Sacramento Kings: The Anti-Denver Nuggets

November 27, 2010; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) talks with guard Tyreke Evans (13) against the Chicago Bulls in the fourth quarter at Arco Arena. The Bulls defeated the Kings 96-85. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

We tackled the Denver Nuggets here yesterday, a team far along and still trudging on its journey to a title few other teams in the league are willing to take – one (unless some unlikely individual development) without any superstars based on depth, versatility, and long and short term financial flexibility.  That’s a risk in today’s NBA wrought with SuperTeams, obviously, but Denver and GM Masai Ujiri have the smarts and have assembled the pieces to at least give it a try for a couple seasons as they watch Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Javale McGee, and others grow under the watchful tutelage of George Karl.  And that was true even before they flipped Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington for the team’s lone All-Star, Andre Iguodala, a player that fits perfectly within Denver’s up-and-down, frenetic system on both ends.

So the Nuggets are all in on this for better or worse, but given their success in 2012 – pushing the old Lakers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs – it’s reasonable to assume the former, at least in terms of the regular season and a postseason series or two.  Some other teams are following Denver’s model whether they know it or not, containing young rosters replete with young talent but without a discernible franchise player.  The Sacramento Kings are chief among them, stockpiling translucent players with raw skill but unlike the Nuggets worrying little of roster fit or fiscal concerns.  And their confounding off-season did little to answer those prevalent questions their aggressive attitude with regard to player acquisition posed even before last season ended.

Quickly, a rundown of the Kings’ significant offseason moves:

  • Drafted power forward Thomas Robinson fifth overall
  • Signed combo guard Aaron Brooks to two-year deal
  • Traded second-round pick to Toronto for combo forward James Johnson
  • Re-signed power forward Jason Thompson to multi-year, six million dollar per-season deal

Most of this screams of typical Sacramento player redundancy and financial irresponsibility, and none of us should be surprised.  It’s all exemplified best with the acquisitions of Brooks and Johnson, two players with a history of poor attitudes/work ethic that will do little more to the Kings’ on the floor this season than complicate development for more important pieces.

Brooks was once a very nice player, leading that undermanned 2010 Rockets team to an inspiring playoff run against the eventual-champion Lakers and winning the Most Improved Player award that season, too.  But he was dreadful the next season in Houston and then Phoenix, shooting under 40% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc.  He spent last season playing in China and reports say he did relatively well there, but that really shouldn’t matter to Sacramento for two simple, glaring reasons: Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette.  Sacramento’s 2011 draft picks had glaringly different rookie seasons and the opposite of what their draft positions – 60th for Thomas and 11th for Fredette – suggested.  Thomas was awesome for the Kings and is clearly a keeper in some role or another, and has the type of personality and team-first style this organization desperately needs.  Fredette, though, was dreadful, compounding on all the questions his college game posed before the draft: can he play without the ball? can he and will he see the floor? is a point guard? can he defend his shadow? The unequivocal answer to those queries was no, and he showed little to suggest he’ll ever come close to justifying his draft position let alone sticking in the league.  But you don’t give up on an investment like that, and with Thomas already supplanting Fredette in the rotation the addition of Brooks just doesn’t make sense.  Both of these sophomores need playing time and a defined role to hone their games, and Brooks is an older, more injury prone version of what these guys do best – score with the ball, kind of like most every other player on Sacramento’s roster (Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, Donte Greene, and Demarcus Cousins say hi).

Trading for Johnson and re-signing Thompson aren’t moves as questionable as that one, at least until you factor in Sacramento’s selection of Robinson.  Johnson has masqueraded as a small forward much of his time in the league but he’s clearly best as a small-ball 4, and the same is true of Thompson – that the Kings were comfortable playing him on the wing at all the last two years is ridiculous.  So they added one power forward, re-signed another for multiple years at a pretty steep price against the cap, then drafted one in Robinson (who, it should be noted, has a bright future).  But the Kings still have Greene and Travis Outlaw on the roster, too, a tandem of ‘tweeners still best suited to spreading the floor as undersized bigs.

Just what is Sacramento doing? Do they think Cousins is a potential superstar? His combination of size and skill is very, very rare, but mitigating circumstances (all that crazy) indicate that’s unlikely? Evans proved he isn’t last season and seems lost in his development.  Robinson? Perhaps an All-Star game or two in a watered down year if things break right, but hardly a franchise player.  Thomas? Fredette? Thompson? Please.

The Kings, like Denver, have all these assets, all of these young players who on the surface have value but can’t offer it to Sacramento because of how they fit on the roster with regard to both playing time and style (shoot, shoot, shoot).  Then there’s the whole issue of salary cap implications, something it seems they pretty much avoided altogether in compiling this zany group.  It’s not necessarily an awful thing for the Kings to be mostly capped out the next couple offseasons (there’s nothing worse than spending just to spend), but it would be a coup for Sacramento if they had more leeway to make moves with all these pieces at the trade deadline.  As it is, their collective hands are wound pretty tight in that regard.

So the Kings are the anti-Nuggets with regard to team-building even while seeming to employ the same strategy – a team rife with solid and versatile talent than can overwhelm the opposition with depth.  The only problem is that they’re making moves with just the first part of that in mind.  Assembling puzzle pieces by itself and throwing them together just isn’t enough to build a winner, a fact best exemplified by all the wheeling and dealing Denver does to make sure players and salaries fir their short and long term goals.  Sacramento doesn’t understand that, and in typical Kings fashion will undoubtedly realize it before it’s too late and have to start all over again.



