The Sacramento Kings made what I would consider a ‘splashy’ front office signing last summer when they lured NBA analytics guru and quasi assistant coach Roland Beech away from the Dallas Mavericks. Beech was billed as the ‘perfect’ analytics guy for a general manager like Vlade Divac because of how close Beech supposedly works with the coaching staff and the players. He isn’t just crunching numbers in an office somewhere.
In fact, I wrote a ‘30 questions’ about Beech last summer, asking a similarly phrased ‘how will he impact the Kings this season?’ type question. That sort of question is nearly impossible to answer because we just don’t know what kind of conversations go on behind the scenes. If we can jump to any conclusion, it’s that he certainly didn’t have a major impact considering how bad the Kings were last season, and that isn’t a slight to Roland Beech, but there wasn’t enough ‘good’ for anyone to take individual credit.
Beech is still with the organization, and I feel better about the Kings knowing that. Of course, I have no idea what he actually does on a day-to-day basis, but he came highly regarded from an organization that is very good at sustaining success, with glowing reviews from Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle.
I only mention all that to add some context for how much speculation is required to gauge the impact of a front office hire before we dive into Ken Catanella.
The Kings hired Catanella away from Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons on April 28th. ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that Ken would serve as the ‘top aide’ to Vlade Divac, and considering Divac’s shortcomings as a general manager, he may be the most important ‘top aide’ in the NBA.
I feel as though we’ve already seen a hint of Catanella’s handy work this offseason, and that has me feeling somewhat better about the Kings’ future under Vlade’s leadership.
This might sound contradictory, but I didn’t love the Kings’ offseason, however, I did like how they went about doing what they did, and (insert speculation warning here) I think Ken Catanella is responsible for that. Let me explain.
This Kings made three ‘big’ free agent signings this summer. Arron Afflalo, Garrett Temple, and Anthony Tolliver.
The notoriously not-cap savvy Kings managed to land both Afflalo and Tolliver on what will ultimately amount to one year deals, as both players signed two year contracts with only partial guarantees in year two. The Kings really made just one long-term commitment this summer, and that was Garrett Temple, who I would consider their ‘best’ signing. If Afflalo or Tolliver have a good season, the Kings can keep them on appropriately priced contracts, if they don’t, the Kings will be able to roll that cap room over to next summer.
The value of expiring contracts has sunk dramatically over the last few seasons, but in both Tolliver and Afflalo’s case, they are interesting veterans who could become trade assets at the deadline if the Kings’ season goes south, and the flexibility an acquiring team will have with their contracts adds a small layer of value to both players as assets.
On Zach Lowe’s podcast a couple of weeks ago, Dave Joerger talked about all of the “4’s and 5’s” on the Kings’ roster right now. He said something to the effect of ‘what our roster looks like now isn’t necessarily what it will look like forever’. I’ll come back to this in a second.
The Kings have been criticized by a lot of people, myself included, for lacking any sort of long-term direction or plan.
I think that has been true for way too long now, and I don’t want to say those days are over, but I do think something else might be going on here.
I don’t think the Kings actually know what the future holds. On one hand, that sounds frightening, on the other hand, it’s largely based in reality, but it’s hard to ‘plan’ for a future with so many variables. Joerger and Catanella signed with an organization in NBA ‘no man’s land’.
DeMarcus Cousins’ contract status is the the big elephant in the room. The Kings don’t know if Cousins will re-sign with the organization when he becomes a free agent at the end of next season, and that is putting the front office in a tough position. They are trying to do right by Cousins’ prime. They are trying to bring in capable veterans. They are trying to compete. The unfortunate truth here is that previous management blew every asset the Kings had outside of Cousins, leaving Vlade Divac and co. to pick up the pieces. Tyreke Evans? Gone for (essentially) nothing. Isaiah Thomas? Gone for (literally) nothing. A top-10 pick? Wasted on to-this-point bust, Ben McLemore. Another top-10 pick? Nik Stauskas. Yeah.
I’m not putting all failure on Pete D’Alessandro, but a lot of talent and assets walked out the front door under his (and to be fair, Vivek Ranadive’s) watch, and now the Kings are paying for it.
What the Kings did this summer is pick up average veterans that have some limited potential to be better than that, without committing long-term to nearly-anything just in case a DeMarcus Cousins trade goes down. The last thing you want is Arron Afflalo and Anthony Tolliver eating up cap space when you don’t have Cousins around.
Like Joerger alluded to on Lowe’s podcast, the Kings have all of these bigs because they don’t know what the future holds, and, in my speculation, Catanella followed that lead in free agency by bringing in veterans that can conceivably help now, but also give them extreme flexibility for whatever happens with Cousins down the road. I don’t think there is a concrete plan here, and in this moment, I think that is OK. Everything is sort of up in the air. We’re all waiting patiently to see if Joerger can work some magic with this roster, and while I certainly have my doubts, the Kings are doing the right thing by at least giving Joerger a shot with this team before they blow it up.
How will Catanella impact the Kings this season? Like Beech, I have no idea, but I’m glad he’s here. The Kings’ front office is smarter with him in it, and knowing that Vlade Divac isn’t approaching whatever happens with Cousins (trade or re-sign) alone is at least partially reassuring. If there are any positives to glean from this offseason, it’s that the Kings have considered long-term flexibility while trying to put a competitive product out on the court, and I do believe Catanella can take some credit for that.