Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today's team: Sacramento Kings
2018-19 Record: 39-43, did not qualify for the playoffs
Key additions: Trevor Ariza (free agency), Cory Joseph (free agency), Luke Walton (coach)
Key departures: Willie Cauley-Stein, Frank Mason, Dave Joerger
The lowdown: For the first time in at least a decade, there was optimism waiting to greet the Kings at the finish line of yet another losing season. No, the Kings didn’t reach the playoffs, but yes, they dropped delicious hints of a sustainable future. Much of this was generated by a young core that showcased some fine moments and entertained inside the team’s high-tech new palace of a home arena.
De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield were the principles, meshing well as a backcourt and putting defenses on alert with their playmaking, mature shot selection and a level of composure in tense moments that’s rare for players in their early 20s. The Kings could turn to either player to take charge and make an impact, and they often delivered. Hield shot 42.7 percent from deep, while Fox averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 assists in a vastly more consistent second pro season.
They were joined by Marvin Bagley III -- the No. 2 overall pick in 2018 -- who struggled early with injuries and the transition from college to big-boy basketball, not to mention coming off the bench for the first time in his life. Yet Bagley eventually found a productive groove on a team lacking talented bigs. And then there was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who had solid moments as the sixth man. The Kings were among the league’s more pleasant surprises; in early March they had a winning record and an outside shot at making the playoffs. That was progress for a franchise that was derisively known as the "Kangs", one that always seemed buried by poor front office decisions and players who lacked the desire or talent or both to elevate Sacramento into the land of the respected.
Summer summary: When young teams are trending north and finally feel good about the blueprint and the process, there’s a tendency to maintain the status quo and continue to build off this progress. And that’s what the Kings’ approach was this summer ... with one major difference.
The coach who oversaw this growth was unceremoniously replaced. There appeared to be not only a sense of anxiousness from the front office to execute this firing, but also a level of acceptance from the players.
It makes you wonder what atrocity Joerger committed to trigger such a lack of confidence. Well, for starters, he clashed famously with the brain trust, and that usually ends poorly for the coach. There also was his strange strategy of bringing Bagley off the bench, which didn’t sit well with the rookie. Understandably, there are times when rookies need to be brought along slowly, but only when there’s a solid player ahead of him on the depth chart or if the rookie is error-prone, and neither applied in this case.
Whatever, Joerger was issued walking papers ... the same day that happened to Walton just down the highway in L.A. Walton was hired by the Kings before he could leave the Lakers’ parking lot for the final time. That’s how quickly the Kings concluded Walton would be just right for them.
Walton left a bizarre season with the Lakers, who crashed and burned in LeBron James’ first season. Fair or not, part of that was laid at the feet of the young coach. Actually, Walton was the least dysfunctional part of that experience; he maintained a calm composure amid the madness. He also maintained a decent standing around the league, evidently, and that’s why his stay in the unemployment line lasted mere seconds.
At least in the short term, this appears a win-win for Walton and the Kings. Both are searching for stability and respect and maybe they’ll find it together.
Otherwise, Kings GM Vlade Divac kept his dealing to a minimum with regard to personnel matters. The Kings’ first-round pick belonged to the Celtics, so much of their movement was done with a design for continuity.
They spent relatively cheaply, adding veterans to lend experience and supporting roles for the upcoming season. Ariza, Dedmon and Joseph are all on short-term contracts, as the Kings eye the approaching time when they’ll need to give rich extensions to Hield, Fox and perhaps Bagley as well.
Speaking of that, they spent rather lavishly to keep Harrison Barnes, who got four years and $85 million. Barnes was a third- and sometimes fourth-option on the club last season, so a $20 million-plus-per-year extension was met with surprise around the league. But swingmen are at a premium in today’s NBA and there’s no up-and-comer ready to take Barnes’ spot in the rotation.
Finally, the Kings erased the last remaining big mistake on the club by refusing to keep Cauley-Stein. He was a lottery pick three years ago but, like most Kings’ picks, did little of value and couldn’t inspire confidence beyond his rookie contract. It was yet another embarrassing episode by the Kings but maybe those are fewer in the future. Ultimately the Kings must find a capable big man; until then, Dedmon seems capable of being the bridge.
By keeping their movement to a minimum, the Kings believe the best way to improve next season is through organic growth, rather than a shakeup. The Kings have had plenty of those in the last several years, so this new and bold path comes as a tremendous relief. Sacramento can exhale. The new four-letter word being tossed around in town is “h-o-p-e.”
Coming next: Detroit Pistons
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