[Editor's Note: I started writing this before Biegler's superb take on the subject. Consider this that extra book your college professor made you buy but it wasn't as good as the main material. -Greg]
The Sacramento Kings have had an interesting offseason. They drafted Nik Stauskas when Noah Vonleh, considered an ideal pairing next to DeMarcus Cousins, was still on the board. Not only was Vonleh on the board, but the Kings spent the 7th pick in the previous year's draft on Ben McLemore, who plays the same position as Stauskas. And on top of all this, the Kings allowed Grantland to film their war room, showing Vivek voicing a preference for Stauskas and the rest of the room quickly falling into lockstep.
The Kings then drew the ire of the internets by signing Darren Collison to a three-year, $16 million deal. Collison has, over the course of his career, seemed better suited to serve as a back-up point guard. Collison has been a starter before, and the results have been underwhelming. This signing has generally been panned by me, my fellow StR writers, fans, and outsiders.
The Collison signing was derided because of what it signaled. Isaiah Thomas was no longer part of the future. Sure enough, the Kings facilitated a sign-and-trade deal sending Thomas to the Phoenix Suns. In return, the Kings took back nothing more than a trade exception. This really brought the criticisms from me, my fellow StR writers, fans, and outsiders.
But ultimately, these reactions that I, my fellow writers, fans and outsiders have had are all just reactions based on how we feel about those players in the moment. This is the ritual of the NBA offseason. We give grades to draft picks and trades and free agent signings based on what we think the outcome will be. We are often wrong. We know this, and yet the tradition continues. It's fun, after all. We're armchair GMs, and we can believe the actual GM doesn't always agree with us. This is fine, this is fun. But sometimes we go too far.
Jacob Greenberg is a writer I enjoy. He writes for The Diss, and I enjoy his output on Twitter. But he is also one of the writers making Maloof comparisons to the current team. He wrote a piece called "Maloof Is A State Of Mind". It's a very well-written piece, and it attempts to address the challenges of changing the fortunes of a franchise. At its core, I agree with the point Jacob was trying to make, I just drastically disagree with how he attempted to construct his argument.
Jacob's biggest mistake is that he points to the Memphis Grizzlies as the example of how Sacramento should be rebuilding, but isn't. In fact, Sacramento is very much following the model of the Grizzlies. Lionel Hollins instilled a distinct team identity. Michael Malone is working to do the same. The team was bad at defense, Malone's specialty, last season, but did show significant improvement as the season progressed, despite not adding any defensive stalwarts.
The Grizzlies picked up Zach Randolph when his value was low. The Kings did the same with Rudy Gay. Rudy Gay was a laughingstock when Sacramento acquired him. Kings fans were considered fools for thinking Gay might help. And then Rudy Gay put together a marvelous season in his time in Sacramento. Many night Gay was the best player on the floor for the Kings, and yet the perception remains that his season must have been a fluke. When Zach Randolph was acquired by the Grizzlies, he was a laughingstock. He had bounced around the league after a tumultuous stay in Portland. He bounced around from the Knicks to the Clippers, or maybe it was the other way around. It was forgettable, no matter what the order was. He was on his way out of the league. Memphis picked him up, played to his strengths, and Z-Bo thrived.
The Grizzlies were lambasted for the Pau Gasol trade, which brought them Marc Gasol. Gasol dedicated himself, got in shape, and is now one of the top centers in the league. It's nearly impossible to predict that would have happened, but the Grizzlies saw the raw skills and potential and took the gamble that it would work out. Similarly, the Kings hitched their wagons to DeMarcus Cousins. One of the new regime's first moves was to give Cousins a max extension and make him the franchise centerpiece. This was largely mocked, and people said you could never build around such a headcase, especially one whose stats hadn't flourished the previous season. Then DeMarcus Cousins put together an All-Star worthy season, and is now being talked about as one of the best young centers in the league.
Jacob points to Mike Conley. Talk about a gamble. Conley's contract was a punchline, and was widely mocked by me, Grizzlies writers, Grizzlies fans, and outsiders. He's now one of the better point guards in the league.
These moves don't always work out, but it's important to remember that they don't always work out the way we think they might. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash meant a surefire title for the Lakers. Boris Diaw was a mess for the Bobcats but a key cog for the Spurs. Different systems use players differently. We shouldn't ignore what a player has been, but we also shouldn't pretend that what a player was is all he'll ever be.
I've made these same arguments about more moves than I can recall. We have to wait and see. Changing a team from bad to good is a difficult task. It's pulling a U-turn in an aircraft carrier. It's catching lightning in a bottle. But that process begins with one move. And then another. Every move along the way may not work. But that doesn't mean the ship isn't turning.
And finally, as for the arena, yes there are arena opponents still attempting to delay the arena. Yet it still remains unlikely that we see any delays. And the big difference between Vivek and the Maloofs is that Vivek and his team are fighting to overcome the delays, not to create them.
And while Vivek and his team are doing this, they're spending money to improve the current fan experience, and the roster. The Kings are bumping up against the salary cap. There's discussion of moves that could put the Kings into the luxury tax. You can't get any farther from the Maloofs than that.
Anyone who claims that "Maloof" is a mindset that has infected the franchise and the fan base has, quite frankly, no goddamn clue what the mentality was like as a Kings fan under Maloof ownership. We knew intricacies of the salary floor, not the cap. We know broken urinals and broken arena chairs that never got fixed. We knew about plastic tarps falling from the ceiling during games, because the Maloofs were too cheap to remove the signage of sponsors who had left the team. Kings fans are filled with excitement and passion. The front office is working to improve the team. They are going to make mistakes along the way, but I'll kindly ask you to show me the front office who never makes a mistake and never makes a questionable decision.