There are NBA teams that begin a season with no intention of being a winner. Instead of filling their rosters for the best chance to compete, they try for the best chance to land a high draft pick in the lottery.
The Kings don’t want to be one of those teams. That appeals mightily to guard George Hill.
“A couple of teams I was in talks to really weren’t focused on winning,” Hill said. “A couple teams wanted to win. Sacramento called and said we have a lot of young guys but we’re not here to tank, we want to win and we want to do it the right way and if we take our lumps and bruises, we’ll take our lumps and bruises but we’re trying to win.”
The Kings introduced Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph at a press conference Monday at Thomas & Mack Center, three experienced players the team wants to help steer the extremely young roster in the right direction.
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All three were free agents who joined the Kings in part because they believe Sacramento is not in a lose-on-purpose mission.
Hill signed for three years and $57 million, with a partial guarantee for the third year. Randolph signed for two years, $24 million and Carter for one year at $8 million.
None of the deals ties up the Kings long term, but the hope is the lessons and examples will last far beyond this season.
The Kings will have nine players in either their first or second years in the NBA, a unique situation. Add in third-year center Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kings have 10 players who will be playing out their first NBA contract.
It’s a setup for a lot of losses in a tough Western Conference, and the odds are the Kings will still lose more than they win given their youth and competition.
“The West is difficult so you’re going to throw those guys out there for 82 games just to get their head knotted?” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “It’s difficult, it’s a long, long road. So you’ve got front-line guys and some of these guys that can support that.”
The Kings spent the end of the previous two seasons trying to improve their lottery odds.
That’s no longer an issue. The Kings would have lost their pick if it fell out of the top 10 the last two years. There are no conditions on their 2018 pick.
Even though the odds are against the Kings, there’s no reason to be all about the draft from the start.
“Talking about losing, tanking, that’s not our mentality,” Kings general manager Vlade Divac said. “Our mentality is to compete. How many games we win? We’ll see, but as long as we compete, that’s good. That’s how you improve your game, that’s how you challenge yourself and if you create a losing mentality, it’s hard to go back.”
But it’s also understood the Kings have to learn how to win, which will be a big part of the new trio’s job, passing along knowledge as none of the 10 players on rookie deals have experienced winning in the NBA.
Carter, 40, has been an All-Star eight times and has been a part of multiple playoff teams, including last season with Memphis. Randolph, 35, helped turn Memphis into a perennial postseason participant. Hill, 31, began his career with San Antonio, the NBA’s most consistent winner for nearly two decades, was with Indiana when it was near the top of the Eastern Conference recently and with Utah last season.
Their recent success makes them ideal for Joerger.
“They’ve got positive voices and they’re not so old that the players don’t remember them playing,” Joerger said. “Sometimes that happens, young guys come into the league and they’re like, ‘You’re who and you’re trying to tell me what? I’ve never even heard of you.’ But these guys have that relevance.”
Carter sat on the bench during Sunday’s Summer League game and said the players were attentive and “thirsty” for knowledge. He added he’s never been afraid to ask questions and will encourage his young teammates to do the same.
“We had to learn how to win, we had to learn the culture and what it takes be a professional and it’s been instilled in us and it’s just second nature for us,” Carter said. “That’s what these young guys now are trying to learn.”
Randolph was a mentor to Memphis’ young big men last season, some who played against the Kings on Sunday. Even though he’s not with the team, he hasn’t stopped encouraging the young Grizzlies.
“This league is about getting better,” Randolph said. “It’s a long line of guys waiting to get in, so you’ve got to stay on top of your game. I told my young guys from Memphis last night, stay in the gym. They’ve been in the gym every day, they don’t take days off and it’s showing on the court.”