The young Kings need to take advantage of their golden opportunity
When the Kings shipped off their All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins they were sitting pretty in the ninth spot in the Western Conference. With a playoff berth in near sight, Kings fans were hopeful for something they haven’t seen in 10 years.
The Kings had all the momentum heading into the break by going 5-2 in their seven games leading into All-Star weekend. Then Sunday of All-Star weekend happened.
Adrian Wojnarowski dropped a bomb mid-day Sunday from the eventful weekend saying that the Kings were engaging in trade talks for Cousins.
Later that day, the talks became aggressive talks and then those aggressive conversations led to a deal which sent Cousins and Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans for rookie Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, Tyreke Evans and a first and second round pick.
Trading Cousins away ultimately meant full rebuild. Vivek Ranadive finally found a Cousins deal lucrative enough in which included someone of his liking, Hield. Ranadive finally got his sought out player, which he has been high on all season.
With the addition of Hield, the Kings promised to change the culture in Sacramento by using their youthful talent and future draft picks to create an environment unlike the one during the Cousins era.
Playing with a young core now, Sacramento can ultimately benefit more if they lose games in order to secure a top 10 draft pick in a loaded 2017 NBA draft. Many experts believe this is one of the best drafts since 2003.
Since the trade, the Kings have recently inserted rookie Skal Labissiere into the starting lineup alongside promising second year big man Willie Cauley-Stein.
The weeks heading into the trade, Cauley-Stein was showing flashes that he hasn’t shown since coming into the league one year ago. With more room to operate in the paint with the departure of Cousins, these Kings’ big men have taken it upon themselves to fill the void down low.
One of the good things that have come out of the trade has been Labissiere. The minutes that Labissiere has accumulated have not been wasted as he has shown that he was well worth the first round selection last June.
The masses forget the Labissiere was the most highly recruited player out of high school before heading to Kentucky. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the freshman year that he wanted to have in Lexington, but it’s apparent that the value is still there.
“Skal has been working since he got here,” said Darren Collison after a win against the Denver Nuggets. “I’ve seen that kid work after the games, in the gym by himself, before practice, after practice, before the games and after the games. It’s good to see that work finally paying off for him. He’s a workaholic.”
The future of the Kings’ frontcourt is bright with the continuing development of Labissiere and Cauley-Stein. The days of being sidelined in the presence of Cousins are over and both are getting their chance to prove their value.
“There’s not thought in the back of your head like oh, damn he’s going to take me out if I make a mistake because at this point he’s going to have to put you back in,” said Cauley-Stein after a win against the Denver Nuggets. “You can really just play free in that event. When you’re playing free you get to unlock things that people haven’t seen, and show your work.”
Coach Dave Joerger has inserted his young bigs in situations that help them grow by matching them up on a case-by-case basis.
Both Labissiere and Cauley-Stein have an offensive skill set that is apparent but teaching them the value of defense and putting them in the correct environment is how they’ll ultimately grow as well rounded players.
“What I’ve tried to do as part of their development is, I think it’s worked out really really well, is try to line them up against second line guys,” Joerger told CSN. “Willie and Skal are learning body on body position. There’s an art to it, of setting your guy up. Those guys are all big and long and athletic.”
But there is still another giant rookie in the mix, Georgios Papagiannis. Drafted 13th overall by the Kings, Papagiannis has seen little time in the NBA, but has shown strides of improvement playing for Sacramento’s D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns. We could see Papagiannis play limited minutes to finish out the rest of the season but most likely next season he’ll play a consistent role with the Kings.
The addition of Papagiannis and Labissiere were all part of a plan when Vlade Divac traded the eighth pick of the draft to the Phoenix Suns for their 13th, 28th pick and Bogdan Bogdanović. He drafted young bigs with size and skill that have room to expeditiously grow. One could say that the rebuild started there.
Divac traded Marco Belinelli to the Charlotte Hornets for the 22nd first round pick. The 22nd would result in Syracuse shooting guard, Malachi Richardson.
Before the All-Star break, Richardson worked his way into the rotation and showed glimpses of what he is capable at the NBA level. Unfortunately, his development has been altered by a hamstring injury.
It seems as if the rebuild came full circle once Hield became a King and now the organization has room to grow rather than decline. Hield is currently the leading scorer for the Kings’ averaging 13.8 points in his first four games and has the ultimate green light from the organization.
The promise that Hield gives along with the other key young pieces is still yet to be proven post Cousins era. But the upside is tremendous considering that the Kings could have the opportunity to draft two players in the top ten in this year’s draft.
As for the Kings, the rebuild is going to lie heavily on this upcoming draft. Now that the Kings have addressed their big man situation and shooting guard situation, drafting a point guard and small forward becomes imminent.
Drafting a franchise caliber point guard or wing could potentially shape the franchise for the next five to six years. All the pieces are in order; all the potential is there. Now it’s up to Divac to surround the youthful roster with a player or players to give the Kings the boost they need to become playoff ready.
“It’s their opportunity, this is their team,” said Collison on the young guys. “They have to step up to the plate were going to be there to help them out and it feels good to see them have this success.”
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