Free Agents: Ryan Hollins (Unrestricted), Andre Miller (U), Reggie Evans (U)
Even when compared to the Knicks and Sixers, I would have to say the Kings are the biggest joke in the league right now. With more subterfuge than a House of Cards episode going on between George Karl, Vlade Divac, and DeMarcus Cousins, they were truly the messiest team heading into free agency.
Declaring the Cousins project a failure and blowing up a team that maybe, just maybe, started to go places is a sadly valid option. The end result of that path was widely thought to be sending Boogie to the Lakers for ten cents on the dollar, but now that all depends on the Roy Hibbert trade. Otherwise, the Celtics could very well pounce with their “Godfather” offer now, and it could happen if tempers irrevocably flare once more. If Ranadive (or Divac, who knows?) instead decides to can Karl, perhaps a new coach can be chosen with Cousins’ approval. Giving him that kind of authority is a dangerous game, but it beats the embarrassment of having to start all over again. Sacramento’s currently a hodgepodge of ill-fitting talent who should be enough to sway Cousins to stay, but the players they have acquired are very questionable. Rondo came off of an awful year with the Celtics and Mavericks, and by all means was a terrible offensive player (although he did arguably provide great defense). George Karl clearly has a history of butting heads with players, and if he slights Rondo, the situation becomes very toxic. This either makes Collison a bench player, or he starts next to Rondo – both are awkward fits. McLemore is still hated by advanced stats, but has improved, maybe enough to be a nice piece off the bench. Clearly, he hasn’t shown any starter-level play. The new addition of Belinelli specifically catered to Rondo, and while his three point ability hasn’t wavered, he was an awful defensive player for the Spurs. Rudy Gay turned in a decent season for Sacramento, but his value is capped. While he’s a fine volume scorer and adequate rebounder, he doesn’t provide much in the way of defense, and will look to play more power forward next to Cousins. This hasn’t worked well in the past, but if the whole team goes small, we could witness a shift in the effectiveness that Gay has at power forward.
With the 6th pick in the draft, Sacramento chose Willie Cauley-Stein. WCS is not, as many think, an admission that Cousins will inevitably be traded – many have noted that he provides the defensive presence and athleticism the Kings have sorely lacked (at the draft combine, he reportedly recorded a maximum vertical of 37 inches and stands 7’1” in shoes). This moves Cousins to his preferred position at power forward if Cauley-Stein is a day one starter (unlikely with Karl’s coaching methods). He’s a high risk/high reward player, who also showed off some nice shooting range with Kentucky, and he could be one of the very best players to come out of the draft. On the flip side, Cauley-Stein has a history of concerning leg injuries which gave teams some pause, but if he can work through those, he is absolutely the prototypical defensive big the Kings could use. I would peg him as a Tyson Chandler type, which could be very useful in the future.
The Kings have parted ways with Derrick Williams, but there’s no real love lost here; Williams was mostly atrocious in Sacramento, and definitely needed a change of scenery. Andre Miller has drawn interest from teams outside of the Kings, and they could stand to lose out on his services if he values winning a ring. Ryan Hollins provided, more or less, a warm body and six fouls a night – he doesn’t inspire much confidence as a presence on either end of the floor. Finally, if Reggie Evans is overlooked by contenders and pseudo-contenders alike, he could be picked back up by Sac-town; his rebounding numbers were as strong as you’d expect, despite his advanced age and limited minutes. Yet, with their remaining cap space (created by the atrocious deal that sent Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, and a protected 1st round pick to the Sixers + the right for Philly to swap 1st round picks with them in two future drafts), they have been spurned by a multitude of free agents, including Monta Ellis and Wesley Matthews. Rudy Gay has gone on the record to state that he’d be happy with recruiting Josh Smith from the Rockets to join his team, as the two are good friends. The collection of Kentucky players (from which Rondo and Cauley-Stein also hail) are going to go a long way in mending Cousins’ trust with the team. Smith could also be a legitimate option for the Kings when they go small, as the Rockets successfully displayed with his talents in the playoffs.
Prediction: I don’t see this panning out well at all for Sacramento. The defensive talent on the team doesn’t sound reassuring, and Rondo has been gumming up offenses for years. Even when a team ‘caters’ to his strengths, his sheer presence as a space-killer nullifies most of his work. Cauley-Stein is still a rookie, and therefore, not much can be expected of him in terms of transcendent play. Belinelli will get nowhere near the looks he got in San Antonio, and the Gay-Cousins experiment was only truly outstanding when Isaiah Thomas shared the floor with him. If Karl stays on the team, he runs the risk of alienating Rondo, Collison, and Cousins for a litany of reasons. If he is fired, the talent pool of coaching is just about as unproven as it gets, and Calipari would be a longshot to acquire, anyway. Despite mortgaging the future of their draft picks, I see this team regressing even further in light of the western conference contenders upgrading yet again, and DeMarcus Cousins might seriously think about leaving. For now, the burden of proof lies upon Sacramento.