(Guys and Gals, meet Adam, our newest contributor. - Ed.)
Every good team has one. Every great team builds around one. In the midst of all the Sacramento Kings' recent trade activity they may have stumbled into a core of players that will dictate what moves they make in both team-building and on the court play.
In the summers of 2007 and 2010 respectively, the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat took the concept of a core and
stretched it out to what at the time was deemed star gathering, and now they have 3 championships and appearances in 5 of the last 6 Finals to show for it. But while they were practicing what was essentially a hyperactive version of team building, the core tenants remained the same.
A team's core doesn't necessarily have to be their most talented players (although it certainly helps when it comes to prioritizing roster moves). But they should at least be the guys a team is prepared build around in an effort to be competitive.
There is a discernible difference between being a team in transition and a team in motion. A team in transition is either trading the present for the future and gathering assets, clearing cap room or tanking (it almost seems like a bad word now).
They're trying to get to that point where they're in motion, where they're ready to compete.
The team that's in motion has their core players in place, they've added players in addition to their core that will complement their strengths and weaknesses.
We saw last year the Denver Nuggets as a team who might have failed to recognize this difference in action. Coming off of the Carmelo Anthony trade they were flush with assets, seemingly one big trade away from being able to re-acquire a star talent.
They hung on to those assets, made some minor changes (Afflalo for Igoudala and Nene for JaVale) and now have seemingly come away on the losing end of the process. They've lost Igoudala to the Warriors in free agency, McGee has not panned out at this point and they still have the same assets they had previously, albeit with a lot less luster.
They're currently 9th in the Western Conference at 20-18.
Not bad, but without any major changes they run the risk of being stuck in the dreaded mid-tier of the conference, unable to tank because they're too talented but not talented enough to really do damage in the playoffs.
While many factors may have contributed to their current predicament, having little but players that hold more value as intangible assets than they do as players doesn't do anything to swing the needle of the team. Without a core of keepers on their team, deciding on what moves to make to swing that needle becomes an unnecessarily difficult process.
The Kings, up until the trades that brought them Gay and Williams, were in almost this same predicament. They had a litany of attractive players and expiring contracts, but the team didn't make much sense as it was constructed. The players held more value as trade chips in possible deals, but finding the right trade that both maximized their value and made the team better either in the short or long run would obviously be a tricky undertaking.
After these two trades, the Kings had eliminated most of the dead weight contracts on the books and positional overlap on the court while also acquiring two talented yet polarizing players. The way this trade has worked out for Gay and Williams has been harped on enough, if you want a refresher course you can go here and here.
But it also has elevated Isaiah Thomas into the starting lineup, where he's since played almost elite-level ball as a point guard, amid some hiccups that should be viewed as part of his growth process.
It clearly hasn't done anything to stop DeMarcus Cousins, who's since inserted himself into the All-Star discussion, playing well enough to garner NBA Player of the Week honors this past week.
From there the Kings have been playing much better ball than they were before the trade, going 8-9 with Gay in the lineup.
At this time, Gay, Thomas and Cousins represent the core of the team. Barring any setbacks, the Kings and GM Pete D'Alessandro should feel comfortable in planning their roster moves around the strengths and weaknesses of these three guys.
Now, for example, the development of players like Ben McLemore become all the more important going forward. McLemore's ability to stretch the floor will be a useful tool to complement the paint presence of Cousins, the slashing of Thomas and high to mid-post work of Gay. While his development likely would've been of the same importance for the team regardless of their functionality, it now comes with a more direct reward. When before we hoped Tyreke Evans would develop to become a star player or to at least hold some good trade value, we now hope that players can develop around a particular foundation that's already tangibly there.
Kings co-owner Andy Miller came on the Sactown Royalty Show yesterday and spoke with Greg Wissinger about the importance of having a "Big Three," that "all the teams that have won the championship over the last 20 or so years have all had a Big Three." While I'm not by any means predicting the Kings to upset essentially the entire NBA and win the NBA title, to eventually get into that discussion, whether it be 3 or 4 years down the line, your team building has to come purposefully and methodically.
When the new Kings' regime took over, we hoped that the innovative approach that the ownership group applied to their business would permeate to the basketball operations staff. Pete D'Alessandro has demonstrated at least that much in his approach to building this team.
And while there are a whole lot of moving parts to this team in their growth and development, the moving parts do indicate one thing: maybe this team is a whole lot closer to being in motion than we thought they were.