Kings reverse youth movement for experience
The economy in Northern California is shifting demographically, and it’s a good time to be an NBA veteran.
For years the Sacramento Kings looked to hire youth to build their core. Since the franchise’s last playoff appearance in 2006, the Kings have made 18 draft selections including eight lottery picks. Sacramento’s front office targeted high-ceiling prospects, often college underclassmen. Holes in the rotation were usually filled with overpaid or unwanted free agents (i.e. Mikki Moore, Desmond Mason, John Salmons) or trade acquisitions (Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez).
Sacramento’s dependence on the draft was a costly misjudgment, as most picks burned out and only one All-Star, DeMarcus Cousins was procured.
Nearly a decade later, Kings Vice President of Basketball and Franchise Operations Vlade Divac made the realization it was time to reverse strategy.
In July the Kings shipped out 2014 lottery pick Nik Stauskas, a protected first round pick, the right to swap two more picks, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson to clear salary cap space. Then Divac proceeded to sign eight players with pro experience, and a combined average of six years of NBA service. Concurrently he replaced the Kings’ resident 30+ year olds Landry (31), Ryan Hollins (30), Reggie Evans (35) and Andre Miller (39) with Caron Butler (35).
Furthermore this summer’s sixth pick, Willie Cauley-Stein was a junior at Kentucky. The expectation was that Cauley-Stein should be more prepared to contribute following a three-year internship under John Calipari, as opposed to youngsters with a bare resume like Emmanuel Mudiay. The same logic applies to undrafted rookie Duje Dukan, who was a senior leaving Wisconsin and turns 24 in December.
The result is a squad that is projected to have an average age of 26.4 years by the midpoint of the season, which is up 0.3 from last season’s crew and the Kings’ oldest group since 2008. Coincidentally the 2007-08 campaign was the last time Sacramento won more than 30 games, even though the team lacked a star like Cousins.
Cousins, Cauley-Stein, Ben McLemore and Omri Casspi are the only Kings draftees on the current roster, the lowest number since 2008. But any concerns this will negatively affect the team’s fortunes are misguided. The Kings’ most prolific teams never leaned on a large group of homegrown talent. The 2005-06 crew employed just four Kings picks as well, and the 2001-02 team which won a franchise record 61 regular season games employed five lifers, with three receiving regular minutes.
The Kings don’t need to copy Oklahoma City’s blueprint for constructing a contender. Instead they can mirror their own history. In the Sacramento era, the consistent for all playoff teams was the presence of at least two stars surrounded by veteran role players. Their draft acquisitions were mostly complimentary.
Divac has tried to recreate this theme during the offseason by signing Rajon Rondo (29-years-old), Kosta Koufos (26) and Marco Belinelli (29) to aid a 25-year-old Cousins and 29-year-old Rudy Gay.
In 1998, general manager Geoff Petrie signed a 30-year-old Divac to support a young core led by 25-year-old Chris Webber. The team averaging 26 years of age went on to earn the first of eight straight playoff berths. Having seen its benefits first-hand, the practice of adding veterans still holds true for Divac. The age discrimination will come at the cost of millennials however.