I've seen more than a few comments around here suggesting that Kevin Martin being dealt in Feb 2010 was the worst trade this franchise has ever made. I beg to differ. There are plenty of trades that have hurt this franchise worse than the Kevin Martin trade. When you're on a losing team (and I'll note that Martin's record with the Rockets was 12-11 last season), it might be proof that while that player is talented, he might not be the right fit. But, this isn't to argue whether or not the Kevin Martin trade has worked for the team. I don't think we can put the book on that trade quite yet. Which, naturally, is not the case for the Derek Smith sign & trade that was, quite simply, the worst decision that ever involved the Sacramento Kings that didn't include suicide or not wearing a seatbelt. (And, because the wound was self inflicted, I would argue the Derek Smith S&T was worse than the Ricky Berry suicide or Bobby Hurley car accident if only because those things the franchise was not in control of.) To tell you the truth, and as 214 pointed out in a string of comments in the Kevin Martin thread posted by TZ, when a trade like Smith's makes the drafting of Pervis Ellison seem positive by comparison, you got problems. Let's rock this after the jump.
First, let's get a handle on what I'm actually talking about. And, some background noise to go along with it. If you started following the Kings in 1985, you might remember a fellow named Terry Tyler. (Some of this is from Jerry Reynolds who talked about this in Reynolds Remembers. I wasn't paying attention to the Kings in this kind of detail when I was 6.) JR believes that in part due to the Tyler trade that happened the season prior to the Smith Sign & Trade (S&T for short as I'm already tired of typing Sign & Trade), it gave the front office a chance to make a trade that would improve the Kings. Well, Derek Smith, was a pretty good player in the several years prior to the Kings acquiring him with the Clippers. The problem then comes in with why would the Clippers trade him? Injuries. What else right? Well, the Kings not only gave a guy who wasn't better than Reggie Theus a lot of money, but decided they were going to build the franchise around him too. Whoops. This caused so many problems (and I'm really not sure where to start to be honest) but it certainly didn't help that the Kings gave up NBA talent to do that deal. The Smith S&T included Junior Bridgeman, who had some good years with the Bucks before joining the Clippers, and Franklin Edwards who probably will be best remembered for being a member of the Fo Fo Fo Sixers in '83. If you can't see where I'm going, basically the Kings got 2 role players who really had little left to offer in their NBA careers at that point, and an overpaid borderline All-Star who was injured a lot of the time. For, and you'll love this, Mike Woodson, a gutty role player who had helped the team make the playoffs the season prior, Larry Drew, a role player who had been an All-Star level Guard a few seasons prior and who also had a large contract at the time (which is why he was included in the deal), a 1988 1st round pick that became Hersey Hawkins and a 1989 2nd round pick that meant little.
Do you remember the 40-4 1st quarter that the Kings had in LA on Feb 2 1987? That trade certainly didn't help the team be competitive against one of the better NBA teams in history. It also got Phil Johnson fired. The problem naturally was that the team had gotten worse due to chemistry issue's created largely by Derek Smith. What's my point? The Kings broke up a playoff team and gave up guys who were important components from that team when factoring in an emotional perspective if not a playing perspective, and brought in a mal-content in return. Derek Smith was the first player to break the Jonesy rule. (This is, of course, former trainer Bill Jones. He died of cancer in 2005 and there is little written about him as he was a trainer well before the interwebs took ahold of the NBA universe.) That's saying something.
Jerry Reynolds became the interim coach and was 15-21 which was rather good all things considered. However, they went 9-5 down the stretch of the season and that was without Derek Smith. Ever heard of addition by subtraction? That was the first time JR learned that lesson in the NBA while seeing it in HD.
So you want silver linings? I'll show you silver linings!
People quite often are complaining about Kevin Martin and all the problems it's created, but, again, I remind the Kings weren't a 500 team let alone a playoff team. (Then again, the 85-86 Kings only won 37 games and were a 7th seed. Things were done differently in the 80's.) There are silver linings to this deal. Plenty of them. Many of them. One silver lining is the relationship between Beno Udrih and Tyreke Evans. Whatever you think of both players styles and whether it's suited to a winning team, it's clear they work well together. If you're going to build around a player whom you think is a star (like Tyreke Evans), you're going to have make decisions that not every fanbase agree's with. This Martin trade is clearly one of those. But, again, it's not the worst trade the Kings have ever made. By a very longshot. And I haven't even mentioned every silver lining of the Martin deal that includes cap space and Carl Landry.