  • Ryan

    I did see what you were trying to do here but how can you say the Kings aren’t trying to focus their future around one single guy (I agree that is the case with Denver, and I like it), but the Kings? Every interview, article and Keith Smart rotation clearly has the team being built around Cousins (much like it was around Evans two years ago). The Nuggets seem to have found themselves in that situation because they got several mid-level guys for Anthony; found that it worked and stuck with it. Did I mention I loved the concept?
    I would be very careful about predicting Cousins downfall as he has what it takes, and appears to be learning at very high clip. His ability to learn from his mistakes will carry him much farther than Evans in the ‘Star’ category, not to mention the personality. Evans has zero leadership skills (most likely because he is very non-vocal), Cousins on the other hand, well, he may be too vocal as it turns out. But hey so is Kobe Bryant. They will both stay if the Kings vastly improve their record next year, if not I can see Evans being traded, and Cousins taking the first free agent bus out of town. Can you blame him?
    The Salary cap being hit for the first time in several years in Sacramento may have been more of a timing thing then Petrie thinking he is all done; as I can see Garcia, or Salmons getting the boot this year. One of those guys could reclaim his career this year, but not both.
    Jimmer, Jimmer, Jimmer, what to do with Jimmer? I think the acquisition of Brooks was in two parts. First part being, that for some crazy reason he actually wanted to play for Sacramento. He wasn’t tempted by a big payday (Chuck Hayes), wasn’t traded as a punitive measure (Chris Weber). He actually remembered that Geoff really wanted to draft him, and made another couple of attempts to get him after that. So he felt that he was wanted, and Petrie felt he had a player that wanted to be in Sacramento. Second reason (back to my point) in the front office in Sacramento the opinion is Jimmer is not capable of running the point, and may never be. That leaves them with just Thomas at the PG, so with that it makes sense.
    (sidenote on Thomas: He is not a defensive liability. You must watch him play to understand, don’t let the 5’8” thing cloud your judgment. I loved Beno Udrich in Sacramento, but he was much more of a liability at 6’2”)

    Thanks for the read!
    and some corrections for you. Donte Green was let go, and Jimmer was Drafted 10th 😉

  • JohnMarcotte

    Donte Greene is a free agent, so he is not part of the logjam. Just thought I’d mention that.

    The Kings are trying to shore up the weaknesses they have on the floor as best as they can. They lack perimeter shooting and ball-handling, so you get Aaron Brooks for a song. They lack defense so you pick up James Johnson who can defend and hit the outside shot at the three. Is he perhaps a more natural four? Maybe. But we got him for a second round draft pick. The price was more than right.

    I don’t think the team is done. They did what they could in the draft and free agency, now I expect they will try to make some moves via trades. I’d package young talent with old bloated salaries as trade ballast and try to make some deals. Package Jimmer with Outlaw. Or Evans with Salmons. Give them a fresh start and fill some needs.

    Sacramento lacks the cachet to attract big time free agents, so they will have to develop talent in house, and they are doing a great job of it recently (Jimmer aside.)

    As it is, the Kings have one of the most formidable front courts in the league at this point — especially if Robinson develops quickly. They already were one of the better rebounding teams. With the new additions they should be monsters on the glass.

    Moving to the point, you have Brooks and Thomas. SG Marcus Thornton and Tyreke. Small forward Johnson and Tyreke (or one of the five other swingman sitting around.)

    That’s not a bad roster. Let’s see if with a new coach, training camp and some new blood if they can take a big step forward this year.

  • Tim

    Denver has done a good job assembling their players (especially via the Anthony trade). The Kings transactions this off-season can hardly be determined as bad moves. At least not yet. Any other team would have drafted Thomas Robinson at #5. He will probably end up a better than solid player in the NBA. I don’t believe he will being a ten time All-Star or anything like that, but he should have a very producitve career. Same goes for Jason Thompson. Re-signing him for about $5 million per year is a baragin as far as I’m concerned. Plus Thompson does two things that virtually no one else on the Kings tries to do: Rebound and attempt to play some defense. Aaron Brooks is a shoot first point guard. Not a big fan of his, but the Kings needed another PG. Brooks came cheap, is a veteran but still only in his mid-20’s. I see little gamble with the acquisition of him. The Kings need to move Thornton and/or Fredette ASAP. Way too many guards on the roster. James Johnson is a very good perimater defender. Again, something the Kings desperately needed. Salmons and Outaw are $11 million of wasted cap space. The Kings should just buyout or waive Outlaw. If they can do that for JJ Hickson, they sure as hell can do it for Travis “drible, dribble, shoot” Outlaw.

  • ProvokingThought

    Why write an article about the Kings when you have so little clue about the actual state of the team? This is a speculative piece, at best. Considering that, it was an entertaining read.

  • I like it when bloggers that know nothing about the Kings cover the Kings. Donte wasn’t resigned and Jimmer was drafted 10th.

    Also, “worrying little of fiscal concerns” and “aggressive attitude toward player acquisition”? The Kings have flirted with the salary cap MINIMUM for the last three seasons and you say they don’t worry about fiscal concerns? And I don’t think ANYONE can justifiably call the Kings “aggressive” in acquiring players… Do some research dude.