• Ryan Wheeler

Sacramento Where the Strange Is Commonplace

For the past decade the Sacramento Kings have been in the running for most dysfunctional NBA franchise. The New York Knicks have probably been their biggest competition for continually messing things up season after season and this offseason they conspired, in a way, to cross-contaminate their franchises. The 2016-17 NBA season was certainly one of transition for the Kings with the departure of Boogie Cousins and a full-fledged roster rebuild around young draft picks. Finishing the year giving big minutes to Buddy Hield (15 points, 42.8% 3 point shooting), Willie Cauley-Stein (13 points, 8 rebounds) , and Skal Labissiere (10 points, 6 rebounds) provided a glimmer of hope for the beleaguered fanbase as the youngsters showed promise and progress. Stein also starred in the best alley-oop of the year.

The NBA draft was a true positive sign that things may be turning around in Sacramento. With an impressive haul of De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason III most draftniks thought the Kings had the best draft of any NBA team. They finally addressed the glaring deficit for a franchise point guard and added talent at positions of need. The draft pick acquired from the Cousins trade was doubled down to turn one first round pick into two: essentially trading Zach Collins for Jackson and Giles. This was a savvy move to add more chances to hit upon a legitimate NBA player and a sign that Vlade Divac was finally figuring out this GM gig. Then came the opening days of free agency…

The NBA free agency period is a feeding frenzy for the first few days. Usually, the Kings cannot even get a meeting with the top players because they have no interest in coming to Sacramento. This year, the Kings opened the checkbook and set their sights on proven veterans to mentor their plethora of prospects. When all was said and done they added a battle tested point guard, a 40 year old legend, a shooter and a post to the mix. Vince Carter and George Hill comes in to show Hield and Fox how to be successful NBA guards. Hill (17 pts, 4 assists, 3 rebounds) was a borderline All-Star last year on a talented Utah squad. He stabilized both sides of the floor and was generally excellent when healthy. Zach “Z-Bo” Randolph (14 points, 8 rebounds) brings his ground bound grit ‘n grind game to town as a model of toughness and consistency for Trill Stein, Skal, Papagiannis and Giles. Bogdan Bogdanovic is a Serbian shooter coming to the NBA after a very successful season in the Euroleague last year. With the new additions they also bid adieu to Rudy Gay and his ruptured achilles tendon as well as Darren Collison who never found his place on the Kings. In all, Sacramento added nearly $50 million worth of free agents to this year’s payroll and they still will most likely fall well short of the playoffs again.

The final piece of this convoluted puzzle comes from a front office shake-up. In April, Scott Perry was promoted to executive vice president of basketball operations. Perry was very highly regarded by the Kings and across the NBA. As a calamitous offseason unfolded in New York, with Phil Jackson seemingly losing his mind or just trying to get fired, Perry was hired to be the new General Manager. The Kings lose a leader in the front office and a counter voice to Vlade Divac’s haphazard approach to team building.

In all, the Kings had a confusing offseason. They added real talent in the draft and spent a fortune in free agency. The question, of course, is whether any of these moves will equal more wins for this downtrodden franchise this season. Sacramento has been a miserable team for the past 10 years. Fans were finally excited about some of the young players and genuinely wanted to watch Fox and Hield develop alongside one another. Adding George Hill takes valuable minutes from Fox and may hinder his development. The 40 year old Vince Carter may be a real asset as an assistant coach in shorts and a jersey but probably won’t help much as a player. Bogdanovic is a highly regarded Euro with zero NBA experience. One hopes that by looking at the collective moves this offseason, the Kings are finally implementing a longterm plan for the first time in a very, very long time.

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