One of the good things about having a single general manager for a long time is that you can assess his past pretty well. Moves take years to develop and sort themselves out; luckily, we've had years to look at Geoff Petrie's work and assess what has worked out and what hasn't.
So below, I review the moves made by Petrie and the Sacramento Kings in the last five NBA trade deadlines as we prepare for the 2012 edition on Thursday. Sacramento certainly has options this season, whether as a cap mule (a familiar refrain, you'll see) or in dealing talent for talent (also not foreign to the Kings). We'll also look at those options as we progress through the week. But now, the past.
The Kings made no moves! This was the Eric Musselman season, the first full season of Ron Artest and John Salmons. Bonzi Wells was already gone, but Mike Bibby, Brad Miller, Kenny Thomas and Shareef Abdur-Rahim were here. Kevin Martin was emerging as a star scorer -- he was already the team's leading scorer despite being No. 3 in shots per game.
It was the Kings' first lottery season in eight years. Sacramento was out of the playoff race by the time the deadline hit, and -- critically -- Petrie did nothing. The 2006 offseason and 2007 trade deadline were the critical moments in which Petrie decided to try to compete with Bibby, Miller, Artest and Abdur-Rahim instead of going for a full rebuild. In retrospect, it put the Kings back years, and the team didn't have a single playoff berth, let alone legit contention, to show for it.
Of course, trading any of those veterans would have been difficult. Artest had more baggage than the cargo hold of a Transatlantic flight. (But Petrie did trade for him in the first place.) Abdur-Rahim appeared to be aging rapidly and struggled with injury. (But Petrie did sign him a year prior.) The team had absolutely no depth behind Bibby or Miller at point guard and center. (But Petrie was responsible for that roster, completely.)
Rebuilding at that point would have been difficult. But rebuilding is always difficult, and in retrospect Petrie should have pulled the plug, though it did not seem obvious at the time. Hard to fault him; hard to exonerate him.
A year later, the problems were the same: the team was going nowhere (though stunningly on the outskirts of the playoff race under Reggie Theus), the roster was something between old and untalented and the future was pretty bleak. This time, Petrie made one big trade: he sent Mike Bibby to the Hawks for what we shall now refer to as the Mike Bibby Buffet: veteran Anthony Johnson (who left at season's end), Tyronn Lue (who was quickly waived), Lorenzen Wright (who left at season's end, R.I.P.), a second-round pick (which became Sean Singletary, which was basically the same thing as setting the pick on fire and burning it to ash) and the one, the only Shelden Williams.
Shelden was the "prize" of the package. He played 58 games for the Kings before being traded with Bobby Brown for -- this is not a joke -- Calvin "Merlin" Booth and Rashad McCants. Neither lasted with the Kings, suffice it to say.
The Bibby trade was an abomination. He clearly had something left, as he helped lead Atlanta to three straight playoff appearances before the wheels fell off. He was good enough to get another big contract after he left Sacramento. Petrie traded Bibby almost a week before the 2008 deadline, during All-Star Weekend, in fact. We'll never know if there were better options available. But there couldn't possibly have been a worse package to take, right? The only benefit of that trade was the cap space. The pick was useless, Williams wasn't anything special (though he's still in the league and still just 28).
Guess what? The Kings still haven't used the cap space from the Bibby deal. It did allow the team to extend Kevin Martin and sign Beno Udrih to a mid-level deal later in 2008 without broaching the luxury tax, though.
And finally, the rebuild begins in earnest. The Kings were headed toward the worst record in franchise history, Martin had been battling injuries, Artest had been dealt in the offseason for Donte Greene and Houston's 2009 first-round pick, Shareef had been granted a medical retirement and Sacramento was cutting as much salary as possible. This was the year the Maloofs infamously downgraded themselves to coach and had Kenny Thomas stay home on road trips to avoid paying extra travel costs. The nadir of the product on the court perfectly synced up with the franchise's financial low point. It was bleak.
So Petrie did the only thing left to do: gut the team and make trades that would bring much-needed cash.
The Kings made five trades at the 2009 deadline:
A conditional second-round pick that would never be conveyed for Sam Cassell and cash
The Kings helped Boston cut some luxury tax in exchange for almighty cash. This was made possible by the Mike Bibby cap dump. Oh boy!
Bobby Brown and Shelden Williams for Rashad McCants and Calvin Booth
This cut 2009-10 salary for the Kings, as Brown would have been under contract. The Kings would push McCants out the door when he reached free agency a couple of months later. A strictly financial deal.
