Sunday Musings: Divac continues the transformation
The Sacramento Kings are low hanging fruit. After a two-week media blitz of rumors that included the “framework” on a potential DeMarcus Cousins trade, an attempted mutiny by head coach George Karl, and John Calipari swooping in to save the franchise. A blindfolded five-year-old with an old broom handle could connect with this piñata.
The Kings have been raked over the coals for their decision to deal Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry and a future first round pick to the 76ers for cap space. They were ridiculed when they wanted to use their newly found salary on Monta Ellis and mocked shamelessly when he chose the Pacers over the Kings for less money.
When Wes Matthews walked away from a four-year, $64 million offer after undergoing Achilles surgery in April, Sacramento had reached a new low and the basketball world made sure they knew it.
But then something interesting happened. While the Kings were working on a one-year deal with former All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, they inked veteran Marco Belinelli to a solid three-year, $19 million deal.
You could hear a pin drop on social media when the news first broke. Belinelli isn’t a world beater, but no one had even associated him with the Kings. The fact is, Belinelli makes sense. Actually, he makes perfect sense. For a team lacking depth at the wing and in dire need of shooting, the Italian born guard/forward understands the role and has excelled at it in the past.
Signing a player that makes sense doesn’t play into the narrative. And that narrative has been crafted carefully.
When Rondo signed a one-year, $9.5 million dollar deal later on Friday, it wasn’t met with the same vitriol that it received the day before. Likely because Belinelli and Rondo fit together well. By himself, Rondo is a huge risk. With Belinelli adding a new dimension to the team, Rondo’s lack of ability to stretch the floor with perimeter shooting is less of an issue.
The difference between signing Matthews and Belinelli is about $10 million per season. Instead of investing in a player with a major injury concern, Divac was able to parlay his cap space into two players.
While most folks were staring at 4th of July fireworks, Divac used his bonus money to add another stellar acquisition. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but Kosta Koufos is exactly what the Sacramento Kings need. The 7-foot, 265-pound center knows George Karl from their time together in Denver. At 26-years-old, he has time to improve, but more likely, he just needs more of an opportunity.
Two weeks ago, the Kings had Thompson, who never fit next to Cousins, and Landry, who had a similar issue as well as a disintegrating skill set. Now Sacramento can pair Cousins with Koufos, rookie Willie Cauley-Stein or Rudy Gay.
In these transactions, Divac did something else that is very subtle. Knowing he has a fractured locker room, he brought in players that will help unify the team.
Rondo was in Gay’s wedding. The two have been friends for years and Gay pushed hard for his signing and even took part in the recruitment process. Rondo also fills Karl’s wish list of adding another playmaker and a second point guard to play alongside Darren Collison. Cousins has been dreaming of playing with an elite passer his entire career. Rondo is the best pure passer the Kings have had since Jason Williams left the team in 2001.
Cousins has been quietly asking to play more power forward since he was drafted. Despite being one of the top centers in the league, he would love to move to the four where he will have more freedom to create. Cauley-Stein can play either the four or the five and he can match up with almost anyone defensively. He is also a player that can protect the rim and get out on the break, which Karl needs for his system. This is the guy that both Cousins and Karl wanted in the draft and Divac delivered him.
Koufos gives Karl another option in the post while Cauley-Stein gets acclimated to the NBA game. The former Ohio State star is a jack-of-all-trades big with shot blocking and rebounding abilities. Karl can mix and match his rotations with four extremely versatile players in the post.
Lastly, Divac added a player that everyone in the league would like to play next to. Belinelli is an elite shooter. He is what the Kings were hoping that Stauskas would become, but had no assurances. What Kings did know is that as a rookie, Stauskas missed a tremendous amount of wide open shots. The trust between Stauskas and his teammates was shaky at best and there is no guarantee that the former Michigan guard will ever be strong enough to defend at the NBA level. Belinelli automatically gives the team a kick out option that they didn’t have before. He will open the passing lanes for Cousins and Gay and allow Karl even more roster flexibility.
Divac will likely try to pull Karl and Cousins into a room and break bread between the two. But now he has a vision to show both men. He has upgraded the team’s talent and he’s done it in a way that actually makes sense. Not only that, but outside of Rondo, who will have to earn his next payday, Divac has made long-term commitments to solid NBA players and he may not be done.
The Sacramento Kings may not be a championship contender, but they are greatly improved. Now it’s time to see what they can accomplish with a future Hall of Fame coach and an All-Star center.