The direction of the Kings’ season shifted Feb. 19 with the trade of All-Star DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans.
At the time, the Kings were 24-33 but only a game out of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. They went 8-17 the rest of the way to finish with the fourth-worst record in the conference and eighth-worst in the NBA at 32-50.
On Thursday, in his end-of-season comments to the media, general manager Vlade Divac stood behind the trade and professed his optimism for the future of a Kings team that has not made the playoffs in 11 consecutive seasons.
“It’s been a season that we finished on a great note,” Divac said. “We are so excited about what we see the last 20 games, and my decision to go in this direction really makes me so happy right now. The way we played, the way we share the ball, the guys have fun, they play together – that’s exactly what I see for our team.”
Divac and coach Dave Joerger addressed the media for about 20 minutes at Golden 1 Center. A few pertinent topics:
▪ Divac reiterated his faith in Joerger, who had to pivot midway through his first season in Sacramento. Instead of competing for a playoff spot, Joerger was tasked after the All-Star break with bringing along the Kings’ young players, working them into the rotation at the expense of veterans’ playing time. Joerger kept the locker room together and seems to have a strong working relationship with Divac.
“I’m so happy to work with him,” Divac said. “I think he’s a great coach. I see exactly what I saw this (past) summer when I hired Dave to join us. He shares the same values, the same way of basketball, and I see how he implements it on the court.”
▪ In a general statement, Divac did not rule out potential additions to the front office. National reports surfaced last month that the Kings were looking to hire an executive whose role would be to oversee basketball operations above Divac. The Kings quickly denied those reports, saying they had “no plans to bring anyone in above Vlade.”
The Kings made one addition to the front office last offseason, hiring Ken Catanella as an assistant general manager. Asked Thursday if he has intends to make other changes this summer, Divac said: “We are open always to improve. The team, the front office, everything is open to improvement. I’m very happy and confident in what we have right now. But, like I said, you should be open if something can make you better.”
▪ Rudy Gay, who had his season cut short in January by a torn left Achilles’ tendon, can opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent this summer. Before the season, Gay told the team he was planning to opt out. But he was less certain talking to reporters in Sacramento on Tuesday night, saying he’s taking the decision “one day at a time.” Both Divac and Joerger on Thursday said they hope Gay returns.
“His personality, we talk about who’s going to fit on this team, he’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Divac said.
▪ The Kings have several players who will be unrestricted free agents this summer – guards Darren Collison, Ty Lawson and Tyreke Evans. Free agency begins July 1, and Divac said Thursday was “too early to say” whether the Kings will have interest in bringing any of those players back.
Ben McLemore, meanwhile, will be a restricted free agent, and the Kings could have a decision to make there. Joerger said he “absolutely” wants McLemore back next year and that he felt McLemore “earned” the minutes he was playing late in the season.
“Ben is our family,” Joerger said. “We’re going to work him out every single day until July 1. And then we’ll figure out what happens from there.”
▪ The Kings are likely going to have two top-10 picks in what is widely viewed as a deep draft this summer. Joerger made it clear that while he might give input, he defers to Divac on those player personnel decisions. Divac said the front office has been working to evaluate potential options – and that the Kings will not base their picks on where they may need to fill positions.
“We don’t care about positions,” Divac said. “We want to make sure we bring in guys that can fit in our philosophy and on our team.”
Finally, there has been plenty of curiosity about Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Serbian guard whose rights the Kings acquired in one of their draft-day trades last year. Asked about the possibility of Bogdanovic coming over next season, Divac gave a hopeful response: “He’s still playing in Europe. He wants to focus on finishing the season. Hopefully – we would love to have him here. We have his rights, and this summer we’ll talk about it.”