Sacramento Kings

Am I Becoming Jaded with the NBA?

There’s nothing worse than a bunch of jaded old farts, and that’s a fact.

For the first time in nearly three years, I didn’t renew my NBA League Pass.

It wasn’t an easy decision to do.

I got the automatic re-payment this September on my credit card. Almost 200 dollars. Usually, I would be okay, almost excited with the payment. The start of the NBA season has been traditionally one of the more upbeat parts of the year for me: late October, Fall still in bloom, baseball winding down, and the promise of NBA games every night on my laptop thanks to NBA League Pass. Hell, this year I even had a TV with Bluetooth capability. If there was any year to enjoy the 2016-2017 NBA season, this was it.

But I couldn’t be okay with the 200 bucks this time around. Something in me just couldn’t pull the trigger. I put in my cancellation notice, got my refund and just like that my NBA League Pass was gone.

How could this happen? How could someone like me, who loves professional basketball (both NBA and Euroleague) as much as me not subscribe to one of the greatest online services in the history of the internet? How could I pass on Grant Napear Sacramento Kings broadcasts and random Charlotte Hornets-Milwaukee Bucks February contests on a weekday night? What would it be like not falling asleep to West Coast games that wouldn’t start until 9-10 p.m. in Kansas City?

The short answer: perhaps I have become a little jaded with the NBA after this off-season.

Now let me get into the long answer.

This NBA off-season broke me. I was excited for the increase in salary cap, hoping that either middle-level teams would be able to make that key off-season acquisition that would put them over the top, or teams would be able to keep their star-cores intact and build on a run to challenge the Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers, who had faced off against each-other in back-to-back finals.

And then Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors.


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This move brought up a bunch of mixed feelings. As stated on this blog before, I did not grow up a Kings fan. I grew up masochistically rooting for the Warriors.

Run TMC. Joe Smith. Chris Mills. Bob Sura. Adonal Foyle. Erick Dampier. Gilbert Arenas. J-Rich. Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy as “thunder and lightning”. Andris Biedrins. Don Nelson leading the helm. Monta Ellis. “We Believe.” The weird superhero mascot. The orange jerseys. Mikki Moore playing way more than he should. Eric Musselman getting one crazy good year and shitting the bed  the next. Dave Cowens looking frazzled every night. Keith Smart acting as head coach while Nelson nearly fell asleep in his plush chair. Former owner Chris Cohen screwing the team over every chance he got.

Hell. I loved the Warriors. But then the team changed. It started with the change in ownership and then the uniforms. Then Mark Jackson and his uber-conservative social comments. And then people started to jump on the bandwagon. And then they made the playoffs and started winning consistently. Steph Curry won back-to-back MVPs. Draymond Green became a ball-punching and small-ball 5 savant. They launched a ton of 3’s and pushed the pace under Steve Kerr. Bandwagon fans not only came on in droves, but became more insufferable each and every game.

I have always had a soft spot for the Warriors. My mother still considers herself a devout fan, following every game possible on TV or radio even though my parents still live in Sacramento and get mostly Kings broadcasts on CSN California (I tried giving her my League Pass password, but she is terrible with technology and gave up after she couldn’t figure out what app to download). I cheered for them hard throughout the past two seasons, even though I had turned to the Kings, changing my allegiance from the Blue and Gold to the Purple and Black (or white…or gray…whatever the hell their color scheme is nowadays). The last NBA Finals was crushing. I remember all the elation I felt after they made that 3-1 comeback against the OKC Thunder only to see those feelings sink to low depths I didn’t think possible after they lost Game 7 at home to LeBron and Kyrie and Kevin Love (unlike most, I am  not a big fan of Love; it mostly stems from following him in his high school days while I was a sophomore at Gonzaga where he was treated as the Pope of the State of Oregon during his high school years, only to result in him and his pompous father dumping on the Ducks in the recruiting process and going to UCLA…screw the Love’s). I couldn’t even talk about the Finals for weeks. The loss felt like a girlfriend I was about to ask to marry suddenly dumping me the day after I bought an engagement ring.

Yes, I didn’t consider myself a Warriors fans technically. But that Finals hurt.It hurt fucking bad because of my prior history cheering on the Warriors during their lowest of lows, only to see what should be one of their crowning moments in NBA history (setting the regular season win record and get a second-straight championship) get absolutely stomped on.

God I hate Cleveland. I hope the Cubs obliterate the Indians.

But my feeling should have faded eventually over the summer. There would be next season. Their core would come back stronger and motivated, and though I still would primarily cheer for the train wreck that was the Sacramento Kings, the Warriors would still garner my interest and my secondary League Pass watching (it was common for me to have a split screen when the Kings and Warriors played at the same time; god I loved that).

And then the Warriors pompous owner, who was busy talking to the media about how he and his organization “changed basketball” (he didn’t; people were taking three’s and running and gunning way before him; check Paul Westhead and Nelson), stepped in. He got rid of Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli and Leandro Barbosa and Marreese “God he’s so weird looking and he can’t rebound for a big man, but I love him as a heat check dude” Speights.

And the Warriors somehow signed Kevin Durant.

Yeah I should have been happy for the Warriors. But I wasn’t.

The bandwagon won out. It was like how the Tea Party won with Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. The “old” Warriors were gone. The Warriors had now evolved into the Lakers and Heat in terms of they could get whoever they wanted now. The days of Arenas not wanting to sign in Golden State because they didn’t have money and he didn’t think they could win were a thing of the past. They no longer were the charming, plucky, underdogs represented by Curry and Klay Thompson and Green, guys who got passed over in the draft in favor of “sexier” prospects in the draft (sexy being Jonny Flynn).

The Warriors were able to acquire and pay for a former MVP, one of the Top 5 players in the league.

I can’t back a Warriors team like that. That’s not why I cheered for them, fell in love with them in the first place.

I can’t bare to watch a team with Durant in a Warriors uniform. It feels dirty, sacrilegious and traitorous to everything I invested in and experienced as a Warriors fan from 1997-2013.

Cheering the current version of the Warriors, who are now the new “Boston Three Party”, the “Decision” Heat and “Dwight-Nash-Kobe” Lakers (oh wait… they sucked…never mind) just feels like voting for Trump this November. And if I lost my second-favorite current NBA team, the team that made me get made fun of at Hunter’s Barbershop in Roseville throughout my high school years, then what’s the point of keeping my League Pass?

But losing one team isn’t that big a deal, right? I still got Boogie and the Kings. And they got the new arena. I’m sure those alone would be worth the annual 200 dollar fee.

Well…not exactly.


NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Sacramento Kings

I have pretty much cheered for the Kings since they changed ownership from the Maloofs to Vivek Ranadive. For starters, the Kings fans’ fight to keep the Kings from being pried by Chris Hansen and his Seattle group inspired me. It made me proud to be from Sacramento, which isn’t easy to do considering are just above Fresno and Bakersfield in terms of California city popularity. Sacramento doesn’t have much beyond the Kings and the Capital. So for Sacramento to fight the NBA and keep their team from being another Seattle or Vancouver was refreshing to see.

For a while, I loved what Ranadive aimed to do when he took over. He wanted to make the Kings a thinking-tank when it came to innovating the team on and off the court. He hired Pete D’Alessandro, a more business-type who seemed to be more concerned with manipulating the salary cap in creative ways than buying Raising Cane’s and playing pea-knuckle with free agents. Petey D did all kinds of cool, out-of-the-box thinking when it came to roster compilation and the draft (the Kings Grantland short documentary on them crowd-sourcing for the draft really solidified my allegiance to the Kings franchise). And him and Vivek seemed prime to be different. For a small-market team like the Kings, it was what they needed to do. The way I saw it, the Kings were on their way to becoming the Bill Beane “Moneyball” Oakland A’s of the NBA.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon didn’t last long with Kings fans. The city of Sacramento, unable to be satisfied after shit fell apart once Rick Adelman left town, grew impatient and quickly frustrated with the Kings’ “process.”

First, he fired Mike Malone, which in retrospect was a poor choice. Yes, maybe Malone didn’t want to play the breakneck pace that Vivek wanted, but Malone was a good coach. He has proven that in Denver, making the Nuggets the “Denver Internationals” with a fun, balanced-style that features all kinds of entertaining foreign players such as Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic and Danilo Gallinari. It would have been interesting if Malone was still the coach in Sacramento. I guarantee you they probably would have been in the playoff hunt longer last season.

But Malone really was the tip of the iceberg. Cousins failed to get along with coaches post-Malone, through a combination of his and the coaches’ fault. Vivek, unable to let go of his micro-managing ways and harboring the desire to compete with Joe Lacob and Robert Pera of the Grizzlies for title of “most obnoxious” owner, continued to meddle to the Kings’ detriment. He hired and fired or (didn’t fire sooner, as was the case with George Karl) coaches without reason. He brought in guys in the organization who were unprepared to work in a NBA front office (sorry Vlade). He let his biases negatively affect the Kings when it came to player acquisition, putting them back development wise year after year. (Stauskas!) Vivek basically represented all the negative collateral damage of the “new  brand” of NBA owner who had arrived in the league post 2010: meddlesome, wanting to be in the spotlight more than necessary.

And in that process, with the combination of Vivek’s inability to balance ego and appeasing fans, the Kings started to fade from the neat little “Moneyball” franchise to the typical, shitty, in no-man’s land NBA team. Petey D left. After setting scoring records in the D-League the past two years thanks to head coach David Arsenault Jr’s experimental system from Grinnell College, the Big Horns let go of Arsenault this off-season and seem to be content to revert to traditional, not to mention joyless, minor-league basketball. Speaking of up-tempo, Karl and his push-the-pace preference (the Kings led the league in pace last year) were kicked out of town for a more typical, grind-it-out style under new coach Dave Joerger. And that’s no offense to Joerger. He’s an excellent coach and I think he has the chance to do good things in Sacramento. It’s just that…he’s a typical NBA coach who will play a typical NBA style…and that’s disappointing considering I thought the Kings were going to be more than that with Vivek took over in 2013.

I know that’s weird to be disappointed about. But in all honesty, I loved the Kings last year. Yes, the chemistry was awful. Rajon Rondo and Rudy Gay needed to go. Cousins needed a new coach with less baggage. But holy fuck. The way they played. The way they scored (and gave up) points proved to be fun to watch night after night. For all the lackluster matador defense of Rondo and Cousins, you had Omri Casspi catching fire from beyond the arc and Quincy Acy going beast mode on the boards. The Kings weren’t good. They weren’t a playoff team. But they looked to be developing something special. Just a tweak from a coach who advocated that similar style, and perhaps they could be the Warriors-lite, with worse defense, but still as effective when it comes to getting buckets.

However, that seems to be gone. The Kings have resorted to aging and retread vets like Aaron Afflalo and Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson to build around Cousins. It sucks. This team reeks of a Brooklyn Nets team during the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett years. It feels boring. It feels unlikable. (seriously, how can anyone like Barnes?) And it still feels like it’s going to suck. At least the last couple of years, the Kings were fun as they sucked.

So why pay to watch that? Why pay to watch Barnes bitch at other players in his typical “Respect me! I’m Matt Barnes! I don’t care if my wife left me for Derek Fisher!” way? Why watch a Kings team that feels like the late 2000’s/early 2010’s ones that appeared to be “dead men walking” when it came to staying in Sacramento?

200 bucks isn’t worth that. And that’s hard because I love Boogie. I love what he did this summer with the Olympic team. I still want to see him as a King for life.

Yet the rest of the Kings roster, organization and future? I just can’t back that.


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I pretty much ordered League Pass to indulge in not only my passion for the NBA, but my two favorite teams: the Warriors and Kings. And do so from afar here in Kansas City, where there is no NBA team within driving distance. For a couple of years, I was able to happily enjoy those two franchises, albeit in different ways. However, this summer and off-season has just been miserable for me. I don’t feel optimistic about the future of either team, and in that pessimism, I have grown distant from not just the Warriors and Kings, but the NBA.

My twitter, which is pretty much a NBA news source, remains relatively unchecked and unused for days at a time, sometimes weeks.

I rarely listen to my NBA Ringer or Lowe Post podcasts. They were required listening for me on my daily commute to work not just during the season, but all year long.

I felt more unprepared and apathetic for my NBA Fantasy draft in comparison to years past. I am depending on Mirza Teletovic and Doug McDermott for threes.

In one summer, thanks to my two favorite teams’ off-seasons, I have not just grown more apathetic to the NBA, but perhaps cynical and jaded. I don’t believe I will be able to enjoy this year as much as I have the previous years post-2009, when I graduated from Gonzaga and switched from primarily following college basketball to the NBA.

NBA League Pass was the greatest thing to happen for me leisurely the past few years and now I will be without it. And I don’t feel bad or sad or frustrated or anything. I am just in “meh” mode, fuckified from a NBA off-season from hell for me personally and spiritually as a NBA fan.

Who knows though.

Maybe my jadedness will fade and I will rekindle my passion for drinking Miller High Life and watching multiple NBA games during the week by December.

League Pass goes down by fifty bucks around Christmas time.

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Mitch Richmond: the Under-Appreciated Kings Legend

“Who hell are you trying to be!? Mitch Richmond!?”

When I played Parochial Athletic League basketball in Sacramento at Presentation grade school, the assistant coach of my teams during my 4-8th grade years (the team, akin to any PAL or CYO team, was usually coached by dads, and thus, I had the same coaches in grade school all 5 years at Presentation), used to shout this out to us when he felt one of us was ball-hogging or trying to do much on the floor. He was a native born Colombian and his thick accent made him pronounce the future NBA Hall of Famer’s name as “Meech Reechmond” which would garner snickers from us as ignorant adolescent kids. He usually would follow his statement with him taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes in frustration before he sat down back on the bench during a drill or scrimmage period, and we continued to play or do a drill, sometimes taking in what he said, but most of the time forgetting about it like most things adults said to us during this age.

