Sunday Musings: Sacramento Kings searching for continuity
The San Antonio Spurs are the gold standard in professional sports. Since joining the NBA before the 1976-77 season, they have made the playoffs an astonishing 35 times in 39 seasons. The Spurs just celebrated their fifth NBA title in the last 16 seasons and have appeared in 17 straight postseasons.
Luck has played its part in the Spurs’ success, as has skill and savvy decision-making. Perhaps the most important piece to San Antonio’s success is that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have stood side by side in an NBA record 117 playoff victories.
Continuity is a key ingredient to any successful franchise. Rarely does a team form and instantly make a title run like the Boston Celtics did during the 2007-08 season, and that took three future Hall of Famers. Even the Miami Heat didn’t win a title the first year that LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade.
It takes time to build a winner. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is an NBA championship team. There is a typical progression that teams make. First, they have to claw their way into the playoff picture. The next step is usually to cement themselves as a No. 4 or 5 seed. And in year three, with any luck, they arrive at contender status.
Once at the top, the window is narrow for any team, outside of the Spurs. Players get old, players leave and injuries happen. It is the cycle of professional sports.
The Sacramento Kings are just beginning their journey. They have been at the bottom for eight consecutive seasons. It has been one rebuild after another, and it has certainly been taxing on one of the league’s great fanbases. And the rebuild is nowhere near completion.
In order to get the Kings back on the right path, general manager Pete D’Alessandro and his staff have chosen to first strip the franchise down to its core and begin anew. In a little over a year on the job, D’Alessandro has jettisoned all but DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson from the team. The list of players who have left the team over the last 14 months is long.
Cousins is a franchise cornerstone, while Thompson, the Sacramento Kings’ longest tenured player, has been on the block since day one. In their four seasons as teammates, Cousins and Thompson have started more than 200 games together. While the duo aren’t a natural complement to each other in today’s NBA game, they do have continuity.
Outside of Thompson, second-year guard Ben McLemore and veterans Carl Landry and Omri Casspi have each played 71 career games with Cousins. Landry’s games were broken up over two seasons, while Casspi’s 71 games came during the 2010-11 season when Cousins was a rookie.
After coming over from the Toronto Raptors, Rudy Gay played 51 games with Cousins. They are both working out with Team USA, an experience that can only help the two build better on-court chemistry.
Gay and Cousins will make up 40 percent of the Sacramento Kings starting lineup come opening night. Thompson is still in the running for the starting power forward position and McLemore may be able to hold off rookie Nik Stauskas for the starting shooting guard spot, but there is a good chance that coach Michael Malone will open the season with three new starters.
It’s a continuing trend for the Sacramento Kings to have heavy turnover. Not only did D’Alessandro revamp his roster during last summer, but he pulled off another four in-season transactions that sent away seven players and brought in another six.
With Isaiah Thomas, Travis Outlaw and Quincy Acy all leaving this summer, the purge of everything Geoff Petrie is almost complete. But with turnover, comes instability and, again, a lack of continuity.
D’Alessandro has said countless times that he will not stop until he has assembled a winner. It is clear that this roster is a long way from completion, so more change is on the horizon. But at what point do you let the pot simmer? At what point do you let Malone work with what he has and let him install his offensive and defensive systems?
The culture of losing is an issue that the Kings are trying to cleanse from their franchise, but it has been replaced by the culture of perpetual change.
Sacramento has a young core to build around in Cousins, McLemore and Stauskas. Gay turns 28 years old Sunday and is entering his prime, while newly signed Darren Collison will turn 27 next week. Landry, Thompson and Reggie Evans can provide leadership and players like Derrick Williams, Ray McCallum and Eric Moreland still have potential.
This isn’t a deep playoff team, but it is a team that might find its way if given an opportunity to grow together. Cousins, Thompson, Landry and Collison are all locked up for three or more seasons. McLemore, Stauskas, McCallum and Moreland are all under team control for a while. The linchpin in this plan is Gay, who is entering the final year of his contract.
With Cousins and Gay, the Kings have building blocks. Without one of them, it is a house built on sand. If Gay walks away after this season, then the rebuild will start back at square one. If D’Alessandro can convince him to sign an extension, then the rebuild can progress.
It took a lot of luck for the San Antonio Spurs to become great, but it has more to do with stability and a long-term plan. The Sacramento Kings need more talent, but acquiring it continues to come at the cost of continuity. If the roster can grow together, then adding upgraded pieces that fit the team concept makes sense. But changing the entire look of the team every couple of months is a recipe for disaster that has never proven to work in the NBA.