A King Size Problem

“Excess is not progress.” 
― Marty Rubin

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The Sacramento Kings are in big trouble, and I refuse to make a Game of Thrones reference… but, the situation is poisonous. The team has not made the playoffs since 2005-06, and even though they have had the luxury of picking in the NBA Draft Lottery every year since (8 of which have been top 10 picks), the Kings have not been able to salvage a season better than 38-44.

The one bright spot on the Kings’ roster, however, is 6’11 Center, DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins. Since being drafted 5th overall in 2010 by the Kings, Cousins has been a force at the 5 spot in the NBA.  Through his career, Cousins has averaged 20.2 PPG and 10.8 RPG, and his combination of both power and finesse has lead him to become a 2-time NBA All-Star, a 2016 All-NBA Second Team player and, more recently, a member of the 2016 USA Men’s Olympic Basketball Team.  Simply put, the center spot is one that Sacramento should not have to worry about… But “should” is a funny word.

What follows is a list of increasingly questionable decisions, but with the preface that you must not lose hope for not all is lost. 

If you are a Kings fan, I can understand any confusion and frustrations aimed towards Sacramento’s front office for constructing this team around Cousins. Since the 2015 season, the Sacramento Kings drafted lanky, defensive-minded Center, Willie Cauley-Stein sixth overall (passing on players like Emmanuel Mudiay, Justise Winslow, Devin Booker and Cameron Payne), and then proceeded to sign an unathletic Center in Kosta Koufos to a 4yr/$33M contract. In a league where everyone is going small and the championship team started a 6’9 center the Kings are stockpiling big men, cornering the market alongside the 76er’s.  Consequently the 76er’s also tried to love Nik Stauskas, maybe the process will save both teams. 

After a lack-luster 2015-2016 season which saw the Kings stumble to a 33-49 finish, failing to reach the playoffs for a tenth straight season (second longest active playoff drought in the league), and firing former Coach of the Year, George Karl, the Kings found themselves with yet another top-10 lottery pick.

“This is it. This is the year we smarten up in the draft and pick someone who can help our team immediately!”

Wrong. 

With the 8th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, there were not many standout options for the Kings to select. For a team that finished 19th in the league in 3-pointers made (8 per game), the long-ball was an area in which the Kings should address. However, the Kings, in classic Sacramento fashion, traded away their pick to the Phoenix Suns to move down 5 spots to pick 13th, while acquiring the 28th overall pick as well.
“No! Why?! We could have taken Denzel Valentine. He’s a great 3-Point shooter, leader and a fantastic distributor. We’re bound to lose Rajon Rondo and Seth Curry this year, and we just traded Marco Belinelli. We could have really used him.”

However, as the draft continued to unfold, and Denzel Valentine remained on the board as the Kings’ selection came around, Sacramento fans everywhere began to wipe away their tears with their Mike Bibby and Chris Webber jerseys.

“Could it be? Did we just trade down and still wind up with a chance to draft the player we wanted, AND manage to get another first round pick? Please, Vivek! Make the call and take Denzel Valentine. I know you’ll do the right thing.”

Wrong.

With the 13th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings pulled off the reach of all reaches in selecting Georgios Papagiannis from Greece. This 19 year old, 7’2 (you guessed it) Center was not even on most draft boards, especially not as a first-round pick. It was a Bruno Caboclo-esque pick. After only averaging 11.6 minutes a game for Panathinaikos, Sacramento fans everywhere were either trying very hard to remember how to spell Georgios’ name to search up who the heck he is, or they were burying their faces back in their Peja Stojakovic and Jason Williams jerseys.

“So we messed up. At least we have another first round pick from this trade, we can’t possibly mess that one up too, right?”

Wrong.

With the 28th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings select freshman (you must be tired of hearing this) Centre, Skal Labissiere out of Kentucky. Skal was the nation’s top recruit coming out of high school. He signed at Kentucky vying to become the next astounding big-man under Coach John Calipari, such as DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and Karl-Anthony Towns have before him. Instead, Skal found himself to have had a very poor transition to the college game averaging a mere 6.6 PPG and 3.1 RPG, with his playtime greatly diminishing as conference and tournament play came around.

I wonder what DeMarcus Cousins thinks about his team’s recent draft selections- maybe like this

Suffice it to say, the Sacramento Kings’ front-court has become a log-jam.  In an NBA landcsape in which three-point shooting is on the rise, they not only traded away their third highest 3-point shooter, Marco Belinelli, they lost the great-genetics having, 3-point shooting machine Seth Curry to the Dallas Mavericks.  The Kings also lost Rajon Rondo to the Chicago Bulls, though that was a good move because despite his flashy assist numbers, the team was on average less than a point per possession better with him on the floor as opposed to Seth Curry.  Rondo likes to dominate the ball leading to less all around ball movement and more assist directly from him. Rondo, in the end was merely another piece who greatly hurt the Kings ability to create space for Cousins. Unfortunately the heir-apparent starting point Darren Collison is facing charges for Domestic Violence, and just for good measures, recent reports indicate that their second leading scorer, Rudy Gay, has requested a trade from Sac-Town.

Given the direction the Kings are going, I would not be surprised if they shipped Gay to the Hawks for a package of Centers: Tiago Splitter, Mike Muscala and a Conditional 2021 second round pick. Imagine it.  The Kings could run their own version of a “Death Lineup” with DeMarcus Cousins, Kosta Koufos, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis with Splitter, Muscala and Acy off the bench.  Maybe Vivek will try to persuade Shaq to become the first Player-Owner in NBA history, and sign him to a 10-day contract. Sacramento seems to be moving towards size and interior defense in a league that is moving towards speed and versatility. Perhaps this is all part of the plan to help kick start a rebuild, or perhaps the lack of a plan or at least lack of a good plan is what lead here. All signs point to a lack of organization within the Kings franchise, but as we have seen in the past fortunes can change overnight for even the most unlikely of teams: hell, the Warriors were mostly unknown to casual NBA fans 4 years ago. 

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Keep your head up, Kings fans. With Vivek and Vlade at the helm, anything is possible (even stumbling into success). Have a tall drink, and a taller team.

Remember, no team is doomed to permanent mediocrity, Cleveland just won a championship after all. The first step is finding one transcendent player, now just imagine another star to take pressure of of this, just imagine a team built to help him thrive.

by Daniel Iannetta