The Sacramento Kings have been searching for players for a long time. Seven straight lottery seasons have brought in talent, but very few of those picks have played to a level worthy of their high draft selection.
The draft is only one avenue of improving a team. But trades and free agency were basically abandoned by the past regime, unless you count salary dumps and failed budget signing.
A new day has arrived. It started with chasing free agents like Andre Iguodala, Jose Calderon and Carl Landry. And once the free agent crop dried up, Pete D’Alessandro and his staff shifted their attention to improving the roster via trade.
Sacramento has become the most active team in the league, reshaping a roster void of athleticism through two major early season deals. The Kings brought in talent, but also payroll, something that was impossible even a year before.
Losses are stacking up, but so is potential.
After years of misses, the Kings now have three pieces to a growing puzzle and maybe even more.
But this is Sacramento. Like the dynasty of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the pieces in play are not perfect. In fact, they are very similar to the group that included Chris Webber, Jason Williams and Vlade Divac. That’s how it works for a small market team. You get what you get and you don’t through a fit. Nothing comes easy and nothing is promised beyond today.
Cousins is perhaps the greatest talent the Kings have had since Webber fell to the floor in a heap on May 8, 2003. But similar to Webber, his talent comes at a price. Cousins does it his way and that is not always conducive to a team atmosphere.
It has to be different this time. Cousins has developed into a monster on the floor, but needs to follow the lead of others. He has to evolve the way Webber did when he found a home in Sacramento. He needs to find a balance as a player and a person and grow with this franchise.
If Cousins cannot grow, then newly acquired Rudy Gay, nor any other top tier talent, will want to play alongside him. Gay can opt out of the final year of his deal this summer. He could also stick around for another season or even sign a long-term extension with the Kings. His decision will be based on finances, but also fit. Cousins needs to work overtime to make sure that Gay can see himself as a King going forward.
If keeping Rudy Gay happy isn’t motivation enough for Cousins, then I’m not sure what would be. Talents like Gay rarely fall into your lap in the NBA. The eight-year veteran is busy rebuilding his rep that had taken a bit of a beating in Toronto. A poster child for small sample sizes, Gay had fallen out of the internet media’s favor due to his bloated contract and poor statistics.
Similar to Jason Williams in his time in Sacramento, Gay looks and feels like so much more than the numbers. A fluid athlete with elite athleticism, the former Raptor and Memphis Grizzly is a perfect “player type” to pair Cousins’ talents.
More than the skill and talent, Gay is showing leadership qualities. Given enough time, he may be able to take this team to the next level. At 27-years-old, he can solidify the Kings small forward position as a long-term solution.
But Gay and Cousins can’t do it alone. They need that piece that pulls it all together the way that Divac did for coach Rick Adelman during the Kings’ eight-year playoff run that ended in 2006.
Isaiah Thomas may not be 7-feet tall. He might not even be 5-foot-9, but he is the heart and soul of this Kings team. In his third season as a pro, Thomas is hitting his stride and showing the league that he is more than a change of pace point guard off the bench.
Through 26 games, Thomas’ numbers are elite. He needs to continue to improve, especially as a playmaker and defender, but at 24-years old, he has time to add to his game.
This is the trio that D’Alessandro can build around. It is the trio that he has to build around. They aren’t perfect, but they are talented enough to bring this team back to the playoffs down the road.
Sure, Cousins has some growing up to do, Gay has to get back to being the player that earned a max-money deal and Thomas needs to continue to show he can play bigger than his actual height. But this is how Sacramento has to rebuild this franchise because LeBron James isn’t walking through that door anytime soon.
Are the Kings’ new “big three” enough? Not today they aren’t. They need time to simmer in the pot and build continuity and they need the players around to grow with them as well. A few pieces here or there wouldn’t hurt, but this is a solid base.
If this core can stay together, it is very possible that the Kings are on their way back to prominence. It won’t happen overnight, but it can happen with this group. And that’s a long way from where this franchise was just a few months ago.