You say that Carl Landry stinks? Well, I present to you Junior Bridgeman (again). He never played a single game for the Kings. Franklin Edwards was at the tail end of a journeyman career who played a whopping 24 games for the team in a season and half and ended up getting waived in January '88.
As far as the venerable Mr. Smith? He averaged 16.6 pts, 3.5 assists, 3.9 boards for the 86-87 season (a high point of production in Sac), and a guy who was getting the ball nearly as much as Tyreke Evans was. And unlike Tyreke Evans, he didn't have the "still learning the NBA" excuse. He had been in the NBA for 4 seasons at that point. Plus he only played 52 games in his 1st season in Sac after his last season with the Clippers where he only played 10 games. The only reason the Kings waived Smith was because Jerry Reynolds insisted that they needed to. He was such a distraction that nobody, and I'm not exaggerating here, liked him. When I mean everyone, I mean the players & coaching staff, the trainers, the arena people, management, everybody. Do you realize how big of an asshole you have to be to piss everyone off? It's pretty hard work and you have to be pretty committed to it. You could say that was the only real dedication Derek Smith ever had while in Sacramento.
There were silver linings but in reality it was a culmination effect that essentially had given Jerry Reynolds a proper perspective at why it is so difficult to win in the NBA and the kinds of mistakes that the Kings made. I've noted many times his point that the difference between good teams and bad teams (other than players and luck) is that the good teams move on from decisions quicker. Well, that was another problem then. The Kings management (especially Joe Axelson) tried to shove Smith into a role he wasn't really accustomed to. Eddie Johnson, while no stud, was a quality shooter who could get you 20 any given night (and did). Reggie Theus was a talented all around player who simply never gave enough of himself to tap into what JR has deemed Hall of Fame talent. Mike Woodson was a tough guy who played hard and helped his teammates whatever way he could. Larry Drew contributed. Eddie Johnson fit in with this team and that was essentially your 4 backcourt guys. But, then, suddenly you have Smith who was a shooter, Reggie Theus who was better as the PG, and Johnson whom was not a natural facilitator in his own right. It didn't work basketball wise and even though the team tried whatever it could, it simply wasn't until Smith was let go out of the situation that the Kings had a reasonable backcourt. This didn't happen until 1989 when Reynolds was by then the full time head coach (after being an interim head coach for the 2nd time) and Kenny Smith/Danny Ainge were part of the backcourt at that point. If that ain't suggesting problems, I don't know what is.
I'm not sure how many younger fans remember Otis Thorpe period let alone that he was on the Kings for the first 4 years of his career. However, in 1988 the Kings trade Thorpe for Rodney McCray and Jim Peterson. (Who of course was traded for Ralph Sampson. Another story in of itself. In fact, why not? Peterson was given a big contract by Bill Russell and that's how they were able to trade Sampson who still had a large contract from his Houston years. The idea, as JR has explained it, was to get 2 starters for one. However, if you can't see the problem with this already, it was simply that the NBA doesn't work that way and that 1 player, especially if he is a top 5-10 player, makes a huge difference. The NBA isn't the NFL or MLB where you can get 2 quality players for what an expensive player makes. And, again, this is kinda where the Derek Smith deal comes in. I get the sense, and older folks around here perhaps can fill in this detail better than I can, but at that point the Kings were still trying to make Derek Smith work and thus didn't feel they couldn't accomplish signing Otis Thorpe to a bigger contract and waive Smith. Now I could be wrong about this, but the Smith signing was a major gamble, in both talent and money, that never worked any way you slice it.
