The aim of the NBA Draft is to get better, obviously. Getting worse is what you do in the regular season, as players lose value by failing to live up to their potential, or by getting injured, or by getting older and losing their ability to perform at a high level, or by being so good they become expensive, leading to the injuries and the getting older and whatnot. Bad teams get worse in the offseason, between the draft, trades and free agent. Good teams get better. Bad teams seeking to become good get better. The Sacramento Kings are, and have been, a bad team. They need to get better to become good. This is the goal.
I'm not sure the Kings got better on the day of the 2011 NBA Draft.
If they had drafted Jimmer Fredette at No. 7, they would have gotten better. If they had taken anyone at No. 7, they would have gotten better, just to varying degrees. The draft pick who doesn't play up to the rookie scale's first two years of salary is rare. Ultra-rare. Even Quincy Douby played up to his rookie scale salary. It's hard to make a draft pick and get worse. And the Kings may very well have gotten a lot better with Fredette. I'm not convinced he'd make the team better than would have Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris, Bismack Biyombo or Chris Singleton. Maybe yes, maybe no. I'm not convinced, but I'm very possibly dead wrong. Maybe Jimmer was the best point guard in the draft.
Regardless, taken alone, Jimmer improves the team. But we can't take it alone because of what Sacramento did to justify taking Jimmer.
You cannot reasonably separate the Jimmer pick from the John Salmons-Beno Udrih trade, because without the pick -- that telegraphed, storyboarded pick -- you don't do that trade. It'd be the same if Kemba Walker were the pick at No. 10, had the Charlotte Bobcats gone wing at No. 9. The trade happened because of the pick. (Arguably, it doesn't happen if Walker is the pick unless the Kings also swap No. 9 and No. 10, because Charlotte was certainly a consideration in the draft lead-up for Walker.)
The Kings made the trade to clear the point guard decks for the pick, Jimmer. In doing so, the Kings added $10 million of salary for an older, worse player. They traded down, and the roster situation got worse. That doesn't happen. That's not supposed to happen.
Beno is better than Salmons. Salmons' best season resulted in 7.1 Win Shares. Beno had 7.2 on a 24-win team last season. Salmons has one season above 0.1 Win Shares per 48 minutes. Beno has four. Salmons' career PER is 13.1. Beno's is 14.1. And Beno is cheaper, younger and plays a more important/less replaceable position.
Is Salmons a better fit than Beno on a team with Jimmer, Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton in the backcourt and Donte Greene, Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia at small forward? Sure. Definitely. Is that enough to make up for the difference in quality? Maybe. Is that enough to make up for the difference in quality and the difference in salary commitment? No. No. No way.
John Salmons is not a $10 million upgrade over Beno Udrih. No one can convince me of this.
The Kings would have been better off making Beno the fourth guard in the rotation and rolling with the Greene-Casspi-Garcia rotation again, even ignoring that they picked up a promising small forward in Tyler Honeycutt at No. 35. You want to make sure Fredette gets all of the minutes at point guard? Tell Paul Westphal to give Fredette all of the minutes, buy out Beno, send him to Celje. Preserve what precious cap space the team has, stop adding mediocre players like Salmons and get better, not worse.
Instead of justifying the pick the Kings wanted to make, they used the pick to justify a bad trade. Plenty of folks around the nation and world would have laughed or grimaced if the Kings took Jimmer over Knight and Walker at No. 7. The Kings would be the No. 1 story this morning, and most of the reaction would have been negative. But the result -- Jimmer, no Salmons -- would have been better for the team. We can deal with ridicule. A team actively getting worse on draft day? Tougher to swallow.
Don't take this as disappointment in Fredette or the Fredette choice. I'm excited to see what he can do. How this went down is driving me absolutely crazy, though.