The only constant in life is change. In the NBA it seems like no place changes as often or as unsuccessfully as Sacramento, where tearing it down and starting over isn’t a one-off project but an organizational credo. A shuffle took place upstairs over the summer and now the Sacramento worm has begun to turn once more. The Kings aren’t taking it down to the studs this time around, though another regime shift ensures that there will be some moving pieces in California’s capitol and, hopefully, some growth.
Out is ex-player and now ex-GM Vlade Divac—one of two men to pass on Luka Doncic in the 2018 draft—who “stepped down” in August. His successor, Monte McNair, now has the privilege of being the guy in charge of the room that has been continually exploding for the last 14 years. Sactown hasn’t seen a playoff game since Mike Bibby hung up the headband, and McNair’s moves (or lack thereof) have made it clear that the present must once again be sacrificed at the alter of the future.
About that room.
Coach Luke Walton, who was handpicked by Divac, enters his second season with the Kings after intentionally slowing the pace last year (a drop from 5th to 19th) despite having a Ferrari of a lead guard in De’Aaron Fox. The schematic shift yielded (or perhaps Hielded?) decidedly unfruitful results, though strategy was not the only issue.
Fox’s 2019 campaign was snake-bit by ankle injuries that limited him to 51 games and neutered a Year 3 Leap. Marvin Bagley, Divac’s pick who very much is not Luka Doncic, followed up an injury plagued rookie year (hip, back, knee) with more wounds as a sophomore (thumb, foot). The number 2 overall pick has played 75 games in two professional seasons. Bogdan Bogdanovic evidently was not traded to Milwaukee, hit RFA instead, and signed a 4-year/$72M contract in Atlanta while the Kings held the door for him. Harry Giles, Alex Len, and Kent Bazemore departed as well. Shoot-first guard Buddy Hield, so miffed by being asked to come off the bench despite arguably being Sac’s best scorer for entire stretches of last year, may or may not be taking Luke Walton’s calls. Grant Napear—the play-by-play man since 1988 who willfully stuck his neck out for Donald Sterling and DeMarcus Cousins antagonist—provided a lovely little cherry on top of this mess by tweeting “ALL LIVES MATTER” at Cousins six days after George Floyd’s death sent shockwaves through the country. Napear was canned, ahem, resigned 72 hours later.
You hear that ticking sound too, right?
De’Aaron Fox — The crowned prince of Sacramento accepted the 5-year, $163M max contract placed in front of him this offseason and then took some pictures. An explosive guard, Fox averaged 21/6.8/3.4 as the tip of the spear. He hoisted more than 3.5 triples a game last year, but only connected on 29%. A FT% in the low 70s is less than ideal from the guard position, but the shot doesn’t look broken. 1.5 STLs puts him just outside of the top 15 league-wide, but could actually be a touch light for a player with his motor and athleticism. Across the board, there’s definitely room to grow. The Kings committed to him as the face of the franchise and tools abound for Fox. Thought of as a break-out candidate last year, maybe good health this season will pave the way to The Leap. The Kings are banking on it.
Cory Joseph — A non-factor from a fantasy POV, CoJo still logs heavy minutes because he’s the steadiest defender of the backcourt. This says more about them than it does about him. He’s a key cog in real basketball but not our game.
Buddy Hield — The resident sharpshooter and coach Walton clashed at times last year, and with good reason. Buddy Buckets splashed fewer than 40% of his threes (39.4) for the first time since arriving in Sac in 16-17. Scoring (19.2 from 20.7), boards (4.6 from 5), FG% (42.9 from 45.8) and FTA (1.9 from 2.4) were all down from the previous season, while TOs ballooned from 1.8 to 2.3. It was a step backwards for Hield, who wasn’t terribly active when the ball wasn’t in his hands and never said no to a 3 (9.6 attempts!) He should be able get you more than 1 STL a game—he has in seasons past—but he’s inefficient and runs hot and cold. Walton pulled the 4-year pro often enough last year that he turned him into a sixth man. That won’t happen this year, one assumes, as parting with Bogi has cleared a path. With 3 years/$70M remaining on his deal, it’s in everyone’s best interest for Buddy to course correct and mature—either into the long-term backcourt partner for Fox or as a trade asset to a contender.
