The Sacramento Kings have been in the NBA draft lottery for 10 straight years. With those 10 picks, the Kings managed to draft exactly one star, DeMarcus Cousins. On Sunday, Sacramento traded him to the New Orleans Pelicans. Now they have little to show for ever having had Cousins in the first place.
Wait, that’s not true. They do have something to show for the Boogie era: the burning wreckage of his tenure, a mess that will continue to smolder for years to come.
You see, the Kings knew they had a star in Cousins. The Kings catered to him over the past six-and-a-half years, and tried to build around him. They fired coaches for him, made trades for him, drafted players they felt would complement him. They mortgaged their future for him.
And now, faced with investing $200 million in Cousins this summer, the Kings elected to trade him for the best offer which, mind you, was a terrible offer. Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, and a first- and second-round pick isn't enough for a franchise center. It would have been barely enough for Jahlil Okafor.
There are plenty of Boogie skeptics across the league and within the Kings’ circle. They will argue that this trade allows the franchise a fresh start. That is true: instead of winning about 30 games per season, the Kings will now win closer to 20 games per season. That’s new. That’s fresh.
The problem with trading Cousins right now is that over the past two seasons, the Kings have made deals to bolster the roster to win with Cousins. Those deals have deferred costs. It’s now time to pay them off.
Among those deferred costs: a pick swap option with the 76ers for this season and an unprotected 2019 pick due to those same 76ers. In other words, if the Kings are worse than the Sixers this season, Philly takes the better pick. No matter what happens — no matter how bad the Kings are — the Sixers get the Kings’ 2019 pick.
The Kings sent those picks plus Nik Stauskas (one of those prior lottery choices) and dead contracts to Philadelphia to open up the cap space needed to sign Rajon Rondo (a one-year rental), Kosta Koufos (who the Kings have been trying to trade), and Marco Belinelli (who the Kings traded after one year).
That deal was one of the most myopic in recent NBA history. Now that the Kings have given up on the Boogie era 18 months later, it looks even worse. The Kings-Sixers trade may end up every bit as bad as the Brooklyn Nets’ trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, one which is still paying dividends for the Boston Celtics. At least the Nets made the playoffs and had a shot at doing something special. The Kings got ... a 33-win season out of their big swing. Good grief.
The Kings will get New Orleans’ pick this season so long as it does not fall in the top three. (It will not fall in the top three.) Chances are the Pelicans rise up and capture the No. 8 seed in the West. If not, they’ll be close. As such, the pick will be in the Nos. 13-15 range.
Assuming the Kings bottom out and the Sixers continue on their current path, the swap will occur and Sacramento will pick around No. 10. Rumors suggest they are trying to part with their veterans, including Arron Afflalo. These veterans aren’t going to bring back high picks or good prospects.
In the post-Boogie landscape, the Kings are looking at a core of Buddy Hield (a 23-year-old who isn’t a serious contender for Rookie of the Year), Willie Cauley-Stein (a 23-year-old who wasn’t productive enough to be named to the Rising Stars Challenge in either of his first two seasons), Georgios Papagiannis (who is only averaging 12-8 in starters’ minutes in the D-League), and something around the Nos. 10 and 15 picks in 2017 and their own likely to be excellent 2018 pick. There are a couple more prospects like Malachi Richardson and Skal Labissiere on the roster, and the Kings have the rights to 24-year-old Serbian wing Bogdan Bogdanovic.
But in all, this is a depressingly deflated roster with exactly one great asset (the 2018 pick) and not a single can’t-miss star.
Ten years of lottery picks and six seasons with one of the most productive big men of his generation, and the Kings ended up with not a single playoff berth and this roster.
Vivek Ranadivé and Vlade Divac will take heaps of scorn for this deal and the events of the past two years. They should. But it’s not only their fault. Divac’s predecessor Pete D’Alessandro let Isaiah Thomas walk despite a low asking price because he didn’t think the 5’9 guard would last in the league. Thomas is now a two-time All-Star.
Ranadivé’s predecessors, the Maloof family, strip-mined the team of assets to stay afloat. Their general manager, Geoff Petrie, needing a defensive wing and shooting, traded for John Salmons and picked Jimmer Fredette No. 10, leaving Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard on the board. Petrie also traded a future pick along with Omri Casspi for J.J. Hickson, and then waived Hickson a few months later. That pick is still owed to Chicago. It will go to the Bulls if the Kings somehow finish with the 11th-worst record or better (a worst-case scenario).
The troubles go way, way back for Sacramento. The end still isn’t in sight.
The good news is that the rebuild to come will be undertaken by ... oh, right. Divac and Ranadivé. What a relief.