I understood his reference to the Kings star during this adolescent period of my life: Richmond was the biggest star on Sacramento’s only professional sports team at the time. It was a reference all of us on the team understood because Richmond was always on the front page of the Sacramento Bee sports section from October through April and was on every Kings billboard ad throughout the metro (hell, the first Kings ad I remembered when I moved from Spokane to Sacramento was one that featured Richmond and Walt Williams; God, I loved Walt Williams). Plus, Michael Jordan was too cliche, and I’m sure he wanted to use a reference that was a bit more clever than simply referencing the greatest basketball player of all time.

But in retrospect, his reference was pretty deep (though I wonder if he really knew it). During his time in Sacramento, Richmond WAS the Kings. He was mainly responsible for the Kings’ success (which included the first playoff victory in Sacramento in 1995-1996) and his time in Sacramento proved to be a tenure that will be hard to duplicate by any player in Kings history (though Cousins may be able to, but he still has a long way to go). And yet, as time goes on, Richmond sort of goes forgotten or at the very least under-appreciated in Kings fandom lore. People remember C-Webb and Bibby and Peja and Vlade and White Chocolate and treat those players and that era with the up-most devotion. And rightfully so. Those players were part of the Kings’ most successful period in franchise history (or at least when they were named the Kings; I know they had some success with Oscar Robertson as the Rochester and Cincinnati Royals but god that was in the 60’s and I’m only 29).

But keep this in mind: without “The Rock” there is no C-Webb. There is no Rick Adelman. There are no playoff victories. There are no Western Conference Finals or Bibby’s big shot or Game 6 or epic Oral Histories by Jonathan Abrams.

Without Richmond…the Kings might be in Anaheim or Seattle already.

When Richmond was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014, I was initially a bit perplexed by the decision. After all, Richmond certainly didn’t have the “street cred” that screamed Hall of Famer. His best years in Sacramento consisted of him making the playoffs only once, and when he was part of “Run TMC” in Golden State with Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin, he was obviously the third banana behind Mulln and Hardaway in terms of popularity (hence, the reason he was traded to Sacramento for Billy Owens). Richmond only played in the playoffs 4 times (2 with Golden State, 1 with Sacramento and 1 with the Lakers) and when he won a NBA title with the Lakers, he was primarily a bench player, as he only played 4 total minutes during that 2002 Lakers title run.

But then I considered two things: his statistical performance and his impact on basketball in Sacramento.

First off, statistically, Richmond’s career in Sacramento was damn impressive. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1988-1989 with Golden State where he averaged 22 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.2 apg,  and shot 46.8 percent from the field and had a PER (player efficiency rating) of 17.2. He made the All-Star team six times in a row (from the 1992-1993 season through the 1997-1998 season), which included All-Star MVP honors during the 1994-1995 season. While he never was a first-team All-NBA player, he did earn All-NBA second team honors three times (1993-1994; 1994-1995 and 1996-1997) and All-NBA third team twice (1995-1996 and 1997-1998).

Richmond also was one of the first real superstars too who made his name as a “3-point sniper” as well. In the old NBA days, superstar wing players were known (and sometimes encouraged) to take it to the rim or focus as mid-range-centered shooters. 3-point shooters mainly specialized in that and that alone, as evidenced by the Dell Curry’s, Dennis Scott’s and Dale Ellis’ of the day. However, Richmond proved to make the 3-point shot a heavy part of his game, as he is 33rd all time in 3 point makes (1,326), 41st in attempts (3,417) and 63rd in career 3-point percentage (38.8 percent). And he did this as the primary scorer during his Kings and Wizards days (but most especially Kings). Maybe Stephen Curry looked to his father for influence on his 3-point shot, but without a doubt, Richmond’s emphasis on the 3-ball helped paved the way for Steph and other current NBA stars to use the 3 ball as part of their skill set (and not solely be defined by it).

Richmond played for four NBA teams in his career, but while some people would argue that he is most known for his “Run TMC” days in Golden State, I would argue that his impact in Sacramento was exponentially greater. The Warriors had two established stars in Hardaway and Mullin and coach Don Nelson also had a great influence in terms of helping the Warriors play a style of ball that catered to their strengths during this era (and during the 2006-2008 “We Believe” era with the Warriors as well). But when Richmond was traded to Sacramento, many felt that the move was going to be a career killer. Prior to Richmond, the last Kings player to play in the All-Star game was Otis Birdsong in 1980-1981 when the franchise was still in Kansas City. The Kings hadn’t made the playoffs since 1985 (their first season in Sacramento) when Richmond arrived in Sacramento in 1991, and they hadn’t won a playoff game since 1981, when they went to the Western Conference Finals (and as pointed out in the Birdsong reference, they were still in Kansas City). It was thought that Richmond could fade into obscurity, since Sacramento wasn’t the kind of franchise nor market that would help him elevate his career.

Well, “The Rock” bucked that train of thought and then some.

In 517 games as a King, Richmond averaged 23.3 ppg on 45.1 shooting from the field. He put up an effective field goal percentage of 50.6 percent (higher than his tenures in Los Angeles, Washington and even Golden State), he shot 40.4 and averaged 4.8 3-point attempts per game, and also 3.9 rebound and 3.0 assist per game as a King as well. And to put these numbers in perspective, “The Rock” did this as the Kings main and sometimes “only” offensive option on the floor. He averaged 37.8 minute per game and his career usage rate with the Kings was 27.0 percent (highest of any of his stops). Richmond’s 50.4 win shares and 38.3 offensive win shares accumulate with the Kings further illustrates his impact on the Kings during his seven years there. And though he played in Sacramento almost twice as long as he did in Golden State or Washington (where he played 3 seasons apiece), his time in Sacramento had more impact, as his win shares per 48 was higher in Sacramento (12.4 percent) than Golden State (10.1) and Washington (8.8). The same proved to be true with his PER as well as his 18.4 PER was higher in Sacramento than in Golden State (17.4) and Washington (15.8) . The Kings needed Richmond to have any semblance of success as a basketball team, and Richmond delivered time and time again much to the delight of the organization and the fans of Sacramento.

1996-1997 may have been statistically his best season. He made the All-Star team and he averaged a career high 25.9 in 38.6 minutes per game, shot 45.4 percent from the floor and 42.8 percent from beyond the arc, and posted a PER of 21.6 (a career high) and 10.8 total win shares (another career high). But the Kings struggled with consistency roster-wise as well as internal coaching issues. Starting power forward Brian Grant only played 24 games, Olden Polynice began his career decline, Lionel Simmons and Duane Causwell, former Kings standouts, displayed that they were done as NBA players, and though Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was supposed to have an impact after being acquired from Denver, he never really meshed with the Kings roster like Tyus Edney and Sarunas Marciulionis the previous season. Gary St. Jean was fired after a 28-39 record, and Eddie Jordan (who later took their reigns for one disastrous year ala Keith Smart style) only helped the Kings win 4 of their last 12 games for a record of 34-48 overall. The turmoil and regression was a disappointment, as the Kings seemed to waste what was Richmond’s best statistical season of his career.

But, while 1996-1997 was better individually, the 1995-1996 season proved to be the most defining and memorable season for Richmond and Kings fans (until the Adelman era of course). Richmond’s numbers were still impressive (23.1 ppg, 44.7 FG percentage, 19.2 PER), but the Kings finished 39-43 and earned a playoff series against the heavily favored Seattle SuperSonics, who ended up losing to the Chicago Bulls in the Finals.

The Sonics were expected to smoke a Kings team that looked like Richmond and a band of misfits. The Sonics had Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp in the peaks of their careers, and were filled with excellent complementary players like Hersey Hawkins, Detlef Schrempf and Nate McMillan off the bench. George Karl was a playoff-seasoned coach whose coaching style was much more refined than the “play-call” heavy St. Jean. And Key Arena was one of the toughest venues to play at in the NBA for opposing teams. With “The Glove” guarding Richmond, the Kings looked doomed.

And then Game 2 happened.

Despite getting outplayed and losing 97-85 in game 1, Richmond came out gunning in Game 2. Despite getting all kinds of defensive attention from Payton and the Sonics, “The Rock” carried the Kings to a 90-81 upset, scoring 37 points on 13 of 22 shooting while also nabbing 4 boards and 4 assists. And while his offensive impact was obviously noted, when one watches the game again on tape, Richmond’s defensive impact was vastly underrated. Though he was not known as a defensive player in his career, Richmond relished the big stage in his first playoff appearance in Sacramento. Richmond matched up on the Glove and in a surprising fashion, “The Rock” shut down Payton, not vice versa as the experts predicted. Payton only scored 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting, and Richmond helped spark the Kings defense to help them outscore the Sonics 25-14 in the 4th quarter, which ultimately led to the win. And what made this offensive-defensive performance even more remarkable? Richmond played all 48 minutes of this game.

Without a doubt, Game 2 against the Sonics is something basketball fans should always mention whenever anyone wants to talk about Richmond. Considering the circumstances and the roster of the Kings, Richmond leading the Kings to this kind of road win against the eventual Western Conference champs was the stuff of mythical legend. Yes, the Kings lost the series (though they did give the Sonics all they could handle in a 96-87 Game 3 loss at Arco where the crowd was absolutely lit following their game 2 win). But Richmond did all he could to keep the Kings in the series against the Western Conferences’ top seed, not an easy feat, especially considering the Sonics ended up sweeping the Rockets in the next round. He averaged 21 ppg on 44.4 percent shooting and had a PER of 16.7 for the series, and he led the Kings to their first playoff win in 15 years and first ever in Sacramento history.

And of course…he had Game 2.

After the 1997-1998 season, the Kings knew that they had gone as far as they could with Richmond as the team’s star. With a new ownership, new front office and new coach, the Kings dealt Richmond to the Wizards for Chris Webber which ended up being the key move that changed the Kings fortunes as a franchise in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Richmond unfortunately gets recognized more for this trade than his actual accomplishments as a King, and that’s unfair. Richmond proved that a superstar could play in Sacramento and could lead the Kings to the playoffs. Yes, he only made the playoffs once, but the Kings front office and a lot of bad luck didn’t help things. What if Bobby Hurley never got in that car crash? What if Lionel Simmons was healthy? What if the Kings stopped drafting physical forwards who had no offensive skills whatsoever (Michael Smith and Michael Stewart)? What if Brian Grant stayed? What if the Kings had a decent coach? Not a lot of players could have handled the adversity Richmond faced in Sacramento, but Richmond not only handled it, but played above it. His fortitude in Sacramento is the reason why stars like Vlade Divac and Webber agreed to come to Sacramento. It’s the reason why Demarcus Cousins stays with the Kings (and hopefully continues to stay). It’s the reason why Richmond is in the Hall of Fame.

If Richmond can make it work in Sacramento, if he can make six All-Star games and make the All-NBA team multiple times as a King, if he can lead them to a playoff series and win despite a meager roster situation, then any other star can with the Sacramento Kings as well. Success just isn’t exclusive to the Celtics, Lakers, Spurs and now Warriors and Cavs.

In some ways, I always felt Richmond got robbed of some legacy by the Kings playing in Sacramento rather than Kansas City. Richmond was a legend at Kansas State, and I could have seen the Kansas City community really honoring Richmond in ways I think Sacramento never could. Richmond would have been a local legend whose name would still be spoken in reverence in the KC community, even during the late 90’s and early 2000’s when the Kings had their great competitive run. Instead of being a secondary star to Webber and Divac and Bibby and Williams, Richmond would have been the King Kansas City fans would have adored the most. Because not only did he have local ties, but he also had the kind of composure that Midwest and Kansas City-citizens gravitate toward. He was tough, he was always composed, and he gave a professional effort night in and night out. Richmond would have changed the perspective of professional basketball in Kansas City if the Kings were still in Sacramento. He was that kind of “Midwest” player.

And furthermore, he is friendly as hell. One of my favorite moments was during the Kings “Draft 3.0” when the amateur stat guys are giving their analysis on potential picks in the 2014 draft and though it’s obvious Richmond is a bit confused on what’s going on, he at the end gives them all encouragement for their hard work. Some NBA players could have just shooed them off (we didn’t see Shareef Abdur Rahiem, who was also in the room, say anything positive). But Richmond seems to be the kind of genuine guy who knows hard work when he sees it and recognizes it when it’s deserved. For amateurs who are trying to break into the industry, that kind of feedback and encouragement is invaluable not to mention motivational.

I didn’t always grow up a Kings fan. And I admit, I probably didn’t give Richmond enough credit during his time in Sacramento. But as I look back, Richmond is probably my favorite King from the past. Not only did he have the most impact statistically out of any player in Sacramento, but he got the Kings to respectability, and got the gears in motion for what would eventually be that string of success after he was traded to Washington.

And let’s remember who he was a player: a shooter, strong off the drive, an excellent free throw shooter and capable of big defensive performances and moments as evidenced in the video below:

Cheers Mitch. Maybe Sacramento is mixed in their appreciation for you, but you got a devout fan here in Kansas City.

