As we survey what remains of the Sacramento Kings in the wake of the trade season, we’re left facing a much different team than a week ago. The Kings are officially a rebuilding team. They’ve honestly been a rebuilding team for the past 12 years, but for a few seasons now they’ve been a rebuilding team with delusions of the playoffs. It’s tough to take a step backwards, but there’s solace in knowing the lay of the land. In times like this I’m reminded of a quote from Sports Night.
Dana, I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man, and I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better.
The Kings failed to build around DeMarcus Cousins. Whether you believe that to be a failing of the team, the player, or both, the Kings failed to succeed while building around Cousins. So now we ask, where are we going?
First, we’ll go down. The team will get worse before it gets better. In the modern NBA, that’s generally considered preferable to spending prolonged periods of time stuck in a limbo of being too good for a top pick but bad enough to miss the playoffs. We’re going to root for a sinking ship. We’ll pull for the team to win each game, but losses will be easier to tolerate as they’ll serve a larger purpose.
Assessing what we have, the cupboard isn’t bare anymore. The Kings have restocked young assets. Regardless of what we may think about the return the team got for DeMarcus Cousins, we have more young assets than before. The Kings were in a position to potentially miss the playoffs this year but still play just well enough that their 2017 first round pick would convey to Chicago. Instead, the Kings will lose games, and are likely to keep their own pick.
If the Kings’ pick lands in the top 10, Sacramento will instead send their second round pick to Chicago. But that will be replaced by the second round pick the Kings received in the trade with the Pelicans.
And the Kings have the first round pick from New Orleans, as long as it falls outside the top 3. The Pelicans should make a run at the playoffs, and perhaps that pick won’t end up terribly valuable, but the Pelicans have a lot of ground to make up before they overtake the Denver Nuggets, and not a lot of time to adjust to their new roster.
The Kings also got Buddy Hield. Regardless of what the pundits or we as fans may think of Hield’s potential, the Kings are very high on him. I was high on Hield in the draft, and was hoping he’d fall to the Kings. I think he could be a nice player, and he’s another young asset.
I may never feel like the Kings got enough in return for their All-Star player who was in his prime, but this is hardly an Isaiah Thomas situation where the Kings lose a good player with nothing to show for it. I can make my piece with the trade and begin to move on. Add to that Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is having a fantastic season overseas this year, and the Kings will have some nice pieces to move into the future with.
The concerns going forward are twofold. First, will the Kings be haunted by the mistakes of their past? And second, can Vivek, Vlade, and Co manage these young assets correctly?
When the Kings were building around Cousins, they made a bad trade with the Philadelphia 76ers that continues to get worse as time goes on. The Sixers can swap picks with the Kings this season. That would be terrible if the Kings tank the season with the Sixers make a playoff run. The Kings may avoid this bullet, as Philadelphia’s trade deadline moves indicate that they’ll be tanking the remainder of the year as well. Both teams tanking means that the Kings should have a reasonably high pick in this year’s draft even if they move down some due to a pick swap.
The second concern is the bigger worry for me moving forward. The Kings haven’t drafted well in the Vivek era. The Nik Stauskas pick was a mess. The pick of Georgios Papagiannis may someday work out, but currently looks like a blunder. Players have avoided working out for the Kings in recent drafts, and the public gaffes of the past week aren’t likely to improve the team’s reputation.
But despite these big concerns, I have hope. I’m hopeful by nature, and there’s something fun about rooting for a team with lots of young guys. The endless possibility of what a player might become is intoxicating, even if it rarely ends how you would hope.
The Kings failed to succeed with DeMarcus Cousins. That era is over now. Now we look at the team and ask, “Where are we going?”
Forward into the next chapter.