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Morning Conversation: Dealing with dejection

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Kimani Okearah

The Sacramento Kings shocked the basketball world last night when they traded DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans for what will ultimately boil down to a (top three protected!) late lottery pick at best, and Buddy Hield, a 23 year old rookie having a season not too dissimilar to Ben McLemore, the Kings’ 4th year shooting guard who showed some slight signs of development over the last month. McLemore is also 23.

The Kings will take back the contracts of Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway to make the trade work under the current CBA, but one or both of them could be waived before they ever play a game in Sacramento, per various reports. The Pelicans are also sending the Kings the 76ers’ second round pick this year, and fan favorite Omri Casspi is going to New Orleans with Boogie.

There is a time and a place for a basketball discussion about just how bad of a return Vlade Divac and Vivek Ranadive got for DeMarcus Cousins considering what everyone thought his value around the league was. I’m not sure that i’ll touch on the basketball ramifications in this post, as I’m sort of just writing off the cuff with the hour of free time I have this morning. Apologies in advance for how raw and scattered this is going to read.

Despite my frustration with the trade, we don’t know what else was on the table. It’s possible that this was the best offer out there, and it’s also possible that this has more to do with Buddy Hield than we could ever imagine. The Kings loved Hield going into the draft last June, and if the Kings project Buddy as a future all-star, then they are obviously viewing this return a lot better than everyone else.

This particular post is less about basketball and more about feelings. I don’t want to watch the Kings play basketball anymore, and I’m sure I’m not alone on that. I will, of course, because who am I kidding? But this is a real palpable feeling Kings fans have been expressing all night and into the morning. I can feel it because I can relate to it.

It’s not really about DeMarcus Cousins, either. It’s not about the players, either. I’m sure there will be fun sprinkled throughout the Kings’ last 25 games this season. I’m going to enjoy watching Buddy and Skal and Willie, etc. I think the on-court product will be totally watchable, in a lets set the young guys free and see what happens kind of a way.

It’s not about that.

It’s about the feeling of investing so much time, energy, and effort into an organization that clearly has no idea what they are doing. There has been no vision, no long-term plan, and no displayed level of competence for nearly a decade. With every regime change Kings fans remained hopeful that the new guys had some idea how to run a professional basketball team, and Kings fans have been burned every step of the way.

Vivek Ranadive is the only recent common denominator. Even if you’re buying The Vertical’s latest report that Vivek let basketball ops handle this, we can’t forget that Vivek hired Vlade Divac without much of any NBA front office experience to run the basketball side of his franchise. To say hiring Divac has been a disaster would be an understatement, despite how much I wish I didn’t have to say that. Vlade Divac represents everything fun about the Kings when they were at their peak, and it’s extremely unfortunate that he was put in a position with this much power this early.

It’s doubly unfortunate that Divac will likely be the fall guy when the front office receives another inevitable makeover. I don’t see how the Kings dig out of this mess by 2019 when the 76ers are set to receive an unprotected first round pick as a result of Divac’s gigantic pick swap deal from two summers ago. I would be surprised if Divac keeps his job long enough to see the 76ers make that selection.

And he shouldn’t keep his job, by the way, but that is all wrapped up inside this whole dejection thing. It feels like having a bad general manager doesn’t even matter when you consider who is on top.

I like Vivek. Always have. I still think he has excellent potential as an NBA owner, and I want to be on the right side of history if he does figure this thing out. I still think he can do that, despite all of the evidence supporting otherwise, but that doesn’t make right now any easier to stomach. If Vivek handed the keys of the franchise to Vlade, if Vivek is letting basketball ops handle basketball decisions in their entirety, than he’s halfway there towards being a serviceable NBA owner. He just needs to find some people that know what they are doing.

If he isn’t empowering his basketball people, than the Kings have nowhere to go but down. Dejection.

The Kings aren’t in a good rebuilding position now that Cousins is gone. Trading him doesn’t come close to solving the real issues inside the organization. Their long-term future has never looked worse, in fact, and with Divac in charge of basketball operations, I don’t feel particularly good about how the Kings are going to use the very few high lottery picks they have over the next couple of years.

How the same general manager can make the notorious 76ers pick swap trade, and the Cousins dump to New Orleans trade in the same tenure and keep his job is beyond me. It’s two entirely different directions in two years, with neither deal really helping the Kings get closer to their goal in each instance. It’s just two terrible trades in the opposite direction. I want to say unbelievable, but, you know, totally believable.

This has already gone on quite a bit longer than I had planned, so I’ll just cut it off there. As a connoisseur of Kings basketball, that feeling of dejection I eluded to earlier is real. I don’t know how I’m going to spend the next several months, but I certainly don’t feel like watching the Kings play basketball right now. Not with how little faith I have in the future success of this franchise. My confidence in organizational competence has never been lower, and that is saying something.