Sunday Musings: Kings search for a glue guy
The makeup of an NBA team takes more than talent. It takes specific ingredients that, when mixed together properly, can create magic. You need a star or even two. You need a rebounder and a super-sub and a wing defender. These are all must-haves if you hope to compete at a higher level. But there is one ingredient that is very difficult to find.
Every good team needs a glue guy. Clearly the Kings lacked that specific player last season or they wouldn’t have taken, to use a Geoff Petrie term, a “philosophical vacation” in the middle of last season.
Maybe that player was on the roster, but, be it the extreme work environment or the continuing chaos, he didn’t feel free to step forward.
It’s more than just leadership we are talking about. Isaiah Thomas was a leader on the floor, and so was Tyreke Evans, but neither was or is a glue guy. Some players possess an innate ability to reach everyone on the roster in a meaningful way. It is that player who keeps a team together when adversity strikes.
Vlade Divac knows the importance of having a glue guy. The Kings of the late ’90s and early 2000’s had plenty of talent running up and down the court. They had All-Stars in Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Brad Miller. They had clutch performers like Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson and excellent role players like Scot Pollard and Jon Barry. But the player that made the entire machine go was actually Divac himself.
Webber’s tantrums were legendary, both in his previous stops and during his time in Sacramento, but Divac was always able to play peacemaker. Vernon Maxwell had issues, and so did Keon Clark. Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu needed more than just a European legend to look up to. The Kings had great talent, but the whole was always better that the sum of the pieces.
Divac was an exceptional player on the floor, but he was also a father figure, a confidant, a punching bag and a shoulder to cry on. He was the quintessential glue guy, and the Kings desperately need to find someone just like him to blend this new group together.
The Sacramento Kings have spread their net wide in an attempt to find a glue guy. You can stack a team with All-Stars, add talent at every position and have an all-world coaching staff, but without someone to keep a team together through tough times, it’s hard to enjoy prolonged success.
Previous management attempted to bring in the right type of players. Chuck Hayes was supposed to be that guy. A local product with Kentucky ties and playoff experience, Geoff Petrie looked to him to bring DeMarcus Cousins through the early stages of his career. After an early heart scare, Hayes seemed content with taking a paycheck and doing the minimal amount required to not get amnestied.
Greivis Vasquez is another player that has a larger impact on a team than just points and assists, but his stay with the Kings was brief.
It’s not just being a good teammate or a good person. Glue guys bring something much more to the table. A perfect example of being a good guy, but not a glue guy, is Jason Thompson.
The 6-foot-11 big man out of Rider University had a lot of great qualities. He was great in the community and with the fans. His teammates liked him, and he always set the bar high with his fitness level on the first day of training camp. But what separates him from being a glue guy is that after six or seven years in the league, Thompson was still talking about not getting shots in the offense. Maybe it’s playing for seven coaches in seven years, but Thompson left as a role player without a defined role.
A glue guy is someone who has gone through the trenches and come out the other side ready for anything. He knows who and what he is as a player and he’s willing to accept that role. A glue guy can be a star or an end-of-the-bench guy, but he has to have the ear of the room, regardless of who is coaching a team or sitting in each individual locker stall.
There is potential on the Kings’ newly built roster for one of these players to emerge. Divac brought in veteran Caron Butler to help bring experience to an eclectic group of players. But Butler will likely play a tertiary role on the floor for coach George Karl. His impact may be in the way that he conducts himself off the floor more than he does on the floor. Young players need someone to teach them how to be a pro, and, by all accounts, Butler is someone who sets a sparkling example.
Omri Casspi took huge strides toward becoming one of these types of players over the past few seasons. As a young player, he had a tremendous amount of pressure on him to be something he is not. But his travels through Cleveland and Houston appear to have calmed the 27-year-old wing.
Casspi spent time this summer with a group of players touring Israel. Cousins, Butler and James Anderson were among the roving band of NBA players that did everything from tour Jerusalem to float in the Dead Sea. It’s a bonding trip that built on an already strong bond between Casspi and Cousins.
For Casspi to take that next step, he will need the tutelage of both Butler and Divac, but he is on the right path. If and when things go south with the Sacramento Kings this season, it is a player like Casspi that might be able to stem the tide from the inside and not let the season spin out of control like last season did.
Rudy Gay is another player with the right makeup. The 29-year-old scorer has seen plenty in his nine-year career, but his calm demeanor and penchant for one-liners makes him popular with his teammates.
Cousins can be volatile, as can newly acquired Rajon Rondo. Gay is in Cousins’ ear on the floor, and he actually recruited Rondo, who was in his wedding a few years back. Gay clearly has the ability to get along with anyone, which is a unique trait.
The Kings have assembled a talented roster, but it takes more than talent to win. You need someone. and in many cases, more than just one of these types, to step up and keep the train on the tracks. Divac and Karl will likely turn to Butler, Casspi and Gay to not just lead on the floor, but to help develop the culture of this team when times get tough. Whether they are up to the task will likely decide how good the Kings are this season.