Then you had Bill Russell. He took advantage of this whole situation and became the head coach of the team until JR took over with his 2nd interim stint. Again, this is where one of the JR silver linings comes in. Whatever success you believe Jerry Reynolds brings to the Sacramento Kings franchise, one of them (I believe) is applying the lessons he learned during the Gregg Lukenbill years about how to pay players, hire coaches, make roster decisions and so forth. It's helped Geoff Petrie as I'm sure JR is a trusted man inside the organization when Petrie was brought in Jim Thomas. And whatever you think of Petrie today, he did not inherit a team in 1994 with more asset's than the team currently possesses now. A big part of that is Petrie himself. Getting back to Mr "More rings than fingers" for a moment. In part because Russell believed the roster was re-moldable, he certainly allowed for things like Eddie Johnson to be traded for Ed Pickney. Again, just like Thorpe, I believe this deal was done in part to somewhat accommodate Derek Smith. And, again, it was simply foolish to do so.
Joe Axelson. I'm not even sure what to say about the guy as I think if you followed his moves you could tell the NBA game had passed him by at that point. I'll let the folks who were following the team in the Axelson years talk about him.
Gregg Lukenbill is a different story altogether. At one point he was an energetic owner who was willing to do things to make the Kings better. I think the Derek Smith changed him because after the Derek Smith S&T every trade was about saving money after that. (And yes, I think Jerry Reynolds has sold me that deal killed "Luke's" view of the team after that.) This deal was so bad for the franchise in so many ways. On court talent. Off court leadership and chemistry. On court chemistry and leadership. Money. It caused Joe Axelson to be fired and helped Bill Russell find his way out the door when he left a year and half after Axelson. If the only silver lining is Jerry Reynolds out of all this, that's a shitty trade any way you wanna slice it.
The other silver lining is that it showed the franchise had some leeway with Kings fans in Sacramento at that point. I think in part because of the Berry suicide, the Hurley accident, and the Smith signing where nothing went well, fans had somewhat been patient with the franchise. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I tend to think that fans expected a franchise to rise above those things. If the Kings had Kareem Abdul Jabbar and managed to snag Magic Johnson in the draft, I guarantee you they would have never left in Kansas City. Again, as bad as the Kevin Martin deal was, some of the hysteria has to be with the frustration over watching a young bad team find it's footing and establish itself in the NBA. I'm not sure having Kevin Martin not on the team is a clear-cut example of a foolish decision. They weren't trading a guy who didn't have health issue's. They were trading a guy who was statistically productive. They weren't trading a franchise player. They weren't breaking up a playoff team.
I don't care how you slice it, but if you wanna call Geoff Petrie an idiot for the Kevin Martin deal, then go ahead. If you wanna call it the worst trade in his time as GM/Prez of Basketball Ops, go ahead. If you wanna call it the worst trade in Sacramento franchise history, there is a whole littany of problems in the 80's that stemmed from acquiring one player in 1986 that killed the Kings, if not for the next 5 years after that, potentially 10 years when you factor in the other issue's and the bad luck with Berry and Hurley, that are begging to disagree with you.
I'm sure there are a lot of NBA people would disagree on the point that when there isn't a franchise player like Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul Jabbar involved, but when you ignore those type of trades where Wilt or Kareem forced themselves out of in order, Golden State, Philly and then Milwaukee, this is a bit different situation. Derek Smith wasn't forcing his way out (other than he wanted money--which is what he all want right?), and neither were Larry Drew or Mike Woodson for that matter. I've seen a lot of bad trades over the years as a NBA fan. Isaiah Rider for Steve Smith qualifies. The Mitch Richmond for Chris Webber trade didn't work out too well. The Chris Webber for Tom Gugliotta trade didn't work out too well for Golden State (or Washington as it turned out). But, again, if you're not factoring in stars of the highest magnitude where franchises moved those players for one reason or another, you could be talking about one of the 3 or 4 worst trades in NBA history. You get about 130 games from 3 players over parts of 6 different player seasons, and that's about what the Kings got from that deal. There is no way that anyone on this planet can convince me that any trade before or after is or was worse for the Kings than that deal was. In fact, had most of the fanbase been following the team during that period, I'm quite convinced you would have felt the same way. That's just how the Derek Smith cookie crumbles in the 916.