The Sacramento Kings have undergone a remarkable transformation from last season. Thanks to a risky trade and aggressive moves in free agency, the roster has been completely changed. The only remaining members from last season's team are DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore, Darren Collison, and Omri Casspi. The rest of the roster has changed. The Kings have added Kosta Koufos, Marco Belinelli, Rajon Rondo, Caron Butler, James Anderson, and seem to be on the verge of adding Andrea Bargnani.
That's remarkable. But a more important change has happened in how the team is run. Though the leaks have dried up (nobody heard a peep about the Kings chasing Caron Butler), the organization has become more transparent than ever. This is Vlade Divac's show. Any blame or credit for this offseason's results will fall squarely on his shoulders. This has been clear to those paying attention to Sacramento, but hasn't quite sunk in with the national narrative yet. It will, soon enough. Ailene Voison's Saturday column should help. It's a wide ranging piece worth reading in its entirety, but one quote stands out above all else.
"I called Vivek and told him what we wanted to do," Divac said, "and he said, ‘Vlade, do what's best for the organization.' He gave me a lot of freedom. He is impatient, like me. We have a lot of similarities even though he's from India and I'm from Serbia. And we both really love to talk basketball."
Vivek Ranadivé hasn't been a perfect owner in terms of basketball operations. I feel that's an important clarification because outside of basketball operations he's been a superb owner. The new arena is taking shape in downtown Sacramento, the Kings are exploring opportunities to use every bit of available cap space, and the team is a key component of the city's future. But on basketball operations, he's made mistakes that are common among rookie owners. He was too involved in personnel decisions, and surrounded himself with too many voices.
We as Kings fans have been critical of Vivek over the past year, and with good reason. Last season was an outright disaster. The blame for it falls on everyone involved. Pete D'Alessandro, Chris Mullin, and Vivek Ranadivé all share blame, but we'll never truly know how much blame to assign to each person. That's troubling, even as two thirds of the group are no longer with the organization.
Vivek seems to have realized his mistake. In Vlade Divac, Vivek found someone he can trust. And then, most importantly, he stepped back. Vivek clearly isn't completely out of the loop. He was in the war room on draft night. Vlade called him in the anecdote from Voison's article. But that's normal. An owner of an NBA team shouldn't be an absentee landlord. They should still have some involvement and knowledge of what's going on. But the best owners find people they trust and then they let those people work.
And the results so far have been solid. I'll stop short of calling them fantastic, because we won't be able to truly judge this offseason until all the dust settles and we see the results on the court. In fact, we likely won't be able to properly judge this offseason until the summer of 2018 or 2019. That's when the biggest ramifications of this summer's moves may be felt.
As the trade with the Philadelphia 76ers was made official, we learned important details of the first round pick the Kings traded, and its protections. It's now been reported via multiple outlets that the pick is top-10 protected in 2018, and unprotected in 2019. It conveys two years after the Kings convey the pick owed to the Chicago Bulls from the JJ Hickson trade of so long ago.
This tells me that the strategy behind the traded pick is that the Kings will be good enough to convey the pick to Chicago this coming season. That pick is currently top-10 protected. Given the roster changes that subsequently followed the Philly trade, this seems like a realistic goal. The Kings are gambling on themselves, but gambling nonetheless. There is serious risk in a pick being completely unprotected in 2019. We have no idea how good or bad the team might be by then.
Right now things look promising, but even the most promising offseasons can go wrong once the team is on the court. One things is for sure, though. This is Vlade Divac's team. If these moves work, he gets the credit. If they fail, he gets the blame.
Vlade is betting on himself. Based on what we've seen this summer, it seems like it might be a smart bet.