The Kings made two bombshell moves in short succession Wednesday on the eve of the NBA trade deadline, acquiring two veteran players who could help them make a push for their first playoff appearance since 2006.
The question is how these trades will affect the chemistry and culture of a team that has taken the league by surprise this season. The additions of Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks may benefit the Kings in the weeks, months and years to come, but the immediate departures of Iman Shumpert, Justin Jackson and Zach Randolph left the locker room stunned.
“A lot of us are a little bit shocked, but at the end of the day we know it’s a business and we can’t take it to heart,” Kings guard Yogi Ferrell said. “The Kings felt like they made the decision that was best for the organization, so we just have to trust that.”
The moves were swift and decisive. The reactions were raw, real and unrestrained, a reminder that human emotions sometimes collide with the business side of basketball.
“I just ran my ass off every day with these dudes,” Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “It’s hard when you get friendships, you get brotherhoods, and then, with no say — they don’t even know — they just show up and then they’re gone. That’s trash. It’s a crazy business.”
Reports of the first trade surfaced about 5 p.m., two hours before the Kings tipped off against the Houston Rockets in a game they would lose 127-101, ending their three-game winning streak. The Kings (28-26), who are 1 1/2 games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference, acquired Burks from the Cleveland Cavaliers and a second-round pick from the Rockets in a three-team trade that sent Shumpert to Houston.
The Rockets also acquired Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin from the Cavaliers. Cleveland acquired Brandon Knight, Marquese Chriss and a lottery-protected 2019 first-round pick from Houston.
Burks, 27, is a 6-foot-6, 214-pound guard who averaged 10.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 51 games for the Utah Jazz and Cavaliers this season. He was traded from Utah to Cleveland in November. He’s in the final year of a four-year contract that is paying him nearly $11.3 million this season.
Burks had a big game against Sacramento shortly after he was acquired by the Cavaliers, posting 22 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a 129-110 loss to the Kings on Dec. 7 in Cleveland. He’s a career 35.8-percent 3-point shooter, but he shot 45.8 percent from beyond the arc over 15 games in January.
“I just know he attacks the rim, so I feel he’ll fit in well with us with his ability to get in the paint and create,” Ferrell said.
The second trade, which sent Randolph and Jackson to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Barnes, was initially reported midway through the first quarter. Barnes, 26, is a 6-8, 225-pound small forward who averaged 17.8 points and 4.3 rebounds for the Mavericks this season, shooting 39 percent from 3-point range.
Barnes was a starter for the Golden State Warriors when they won the NBA championship in 2015. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Kings intend to make a long-term play for Barnes, who is earning $24.1 million this season and has a $25.1 million player option next season.
“He’s a big forward,” Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox said. “He can really get his own shot, defend when he needs to defend, rebounds the ball. I think he’ll fit in.”
That didn’t make it any easier to part with three players who endeared themselves to teammates over the past two seasons.
“Today’s a tough day,” Kings guard Buddy Hield said. “The air is negative, but this is a professional business and you’ve got to move on. You can’t dwell on it. If you dwell on it, you just get lost in your thoughts. ... Everybody’s minds are all messed up. It happened so quick. We lost some guys that we went to battle with.”
Kings coach Dave Joerger said the emotional responses from his players were understandable.
“We care about people,” Joerger said. “We care about people’s families. We travel together. We spend more time together than we do with our families a lot of times, and so these kinds of things are not easy.”
Randolph led the team in scoring last season and continued to serve as a veteran mentor after being told he didn’t fit into the team’s youth movement this season. Jackson persevered to show signs of growth in his second season after struggling as a rookie. Shumpert — who started 40 games at small forward this season after being acquired in a trade in February 2018 — was a favorite among fans who took to Twitter to express their feelings after the trade was announced, posting comments such as “we love you Shump,” “thank you Shump” and “forever a King.”
Shumpert was essential to the team’s chemistry and culture, providing veteran leadership and perspective for the team’s talented young players. When the Kings lost a preseason game to Utah by 39 points, Shumpert reminded teammates he was a member of a Cavaliers squad that lost to the Warriors by 34 in the regular season before beating them in the NBA Finals a few months later.
“He’s been a great teammate,” Kings rookie big man Marvin Bagley III said. “He’s been helping us out this whole time. When things were low, when we had a little losing streak, he was the one keeping us positive and keeping the energy high in the locker room. He’ll definitely be missed.”
Shumpert also played a big role in shaping the team’s identity. He popularized the “PurpleTalk” hash tag on social media and branded the team as the “Scores” after the Kings emerged as one of the highest-scoring teams in the league early in the season.
“He created a movement here,” Cauley-Stein said.
Shumpert often announced “the Scores is here” when he entered visiting arenas or the home locker room. Shumpert was nowhere to be found when the media was allowed to enter the locker room 75 minutes before Wednesday’s game, but Ferrell said the players had an opportunity to say goodbye earlier.
“We were all talking to him, wishing him the best,” Ferrell said. “He was saying, ‘Don’t lose your identity just because I’m leaving now. We’re still the Scores no matter what.’”