That’s a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8, NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.
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 — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today’s team: Sacramento Kings
2017-18 Record: 27-55, did not qualify for the playoffs
Who’s new: Marvin Bagley III (Draft), Ben McLemore (trade), Deyonta Davis (trade), Nemanja Bjelica (free agency)
Who’s gone: Garrett Temple, Vince Carter
The lowdown: The playoff dry spell hit 12 years for a franchise still chasing its tail. Last summer, the Kings tried to mix a few oldies into a young core in order to be more competitive, but it mainly backfired. While Zach Randolph brought some grit and served as an example, George Hill pouted almost from the time the ink dried on his contract and was dealt to Cleveland at the trade deadline. Carter was an inspirational role player … and one far from his peak days. The Kings lacked a volume scorer and go-to savior in the pinch and that proved costly on many nights.
More troublesome was slow or stagnant growth among former first-round picks Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and Justin Jackson. On the plus side, rookies Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Aaron Fox had moments. But once again, the Kings were focusing on their future and not their present.
The Kings decided against making major changes, choosing to be patient with the up-and-comers, and Sacramento fans had no choice but to follow along. At this point, what’s one more year of player development, anyway?
Their offseason boiled down to getting Bagley III in the Draft and trying to poach Zach LaVine from the Bulls, and one out of two ain’t bad.
Armed with salary cap space (because of all the rookie contracts on the roster), the Kings gave LaVine a four-year, $78 million offer sheet that was eventually matched by the Bulls. It was a bold move by Sacramento and the number they threw at LaVine was rich, but an overpay is perhaps the only way for them to get a restricted free agent.
Had the Bulls declined to match, you wonder where LaVine would’ve fit on a team trying to groom Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield as scorers. Maybe it didn’t make much sense, but the Kings are in the business of collecting talent (as opposed to the past, when they didn’t collect much of anything — except grief).
Sacramento had to settle for a return by McLemore, their former No. 1 pick (No. 7 overall in 2013) whose true value to the Kings is his expiring contract and the additional second-round Draft pick the Kings received from Memphis in the deal.
The summer really was about drafting Bagley III, someone the Kings hope becomes the cornerstone of a turnaround. He’s their highest pick since they took DeMarcus Cousins at No. 5 in 2010. He brings the goods that, at the very least, seem to suggest Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic — the Sacramento braintrust — didn’t botch this decision.
Their choice was either Bagley III or Luka Doncic and the Kings went for a 6-foot-11 post player who does a bit of everything well enough. For his size, he handles the ball reasonably well, shoots with decent range and moves fluidly. More than anything, Bagley III was arguably the best non-NBA teenager in the country the last two years — first as a high school senior and then a Duke freshman.
The problem is this franchise has a history of face-palming when it comes to the Draft. You know the names by now: Thomas Robinson, McLemore, Cauley-Stein, Nik Stauskas, Georgios Pappagiannis and of course the unforgettable Jimmer Fredette. They are all lottery picks the Kings have taken since nabbing Cousins. Two (Pappagiannis and Fredette) are no longer in the NBA and none lasted more than three years in Sacramento (Cauley-Stein is on the clock).
The players the Kings passed on? Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LaVine, Miles Turner, Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell. Of course, in the case of some of the above (Antetokounmpo, Booker and Mitchell) several other teams missed the boat as well. But still, the Kings make a habit of that. They couldn’t afford to whiff again in 2018.
Sacramento is hoping Randolph teaches Bagley III the ropes and, by midseason, he, Fox and Bogdanovic become an exciting and productive trio.
The summer also produced a bonus: a Harry Giles sighting. Giles was a first-rounder in 2017 but didn’t play while mending from injury. There was no need to rush Giles along and instead Sacramento wisely let him heal up and get stronger. The covers came off at NBA Summer League and the plan appeared to pay off. Giles looked healthy, confident and impressive.
The only “problem” is Giles plays the same power spot as Bagley III (who can also play center). But the Kings must stockpile talent and worry about later fitting it together later. They’d welcome any scenario where Giles and/or Bagley III are in the running for the 2018-19 All-Rookie team.
At some point, when you collect lottery picks at the rate of the Kings, one of those players will become what this franchise craves. The odds say so, anyway. The Kings are banking big on Bagley III because, if nothing else, they have no other choice.
Coming Next: Chicago Bulls
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