It’s Time to Move on from Karl in Sacramento

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At 30-46 this season, and 41-65 in his one-and-a-half season run so far as the head man of the Sacramento Kings, it is obvious that the Kings organization is in dire need of a change as they head into the Golden One Center in Downtown Sacramento next year. Yes, Karl has delivered on the “up-tempo” philosophy that majority shareholder Vivek Ranadive wanted when he fired Michael Malone early last season. The Kings rank No. 1 in the NBA in pace at 100 possessions per 48 minutes, and rank No. 3 in scoring offense at 106.9 ppg. That being said, Karl’s “philosophy” has come at a cost to other categories, as they rank last in scoring defense (109.1 points allowed per game), 27th in effective field goal percentage defense (52.2 percent allowed) and 21st in defensive rating (108.3 points allowed per 100 possessions). Furthermore, though the Kings score at a high rate, it hasn’t come in necessarily the most efficient manner, as the Kings rank 12th in offensive rating (106.1 points scored per 100 possessions) and 27th in turnover percentage (14.2 percent). Yes, the Kings have been entertaining on the court when it comes to generating points, but it hasn’t resulted in much improvement in the Win-Loss column, disappointing considering many Kings fans had hopes that they would compete for a playoff spot this season after big free agent acquisitions such as Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Kosta Koufos.

That being said, it’s not just the numbers and the on-court product that merit Karl being showed the door by Kings management. In fact, if we just based Karl’s tenure on what I listed above, I think most Kings fans would be okay with him coming back for a second full season in 2016-2017, especially considering these numbers are probably the best we have seen from a Kings coach in the Post-Rick Adelman era. Unfortunately, off the court, both in the locker room and the media, Karl has been an unmitigated disaster in his relationships with everyone in the organization, from players to assistant coaches to even front office members. Let’s take a look at the transgressions Karl has committed this year that warrant him being fired by season’s end at the very latest.

  • In the Summer off-season, rumors spread that George Karl called other teams to gauge Cousins’ value and see if teams were interested in negotiating a deal for the All-Star center and Kings franchise player. Karl did not have approval to do this of course from management or ownership or even Cousins himself. Things tipped to the point that Ranadive thought about firing Karl after news broke out about the incident and considered replacing him with John Calipari. Karl stayed however (after Cal expressed no interest in the Kings or any NBA job) and this led to the famous awkward handshake during Summer League between Boogie and Karl that was a forecast of the chaos that was about to occur in 2015-2016.
  • After scrapping their way to a 20-23 start with a brief period in the 8th spot in the Western Conference playoff race, the Kings lost eight of their next nine games before the All-Star break and rumors swirled wildly that the Kings were going to fire and have a new head coach after the All-Star break. However, due to ownership’s financial concerns, the Kings decided to keep Karl and “work with him” until to the end of the season at least. The decision hasn’t seemed to have much of an effect, as the Kings have been 8-15 after the All-Star break.
  • The Kings have displayed a lack of discipline on the court under Karl, as his lack of control as a coach has resulted in the Kings being one of the most T’d up teams in the league. The Kings are seventh in the league in total technical fouls, but the Kings are tied for third in player technicals (34) and are tied for first in coach technicals (8). Of course, there is a debate on how much of an effect this has in the W-L column. For example, the Clippers are in the playoff hunt despite being the most T’d up team in the league, but the Phoenix Suns are fourth in total technical fouls and rank near the bottom of the Western Conference. Furthermore, the Spurs are in last when it comes to technical fouls, but the third-to-last team are the Sixers, who are you know…going through the “process”. So it just goes to show that less or more technical fouls don’t necessarily directly relate to winning. That being said, Karl’s veteran presence was supposed to be an improvement over incumbent Ty Corbin, who was let go because many felt he had no control over the roster. Well…Karl, as evidenced by all the techs, hasn’t improve upon his predecessor, and he has cost a hell of a lot more money to boot.
  •  Karl has repeatedly buried younger players on this Kings roster in favor of veterans, even after the Kings played themselves out of playoff contention. Ben McLemore, Seth Curry (more on this in the next bullet point) and Willy Cauley-Stein have seen wild shifts in playing times, as they often have been bumped out of the rotation in favor of veterans like Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos and Quincy Acy (Acy and Koufos have been understandable, as Acy has earned more minutes due to effort and Koufos has been what Kings fans expected him to be: a defensive oriented player with an mediocre offensive game; Belinelli though has had one of his worst seasons ever though, as evidenced by his 9.5 PER and career-low 38.6 FG percentage). The only reason Curry and Cauley-Stein have been in more (and thus, been more productive) is due to injuries and suspensions by veterans on the team during this home stretch of the season. If Belinelli was healthy, I would bet that Karl would be having Curry (and to an extent McLemore, though he has had injury issues of his own) riding the bench, much to the chagrin of the fans and ownership, and to the detriment of the young King’s future and development.
  • Speaking of Curry, nobody has handled Curry’s rise in the past couple of weeks more poorly or immaturely than Karl. The way he has “backhandedly complimented” the first-year Kings player and brother of league MVP Stephen is either sadistic in an old-school Byron Scott “this is how I develop youngsters” way (which has proven to NOT be successful in any place he has coached, especially LA…which as a Kings fan, I’m not complaining about) or is a defense mechanism to deflect the real issue which is “why did he bury him on the bench for most of the season?” Despite Curry proving to be a valuable asset during this stretch run, replacing the injured Belinelli and McLemore in the starting lineup, Karl has refused to give the youngster much credit. Karl noted publicly to the media that Curry would only be in the league “a couple of more years” and also implied that Curry wouldn’t be seen as such an asset if he had a different last name. This has caused an uprising of sorts, as the “snake” emoji that has been synonymous with Karl’s description from former (and current) players reared its head again with Curry posting it on twitter. And furthermore, Cousins interrupted a Curry interview the day after Karl’s comments to make a jab at Karl’s “career length” comment about Curry. No matter what Karl’s true feelings are about Curry or other Kings players, Karl has showed an amazingly lack of tact when it comes to sharing his opinions with the media, which has caused inner locker room turmoil between players and the coaching staff.
  • And lastly, the coaching staff under Karl has been an utter disaster, as nobody seems to trust anyone on staff. This off-season, the Kings got some notoriety when they decided to hire Nancy Lieberman as an assistant this summer. While she is not the first (the Spurs beat the Kings to the punch by hiring Becky Hammon, who coached the Spurs to a Summer League title), it was a sign of some good progressive movement as an organization after years of stagnation under the Maloofs (mostly due to the fact that THEY DIDNT HAVE ANY MONEY). Unfortunately, the hire seemed to come from above Karl (most likely an ownership decision) and reports not only circulated that Karl exiled Lieberman from the coaching staff due to his suspicions that she was a confidante for Ranadive, but that inner coaching turmoil concerning her and the staff was a reason in the firing of Vance Walberg, who was one of Karl’s “hires” from his days in Denver.

As you can see, this list is comprehensive and ridiculous. Not even the poorest of NBA coaches could have compiled a list this extensive in a one-and-a-half year campaign, but Karl managed to do so. With Karl in charge, the Kings have been a “three ring circus” and he has not really done anything to mitigate or lessen the negative attention that has plagued the Kings all season long. I mean, just go to Deadspin and search “Sacramento Kings” and it’s crazy ridiculous the kind of articles that post up. While it’s nice that Sacramento, which usually ranks in “NBA Media Attention” circles somewhere between Milwaukee and Charlotte, has garnered more attention than usual this season, it would have been nice if the Kings were getting some attention in the media regarding a possible playoff run or Cousins’ turning into one of the better post players in the NBA rather than the tire fire that has been their organizational chemistry.

And what makes this all the worse is despite this utter cluster fuck this organization has been the past season, despite all this turmoil, bickering and lack of management, Karl is still sitting on the bench completely cool and without a care in the world. And that’s the nail in the coffin when it comes to Karl’s future: he doesn’t really give a shit about how this team performs or whether it is set up for long-term success. As long as Karl gets paid, he could care less what happens. I seriously doubt he does anything at practice but show up, have a seat on the bench while the team shoots around or assistants work one-on-one, open up to Aliene Voison’s column in the Sac Bee sports section while downing a medium Peet’s Iced Mocha, and snicker as she argues that Karl is more indispensable to this Kings’ organization than Boogie, a 2-time All-Star and a good candidate to be the starting center on Team USA this Summer.  Karl has not just produced a team that is ill-suited for his style (watch Cousins huff and puff down the court and you can understand why the Kings struggle defensively; the “high-octane” tempo is just not suited for him considering the minutes they need him to play), but foster a “McCarthey-esque” culture of paranoia within the locker room. He has conned ownership and fans into thinking he really cares about the Kings’ future when he doesn’t, just like he did in Denver, Milwaukee and Seattle in his previous head coaching stops. Ask any Nuggets, Bucks or Sonics fan or even former player. In no way shape or form are they clamoring for Karl to lead their teams again. (Well…I guess that really doesn’t count for Seattle since they no longer have a team…so they’ll look back fondly on that team of his simply because that’s all they got…you think they really loved the Bob Hill or Paul Westphal era?)

It’s about time the Sacramento organization and fanbase do the same with Karl. Yes, the organization will have to pay quite a bit to buy him out. Yes, it may result in putting him in a front office organization where he probably will just be sitting in the VIP box of the Golden One Center chewing a cigar and counting his money while he laughs as the Kings rebuild through the crater he left behind. And yes, it sucks that unlike in Seattle, Denver or Milwaukee, the Kings did not get at least one good “playoff” run or season during Karl’s tenure.

But, it’s time to move on. On March 30, the Kings signed Vlade Divac to an extension as GM and VP of Basketball Operations and there are reports that former Pacers executive David Morway will be joining him in making decisions in the front office. Vlade has a chance to rectify all the negative press he got from last off-season by making one simple decision: getting rid of Karl and finding a new head coach for this Kings organization.

Unlike Malone’s firing, there won’t be a lot of resistance or uproar about such a decision. If Vlade wants to justify his extension, relieving Karl of his duties after his disastrous one-and-a-half year stint will be the perfect way to start year two of his front office campaign. The Kings will be better in the long-run and will be able to truly build a roster that can compete long-term in the future, and not exist just to stroke the ego of a coach who is trying to milk wins during his last moments in the sun.

Let’s not be Indiana Jones here (snake reference for those who may not get it) and be afraid of something we know is bad for our organization, but won’t do anything about due to “technicalities” or “finances” or “fear of the unknown”. We’ll be all right post-Karl.

Bucks and Nuggets fans and players can attest to this. They know we’ll be “better off” with him “gone”.

Time for Change? A Look at the Future Value of the Kings’ Roster

What does the future look like for George Karl, Demarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings from here on out?

Wednesday’s 110-105 loss to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, seemed to be a nail in the coffin for most Sacramento Kings fans’ optimism. After beating the Indiana Pacers on the road to go 12-17, many Kings fans envisioned a 3-game stretch against the Blazers and Sixers at home, and the Warriors in nearby Oakland, that would result in at least a 2-1 stretch, and a chance to be 14-18 and perhaps in the lead of the 8th spot by the start of the new year.

Instead, the Kings lost all 3 games (including a loss to the Blazers in which Portland was missing Damion Lilliard), and the results were uninspiring the least, as the Kings lacked cohesion, chemistry and discipline in what should have been a resume-boosting trio of games. Kings fans have already raised their pitchforks and gone on their soapboxes about the Kings’ inconsistent, disappointing and at times un-watchable 12-20 start this year, so I will not go into that debate much further. Rather, I want to take a look at the roster and analyze who is worth keeping and who is not going forward for the rest of this season and on.

Maybe the Kings will stick with the plan and the Kings in the current mold. Maybe change is already on its way (knowing Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, it’s probably the case). But the Kings are at a crossroads right now, and it’s worth looking into and seeing what direction the Kings could take to make this franchise competitive again, especially as they move into the Golden 1 Center next season.

The Inactive/End-of-the-Bench Guys

Duje Dukan, Eric Moreland, Caron Butler, Seth Curry, James Anderson

Dukan is pretty much a non-factor in this discussion, and is pretty much roster-filler for the Kings. Caron Butler, who was supposed to give some veteran leadership on and off the court to this team, has been such a non-factor that he’s been the subject of frequent trade rumors the past week or so. And though James Anderson is a scrappy player and a good story, his presence on this roster seems a bit superfluous. He probably needs to be on a team that would better utilize his calm, no-frills demeanor (I mean the Kings could…but we’re 32 games into the season and Anderson remains an “occasional” player at best).

The only two worth keeping perhaps are Moreland and Curry. Moreland has been a project of the Kings the past couple of seasons, as he has gotten quite familiar with I-80 East considering how many times he’s been called up and demoted to the Kings’ D-League team in Reno. In the D-League, he averaged a double-double, putting up a line of 13.7 ppg and 12.7 rpg in 7 career D-League games. But he hasn’t gotten much clock in the NBA, as he has appeared in only 8 games and has played 26 minutes total. With Cousins taking a majority of the minutes at the 5, George Karl preferring small-ball lineups, Willie Cauley Stein the post player of the future for the Kings (though his injury history isn’t a good sign), and a fractured foot that may cost him the year, it just doesn’t seem feasible to keep Moreland on for much longer. Sometimes, players are late bloomers, as Hassan Whiteside, a former Kings draft pick, has proven. I know the Kings and Kings fans do not want to give away another potential Whiteside player. But with the current makeup of this team, it doesn’t seem worth it to have Moreland in the Kings’ plans for the future, even if he does hold some talent and potential upside.

As for Curry, his future is a bit more debatable. Curry isn’t the playmaker that his brother is and never will be that kind of player. And Curry is more of an off-guard who could thrive in spot-up situations than the kind of shot-creator that brother Steph is. And Curry’s upside seems a bit limited at 25 years old. However, if Karl is going to be the coach of this team going forward, Curry would make a lot of sense for his fast-paced, shooting-heavy system (especially considering this team lacks consistent outside threats). He is young and he could find a valuable (not to mention affordable) role off the bench as shooter off the bench. He currently has a 3-pt FG percentage of 40.9 percent and he shot 46.7 percent on 334 attempts last year in the D-League with Erie, so he certainly has that capability to develop into a role player with the Kings.