Tyrese Haliburton — I’m no draftnick, but the consensus on the King’s selection at #12 was that he shouldn’t have been on the board that late. A point and two guard at Iowa State, the brass in Sac would love it if the 6’5” Haliburton would fly up and down the court alongside Fox and playmake when he spells him. The book on Haliburton includes the word “passer” and his time playing both positions in college revealed him an effective scorer at that level. His flexibility and unselfishness should be welcome additions to the current roster, and there will be plenty of chances as a potential combo guard.
Jahmi’us Ramsey — A college rival of Haliburton’s, the 43rd pick arrives from Texas Tech with the reputation as a physical defender and scorer. Like Haliburton, he’s got good size and the Kings are optimistic about sliding him up and down multiple spots on the defensive end. If Hield gets moved, there may be minutes.
Harrison Barnes — Barnes and Walton both arrived in Sactown with traces of that good Golden State glow on them, but it’s gotten late early ever since. Barnes, now eight years into his career, kinda is what he is at this point. Scoring has dipped since its zenith in 16-17 and now hovers a tick below 15, but the rest of it— the 5ish boards, pair of dimes, solid percentages, and next to nada in stocks—is clock set-ably stable. He’s still in line for 35ish MPG this season because he’s the only wing on the roster who has proven that he can guard his position.
Jabari Parker — Bari came over with Len in the Dewayne Dedmon deal last February, but only logged six games played in Sacramento. He picked up a $6.5M option this off-season and now has an opportunity in front of him. During his brief stint, he only averaged slightly more than 13 minutes a game, pulling down 8.5/3.8/1.7 while he was out there. He’s 25 years old and there’s a need at the 3, but a bunch of knee injuries have taken a lot of the bloom off this particular rose. This is Parker’s fifth team since 2017-18. If he’s gonna stick, it needs to happen in a hurry.
Marvin Bagley III — I won’t say the name of the guy they didn’t draft for Marvin again, okay? It’s not Bagley’s fault that the Kings are the way they are. What I will say is that Sacramento really, really, really wants Marvin to be a good basketball player. And soon. A springy prospect out of Duke, injuries have shrouded the view on Bagley’s future. Still not yet 22, Bags has shown to be a 14/7 guy while adding 1 BLK in about 25 minutes a game. He’s missed a lot of time and a lot of development, but Sac would do well to turn up the tempo and let the young King eat—provided he can stay on the floor. The compressed schedule worries me a bit. He’s a risky/upsidey play, but the Kings need to know what they have in him before he comes up for a contract.
Nemanja Bjelica — After spending the last decade sampling some of California’s most compelling horticultural experiments, I feel confident in saying that last year’s Nemanja was no schwag. These purps were uplifting, as Bjelica set career bests across the board (11.5/6.4/2.8 and a shade below 1 STL per game with 48.1/41.9/82.1 percentages.) A sweet-shooting big on the wrong side of 30 who also happens to play Bagley’s position, it won’t be long before McNair starts to see if a fellow GM is looking to self-medicate. Nemanja’s value will be tied to whose pocket he goes home in.
Robert Woodard — Another athletic, heady draft pick in 2020, the rangy second rounder is Sacramento’s stab at the stretch-4 of the future. His defense is ahead of his offense at this point, which means that he could actually see some time behind Barnes given the dearth of stoppers on the wing.
Richaun Holmes — The Kings turned to Holmes when the Dewayne Dedmon experiment was revealed to be DOA. They like his energy and spirit on a team that occasionally gets caught not competing. Typical big man stats here—last year’s 12/8 on shooting in the mid-60s and 1.3 BLK were all career highs, as was the 28.2 minutes played. 78% FT is a pleasant addition, even if it was on fewer than 3 attempts. The Big Holmie only needed minutes to be a contributor, which of course is why…
Hassan Whiteside is here! Again! The former Sacramento draftee became the de-facto starter in Portland last season with Nurk on the shelf, but his homecoming in Sac will be in a timeshare with Holmes. Not literally. Or maybe? His Rip City numbers were gaudy—15.5/13.5 on 62.1% FG with a league-best 2.9 BLK. It’s Kingsy to try to wedge two guys who have legit claims to the starting 5 spot onto the same roster, especially with Hassan’s history of being a malcontent over minutes. While it seems probable that having two men for one job dissolves the value of both, Whiteside should still be good for swats, especially considering the lack of ball stoppers on the roster.