Offseason Grades: Sacramento Kings
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: Ben McLemore (No. 7 pick in 2013 draft), Ray McCallum (No. 36), Carl Landry, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Greivis Vasquez, coach Michael Malone, GM Pete D’Alessandro, ownership group led by Vivek Ranadive
Losses: Tyreke Evans, Toney Douglas, coach Keith Smart, GM Geoff Petrie, ownership group led by the Maloof family
What Went Right: Hats off to the Kings, who had the most magnificently backwards offseason in recent memory. In a league that values continuity, superstar players and savvy spending, Sacramento came out winners despite: changing ownership groups; hiring first-timer replacements after parting ways with a long-tenured GM and an experienced coach; shipping out one of its best players; acquiring zero stars or star-type or even pseudo star-type players; using a lottery pick on a shoot-first wing despite being continually mocked in recent years for hording shoot-first wings; and adding future money to its payroll for no apparent reason.
Why did they do many of these things, let alone all of them within the span of a few months? Who knows. Why isn’t everyone furious right now? We do know the answer to that, and it’s obvious: The Maloofs are finally, finally, finally gone, and this is shaping up to one of the longest, most patient honeymoon periods in league history. It almost feels wrong to peel apart that list of moves one by one, separating the “defensible” from the “indefensible” and the “logical” from the “questionable.” The concrete, indisputable rebuttal to every single critique of the Kings will be simple: “Hey, at least they’re not the Seattle SuperSonics.”
That really says it all, but let’s proceed with the peeling anyway. Many of the moves, especially the front-office moves, make sense in the context of an ownership change. New owner Vivek Ranadive, formerly a minority owner of the Warriors, didn’t wait to undertake a housecleaning as Golden State did in 2010. Instead, he moved quickly to hire Warriors assistant Michael Malone as his coach and Nuggets assistant GM Pete D’Alessandro as his GM. Both men have plenty to prove, but they represent a fresh face for a franchise that has been mired in cyclical dysfunction for the last seven years.
The biggest move of the summer, agreeing to sign-and-trade Tyreke Evans to the Pelicans, can also be framed in this light. New Orleans’ four-year, $44 million offer from New Orleans wasn’t outrageous, but it was large enough to stand as a defining move for both organizations. Could the Kings be certain that a core of Evans, incumbent starting center DeMarcus Cousins and 2013 lottery pick Ben McLemore represented the right mix to construct a perennial playoff team? Or, would it be preferable to part with Evans and search for a better fit while, in the meantime, giving McLemore a wide berth to develop, and signaling to Cousins that he was now the organization’s undisputed top dog?
In the end, Sacramento went for Plan B, and you can certainly understand why. McLemore, a silky athlete with a pretty jump shot, slipped to No. 7, firmly in the “You have to take him” category. He struggled this summer in Las Vegas, tallying zero assists against 78 field goal attempts and 18 turnovers over five games in what amounts to one of the all-time great statistical disparities in basketball history, but his ceiling is among the highest in the 2013 class. If he is to reach that potential, he will need the ball, and plenty of it. An inside-out pairing with Cousins could definitely develop into something special; it’s a bit harder to mentally conjure up how a trio that also includes Evans would play out in a manner that maximizes each of their individual talents. Netting Greivis Vasquez in the sign-and-trade with New Orleans counts as a minor win, given that he has all the makings of a temporary stand-in at starting point guard.
Lost a bit in the furor over McLemore’s over-compensation in response to pre-draft critics who harped on his timidity at Kansas, was the summer league play of second-round pick Ray McCallum, a tough-minded, aggressive point guard. He might struggle to find minutes early but he should get some run as the regular season develops and the Kings start to look to the future once they’ve fallen out of the postseason race.
What Went Wrong: The two moves left from the list above are the signing of power forward Carl Landry to a four-year, $26 million deal and the trade for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and the $9 million that’s coming to him over the next two seasons. Landry cashed in following Golden State’s playoff run, leaving his role as a big-impact reserve on a Warriors team looking to win now, what amounted to a perfect fit. He makes less sense on a Kings roster in transition, although he should serve a nice high-post option alongside Cousins, who took more than 62 percent of his shots inside the basket area. One wonders whether Landry’s money could have been better spent, considering the presence of Jason Thompson, Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson, but it’s also possible that future trades involving some of those names could make Landry’s long-term signing look better in hindsight. We’ll see.
The Mbah a Moute addition seems to run counter to traditional logic, which would dictate adding marginal rotation players to a lottery-bound team only if they are on expiring contracts. We’ll see how that one plays out.
Grade: Pass. The Kings really need two grades here, one for the ownership change (an A with infinite pluses after it) and one for the personnel moves (a B-minus at best and a solid C at worst, depending on how much you believe in McLemore). Instead, they receive a pass, a symbolic mark given because that’s what Ranadive will be enjoying from now until at least 2015. When you save a franchise from relocation in a dramatic, months-long billionaire versus billionaire battle with Chris Hansen, you get the benefit of the doubt and a little extra leash.