The Veteran Bench Crew

Quincy Acy, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, Darren Collison, Omri Casspi

I like Acy personally as a player. He hustles, goes all out and his effort makes up for his lack of natural skill in all kinds of ways. He is basically a younger and slightly more skilled Reggie Evans, whom I also liked a lot from last year’s squad. However, Acy is the typical “struggles to find a place” big guy that the Kings have had a tendency to acquire the past few years (JJ Hickson, Carl Landry, Ryan Hollins, etc.). Acy may be a good team guy, and he probably deserves more clock than he gets, but he is pretty expendable to the Kings at this point, especially once Cauley-Stein gets healthy.

Belinelli and Collison also fall into the same boat, though they are more talented players and could net more in return than Acy. Belinelli was signed to give the Kings a veteran shooter who came from a winning pedigree (he previously played with the Spurs). However, he hasn’t been able to replicate his San Antonio days in Sacramento. And a lot of that makes sense. The Spurs are a team that thrives on ball movement and role-specificity, and the Kings under Karl have been far from that, as he allows his team to be more free-flowing for both good and bad. That is not a good fit for Belinelli, and it shows, as the lack of role definition is causing him to have one of the worst years of his career in Sacramento (his 32.7 percent 3-point percentage is the lowest of his career thus far, and his 10.3 PER is the second-lowest of his career, above only his rookie year where it was 8.2 and he was buried on the bench by Don Nelson, who typically does that to rookies).

As for Collison, he filled in admirably as a starter lasts season (not easy to do considering he was replacing fan favorite Isaiah Thomas) and has given some fire and depth to the Kings’ bench this season. Also, he has been a nice complement on the court to Rondo, as Collison can not only shoot a bit from the outside (to help mask Rondo’s shooting woes and open up the lanes for him to drive and create), but he can also be a good running mate for Rondo on the break, as his speed and playmaking ability (though not as strong as Rondo) give the Kings a viable second point guard who creates a lot of options in the full-court game. According to PER, his tenure with the Kings has been the strongest of Collison’s career (16.8) and he has maintained his ability to generate shots for others (23.9 assist rate) despite the presence of Rondo, while still being efficient with the ball (13.5 turnover rate, which is better than Rondo’s 24.7 rate, and one of the best rates of his career thus far; he’s also doing this despite their usage rates being quite similar, with Rondo’s 19.1 and Collison 20.4).

Collison has been a more positive story in Sacramento while Belinelli has been more of a disappointment. Despite their different skill sets and performances as Kings, they really share what should be the same fate: they ought to be explored for possible deals by the February trade deadline or by the end of the year. Collison has only one more year left on his contract, while Belinelli will have 2 more after this season, and they are both complementary players that can help a playoff team or a team on the cusp solidify a spot in the playoffs. But, they are not much more than role players, and the Kings need to fill in these spots with younger guys who have more upside and are a lot cheaper to boot.

Kosta Koufos may be in the same boat. But I hesitate to throw him in, because his contract his a bit longer and more expensive than Belinelli’s and Collison, and he is a good insurance policy for Cauley-Stein (whose health is worrisome) and Cousins (whatever the Kings should do with him). Unless you could straight up trade him for a young big man, Koufos probably merits a place in the Kings’ future, or at least until they are able to find another projectable young big to fill in the void for Boogie should he be gone (more on this later). And Koufos has proven to excel in Karl’s system (as he did in Denver) and after a down year offensively, he has picked it back (his PER is 15.3), though his defense hasn’t been as dominant as in years past with Memphis (that may have to do more with Memphis’ system and defensive-minded players, something the Kings lack, as per Karl).

And lastly, Casspi deserves to stay with this roster. His best years have come in Sacramento and he has proven to be a valuable fit to the chemistry of this team. He has been one of the few players to really mesh well with Cousins, and he provides good leadership and stability to a squad that lack those two characteristics tremendously. If there is such a thing as “untouchable”, Casspi is it in my mind. He’s only costing the Kings six million combined this year and next year. Keeping him should be a no-brainer for Vlade Divac and Kings management.

The Draft Picks

Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore

Cauley-Stein is an injury risk. He got hurt in college at Kentucky, and his injury this year isn’t promising, especially considering how injuries can derail post players in a hurry (Greg Oden, Joel Embiid, etc.). But, Cauley-Stein showed some promise in the beginning of the year, and he is the kind of defensive player who could help change the culture of the Kings organization. He has a tremendous skill set and athleticism that allows him to guard multiple players on the floor, and his abilities are certainly missed, especially as the Kings’ defensive effectiveness continues to plummet. WCS probably will never be more than an average offensive player (his 13.5 PER this year is a bit discouraging for a big, which PER tends to favor). That being said, I think he could have a Steven Adams kind of impact on this Kings team, and i think that is worth keeping around for in the Kings’ long-term future, or at least through the duration of his contract which could be as early as 2016-2017 or as late as 2018-2019 depending on whether the Kings pick up his option.

McLemore on the other end has really disappointed this season, especially after a promising start last year. Unlike Cauley-Stein, it seems as if McLemore’s future as a King is in doubt. He gets buried behind more veteran players in Karl’s rotation (specifically Belinelli, Casspi and even Collison, who plays more crucial minutes at the 2 with Rondo), and he hasn’t really developed into the kind of scorer scouts imagined he would be when the Kings drafted him No. 7 (and many thought that was a steal, as he was projected to go Top-3). He still shoots the 3-ball well (40 percent this year with 37.8 of his total shots 3-pointers), but the rest of his offensive game still leaves a lot to be desired (hence his 10.0 PER). And defensively, he constantly seems lost and gets taken advantage in switching situations (and he certainly doesn’t get much help from his teammates in this regard either).

I like McLemore more so than most (maybe it’s the Kansas connection for me). But, I don’t see the Kings going forward considering how far his stock with management and fans has dropped in Sacramento. He needs a change of scenery, and with his rookie contract up after next year, McLemore could be a good low-risk pickup for teams looking to add some perimeter scoring to their rosters.

The Veteran Stars

Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo

The outlook on Rondo is not complicated. He needed Sacramento because they were the only team that would take a risk on him after his dysfunctional stint in Dallas, and his injury plagued last couple of years in Boston. Rondo did what Rondo needed to do to get himself back in the discussion as one of the more desirable point guards, and his value hasn’t been higher since his  pre-Brad Stevens Boston days. (And if you think about it, I would take Rondo over Derrick Rose at this point, something unthinkable a couple of years ago.) That being said, I do not think Rondo ever envisioned a long-term future with the Kings and I don’t think management did either, and it’s obvious on the court, as he does seem a bit more aloof and at arms-length with this current squad (I mean, they can’t even help him up correctly, just showing how not on the same page they are). Watching him make incredible dimes and show glimpses of the Rondo that tore up the Eastern Conference during the “Big 3” days of the Celtics has been a joy to watch in Sacramento, but his tenure as a King from Day 1 has always felt like it was just a temporary pleasure rather than a sign of things to come.

Gay on the other hand is a bit of a different story. It seemed the past couple of years that Rudy was starting to mature as a player and buck the bad mojo he got from his days in Memphis and Toronto. The common adage was that those teams “got better” when Gay left town because Rudy was the kind of efficiency-killing scorer that could put up great numbers, but didn’t help his team win on the court. In his first one and a half years in Sacramento, he seemed to be a welcome surprise. In 55 games in 2013-2014, he put up 20.1 ppg and 5.5 rpg and finished with a 19.6 PER and accumulated 4.5 win shares (compared to 0.3 in 18 games with Toronto that year). The next season was even better, as he averaged 21.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.7 apg in 68 games and bettered his PER to 19.7 and win shares to 6.1. For all those Gay-critics out there, Rudy did his part to demonstrate that he was capable of being the “star-like” player in Sacramento that many envisioned him to be back in Memphis and Toronto. Kings fans grew to love him, management rewarded him with an extension through 2016-2017 (with a player’s option in 2017-2018), and he even represented Team USA roster in the FIBA World Cup (though he was an alternate who was chosen after a bazillion others declined).

But this seasons unfortunately has been a regression to the performance that Memphis and Toronto fans warned Kings faithful about. His scoring has dropped to 17.5 ppg, his PER has dipped to 15.9 (barely above average), and his true shooting percentage has fallen 4.1 points from 55.6 percent to 51.5 percent this year. Rudy is no longer dominating in any regard, but seeming to settle as the efficiency-killing scorer who seems moreconcerned about impacting his numbers rather than his team’s standing in the win-loss column. This self-absorbed nature with numbers is not surprising considering the addition of Rondo has seemingly usurped Gay’s role as the No. 2 to Cousin’s alpha dog title. It seems like Gay has struggled to develop his role on this Kings team with Rondo taking his place, and because of that, he is getting less touches (his usage rate is down from 27 percent to 24 percent) and trying to do too much when he does have the ball to prove he still can be a Robin to Cousins’ Batman. Much to his and Kings fans’ chagrin, Rudy instead has gone from Robin to Alfred, only if Alfred was bad at keeping care of the house or had a tendency to spill the beans about Batman’s whereabouts every now and then.

Now the one argument you could make with Rudy is that Karl has gotten him to adjust his offensive shot selection, as he has made more of an effort to take more shots in more “effective” areas. Take a look at Rudy’s shot chart from a year ago:

Screenshot 2016-01-01 at 4.28.52 PM

Now let’s see how Gay has altered his shot selection in a full off-season under Karl:

Screenshot 2016-01-01 at 4.31.52 PM

As you can see, Rudy is relying less on the elbow mid-range shot (a staple shot of his, especially last season) and focusing more on the corner and elbow 3 pointers as well as finishing at the rim more. So, though Rudy has struggle to fit in amidst the addition of Rondo, and his percentages aren’t as good as a year ago, it could be that Rudy is simply growing through this shot adjustment (not a bad thing because him taking better shots will be better in the long run). Maybe he’ll get back to his old numbers and perhaps even surpass them as the season goes along and as he plays more under Karl. That is one argument that makes Rudy worth keeping around in Sacramento.

Despite this shot selection “improvement” though, the main issue with evaluating Rudy is that despite his talent and the flashes of brilliance he showed with the Kings prior to this season, the days seem to be dwindling for him as a King. As long as Rondo is on this team, he won’t be the kind of player that was so effective the past two years for Sacramento. At the same time, even if Rondo goes and Rudy becomes the focal point again (along with Cousins), will this Kings team be a playoff contender or the same kind of squad that hovered in the 28-34 wins range? The answer to that question seems to be closer to “no” than yes, especially considering the Kings were more talented than they were the past couple of years, and still don’t seem much better than a 28-34 wins squad.

And as talented as Rudy is, he doesn’t seem to be the kind of player that can be “the guy” for this Kings team, especially if Cousins leaves. He probably could not handle team’s best defenders, and he wouldn’t have the complementary talent to help ease the pressure off of him and help him succeed offensively (he always succeeded as a secondary threat remember in Sacramento). And thus, the Kings are stuck in this situation where having Rudy really is more damaging than good, but they probably won’t have a lot of options with him. He is a solid role player, maybe a bit better than the typical role player, but he can’t help a team get over the top and he can’t lead a team by himself. And to make matters worse, I cannot imagine Rudy’s stock is high, simply because NBA executives know about this label for Gay, and they know adding him would be a bigger risk than it is worth. Hence, that makes the decision to deal him so difficult because the Kings know they would be severely under-compensated in any transaction involving him.

It’ll be interesting to see what they do with 22. I think the Kings would be better off without him, but it’ll be interesting to see if the Kings will suffice getting the short end of the stick in order to change the scenery in Sacramento or if they will hold onto him knowing that they put a lot of money into him and they want to see their investment through, with the slight hope Rudy can be the Rudy of the past two years and somehow go against history and be more of a “star” player that can help the Kings over the top in year 4 or the tail end of year 3.

I know…that sounds like wishful thinking but don’t underestimate Vivek and this Kings management.

The Franchise Player and the Head Coach

Demarcus Cousins and George Karl

What do the Kings do with Boogie? Is it time to cut ties? Do they try another coach? Do they close their eyes and hope for the best.

Basically we have to come to an agreement to this central fact: Boogie and Karl cannot get along and are poisoning this team whether intentional or not.

So, that means either Cousins goes or Karl goes…and this is where things get dicey.

I believe the Kings should ship Cousins and stay with Karl through the duration of his contract.

/gets ready for eggs being pelted at him.

/gets hit in the head. Says “I’ve been shot!”

/wipes eggs off forehead.

Now the first thought in many Kings’ minds is this: why let Cousins go and stick with Karl? Shouldn’t it be vice versa?

This pains me to say because I love Boogie so much as a basketball fan. He has an incredible skill set. When he is amiable, he is one of the most charming players in the league and maybe in Kings history. To have a guy who can average 20-10 and be one of the most feared post players in the league isn’t an opportunity that is available every draft. I really believe Cousins’ is one of the league’s 10 best players in sheer talent, impact and long term value.

At the same time, there are times when places or situations just are not fits. We saw it in Philadelphia with Barkley and the Sixers. Webber had to go through two organizations (Golden State and Washington) before he really found his niche in Sacramento. Zach Randolph had failed stops in Portland, New York and the Clippers before he really was embraced by Memphis and established ‘Grit ‘n Grind’.

