The Kings are four days removed from the Las Vegas showcase where confetti flew, Ray McCallum was named MVP of the summer league finale, and the players and owners held the championship trophy aloft, handling the sleek and shiny object like a brand-new car.
Little Leagues. Minor leagues. Summer leagues. Winning never grows old.
The far more significant development, of course, was the court ruling rejecting an injunction that would have blocked the imminent construction of the downtown arena. While Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro and coach Michael Malone attempt to transfer some of those warm and fuzzies from Las Vegas to training camp, members of the team’s marketing department went around taking names and measurements for the hard hats to be worn at the Downtown Plaza on Demolition Day.
OK, just kidding about hard hats. No hard evidence of the demo derby just yet.
But while the off-court action at least temporarily supersedes the basketball issues, the ongoing roster makeover continues on Friday, when teams start claiming players off the waiver wire and the Minnesota Timberwolves presumably move closer to trading Kevin Love.
The Kings, of course, have power forwards to trade … and more power forwards to trade. The offseason will not be as frenetic as it was a year ago, when within weeks, principal owner Vivek Ranadive signed the purchase papers, hired his head coach, began auditioning potential draft picks and evaluating free agents, and finally put together a front office that includes assistant general manager Mike Bratz and personal advisers/power brokers Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond and Shaquille O’Neal.
The Summer of 2013 was a blur. While the early renderings for 2014-15 are sketchy, and at times appear all over the map, at least there are hints of a grand plan. Ranadive and his front-office lieutenants present a unified front: They want passers and shooters, a faster pace and a more entertaining product, all while trying to accommodate Malone and his defense-comes-first sensibilities.
More on that little drama at a later date. These following items are trending:• The early offseason moves: The diminutive and departed Isaiah Thomas evolved into one of the more polarizing players in the league. The analytics experts can’t even agree on his value. Does his unique scoring ability, particularly his varied moves in the lane, compensate for his weak playmaking and overdribbling? Some say yes. The Kings said no, not for a salary that starts at $7.2 million. They opted to sign Darren Collison because Chris Paul’s former backup is approximately $1.5 million per year cheaper (in each of three seasons), plays faster, pressures the ball and doesn’t fancy himself as a primary scorer. Either way, this is a temporary fix. Somewhere, sometime, an elite point guard makes an appearance or a two-guard front similar to Doug Christie-Mike Bibby materializes.
• A frontline of DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Josh Smith is petrifying: Then again, Cousins-Gay-Smith oozes potential. Shifted back to power forward, Smith could be the defender, shot-blocker and playmaker the Kings have coveted since the Chris Webber-Brad Miller days. But back to petrifying. Smith not only earns $13 million in each of the next three seasons, he is bruising on team dynamics. The trade talks flatlined recently because the Pistons refused to accept what the Kings dangled – some combination that would have shed the three-year contracts of Jason Thompson ($19.2 million) and Carl Landry ($20.1 million). The move would have been risky but, given the talent upgrade, really, really, really tempting.
• So about that rookie: Nik Stauskas needs to get stronger – which occurs naturally with age – needs the ball in his hands more often and needs to maintain the confident demeanor. He can play, and he knows it, and he better remember that when Cousins and Gay join him in the locker room.
• So about the sophomores: McCallum had 29 points and seven rebounds in the summer league championship game, but the Kings will demand more passing and less ball-pounding from Thomas’ heir apparent. Gotta love his attitude, though. The son of a coach has no agenda; he wants to learn, and he wants to win. Ben McLemore similarly had a far better showing than a year ago, but as NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony noted during the broadcasts, the second-year guard has to exploit his athleticism and open-court abilities and finish at the rim. The talk about McLemore being a great shooter? He has a great-looking shot until it arrives at the basket. His ability to make shots and contribute in other ways (making plays, playing the passing lanes, blocking shots and rebounding) will dictate whether he emerges as the third scorer or Stauskas eats his minutes.
• It’s still the summer: The Kings were 6-1 in the summer league under new lead assistant Tyrone Corbin, but that’s enough of the numbers. The summer league is an annual individual stats orgy, with most players trying to dominate and desperate to earn camp invites.
That said, it wasn’t a bad week. The Kings cradled a trophy, construction workers prepare for demolition, and the heavy lifting shifts back to the basketball offices.