Sunday Musings: Former Sacramento Kings chase playoff dreams with Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls
For an eighth consecutive season, the Sacramento Kings are on the outside looking in of the NBA Playoffs. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have missed 10 straight playoffs, can claim a longer drought. While the Kings may not be in the postseason tournament, they are well represented.
When you make as many trades and transactions as the Kings made this season, you are bound to end up watching some of your former players in the postseason. But could anyone have predicted six players from this season’s roster, including four of the five opening night starters, dressing for another team during the postseason?
“When you see your guys out there and they’re out on that stage, we want to be on that stage,” General Manager Pete D’Alessandro said during a media luncheon late last month. “And we weren’t winning with those guys, we weren’t. So yeah, it does make us look at things.”
Of the six players to make the playoffs, Jimmer Fredette is the only one not to make an appearance in the first round. He, along with his Chicago Bulls teammates lost 4-1 in an opening round series to the Washington Wizards.
Fredette played in eight of the Bulls’ final 24 games after being waived by the Kings at the end of February. He was never able to break into coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation and will enter this summer as a free agent.
The remaining five former Kings are involved a dogfight that will play out later today. Patrick Patterson, John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez and Chuck Hayes have all seen action off the Toronto Raptors’ bench in their series against the Brooklyn Nets.
Vasquez has averaged 11.5 points, 5.8 assists and four rebounds in 27.3 minutes in the first round for coach Dwane Casey. Patterson has added 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game through the team’s first six playoff contests. Salmons and Hayes have had lesser roles, but played valuable minutes in big moments.
Vasquez began the season as the Kings starting point guard, while Salmons and Patterson were the starting forwards alongside DeMarcus Cousins. They were dealt with Hayes to the Raptors in a seven-man blockbuster deal on Dec. 9 for Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray.
After the starting the season 7-12, the deal with the Kings was a catalyst for a massive turnaround for Toronto. The Raptors finished the season with a 48-34 record, including a 41-22 record after the trade.
“It makes you analyze what were the things that we saw and didn’t see,” D’Alessandro said of seeing several former Kings in the postseason.
Gay excelled with the Kings, averaging 20.1 points on 48.2 percent shooting in 55 games for Sacramento. The 27-year-old wing has a player option for $19.3 million next season, but there is a possibility he could opt out and sign a long-term deal either in Sacramento or elsewhere. Meanwhile, neither Acy or Gray are guaranteed to be back next season with the Kings.
Marcus Thornton is the final opening night starter for the Kings who is still alive in the playoffs. The veteran shooting guard moved to Brooklyn in a deadline deal for Reggie Evans and Jason Terry.
Terry may never play a minute for the Kings, but Evans brought instant toughness to the team. The 12-year man out of the University of Iowa played in 24 games down the stretch for Malone, including 14 starts.
Thornton found a niche off the Nets bench, scoring 12.1 points per game over Brooklyn’s final 26 contests, but he has struggled mightily in his first appearance in the playoffs. The 26-year-old guard is owed $8.6 million next season for a team that has zero regard for the NBA luxury tax.
After Sunday’s games, either Thornton or the quartet in Toronto will join Fredette and the Kings in the offseason, but that is not something the Kings are hoping for. D’Alessandro couldn’t be more happy for the success of close-friend and Raptors GM Masai Ujiri and both he and Malone are pulling for all of their former players.
“I’m very happy for them,” coach Michael Malone told Cowbell Kingdom. “I guess people may be jealous. They may be pissed off – whatever. I’m not, because this is a business.”
Reading too much into the success of the former Kings would be premature. For whatever reason, most of these players struggled in their roles for Sacramento. Some have found success in their new homes, but a portion of one season is too small of a sample size to make any specific conclusion.
The Kings would love to still be playing, but the question of “what if” won’t even be considered. Malone and D’Alessandro will cheer on their former players from afar, but look to the future and await their chance to play more that just 82 regular season games.