Yes, Cousins is a rare talent. But the Kings need to move on and cut the cord for the sake of their organization as well as for fans’ psyche. This relationship is akin to an unhappy marriage that was in dire need of divorce long ago. And furthermore, Cousins needs a change of scenery for his own sake as a player. The Kings have tried multiple coaches, different GMs and even a new ownership group and it’s the same issues popping up time and time again. The attitude. The lackluster defensive effort. The yelling at teammates. The ejections. The pissed off interviews post game. Cousins may truly develop into a major superstar in the league, capable of carrying his team into contention in the Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone or Hakeem Olajuwon mold, but he needs to be in a winning environment. He needs to be in an environment or around players that will call him out on his shit, and he needs a coach that will utilize his talents properly while still challenging him to grow as a player and a leader. I just cannot foresee that in Sacramento. He’s gotten away with too much, and the organization has let him down too much that he cannot trust them with anything and vice versa.

I do not know where Cousins will end up. However, if he cares about winning and his legacy, he will go to a team where there will be “true” veteran leadership. There needs to be an organization with a clear plan, and a coach that won’t be afraid to stand up to him, but keep things in house. I hope Cousins succeeds because he seems to be a really good person at the core (like I said, this guy has really had no issues off the court as a King). And furthermore, when he is on, he can be one of the most enjoyable throwback players in the league to witness. Just watch the highlights below and you can see what I mean. Hopefully, a new organization will give him more of the good (as evidenced in the highlights) and less of the bad and ugly that unfortunately has tainted his career in Sacramento overall.

And with Cousins days likely (and in my opinion should be) numbered, it only makes sense to see Karl’s true vision for this team. A lot of people say that the Kings should focus more on the half-court and slow it down and be a style that is more akin to the Memphis Grizzlies or 90’s NBA, which means getting rid of Karl. However, that is a style that only made sense with Cousins. Without a true big to build around, and Cauley-Stein more of a defensive-specialist, it makes no sense to fire Karl and try to build that style of play. There is a lot of dysfunction with this Kings team, but Karl has them playing well offensively: they are 3rd in the league in points scored and 19th in offensive rating (and doing this despite underwhelming performances and lack of chemistry). If Karl can really get the players he needs, the kind of quick, up-tempo savvy athletes that made his system work in Seattle, Milwaukee and Denver, then the Kings may be better sooner than people think.

And if people think the idea of Karl rectifying the ship without Cousins is a wishful fantasy remember this: After the 2010-2011 season, the Nuggets parted ways with Carmelo Anthony, whom the Nuggets got a big haul for which included no-name guys and a lot of draft picks and cap-clearing pieces. Two years later, the Nuggets were one of the best teams in basketball, despite not having a “star” player (yes, they lost to the Warriors in the first round, but if you look at the whole picture and the struggles of some key players, not to mention the injury to Danilo Gallinari prior to the playoffs, a lot went bad luck-wise for the Nuggets heading into that series, which Karl or anyone else couldn’t control). In my mind, Karl can do that again, especially considering the Kings seem to be a little tweak here and there from being a playoff team in a year or two. Just look at what the Nuggets did that season below and tell me Kings wouldn’t be excited for that in the new arena:

If Karl has more say in player personnel, and if the Kings can net good hauls for Rondo, Rudy (perhaps) and Boogie (and whoever else I said was expendable above), it is entirely plausible to think that Karl can have the Kings in the playoffs in the 6-8 range as a fast-paced team with a strong core of young talent as well veterans whom mesh well with Karl’s coaching philosophy. Vivek wants the Kings to play up-tempo. The Kings have thrived for the most part in such a system beyond Cousins and Gay (to a degree though on Rudy; let’s wait and see until the second half of the year). Why not give Karl a real shot at making this happen without the baggage that is preventing this from really seeing it through (i.e. Cousins)?

It will be interesting to see how things develop within this organization over the remainder of the season. Will Vivek finally give into what Karl has been harping for behind the scenes (trading Boogie)? Will Vlade finally re-tool this roster into a team that has a good long-term future and not just short-term one? And will Kings fans buy into Karl and let him do what he was hired to do (build a playoff team in the mold of his former Sonics, Bucks and Nuggets teams)?

They will all be questions that most likely will be answered before or by the February trade deadline. It will be fascinating to see what kind of Kings team will be hitting the floor when the Golden 1 Center opens its doors in 2016.

SacTown Secret Service? A Look at the Kings as Characters from “Archer”

Kings fans could argue that the organization is as well run as the ISIS organization in the show “Archer” (and not THAT ISIS organization BTW).

One show I have gotten into as of late is Archer on FX. As a fan of SeaLab 2021 and Frisky Dingo, Archer continues the trend of hilarious, though probably inappropriate comedy that is solely reserved for late night. It ranks up there with South Park, Aqua-Teen Hunger Force and Futurama as late night guilty pleasures that you can’t help but watch when it’s on FX, Comedy Central or Cartoon Network.

Amazingly, Archer, while incredibly well-written (not surprising since SeaLab and Frisky Dingo were also very well-written animated comedies), really benefits from an all-star voice cast. Actors such as Judy Greer (Married, the Village), Chris Parnell (SNL), Aisha Tyler (Talk Soup), H. Jon Benjamin (Bob’s Burgers) and Jessica Walter (Arrested Development) add considerable depth to the show’s hilarious, and multi-layered characters. As good as Adam Reed’s previous animated incarnations were, he never had a voice cast as talented as the one on Archer, and it is easy to understand why Archer has become such a huge hit among Animated Comedy fans.

That being said, I always like to cross pop culture with sports whenever I get the chance. And, as a way to express my thoughts about the Kings off-season, instead of doing a traditional “analysis” or “grading” of what the Kings have done this summer, I have decided to correlate a player or person in the Kings organization with a character from Archer. So, let’s take a look at the Kings going into 2015-2016 as characters from ISIS (and for the record, not the Muslim terrorist organization, but the International Secret Intelligence Service; and yes, I know they do not use the name on that show anymore and have tried to block out any reference to it in past shows).

 

Sterling Archer: Demarcus Cousins

Archer is the star or the show as well as the figurehead of the secret service agency. He is the main agent for both better and worse, and the same is true with Boogie on this Kings roster. As all the missions and operations revolve around the drunken, womanizing, but strangely lovable and skilled secret agent, the Kings organization centers on the multi-talented, but sensitive and hot-tempered All-Star post player. The Kings will do anything to try to please the budding superstar, for both the benefit (bringing in free agents like Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Caron Butler) and detriment (seriously limiting their future options by trading away Nik Stauskas and draft picks in order to clear cap space) of their organization, much like Malory does for Sterling (and she does, because even though she is self-centered, she always manages to overlook all of Sterling’s “unsavory” characteristics and actions).

Sterling has a hot and cold relationship with the other members of ISIS and Cousins proves to go through something similar. One some occasions Cousins seems to be buddy-buddy with many of his teammates. After all, who could forget Omri Casspi fixing Cousins’ headband on the bench and giving him a fist bump in thanks, as demonstrated in the video below:

But, while there are plenty of examples of Cousins being a solid teammate, there are also occasions where the fussy start loses his cool with his fellow Kings. It was a regular sight to see him yelling and sulking at teammates, especially now departed ones like Nik Stauskas and Derrick Williams. Heck, Cousins has a reputation for driving off talent that don’t mesh with his prickly personality. Thomas Robinson and Isaiah Thomas are examples of young King talents who were dealt or let go because they either didn’t mesh with Cousins’ personality (in Thomas’ case, who never seemed to get out of Cousins’ doghouse after the Chris Paul incident) or to get someone who got along with Cousins better (as in Robinson’s case, as he was replaced with Patrick Patterson, who played with Cousins in college at Kentucky). Much like Archer drives people in his office over the edge with his drunken antics and self-centered comments and actions, Cousins has had that kind of effect driving Kings players, coaches (Paul Wetphal, Keith Smart and now George Karl being prime examples) and even management (Paul D’Alessandro seemed to be in Cousins’ doghouse after he fired Mike Malone, a coach that Cousins deeply respect).

Is Cousins’ prickly personality going to cause the same kind of downfalls that flummoxed ISIS? It’s hard to say, but Cousins proves to be entertaining, talented and unpredictable for the Kings and Kings fans, just like Archer is with television audiences.

 

Lana Kane: Rudy Gay

Much like Lana is to Sterling, Rudy is the Robin to Cousins’ Batman, only comically more. You could argue that Rudy might be more valuable to the Kings because of his positional and scoring versatility (Rudy arguably has had the best seasons of his career in Sacramento), but because of his sidekick status, Rudy doesn’t seem to get the appreciation he deserves in the Kings organization or from Kings fans compared to Boogie.

Rudy has always seemed to be groomed to be the franchise player of an organization when he was drafted eighth by the Grizzlies. But after that failed somewhat in Memphis and miserably in Toronto, he has found his niche as the talented second-in-command in Sacramento, much like Lana with ISIS. Of course, that comes with good and bad. Rudy still gets more respect in the organization than most Kings players, much like Lana is more respected than her on-again, off-again, rebound Cyril or Cheryl or Pam. Unfortunately, Rudy always seems to pale in importance in comparison to Boogie. Despite the myriad of mistakes or issues that might flare up with Boogie, they still seem minuscule to whatever mistake Rudy may make on the court in the eyes of Kings fans. Though he has improved greatly in Sacramento, advanced stats people still are hard on Rudy (phrasing!), like Lana is the subject of unnecessary ridicule with Malory, the head woman in charge at ISIS.

On Archer, Lana is a multi-talented field agent who takes her job seriously, but is easily influenced by those around her, though she can be stubborn in her way about it. On the Kings, Rudy is an extremely multi-talented player that can play 2-4 and be a nightmare for opposing players at any of those positions, though he can infuriate Kings fans at times for trying to do “too much”. Rudy also seems to be more of “people” person than Cousins, as demonstrated by his ability to lure Rondo to Sacramento and his “near” luring of Josh Smith as well (though he eventually signed with the Los Angeles Clippers). He is not an enigmatic player like Cousins, as he seems to fit better in the organization with more players and their personalities on this Kings roster (much like Lana with ISIS in comparison to Sterling). That being said, it’s obvious that when it comes to the hierarchy of importance and power in the organization, Rudy takes a clear backseat to the alpha dog Cousins (Like Lana to Sterling).

I know Rudy may not like the comparison to a female character from an animated show, but it’s obvious that Lana is the perfect Archer characterization for him in this Kings organization. Rudy may be more efficient and dependable on the court (like Lana is as a field agent), but Rudy won’t ever capture the impact and heights of Boogie as a King (Sterling with ISIS).

 

Pamela “Pam” Poovey: Darren Collison

Pam Poovey is an odd cat on Archer. She seems to be the more competent of the office pair (her and Cheryl) and she has her stuff together in comparison to the other members of ISIS. As the ISIS agents and staff are prone to constant ups and downs, Pam seems to be the most stable of the bunch. That being said, though she is stable, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s spectacular or great in what she does. But she’s comfortable with who she is and offers a lot of hidden talents (bare knuckle fighting for one) though she can be the object of ridicule among many in the organization.

Darren Collison may not be an overweight, gossipy, white human resources director for a secret service organization, but he shares many of the same traits as Pam. He is vastly underrated and has performed much better than expectations in Sacramento. He is adept at pushing the tempo and generating offense in transition, and he has the size and athleticism to make things difficult for most point guards in the league. Amazingly, Collison has put up the same exact true shooting percentage the past three seasons (57.5 percent) for 3 different teams (Clippers, Mavericks, and Kings) and he has averaged a PER at least over 16 the past 3 season (including 17.5 last year). Collison is not a Top-10 point guard in the league, but last year he proved that he could be a serviceable point and is a key cog going forward for this organization, even if his signing was ridiculed at the time (because he placed fan favorite Isaiah Thomas).

But despite his value and underrated status, Collison, much like Pam, doesn’t get the love he deserves. Like people in ISIS make fun of her weight, basketball circles categorize Collison as a career backup (as evidenced by the Kings signing Rondo this year). Pam is known for crossing multiple boundaries with her co-workers with her socially awkward comments leaving her with a “less than stellar” reputation at the office. Collison suffers from a similar reputation, as he is more known for not matching Thomas’ personality or scoring ability, and for being routinely schooled in the playoffs by much better point guards (such as getting overshadowed and schooled by Stephen Curry in the 2014 first round).

No matter what he does, Collison can’t seem to escape that label of being “overrated”, “replaceable” or “mediocre” even though he is more valuable to the Kings than most think. The same remains true for Pam, as her value and character doesn’t stand out in comparison to Sterling or Lana or Malory, but it’s safe to say that she is a valuable contributor to ISIS and character to the Archer universe.

 

Cyril Figgis: Ben McLemore

 

Cyril is clearly the second-class citizen among field agents at ISIS. He struggles to find a fit in the organization, even though he tries his hand at dating Lana (disastrously, mind you) and taking certain roles during missions (also quite ineffectively). However, Cyril can surprise at times. Though he looks like an accountant, Cyril somehow is able  to find success (though short term success mind you) with women. Of course, this has had a destructive quality with his relationship with Lana, but while Cyril certainly could use more points in the “macho” category (especially in comparison to Archer), he is no slouch with the ladies (or at least finding fleeting relationships).

Ben McLemore has been kind of a punch-line since coming to Sacramento. He is obviously talented, but he just hasn’t put it together in his two years in Sacramento, and he always seems to be at the discussion of trade talks or being replaced. He offers big time athleticism and shooting potential, but nothing about his game is consistent, and like Cyril with ISIS, this has given him an “expendable” label with the Kings. Two years ago during the Dunk Contest, McLemore and Shaq teamed up to do a comical “King themed” act before and after his dunk, only for McLemore to be spectacularly outdone by John Wall’s dunk (it was a perfect duplication of what Sterling does to Cyril when Cyril tries to “outdo” Sterling in anything). Last year, the Kings looked to be on their way of replacing McLemore with the drafting of Nik Stauskas, but lackluster play from Stauskas and a massive cap-space-clearing trade has left Stauskas in Philly, and McLemore still remains. Much like when Lana or ISIS may think they have a better replacement for Cyril but they end up with him in the end, the Kings have done the same with McLemore: he’s still wearing a Kings uniform, though they aren’t necessarily over-thrilled with him it seems at times.

