, he looks a competent, useful, uber-roleplayer that any team would love to have.
The acquisition of rookie Buddy Hield in the Cousins trade was a calculated return. The Pelicans weren’t a random landing spot for Cousins as Hield was on the Kings’ radar and was brought back home with a shocked face and a bowl of steaming hot gumbo still in his hands. He swapped out the gumbo for permanent fire-emoji fingertips and seared the nets with a translatable shot—48/42 in March and 46/47 in April, and is the main reason that the Sacramento Kings didn’t need to just stand pat at the 10 spot and pick Malik Monk. Add in Bogdan Bogdanovic, a top European guard prospect heading over during the offseason, and you have your pick of the litter of players that you can get overly excited about if you’re a fan of the Kings.
It would be criminal not to mention how much it helps that Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé has been laying low (as of late), a good omen for their short-term future. Maybe he’s learned that the whole “NBA 3.0, quasi-visionary” schtick works radically better when your team isn’t a bottom-feeder.
Pairing a shiny, new, behind-the-scenes Vivek with the acquisitions of Scott Perry (whom New York wanted so bad that he became their new GM) and Dave Joerger over the last two years brings a sudden, invaluable legitimacy that attests to good decision making (even if it didn’t result in Perry staying) and improvement in areas once considered the laughing stock of the league. In a short-term memory world, the Kings have managed to erase, or at least suppress, a number of painful memories from the last few years.*
(*Not “STAUSKAS!” of course, come on, that train is being ridden until it falls off of the cliff.)
George Hill, at first glance, seemed like a bad idea for an offseason starting out so well for the Kings, but he’s a legit top 15 point guard that can split time at the two with Fox as he learns the ropes and will help the team compete night in and night out. Vince Carter is a gem of a human being and will be immeasurable for the culture, and Zach Randolph, even if he is still selling weed 16 years into the league, still has some vape juice left in the tank.
The Kings went through an entire “process” in the span of half a season, flipping one (extremely talented) man and shuffling out a middling team mired in a decade long playoff drought for 6-7 young prospects of crescendo-ing ceilings and a new lease on NBA life for themselves, but more importantly, their fanbase. The good vibes are unlikely to translate into a large amount of wins over the course of the 2017-2018 season, but the Kings serve as a prime example of how there are different options to choose from than just taking the Golden State Warriors or Philadelphia 76ers route when building an NBA roster. The Kings made the best out of what they had, or better yet, what they ended up with from shrewd and laughable moves, and took not only a road less traveled, but a road forged with their own (shoddy) tools. Where they’ll end up at the end of this road is still yet to be determined, but it’ll be fun to observe.
One thing is for sure—it’s imperative for these young players not to be hoisted upon any shoulders just yet, certainly not as quickly as the Kings were buried alive after the Cousins trade, or the Stauskas trade, or the… you catch my drift. A hands off approach is the best approach in this case, where you can let them stumble around and catch their footing before throwing them off of the cliff to see if they can fly.
The king isn’t dead, but long live the Kings.