A conditional second-round pick that would never be conveyed for Will Solomon and cash
The Sam Cassell deal writ small. Solomon lasted only a couple of weeks with the Kings. A strictly financial deal.
John Salmons and Brad Miller for Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden, Michael Ruffin, Cedric Simmons and -- you guessed it -- cash
This was the fire sale, the Bibby trade Part 2. Salmons, remember, was having the best season of his career; he'd go on to be brilliant for Chicago and a season later for Milwaukee. That would earn him a fat five-year contract that somehow we still got stuck with. I get mad every time I think about this bizarre turn of events.
Gooden was the only decent player the Kings got in the deal, and he was waived after one game as a favor to his agent. (Swell!) Nocioni had the worst contract in the trade -- seriously! -- and Ruffin and Simmons were totally expendable and without value. In fact, the fifth deal was ...
Michael Ruffin for Ike Diogu
Diogu actually wasn't bad ... once he finally got a chance with two games left in the season. (Natting hell, man.) He became a free agent, signed with New Orleans, got injured and was never heard from again. His visage still pops up in the comments from time to time for some reason completely beyond my understanding.
These were the moves of a desperate general manager running a desperate franchise. The fact that the deal with the Bulls cut the Kings' 2008-09 and 2009-10 salary structure but actually boosted the 2010-11 and 2011-12 figures -- during a fricking rebuild! -- is still sort of amazing. As predicted, Nocioni was a veritable disaster. Thankfully, the club was able to trade him again in 2010 to free up cap space ... that would go unused. Hell, man.
If you're keeping score, the Kings traded Bibby, Salmons and Miller over two trade deadlines, and got zero prospects, first-round picks or usable starters out of it.
The Kings' core was now Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson up front and Beno Udrih and Kevin Martin in the backcourt. Welp.
The Kings had finally picked up an impact player in the draft -- Tyreke Evans. One problem: it did not appear to many observers that he and Martin were compatible (despite the front office insisting repeatedly all summer that Martin wanted the team to take Evans and that they would form an imposing, huge backcourt). The team had a nice stretch when Martin was out, brilliant new coach Paul Westphal hitched his wagon to Reke's star and Martin's name began appearing on Hoopshype once he returned from injury in January. In February, Petrie pulled the trigger. After picking up Hilton Armstrong in January in a Hornets' cap dump, the Kings sent Armstrong, Martin and Sergio Rodriguez to the Rockets, receiving back Carl Landry, Joey Dorsey and Larry Hughes.
Hughes didn't report and was mercifully waived. Dorsey lasted a few weeks before Westphal had him waived due to immaturity. Landry came in as a starter next to Hawes and Thompson -- depending on Westphal's mood (/chest bump) -- and did pretty well. The next season would be a different story.
What kills me about this deal: Houston got the best player (Martin) and the only draft pick to change hands (New York's 2012 first-round pick, which looks like it will be right about No. 15). The reason that Houston got that pick? Because it took on Jared Jeffries, who had salary on the books for 2010-11. The Knicks needed to clear cap space for their run at LeBron. The Rockets set a price to help: Tracy McGrady's expiring contract for Jeffries, but New York has to throw in a 2011 pick swap, the 2012 first and Jordan Hill.
Why the Kings -- not even close to being contenders for any of 2010's top 25 free agents -- weren't involved in similar deals is a source of great consternation. How do you have valuable cap space, trade a young top-10 scorer with great efficiency and get only a back-up power forward in return? Even though Petrie had a win in flipping Landry a year later (see below), that doesn't excuse a truly abysmal performance at the 2010 deadline. It makes the 2008 and 2009 deals look like Richmond for Webber. (OK, not quite.)
The Kings made two deals at the 2011 deadline, taking on Marquis Daniels in another Boston cap dump (netting cash, way to use that cap space as an asset to actually grow the team!) and swapping Landry for Marcus Thornton and cash. This proved to be Petrie's best deal since ... gosh, since Peja for Artest? Thornton isn't perfect, and he got paid plenty as a restricted free agent months after the swap, but he's the first legit core player under the age of 25 that Petrie has traded for since Mike Bibby in 2002. There's hope yet!
Well, we think there's hope yet. We hope there's hope yet. It should be an interesting week as the Kings are in position to use cap space as an asset, something they have failed to do over the past five trade deadlines. Stay tuned.