Cyril may be a harsh characterization of McLemore, who I think really progressed in his second year and is starting to find confidence in his shots, something he didn’t have his rookie year. But, we are in the “Archer” universe, and unfortunately, McLemore and Cyrical just share too many similarities.

 

Cheryl Tunt: Omri Casspi

Cheryl doesn’t seem to be a fit in the ISIS organization. She’s a ditz, she comes from a wealthy family, she has all kinds of weird issues (especially with her romantic partners) and she has hot-and-cold issues with the members in her organization (especially the main trio of agents: Archer, Lana and Cyril). Surprisingly, Cheryl is a fit with her partner in-crime Pam, and seems to not irritate too much the head of the organization, Malory, who seems to be grossly irritated by everyone who works for her.

Omri Casspi fulfills the same role with the Kings. He obviously has somewhat of a decent relationship with Cousins. (I mean, how many people would Cousins allow to touch his headband, let alone head on the bench?) But, it was obvious at times that he was also the subject of Cousins’ up and down streaks on the court if he made a mistake or was in the way of an irate Cousins heading toward the bench. Watch as Cousins takes out his anger on a chair right next Casspi, and of course, Casspi picks it up. All that is missing would be a “Cheryl-esque” ditzy comment while picking it up.

Much like Cheryl, Casspi is more talented than people think, as he has become much better scoring at the rim this second time in Sacramento (he used to be primarily a 3-point specialist). That being said, his talent has only seemed to be realized in the Sacramento organization, and that’s a big reason why he re-signed with the Kings this off-season. But, like Cheryl with ISIS, Casspi is appreciated in Sacramento and he seems to be a key cog and fan favorite in Sacramento going forward, much like Cheryl has become a favorite character of “Archer” fans.

 

Raymond Q. Gillette: Andre Miller

Ray, in all his flamboyance, proves to be one of the more level-headed members of ISIS. Much like his appearance and impact is more limited on the show, the same proves to be true with Miller, who was acquired late in the season by the Kings. Ray doesn’t get the most respect from people in the organization, and he can be the object of ridicule at times, but it is obvious that he knows what he is doing and he had confidence in what he does for the organization (though it often goes unrealized thanks to the main agents in charge, i.e. Archer and Lana).

Miller is a throwback vet who obviously had a good effect on the Kings younger players, which were yearning for leadership last year after shuffling through some many campaigns with a “Captian-less” ship. Though Miller’s game is not pretty, and can be the scoff of many fans and basketball analysts for his “old man” skills, he is effective and holds a vital role on the Kings now and hopefully going forward, should the Kings re-sign him. Of course, much like Ray’s role on the show, it’ll be interesting to see how big a part he will have on the Kings in the future, should he have a role at all.

Whatever happens, it will probably be common to see Miller pinching his nose and sighing in frustration with the Kings next year, similar to what Ray does when Archer or Lana or Cyril (or even Malory) refuse to take his advice. Let’s just hope that Miller is doing that as a King.

 

Dr. Algenorp Krieger: Vlade Divac

Dr. Krieger is the mad genius of the ISIS research department. Vlade is the mad genius of the Sacramento Kings department. Krieger often creates new kinds of technology that serve no immediate or relevant purpose to the agents or organization. Vlade has engaged in some transactions (the Sixers trade; the Luc-Richard Mbah-Moute signing) that don’t seem to really fit the purpose of what the Kings are trying to do (become a winning franchise again for a long period of time). Krieger when he gets caught seems to blubber and show little idea of what he is doing. Many media experts and fellow GMs think Vlade is blubbering his way through his first year in charge of Kings basketball operations without a concrete plan or idea of what he wants to do beyond this year. Krieger has a beard. Vlade has a beard.

The similarities are just way too uncanny. Of course, I hope Vlade isn’t as ineffective as Krieger. I think Vlade does have a plan, but I think he may be trying to rush the Kings back to success a little bit too quickly, as evidenced by the Sixers trade, which seemed to be a sign of playing his hand too early. (Seriously, how many other teams were really considering Rondo at the end of the day?) Whether it was a good call or not, only a couple of years will tell if Vlade pulled a smart move as head of operations for the Kings or simply demonstrated a “Krieger” (i.e. crazy and ineffective).

Let’s just hope that Vlade stays away from the risque, holographic Anime and cocaine, unlike Krieger.

 

Woodhouse: David Stockton

David Stockton was a nice little story for Gonzaga and has been a nice story going forward for the Kings. Despite going undrafted, Stockton fit well in Reno’s “Grinnell-style” system, and eventually earned himself a call up to the league a couple of times late last year.

But let’s face facts: Stockton has no relevant purpose on this team other than being a warm body and to give people high fives. The same proves to be true for Woodhouse, who is Archer’s servant, and is mainly there to help Archer accomplish whatever crazy, perverse idea he has going on in his drunken state back at his apartment. In fact, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Cousins treated Stockton like Archer treats Woodhouse. After all, that kind of treatment would be expected with a star player and an end of the bench rookie who probably won’t be spending that much time with the organization or the league in general.

I can only hope that Cousins doesn’t make Stockton eat a bowl of spider webs if Stockton turns the ball over in the preseason.

 

Malory Archer: Vivek Ranadive

This is the last, and the easiest comparison of the list (other than Cousins to Archer). Malory Archer runs ISIS as her own personal vanity project, looking to utilize the organization and her agents for her own personal wealth, gain and status. Vivek seems to be using the Kings as a vanity project for himself and his own goals to change basketball and how a franchise is run. Unfortunately for the both of them, this hasn’t always worked out to their success. Malory’s many missions have failed due to her own ego and self-centered nature getting in the way. Vivek’s quest to create a “NBA 3.0” has often fell flat and the subject of ridicule, as evidenced by the failed tenure of Pete D’Alessandro and Chris Mullin, the firing of Michael Malone, and his inability to mend the relationship between George Karl and Cousins this off-season.

Much like Malory, Vivek is often confusing where he places blame concerning the multitude of issues running amok in the Kings organization. Often times, it looked like he was putting the responsibility on the previous leaders in the front office (i.e. Pete and Chris), only for it to come out that they weren’t all that responsible at all. Also, while Vivek tries to put the right people in charge, it also seems at times that he loses control of the key people in his organization, leading to conflict and a tense working environment when their personalities get out of control (i.e. Karl and Cousins). Malory suffers from the same issue, as her son Archer and Lana often take to their own personal issues in the midst of everyone, and instead of diffusing it, Malory seems to let it happen to the amusement of herself. That is not saying Vivek is amused by this current situation, but it makes you wonder why he doesn’t step in more when the issues are minor and just developing (rather than later and they are already major problems).

I don’t think Vivek is as heinous or as a selfish as Malory Archer. I really think he wants the Kings organization to be good and he really wants this team to be good for the city of Sacramento. But some of his decisions make one wonder if he has had a bit too much to drink in the office, much like Malory.

NBA Hipster Profile: Jason Williams (i.e. “White Chocolate”)

Jason Williams (center) was not just known for his spectacular play, but also carrying a NBA Hipster legacy

NBA Hipster Profile is a part of Flannel, PBR and PER where I look at NBA players both past and current who represent the “Hipster” players of their generation or time. This can be in terms of style, the way they played, their attitude with media, management, players, etc. Hopefully this becomes a year-around series that also delves into the D-League and College game as well.

Jason Williams was probably one of the most important players during the Rick Adelman era in Sacramento. I am not saying he was the best player or most crucial to their success. In fact, his successor, Mike Bibby, experienced much more success as the point guard of the Kings, especially in the postseason (Bibby was a catalyst in the 2002 playoffs, especially against the Los Angeles Lakers, where he almost pushed the Kings to the NBA Finals). But even though Bibby was probably the better overall point guard and had a more lasting impact on the Kings in terms of wins and losses, nobody jump started the new era of the Kings more than Williams. Through his brash, highlight-making, and unapologetic style of play, Williams helped the Kings jump onto the national radar and began the process of what would be their incredible run in the early 2000’s. But more importantly, he inspired a generation of point guards and guard play that was incredibly against the grain and well…hipster.

Why was Jason Williams hipster, even if such a term did not really exist for him during his playing career? Let’s look at a few reasons why.

Reason #1: His style of play was incredibly different from what was expected from NBA point guards

Williams in all sense of the word was a showman, especially when it came to his passing and ballhandling. Regularly, Williams was a regular feature on Top-10 lists on Sportscenter and his style of play not only captivated fans, but also inspired a generation of “streetball” players that eventually morphed into a greater interest and participation into the “And1 MixTape Tour” movement.  You wouldn’t think a white guy from West Virginia, who played college basketball in a Football-Mad conference (He played at Florida and in the SEC) would have such a profound impact on the game of basketball not just in the NBA, but at the amateur level with And1. But, I have a hard time seeing And1 stars such as “The Professor“, for example, reaching the kind of legendary And1 status without the influence and success of Williams in the NBA his first 3 years in the league.

And if you don’t believe me, watch some of the highlights below. Watch as Williams make incredible crossovers (he crosses up Bibby quite a bit when Bibby was a Grizzly; ironic considering they were traded for each other) and passes with style, swagger and ease. Witness as his expressions pump up the Sacramento fans and teammates. (Heck some of his plays made Tariq Abdul Wahad look good…no simple task mind you!) Tell me that was not fun to watch. You’re either a curmudgeon or a middle school basketball coach from Southern Indiana if you cannot find some kind of joy or entertainment in Williams’ highlights.

Without a doubt, his streetball style changed what was expected going forward from NBA point guards. Point guards were expected to be Bobby Hurley types: leaders, intense competitors and quarterbacks on the floor who were known to be composed and consistent in order to leader to efficiency on the floor and boredom in the personality area. As a Gonzaga alum, I love John Stockton. He was the prototype of what was expected from a NBA point guard: no flash, play within the offense, execute regularly to the point where it almost becomes routine. A lot of NBA point guards have followed that mold. You could argue current NBA point guards such as Chris Paul and Tony Parker have found success following the mold Stockton set before them (and Paul’s excitement comes from his arguing with the refs and flopping; when the ball is in play, he is consistent and deliberate in his play and it is beautiful to watch).

Williams on the other hand? Everything was flashy. The behind the back passes. The crossover step backs. The baseball bounce passes from beyond half court. Everything Williams did was high risk on the floor, the antithesis of what a good point guard did. A good point guard, in any coaches’ mind, is to run the offense while minimizing risk. Williams wanted to maximize the risk. He would go faster in a car to see if he could jump a gorge rather than brake and stop before it like any sane, normal driver would. This kind of quality endeared a lot of Kings and NBA fans to Williams, especially the younger generation as well as those who enjoyed the playful spirit of street-style, playground basketball. Williams was anti-expected, anti-establishment when it came to the foundation of what constituted a “good” point guard in the league and that was a “hipster” quality in him that becomes more and more appreciated as the years pass, especially as the game gears more toward his style that he helped push and pioneer when he entered the league.

Reason #2: Williams bucked the expectation and style of the “white” player in the NBA.

Stockton wasn’t just the quintessential “NBA” point guard. He was also the prototype image for every “white” player in the league. Stockton was clean-cut, wore short shorts, did ho-hum interviews and did borderline “dirty” things on the court that was usually characterized as “scrappy” or “intelligent” by the mass media. Bobby Hurley followed that mold. So did Greg Ostertag and Bryant Reeves and Christian Laettner. They were not just basketball players, but they also could have served as presidents of their chapters Young Democrats or Young Republicans in college.

Williams could have followed that mold. When he initially came into the league, he had a full-head of hair and a boyish look that made him resemble more like a Boy Band member than the point guard of a NBA squad. But, as he garnered more minutes and started to display his “streetball” style of playing that made him such a hit with NBA and Kings fans, it became obvious that Williams was going to break that “white point guard” mold that had become expected from media and general basketball fans.

By the second year, Williams ditched the Boy Band haircut and went with a shaved head and went with a buzz cut for most of his career beyond Sacramento (he also played for the Grizzlies, Magic and Heat). He started to garner more tattoos each year, as he only had a couple as a rookie but by his later years in the league his arms were covered almost as much as Chris “Bridman” Andersen’s. There was an urban swagger to Williams and unapologetic way he carried himself not just on the court, but off it as well. Williams, from West Virginia (he played high school sports famously with Randy Moss), didn’t care if the traditional media or basketball fans didn’t approve of his style. He didn’t care if people claimed he was trying to be something he wasn’t (which proved to be untrue; Belle, West Virginia is like any coal-mining West Virginia town and though it was primarily white, the town had its hardships like any major town from that tri-state area (Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) suffering both socially and economically after the fallout from many mines and plants closing; Williams never claimed he was from Compton or Baltimore or somewhere likewise). And his uncompromising way of carrying himself endeared Williams to many young basketball fans and players who wanted to rebel against the status quo regardless of race or background (I know as a half-white, half-Asian american, I secretly admired Williams both on and off the court growing up).

In fact, if you don’t remember, check out this segment from ESPN’s “The Life” which profiled Williams’ first year in Memphis. He is candid, honest, blunt, and incredibly intense both on and off the court. If you have some time, watch the 20-minute clip. I find it hard to see a lot of point guards in general both then and now displaying the kind of honesty that Williams displayed in this video segment.

