A silent countdown has begun in Sacramento. Vlade Divac is preparing for the eventual and unavoidable departure of our star, DeMarcus Cousins. He will not speak publicly about it, nor will he acknowledge the possibility to others, but the decision has already been made and quite frankly, telegraphed. Vlade understands the hyper-aggressive, reactionary leadership team that employs him. He has witnessed the destructive tendencies of an owner who demands immediate results with no investment of time. The lack of roster talent, the lack of future assets, and the lack of organizational stability has stalled any possible progress for the team as currently constructed. He will not make this move suddenly or without a grand plan, but instead will attempt to get maximum return for our most valuable assets. A franchise with no free agent hopes, compromised future draft picks, and poor league reputation cannot afford to lose players for less than their value (i.e. Isaiah Thomas). On February 16th, 2017 DeMarcus Cousins will be traded for young assets and future draft picks.
Many fans, including me, have theorized that the best time to trade DeMarcus would have been on or near draft night. His contract had the most time left and teams didn't know who was going to be drafted or in what order. The Lakers and the Celtics were the two most likely trade partners. Packages including picks and players were discussed ad nauseum. Often, there would be an added sentence to the proposals such as "and we can get picks/players for Gay, Belinelli, and Koufos!" Thankfully, we aren't in charge.
The Retail Tale
A store like J.C. Penney relies on sale items to bring consumers into their store and drive future sales. A customer may be shopping for a pair of shorts that are cheaper than competitors, but will almost certainly leave with multiple items with some being paid for at full price. The store may break even on the pair of shorts, but comes out ahead on the two shirts and hat that someone buys. Compare that to the store closings of Sports Authority. Everyone knows that the ownership and employees have nothing to lose and simply want to get rid of inventory. People walk in expecting rock bottom prices and will simply leave if something doesn't catch their eye. Eventually, customers are paying pennies on the dollar for items that still hold real value and that would cost much more elsewhere.
Right now, we are a J.C. Penney store. We are certainly willing to depart with some of our items, but we certainly aren't going to give anything away. We want fair value for the assets we are trying to trade. We have a future plan for the success of the franchise.
The moment the Sacramento Kings decide to shop DeMarcus Cousins, we will become the Sports Authority of the NBA. Our other assets immediately become less valuable. If we have veterans who no longer fit our rebuilding plans everyone will know we want them off of the payroll. If we had traded DMC on draft day GM's would have realized that our player inventory value had immediately collapsed. Vultures like Danny Ainge would be calling to try and get players at a discount of their value. NBA teams would have expected us to ship off players like Rudy Gay, Marco Belinelli, and Kosta Koufos for pennies on the dollar.
Thankfully, Vlade has recognized the issue of selling off assets after trading a star player. He is trying to deal away our unneeded inventory for fair price before "closing the store". The Marco Belinelli trade is a perfect example. Vlade got a first round pick in exchange for a veteran who doesn't fit with a rebuilding franchise. He's attempting to do the same thing with Rudy Gay and Kosta Koufos - nice players who have no business on the team next year. Monta Ellis won't be coming back in a trade because he won't be needed in a year. Expect young players on multi-year contracts like Cameron Payne or Jae Crowder or possibly future picks in return for Gay, Koufos, and McLemore.
Kings fans were hoping for one of six players to be available when we made our draft selection. Unfortunately, all six were taken in front of us. Many correctly predicted that the Kings would trade the #8 pick if things didn't go our way. We expected the front office to trade the pick for an established player, possibly a shooting guard or an upgrade at point, who could help us make a run at the playoffs. Instead, Vlade traded a pick and a veteran for three projects and a European stash player. Not a single one of those selections seemed to help the roster or promote a win-now culture.
In fact, every single move made this offseason speaks to a coming rebuild. First, we traded away Marco Belinelli for a first round draft pick. As bad of a season as he had, Marco was certainly going to help us win more games this year than Malachi Richardson (or anyone else drafted in that slot). Next, we aggressively pursued trades to move up in the draft to take future impact players such as Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. We were willing to part with veteran players like Rudy Gay and Kosta Koufos to gain inexperienced rookies; not the moves of a team looking to win now. Unfortunately, teams were seeking too much in a trade (reportedly Cauley-Stein, part of the rebuild), so Vlade gave up on that path.
Are you still not convinced that Vlade has a master plan he's executing?
Next, he passed on Wade Baldwin, a point guard who could help us; you guessed it, right now. Surprisingly, we drafted Papa G who is a project big, likely one or two years away from even cracking the rotation. With our 22nd pick in the draft we grabbed a shooting guard with lots of potential, but quite a few warts as well. Essentially, we drafted J.R. Smith 2.0 who will need plenty of seasoning from a strong coach. Skal Labissiere, another project big man was our final first round pick. Bogdan Bogdanovic is a great European player, but does nothing to help us this season.
Dion Waiters! Ryan Anderson! Courtney Lee! Rajon Rondo! All of these veteran, high cost, win-now players were linked to us early in the free agency market. Fears abounded in the NBA and fan communities alike that the Kings would drop major money and multiple years on players that would barely move the needle. Unsurprisingly at this point, Vlade went the other way. He signed players on conservative contracts that had no long term consequences. Of the four veterans signed, two have partially guaranteed contracts for the 2017-2018 season. Anthony Tolliver has $2 million guaranteed and Arron Afflalo has $1.5 million guaranteed. Matt Barnes has a player option. A player option that a veteran might just use if he's stuck on a rebuilding team and wants to win before his career is over. Garret Temple was a low cost acquisition who is a strong presence in the locker room on a fair contract.
Theoretically, the Kings could have a roster full of young talent, project players, and a few locker room veterans next year. Not including the assets gained from Gay, Koufos, McLemore, and DMC trades our roster could look something like:
That is a team who is ready to grow together, learn together, and become a dominant defensive force under Dave Joerger. Adding in major assets from a Cousins trade and minor players from Gay, Koufos, and McLemore transactions could really turn this ship around quickly.
Vlade Divac either has a master plan that he's keeping close or he's wildly out of control and needs to be relieved of his duties quickly. Every move made thus far has set this team up nicely for the future. I'm ready for a post-Cousins team and I think Vlade Divac is as well.