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The Sacramento Kings Don’t Know What They’re Doing

Ed Szczepanski/USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t fair to judge the Sacramento Kings’ now infamous early-July salary dump when it happened.

It was easy, sure. But it wasn’t fair.

Because all we knew at the time was that the Kings had surrendered roughly $25 million in dead money (also known as Carl Landry and Jason Thompson), Nik Stauskas, a future protected first-round pick and the rights to swap two other future firsts for what amounted to cap space.

The easy part was looking at that exchange with the Philadelphia 76ers and whispering, wide-eyed, “The Kings don’t know what they’re doing.” It felt right. We all did it, and we all did it because very little in the past decade led us to believe the Kings have ever known what they’re doing.

Still, it wasn’t objectively fair to call that move a bad one because we didn’t yet know what masterstrokes of free-agency genius head personnel man Vlade Divac would engineer in the coming weeks. After all, that cap space the Kings surrendered so much to get wasn’t going to just sit there.

They were going to use it on somebody. Only then, when the returns were in, would it be fair to judge.

Use it they did: on Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Kosta Koufos — three genuine NBA players who, in the Kings’ estimation, were worth a war chest of valuable future assets.

Let’s parse out the details.

Rondo is on a one-year deal worth $10 million. He hasn’t been a good NBA player in years, and he flamed out with the Dallas Mavericks last season, despite the benefit of that team having one of the most high-functioning offenses and positive cultures in the league. Players go to Dallas to rehabilitate their careers (hi, Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler!), but Rondo practically ruined his.

NBA: JAN 31 Mavericks at Magic

The Kings used the bulk of their cap space on a guy Dallas was happy to see leave the team during a playoff series. A guy whose inability to shoot stifles the very best offenses.

Bulletin: The Kings do not have one of the very best offenses.

Hold on, it gets worse.

If Rondo defies the odds and plays semi-decent basketball for the Kings, he can hit the market again and walk away next summer.

Sacramento gave up a mint to get Rondo, and it’ll have to either overpay to keep him or watch him leave in a year. And in the meantime, maybe he’ll sprinkle around some of the dysfunction he brought to Dallas last season.

Fun!

Know who couldn’t have left in a year? Emmanuel Mudiay, who the Kings passed over in the draft to take big man Willie Cauley-Stein — a player whose inability to space the floor and lack of offensive skill makes him a curious fit alongside DeMarcus Cousins.

Mudiay is going to see big minutes for the Denver Nuggets this year, and it won’t be at all surprising if he outperformed Rondo. Even if he doesn’t, the Kings could’ve saved the picks they gave up in the Philly deal and locked in potential star at the point.

Of course, drafting Mudiay and hoarding future assets is something a smart, patient team — one with a realistic understanding of where it was in its franchise trajectory — would do.

The Kings did the other thing.

An aside: Belinelli and Koufos are fine NBA players. They’re reserve-quality talents, of course, and they don’t deserve to spend a season with the Kings. But they should help.

They help us, too, because now that they’ve officially signed, we know what the full return on that trade with the Sixers was.

It makes it fair to judge now.

And, sadly for Sacramento, it’s still just as easy to call the move (and, by extension, the entire offseason) an unmitigated disaster.

Don’t complicate this with talk of Seth Curry‘s deal or Omri Casspi re-signing or Quincy Acy coming back. Those are ancillary moves, and even if they’re sensible, they don’t outweigh the wildly nonsensical tenor of the Kings’ bigger decisions.

The reasoning is painfully simple: Nothing the Kings did this summer gets them within sniffing distance of a playoff spot. They will not be better than the Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns or Utah Jazz, all of whom finished ahead of the Kings, and all of whom also missed the playoffs last year.

Even if we suspend disbelief for a moment and pretend Rondo and a few role players somehow get the Kings from 29 wins to the 45 it’ll likely take to make the dance, all that gets them is a sure first-round sweep at the hands of a West powerhouse.

And that’s the real problem: That first-round sweep seems to be the goal. There’s no other way to view what the Kings did this summer.

They mortgaged their future, trading a young asset, picks and draft considerations for the chance to sign middling talent in the misguided hopes of making the postseason. As smart teams around the league try desperately to jump off the mediocrity treadmill, either hoarding picks or gunning for top-flight free agents, the Kings seem desperate to climb aboard.

So here we are, back at the starting point of saying to ourselves, “the Kings don’t know what they’re doing.”

Only now, that’s a relatively comforting thought.

Because if the Kings actually do know what they’re doing, if any of what’s happened this summer has been on purpose, it means the franchise is actively trying to destroy itself.

Better to assume this is all just the bumbling misadventure of a clueless team.

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