Reason #3: His style still influences guards today

In his day, Williams was the leader of the “rebel” cause at point. He didn’t look to make the “sure” play, but the spectacular one. He was a gunner when he wasn’t making the flashy pass, as he posted a career 49.1 percent 3-point attempt rate (the percentage of his shots that came from beyond the arc), something that wasn’t typically associated with great point guards. Point guards, when they weren’t passing the ball or making the assist, were supposed to get to the hoop on the pick and roll. And while Williams was certainly capable of that, his affinity for the 3-point shot drove him a little bit more.

For many NBA fans, Williams probably seemed to be the last of his kind, the product of the “Streetball” “And1 Mixtape” movement that died out in the late 2000’s. But since the turn of the decade, we are starting to see more and more point guards not just dominate the ball with flashy move and energy, but the 3-point shot as well. The biggest example is Stephen Curry who displays the same kind of highlight producing skills that Williams showcased in the early to mid-2000’s. Look at the highlights of Curry below and see how similar Curry and Williams’ games are similar nearly a decade later.

Is that saying Curry is the modern-day Williams? No. Curry was a whole lot more efficient with the ball and a much better shooter. (After all, Williams never won a MVP award). But, Williams broke the mold that a point guard could show flash and be successful. He displayed that a point guard could be a 3-point shooter and still be labeled and successful running the point. Maybe Stephen Curry exists without Jason Williams. But to say Williams game didn’t have an influence on guards like Curry, whether intentional or not, is dubious to think.

Final Thoughts on “White Chocolate”

Williams was a unique character both on and off the court. Even though he came off as a showboat on the court, he was incredibly reserved and easily agitated off of it. He was incredibly blunt and not just with the media, but opposing fans, as it even got him into trouble quite often (I remember his incident where he got in an intense heckling match with Golden State fans where Williams crossed the line with his comments). For a while, Williams was characterized as a “malcontent” and a “cancer”, but in reality, he just happened to by a hyper-competitive player who wanted to win, who wanted to play the game the only way he could (with panache and style) and wanted to stick close to his roots despite the misconception and sometimes, criticism (Williams was a West-Virginia proud guy; for those from Kansas City, he was like someone from Wyandotte County, which I got a lot of love for since I used to live there for a couple of years and found it hard to leave).

In short, Williams was hipster before the term was popular or even existed. The only thing Williams cared about was the game. He didn’t care about making movies. He didn’t care that he punted a lot of opportunities to market himself beyond the court more because of his style and the way he carried himself. As I said before, Williams could have probably been a media and marketing darling if he bought into the “98 Degrees” look he sort of sported his rookie year. But Williams passed off on that, because he knew that wouldn’t be who he was at the core, and “White Chocolate” can only be him at the end of the day.

There probably won’t be a hall of fame spot for Williams. And frankly, I don’t think Williams cares nor does he think about it, and that not only makes him a retro NBA Hipster, but so endearing as well. It is refreshing to see, in a day where many athletes are so self-conscious about their image and legacy, that he willingly stays out of it and doesn’t give a crap. Instead, his legacy is displayed in the current crop of budding NBA point guards endearing themselves to new waves of fans (like Curry) and his son, who is already gaining notoriety as “White Chocolate Jr.

It is exciting to think that another Williams can make it in the league. It gives hope to future generations that they can enjoy basketball like we younger fans did in the early to mid-2000’s when Williams was out there tearing up and “Hipstering” up the league.

Worth the Risk on Rajon? Weighing Rondo and the Kings

Though Rondo struggled in Dallas, he could be a good fit at point for the Kings.

Though Rondo struggled in Dallas, he could be a good fit at point for the Kings.

It’s been a pretty busy hot-stove season for the Sacramento Kings. The biggest rumors and buzz has surrounded on Demarcus Cousins’ future in Sacramento. Some say he’s going to the Lakers. Some say George Karl tried to trade him. Some say that they are going to fire Karl and hire John Calipari from Kentucky. The drama is such a whirlwind, it’s really hard to determine what’s true and what’s worth reading and listening to. And in all honesty, the news with Cousins has been hammered to death in both the media and Twitter-sphere, so I am not going to really go into great detail on this issue.

(But for those who are interested, I think Cousins needs to remain in Sacramento. I understand they would like a ridiculous deal, and I know Karl has found success ditching the superstar for a tremendous package and flexibility in return (i.e. Denver when they traded Melo) but Cousins is such a rare talent in today’s NBA game. There just aren’t that many quality big men with the skills, talent and production of Cousins. Furthermore, Cousins genuinely seems to like being in Sacramento, and not only is that rare, it should also be a sign that the Kings should be doing whatever they can to please and complement their superstar down the road. If Cousins was open about his unhappiness being in Sacramento (ala Kevin Love, Melo, etc.), then I would be open to it, but since that is not the case, Boogie needs to stay.)

Instead, I want to look at some of the possibilities for the Kings with the Free Agency period about to begin. The biggest story in my mind is the possibility of Rajon Rondo coming to Sacramento and inheriting the Kings’ point guard position from Darren Collison, who’s coming off a solid, though injury-shortened season. Rudy Gay, who is friends with Rondo, seems to be the most outspoken supporter of bringing Rondo to Sacramento, per this tweet below from Marc Stein:

The chatter is interesting for a variety of reasons. First off, the star has really dimmed the past couple of seasons on Rondo. Once ranked at Top-5 point guard in the league 3-4 years ago, injury and lackluster play have made Rondo drop out of that discussion considerably (you could argue he’s not even a Top-15 PG right now). That was amplified last season after he was traded to Dallas in a stint that could be rightfully called an unmitigated disaster. Though his true shooting percentage (42.2 to 46 percent) and points per 36 minutes improved (9.4 to 11.6) in his move from Boston to Dallas, his assist rate fell dramatically (49.3 to 34 percent) and consequently so did his PER (15.4 to 12.4), offensive rating (95 to 94) and offensive win shares (he totaled minus-0.7 offensive win shares last year with Boston and Dallas).

But while the numbers show Rondo’s decline, it was his clash with Rick Carlisle that ultimately led to his undoing. Rondo struggled to co-exist with the Mavs’ head man, so much so that Rondo only played 2 playoff games and 37 total minutes. Even before the playoffs were over, Carlisle was adamant in Rondo’s future being over in Dallas. What was supposed to push the Mavs over the edge in the first round, ended up backfiring, as the Mavs with Rondo faded down the stretch, and didn’t stand much of a chance against the Rockets in the first round (they lost in 5 games).

As a Kings fan, my initial reaction to Rondo was “Do we really need a guy with issues considering how touch the situation is now currently?” But, as I thought about it, I basically came up with three reasons why Rondo wouldn’t be a bad idea in Sacramento next season.

 

Reason #1: He will be an affordable Free Agent solution considering his position.

Darren Collison did a fine job last season at point guard. However, the Kings second unit struggled immensely, and though Collison showed he could be a serviceable starting point guard, he probably would be better suited as a backup point who can keep the Kings competitive when their starters are off the floor. Collison just doesn’t really match up at a position that is incredibly deep right now, especially in the Western Conference. With that being said, the Kings need an upgrade at point, and their options right now look thin in free agency, as only Goran Dragic and Rondo seem like the only worthy unrestricted free agency options.

Dragic seems pretty unattainable. He’s going to command a massive payday, and it appears that Sacramento doesn’t seem the kind of destination for a player of Dragic’s caliber. As for Rondo, his value is considerably down right now, and it is totally plausible to see Sacramento acquire him much cheaper than initially expected a year ago, when everyone felt that Rondo was going to be the hot unrestricted free agent of this class. In fact, many people are thinking Rondo could sign a short 1-2 year deal that could be pretty reasonable for Sacramento, not to mention hold a lot of benefits. If Rondo does well, and the Kings still are out of contention, he could hold some trade value which can help stock the assets on the Kings roster. If he doesn’t do well, it would be easy to part with Rondo since he is on a limited deal. And if Rondo does well and helps push the Kings in contention? Well, then we can re-sign him to a bigger deal, especially in a couple of years when the cap is expected to rise.

Either way, Dragic or Rondo seem like the only plausible free agent options worth the starting point position and Rondo seems more realistic and affordable than Dragic.

 

Reason #2: He could be a good fit in George Karl’s system

Rondo is a pass-first point guard who can push the pace and set up his teammates. He’s not a good shooter (career 50.3 true shooting percentage), but he never really has been asked or wanted to be. Rondo is all about generating assists and points for his teammates and he’s carved out an All-Star career doing so (career 41.1 assist rate). Also, Rondo has demonstrated being a plus on defense, though injuries have set him back in that category the past couple of years.

So how would this fit with Karl and his system? Pretty well actually. In many ways, Rondo fits with the Kings much like Gary Payton fit with the Sonics under Karl. While Rondo is not the shooter that Payton was, he can get to the basket well like Payton and he generates offense for his teammates much like Payton did during the Sonics hey day. Also, Rondo is the kind of defender at the point that gives Karl a lot of options on the defensive end. Furthermore, Karl also found success with Andre Miller at the point in Denver and Sacramento, who was a lackluster outside shooter, but excellent at getting to the rim and creating offense (though Miller was more prone to score than Rondo).

Rondo may not fit for a lot of teams, especially with 3-pt shooting in demand from guards across the NBA (i.e. the Golden State model). However, Karl has a positive history with point guards with similar skill sets to Rondo, and that could be a key factor that could sway Rondo to choose Sacramento as his destination next season.

 

Reason #3: He will fit well with this roster and their personalities

Rondo is a touchy personality. He struggled to co-exist with the younger Celtics last season, and he didn’t do well with the established status-quo in Dallas either. Rondo also has had legendary spats with players in the past (one of the reasons he has not been on the USA National team in the past is due to his feud with Derrick Rose). Some people refer to Rondo as a malcontent, even though he doesn’t typically fit the bill of one (i.e. he’s not getting ejected from games, yelling at reporters or teammates, etc.).

But Rondo has seemed to get along with talented teammates. While there was some adjustment, he eventually fit in with the Big 3 in Boston and helped them be a title contender for about half a decade. If Rondo is on a winning team and with players who can score and finish the plays he creates, he can seem to co-exist just fine. Rondo and Gay already are friends, so that doesn’t seem to be an issue. The big question now is simply this: will he get along with Cousins?

Cousins can get on his teammates and already there are a lot of stories about him that demonstrate he hasn’t necessarily been the best influence on some of the younger players (the biggest example being Nik Stauskas, who just seems petrified of him on and off the court). But Cousins is competitive and recognizes and respect players that can help him win. Furthermore, Cousins had no issues with any players on the Team USA roster during last year’s FIBA World Cup in Madrid, which further goes to demonstrate that Cousins and Rondo would co-exist as long as Rondo brings his effective playmaking to Sacramento.

He’s friends with Rudy, will satisfy Boogie’s desire to win, and seems to also have the kind of eclectic personality that could mesh with rookie Willie Cauley-Stein. I don’t really foresee a lot of the personality issues that Rondo has in Boston and Dallas in Sacramento if the Kings sign him.

 

Overall Analysis on Rondo

It’s always tough to decipher what offers will be thrown at players in free agency. But, to the Kings’ benefit, Rondo’s stock is low. And thus, he could be an affordable upgrade at the point that won’t require the Kings to surrender any of their assets (unlike Eric Bledsoe, whom the Kings are interested in, but will most likely require the surrendering of a lot of Kings assets, be it picks or players). Rondo seems like he would fit in the kind of style, offensively and defensively, that George Karl will want to play, and I don’t see his personality conflicting with anybody on the Kings roster (even Boogie). If the option is affordable, and short-term, I would not be averse to seeing Vlade Divac and Kings management pulling the trigger on making Rondo a Sacramento King in 2015-2016.

Kings Retro Draft Journal: The Short, but Lasting Negative Legacy of Tyreke Evans

Despite winning Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans failed to live up to expectations in Sacramento

Despite winning Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans failed to live up to expectations in Sacramento

With the Draft coming up on Thursday, I felt it was time to look at some of the Kings’ previous draft classes. In this post, I am going to focus on the 2009 draft and specifically Tyreke Evans, the Kings’ first draft pick (No. 4 overall) out of Memphis. Though Evans was a highly heralded prospect out of college (and even high school), he is best remembered for being drafted over All-Star players Demar Derozan, Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday (who he is teammates with ironically) and famously Stephen Curry (yes…All-Star, Regular Season MVP, NBA Champion and father of cute kid Riley Stephen Curry). And yet, Evans has been productive in his NBA career (he ranks 11th in Win Shares in a loaded draft class that also includes Blake Griffin, James Harden and Ty Lawson just to name a few) despite injuries, and he did win the 2009-2010 Rookie of the Year award, which gave a lot of Kings hope in his future initially. So he hasn’t heard total bust status in the Greg Oden or Adam Morrison mold, but it’s obvious that the Kings got hosed in what was a legendary draft class.

Let’s take a look at the brief, but lasting legacy Evans left with the Kings and if there is anything the Kings or Kings fans can learn from Evans’ four years in Sacramento.

The Theus-Natt Disaster, Looking to Rebuild and Settling for Fourth

The 2008-2009 season, you could argue with good and valid reason, was the worst in the history of the franchise. After a 6-18 start, the Kings fired second-year head coach “Hangtime” Reggie Theus and assistant Kenny Natt took over in the interim to disastrous results. Under Natt, the team finished 11-47 and 17-65 overall, the worst record in the NBA that year. The Theus-Natt-led Kings that season were catastrophic on all kinds of levels and let’s compile a list of what they were putrid at:

  • They ranked dead last in SRS (Simple Rating System) at negative-8.60.
  • They were awful defensively, as they rated dead last in defensive rating, allowing 114.7 points per 100 possessions, and were second to last in points allowed per game, allowing 109.3 ppg.
  • Kings fans noticed this too, as they ranked second-to-last in attendance. While you could contribute the empty seats mostly to a lousy team with no recognizable stars, this season was also the beginning of the Maloofs losing money and looking to sell and possibly move the Kings.

