It wouldn’t be an over-exaggeration to say Vivek Ranadivé’s stint as primary owner of the Sacramento Kings has been disappointing. In March, Ranadivé will have owned the team for three full calendar years, and in that time span he’s gone through three head coaches, and a fourth whose job security is iffy at best, while rotating his front-office personnel like a carousel.
But while his antics have caught the attention of the basketball world, Sacramento’s summer was filled with surprisingly logical acquisitions. Well, for the most part anyway.
Last year, DeMarcus Cousins proved to not just be the centerpiece of the Kings, but one of the leading men in the Association. When a 6’11 dominating post presence begins to go to town on the opposition, you get him shooters. Marco Belinelli, James Anderson, Caron Butler and Seth Curry were brought in, as was Rajon Rondo as the Kings wanted a lead guard who could get Cousins the ball and initiate the offense. Those names are unspectacular, but it’s what they could cook up.
On that last Rondo part, the Kings admittedly forgot all about the new era NBA and how a non-shooting point guard can completely stifle your offense, but they deserve points for trying. Rondo, now nearing 30, is having himself another weird season that just cements my belief that his nickname should forever be Incredibad. While he does a lot to inflate his own assists numbers, there’s no denying that part of his skill set remains excellent – when it wants to be. When used properly, Rondo can be a highly efficient playmaker for others:
Note especially his pass to Darren Collison at the 37-second mark. That sort of quick decision where Rondo knew where Collison was, and made the pass by relying on that knowledge is where he can thrive. But when he starts making the plays that he does at the 1:10 mark, it becomes unbalanced. Rondo found himself open at 11 feet away from the basket, but dropped it off to Kosta Koufos who had Cody Zeller hanging around him, and another defender rotating towards him. Fortunately Zeller went for the swipe, which was costly, and Koufos got a fairly clean look. No swipe however, and that shot becomes much harder.
Looking at the rest of the roster and one thing becomes clear: The Kings were trying to be deep. Koufos is a highly adept backup center who’s currently enjoying one of his best seasons as a pro, Belinelli was coming off two years with San Antonio, one of which made him a champion, and they handed a two-year deal to Curry in hopes of him becoming a rotation player with them.
So while the Kings struggle in attracting big names, there was at least some thought and rational thinking put into the mindset of building a team. Yes, the Kings probably needed to have a better core before making these sorts of complementary moves, but how does one just go out and acquire that? They made a proper blueprint and built it with cheap material, because that’s what they had at their disposal.
What doesn’t help matters is that Cousins has missed eight of the team’s 18 games. When he’s been active, the Kings are a .500 ball-club, which currently would have had them in the playoff picture. Cousins, when playing, is doing so in a manner that begs the question whether he should be in the MVP debate. In just under 33 minutes a night, the big man is notching almost 28 points, over 11 rebounds, 10.8 free throw attempts and draining 1.6 triples per game.
So how to properly make use of this group? Well, for everyone to be in sync, the components need to be there. With Cousins in and out of the lineup there’s quite simply no stability. Implementing, then removing, and then re-implementing a high-volume big man makes it difficult for the second-tier players to locate their shots and find a rhythm. Add that instability to a point guard who goes on stat-sprees and you’re looking at a team that isn’t streamlined.
Making matters worse is the lack of defense. With Cousins in the lineup, Sacramento has only lost by double-digits once. Without him, four. The Kings allow a league-worst 109.1 points per game, a second-worst 24.3 assists, a league-worst two-point FG% and a league-worst raw FG%. So no, it’s not pretty, but as crazy as it sounds, this incarnation of the team might be a step in the right direction, despite the on-court mess.
Drafting a defensive-minded athletic big? Solid long-term decision. Signing a shooter with championship experience to make more space on offense? Logical. Signing one of the league’s better backup big men for depth and rest purposes? Sound choice. These are moves that are absolutely right for a team closer to the playoffs to make, and the Kings gambled that Cousins could get them there. His injuries have helped derail that thus far, but there’s enough season left to at least put a valiant effort in. Which brings our focus back on Ranadivé.
It’s downright essential that Ranadivé doesn’t go into desperate Isiah Thomas mode over the next year. His summer plan may have backfired, but his thinking was, for once, accurate. Vlade Divac shouldn’t be asked to sell off everyone come July, even if the Kings fail to make the playoffs for a 10th consecutive season.
Unfortunately for the Kings, Ranadivé acts a lot like Thomas, only his way of changing things are mostly isolated to the inner circles of the team, which is a lot more drastic and unsettling. Thomas made desperation trades for Steve Francis and Jalen Rose, Ranadivé fires quality coaches and sacks entire managements.
And it’s because of that, we should root a bit for the Kings. They didn’t go the eternal rebuilding route of Philadelphia, nor the quietly-tanking one of the Lakers. No, they sacrificed a lottery pick to get big contracts off their cap so they could build themselves something worthwhile. If nothing else, the dedication behind such a move should be commended.
With 64 games left in the regular season, there’s a lot of basketball left in Sacramento. Here’s hoping, for Kings fans, they find their footing and the team follows that seems to be a brighter path.