In the last two offseasons, the Kings have bolstered their roster with veterans. But this offseason, they added three rookies to go with two players who have less than five years of experience.
The mix led many pundits to wonder about their plan this season.
“I was trying to anticipate what was coming next for them,” said Mike Fratello, NBA on TNT and NBA TV analyst and a former NBA coach. “I know certain moves that they made and things that they did led me to believe, ‘OK what’s coming up next?’ ”
Over the summer, the Kings didn’t do what some anticipated and move veterans such as Rudy Gay. While many observers would suggest the team undergo a major roster shakeup and perhaps go with a full youth movement, the Kings are going for victories.
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Teams committed to a complete overhaul don’t do what Kings coach Dave Joerger has done with his rotation. He’s relying on his veterans while youngsters such as Ben McLemore and Willie Cauley-Stein have seen their minutes fluctuate in the first eight games.
In Sunday’s road win over the Toronto Raptors, none of the rookies played. Neither did Cauley-Stein, who is in his second season, nor McLemore, who is in his fourth season.
“We went with the older guys,” Joerger said. “It was kind of a bunker game for us, who’s in the foxhole and guys who have had experience being there. That’s not to say that other guys won’t have opportunities going forward.”
Some of those decisions will be based on matchups. After sitting against Toronto, Cauley-Stein checked in during the first quarter Tuesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans at Golden 1 Center and promptly scored on a dunk. McLemore also entered in the first quarter and sank his first shot, a 3-pointer.
Fratello said if the Kings are intent on becoming a credible playoff contender, relying on the veterans is natural.
“(The plan becomes) let’s win enough games for a playoff spot. Therefore, the development of the younger guys takes a back seat,” Fratello said. “You (young) guys come to practice every day, work your (tails) off, sit there on the bench, cheer like hell and maybe you get in the rotation once in a while.”
Darren Collison’s return Tuesday following his eight-game suspension could cut into minutes at guard for a player such as McLemore.
Still, Cauley-Stein and McLemore probably have chances to play. Rookies George Papagiannis, Malachi Richardson and Skal Labissiere figure to do most of their learning from the sideline or perhaps in the NBA Development League.
“You’re not going to develop younger guys if they’re sitting on the bench,” Fratello said.
Intrigue remains about what the Kings might do with the roster this season and beyond. Though general manager Vlade Divac has said he does not plan to trade Gay, other teams will inquire and speculation will arise because he plans to opt out of his contract and become a free agent after the season.
Teams also have expressed interest in McLemore.
“The nature of the game, coaches and GMs tend to watch rosters close the first 10, 15 games to see how things are going and start to think, ‘Hey, this guy doesn’t fit or that guy doesn’t fit in,’ ” Fratello said. “ ‘Or we sure do like that guy on another team, but they’ve got too many at his position so maybe he’ll be available.’ ”
As of now, the Kings plan to win as much as possible and worry about those decisions later.