Sacramento Kings ink Darren Collison, but leave Isaiah Thomas’ future in doubt
“We need players here in Sacramento. That’s just the bottom line. We’ve had a lot of really good backups for a long time and now we’re starting to acquire starters. That’s the first step.”
The statement above from general manager Pete D’Alessandro came hours after the Sacramento Kings acquired Rudy Gay in a blockbuster deal with the Toronto Raptors. It is both an indictment of the talent level D’Alessandro inherited when he took over the reigns of the Kings and the driving force behind his aggressive approach.
D’Alessandro made a bold move once again on Thursday when he signed Los Angeles Clipper point guard Darren Collison to a three-year deal. Nothing is official until the moratorium is lifted on July 10, but according to multiple reports, the deal is done.
Only Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins and Travis Outlaw remain under contract from the 28-win team Keith Smart coached during the 2012-13 season. The Geoff Petrie era is almost completely wiped from the books. The purge is almost complete.
The reaction has been mixed, but only because there is a glimmer of hope within the fanbase that the Collison signing does not preclude the Kings from matching an offer on fan favorite Isaiah Thomas. If Thomas joins a new team, the reaction will not be so kind.
Kings brass has been pretty clear that they view Thomas as a backup. A really good backup, but a reserve nonetheless. Kind of like what Darren Collison has become – a really good back up NBA point guard.
But Thomas’ stats say something different. The stats say that he is an elite player and the line extending out the door for his services say that other teams’ agree.
D’Alessandro just celebrated his one-year anniversary as GM of the Kings. He has been bold and audacious at almost every turn. He upset the apple cart with the Derrick Williams trade just weeks into the 2013-14 season. He continued to remake the Kings roster with the December deal for Gay and a deadline deal that sent scoring guard Marcus Thornton packing.
Joining Thornton as ex-Kings are Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, Greivis Vasquez and Jimmer Fredette. Thompson, the team’s longest tenured player, is clearly on the block and Thomas’ future with the club is hanging precariously in the balance.
A hard reset was needed and the job was not for the faint of heart, but watching Thomas walk out the door may be too much for some fans.
Somewhere along the way, Thomas stole the heart of the Sacramento faithful. His 5-foot-9, 180-lbs. frame has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal era of Kings basketball.
More than a basketball player, Thomas has sewn himself into the community. He has shown up at city council meetings, rallies and draft day parties. He runs basketball camps and of course, he is a Pizza Guy.
Sorry DeMarcus Cousins, but Thomas is the face of this franchise, at least in Sacramento. He is marketable and authentic. He is an every day man with super-human moxie and a flare for the dramatic.
Losing him in a mega-deal for an All-Star talent like Rajon Rondo is one thing. Fans could stomach the loss if it represented a major upgrade at the position. But that is not the case in this situation.
Collison is not a superior player to Thomas. He is not the type of player that changes the fate of a franchise one way or another. He is a cheaper option and a nice insurance policy if the Thomas sweepstakes gets out of hand. Hopefully, he won’t be packaged and sold as more.
Sacramento has the ability to reduce their cap figure in multiple ways to fit Thomas on the roster. Including Gay’s expiring contract, the team will clear roughly $36 million off the books next season. Management has been given a blank check to do what they need to do to improve this roster, including paying the luxury tax.
Adding talent like Collison is a must. The Kings have plenty of holes and Collison has the ability to improve the team. But not at the expense of Thomas.
“At the end of the day, I just want to be wanted,” Thomas told Cowbell Kingdom in May . “I just want to be wanted for being 5-9. I want to be wanted for being, like I said, a score-first point guard. I want to be wanted. If they want me here (in Sacramento), I want to be here.”
Thomas should be wanted. Regardless of his size or defensive limitations, he has made himself into an excellent basketball player. He is a maximum effort teammate that finished last season averaging 20.3 points and 6.3 assists. His player efficiency rating of 20.5 ranked fourth amongst all NBA point guards, behind only Chris Paul, Steph Curry and Goran Dragic.
It’s too early to say how this situation plays out, but the Kings need to add talent, not lose it.