The Kings had a couple of pieces to build around. Rookie Jason Thompson had a decent, though unspectacular rookie campaign, helping satisfy fans who thought the product out of Ryder was an over-draft at No. 12. (For a while former GM Geoff Petrie was really good at drafting unheralded guys and getting the most out of them). Thompson averaged 11.1 ppg and 7.4 rpg and put up a 49.7 percent field goal percentage while average 28.1 MPG. Furthermore, Thompson was the only King to appear in all 82 games that season. Second-year center Spencer Hawes complemented Thompson in the low block, and greatly improved from a lackluster rookie campaign. In his second year, Hawes appeared in 77 games and started 51 and put up a similar stat-line to Thompson, averaging 29.3 MPG (over double his 13.1 MPG average his rookie year ) as well as 11.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.9 apg and 1.2 bpg. With his balance skill set and surprising passing ability for a big, Hawes reminded many Kings fans of Vlade Divac and Chris Webber, who also were adept passing big men during the Adelman-era Kings.

Beyond Thompson and Hawes though, things looked rather bleak roster-wise. The Kings the past couple of years tried to toe-the-line in NBA no-man’s land, trying to still be competitive as a playoff team even though they didn’t have the firepower to get past the first round. Theus kept the team respectable in his initial season as coach, helping the Kings go 38-44 after the 1 year disaster of Eric Musselman when the Kings went 33-49 after making the playoffs the year previously. But it was obvious that the Kings needed to go a different direction after 3 seasons with Ron Artest (i.e. Metta World Peace) and playing in that 8-12 seed level. The Kings traded Artest to the Rockets before the season, and as the team floundered, they also traded John Salmons and Brad Miller (a long-time Kings standout) for practically peanuts (i.e. Drew Gooden, Andres Nocioni, Michael Ruffin and Cedric Simmons). Martin was heralded as the “star” of the group and he put up gaudy numbers (24.1 ppg and team-leading 19.1 PER and 4.7 win shares), but he only played in 51 games, and his frail frame and lack of defensive value made Kings circles wonder if he really was the “man” going forward.

Due to a mixture of incompetency and subtle tanking, the Kings earned the worst record and thus, the most ping-pong balls in the lottery. It was obvious that Blake Griffin was going to go first, and even though the Kings were already set with Thompson and Hawes in the post, Griffin was such a special player that they could make room for him amidst their crowded front court. However, as typical with the Kings, luck bounced them out of the Top-3 (LAC, Memphis and OKC earned the top-3 picks), and they had to settle for the fourth pick, which put them out of the franchise-changing Griffin sweepstakes.

“Stuck Between a 1 and 2”: Evans vs. Curry

With Griffin out, it was obvious that the Kings needed to focus on the perimeter (Center Hasheem Thabeet was a consensus Top-3 pick, but with Hawes, he wouldn’t fit in the Kings’ plans anyways). Beno Udrih was expendable, as he put up a lackluster 12.3 PER and 1.2 win shares in 73 appearances the previous season. So, the shift focused on upgrading the point guard position, (James Harden was known as the most polished player in the draft, but with Martin manning the same position, there didn’t seem to be a lot of outcry for Harden from Kings fans at the time).

That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as the draft was loaded with point guard prospects such as Ricky Rubio, Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, just to name a few. However, the “pure” point guard prospects certainly had their concerns. Rubio wasn’t averse to playing in Sacramento, but he was still signed with his Spanish club DKV Joventut, and he would have required a $6-8 million dollar buyout to come state-side. Though Rubio certainly had the most upside out of any of the point guard prospects in the draft (he was only 19, and he impressed people with his performance with the Spanish National Team in the Olympics the previous summer), it didn’t seem like the Kings were all that hot on Rubio sporting a Kings hat on Draft Day. Jennings was another impressive prospect who ended up skipping out on college to play a year in Europe, but stories about his struggles with Roma as well as maturity issues seemed to push him out of the No. 4 pick discussion.

So the discussion centered on two guys who were considered point guard prospects in the draft but really weren’t pure point guards in college: Memphis’ Evans and Davidson’s Curry.

If you look at Evans and Curry’s Draft Express profiles, it is funny how they both are labeled “stuck between 1 and 2”. Evans made the transition to the Point midway through the year at Memphis and helped Memphis rally to a No. 2 seed in the tournament (though they did get bounced in the Sweet 16 by Missouri). Evans size and ability to get to the rim was lauded and pointed out as a key reason why Memphis was able to not miss a beat after their National Runner-up campaign a year ago. Furthermore, Evans’ strong season at Memphis was constantly compared to Derrick Rose, who led the Tigers as the point the previous season. Evans averaged 17.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 3.9 apg, and some people at the time preferred Evans to Rose due to Evans’ size and rebounding ability, which was superior to Rose in college.

As for Curry, he was known for his strong performances in the 2008 tournament, but he played mostly off-guard that year and had a much deeper, polished Davidson team. In 2009, with a lot of players gone, Curry took the reigns as point, and suffered some growing pains, as the Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament after making the Elite 8 the previous year. Despite missing the tournament, Curry was lauded for carrying the shorthanded Wildcats, as he averaged 28.6 ppg and 5.6 apg his junior season, all career highs.

Curry had the shooting touch, NBA pedigree (his dad was long-time NBA sniper Dell Curry) and the “star” value to merit the No. 4 pick in the draft, but Evans had the size, the tutelage (Calipari was being dubbed a “point-guard whisperer after getting successful one and done season from Evans and Rose back-to-back) and the versatility that attracted Kings fans more. Even if Evans didn’t pan out as a point guard, the thought amongst Kings fans was that he would develop into a versatile enough wing that would eventually push Martin out-of-town, and then the Kings could get the point they wanted down the road. In Mock Drafts, the consensus seemed to be Evans at 4, even with the sharp-shooting Curry available.

Quick Start, Regression and Internal Strife Lead to Departure

For a season, it looked like the Kings made the right decision. Evans got off to a hot start with a couple of buzzer-beaters, and his strong, confident demeanor was backed up by an impressive 20.1 ppg, 5.8 apg, and 5.3 rpg line in 72 games for the 25-57 Kings. Evans was most impressive in the beginning of the year, as were most of the Kings, as they got off to an 8-8 start and were 18-34 at the All-Star break, not bad considering that was 1 win better than they had all season a year ago. But new head coach Paul Westphal failed to keep any momentum as they struggled in the second half (they went 7-23 post All-Star break) and on the road (7-34 away from Arco). Evans also suffered regression after the All-Star break, with his scoring declining (from 20.3 to 19.8) and shooting regressing as well (53.8 to 51.3 True Shooting pct. from first to second half). The silver lining in all of this? Evans’ rebounding jumped (from 4.8 to 6.2) as well as his assists (5.1 to 6.9). Despite all the concerns with his “tweener” status, Evans showed hope to Kings fans that he could be the Kings primary playmaker (the assist jump was a nice sign) as well as bring different strengths to the Kings lineup (such as rebounding).

Despite Curry’s solid campaign (17.5 ppg, 5.9 apg, 43.7 3-PT percentage), Evans’ hot start and gaudy triple category numbers (points, rebounds, assists) earned Evans the Rookie of the Year award. After that season though, Evans simply struggled to replicate his rookie year in the subsequent seasons with the Kings. Evans battled through injury (he suffered through plantar fascitis) and played in only 57 games through a rough 24-58 campaign. Evans’ numbers tumbled down as his PPG (17.8), RPG (4.8), True Shooting (48.2%) and PER (14.4) all regressed greatly. And to make matters worse, the Kings, hoping Evans would turn into their versatile point guard of the future, rarely played the position. After earning 10% of his floor time at point his rookie year, Evans only played the position 1% of the time his sophomore season. This proved to be a trend, as Evans hasn’t played point guard more than 1% of the time until this season (where it bumped up to a whopping 2%).

As Evans floundered, Curry improved, posting 18.6 ppg and a 19.4 PER his sophomore campaign under Keith Smart. But a coaching change to Mark Jackson his third season, who gave Curry more leash and ability to be creative really marked the difference in Curry going from fringe-star to bonafide-star. Since his third season, Curry hasn’t posted a PER less than 21.2 and has totaled 49.1 Win Shares from his third-year on. And Curry has been a two-time All-Star, won a MVP award and helped the Warriors win their first title since 1975.

As for Evans, well he didn’t quite have the continuity in Sacramento that Curry benefited from in Golden State. Though the Kings upgraded in talent the following year by drafting Demarcus Cousins, the two never really fit and struggled to concede Alpha Dog status in the three seasons they were together in Sacramento. And it made sense. Cousins needs the ball to be productive, and Evans, who showed glimmers of ability to be a playmaker, ended up showing his true colors: as a score-first guard. These two styles were bound to clash (which they did) and considering where both players were at in their careers (just starting out) and without good leadership on the coaching staff or front office, it was just bound not to work out in the long run for both of them despite their talent. Add that with the fact that Evans never seemed to mesh with either Paul Westphal or Keith Smart (who replaced Westphal in the middle of the 2011-2012 season and coached the entire 2012-2013 season as well), and the emergence of another shoot-first guard (Isaiah Thomas) and Evans, who was originally seen as the cornerstone of the franchise, seemed expendable.

And he was. With a new ownership (Vivek), a new coach (Mike Malone) and new GM (Pete D’Alessandro), Evans seemed to be a relic of the old guard that wasn’t worth keeping around. On July 10, 2013, Evans was traded to New Orleans in a three-way trade (along with Portland) that basically saw Evans swiped with more pass-first oriented Grievis Vasquez.

What went wrong with Evans in Sacramento?

After being traded to New Orleans, Evans signed a four-year extension worth a little over $43 million. The money really isn’t that bad when you think about it. Despite the disappointing tenure in Sacramento, he still has a career PER average of 17.3 and has accumulated 21.7 Win Shares. In terms of traditional stats, his career ppg average is 16.8, his career rpg average is 4.9 and his career apg average is 5.2. Yes, Evans struggles from beyond the arc (career 27.8 3 PT percentage), and he still seems privy to taking that shot (he shot 2.9 3 point attempts per game last seasons). But Evans finishes well around the rim (55.8 fg percentage on shots 0-3 ft out) and has demonstrated a decent mid-range (39.8 fg percentage on 16<3-pt shots) to still merit himself as an above-average NBA player. Also, his improvement defensively (he was consistently less than 1 when it came to defensive win shares, but he actually earned 2.2 defensive win shares a year ago) also demonstrates that his game is maturing and becoming more well-rounded in New Orleans than it was Sacramento.

However, why didn’t things work out for Evans after so much promise his rookie season? How come Evans didn’t progress like Curry did in Golden State? Yes, a NBA title and MVP for Evans might have been a bit of a stretch, but you think a guy who earned Rookie of the Year in that draft class would have at least one All-Star appearance in Sacramento, right?

Well, what killed Evans was management’s lack of building around him in the right way. Yes, it’s hard to argue the drafting of Demarcus Cousins, but if the organization was really serious about making Evans the centerpiece of the Kings, they would have drafted somebody more complimentary, such as a Greg Monroe, who would have complemented Evans more with his passing ability from the high post. (And I am NOT supporting drafting Monroe over Cousins BTW…I am just saying that is what they should have done if they were serious about building the team around Evans). And Cousins is really the tip of the iceberg: the drafting of Jimmer Fredette, the acquisitions of John Salmons and Marcus Thornton, these were all decisions that really clashed with Evans truly being the “man” in Sacramento. If you look at Golden State, they took the opposite route of Sacramento. Instead of getting talent that clashed with their “franchise” player, they built around him, even letting talent go (Monta Ellis) in order to build around their star player. That lack of foresight didn’t just hurt the Kings (they have consistently been a lottery team since drafting Evans), but hurt Evans as well, who was never able to find the right cast around him to succeed beyond his individual numbers.

Of course, to play Devil’s Advocate, you could argue that all the chaos in ownership and the front office hurt Evans’ development in Sacramento. You could also argue that they never felt Evans was a franchise guy to begin with, and that when they had a chance to draft Cousins, the writing was on the wall for Evans in SacTown. You could also argue that Evans was subject to bad coaching in Sacramento, and if that he had the kind of coaches that Steph Curry had in Golden State maybe Evans would have closed that gap between them a little more and maybe he would be wearing purple and black still. There are a lot of scenarios of course, and all are plausible. Evans really is a fascinating case because the talent is there, still productive and he is still young at 25 years old. One would think there is still hope for the guy even if he will never, ever touch Curry’s career heights.

And really, a comparison to Curry isn’t fair because they aren’t the same player. Curry really is a point guard who needed time in the position. Evans probably never was and was unfairly expected to be one because he played half a season in the position at Memphis in a pinch. But it’s tough to stomach for Kings fans because they were initially seen as the same type of player in the draft, they were only 3 picks apart, and they were just hours apart in terms of their respective teams’ distance. Maybe the Kings would be celebrating their title and the Warriors would be looking at the lottery if Curry and Evans swapped. Maybe the parade would be a couple of hours north in Downtown Sac rather than in the Bay Area.

It’s those kinds of things that gnaw at Kings fans. And it’s those kinds of things that really make the drafting of Evans over Curry hurt more and longer than it really should.