Friends were lost, feelings were hurt and emotions were running high Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center as Kings general manager Vlade Divac watched his team play the Houston Rockets from his usual perch in the tunnel near the team’s bench.
The world around him was swirling with trade activity that could make or break those who were bold enough to make a move, but Divac — unfazed by the moment — just stood there chewing gum, cool, calm, confident that the moves he made would make his team better.
“We know what we’re building here,” Divac said during a news conference Thursday afternoon. “We know what we need and where we want to be in two months or a year, so we’re focusing on us and I think we’re very, very excited about what we did in the last couple days. I think we are definitely a better team.”
Divac is right about that. Time will tell whether these trades are enough to propel the Kings into the playoffs for the first time since 2006, but they are better today than they were yesterday — and chemistry shouldn’t be an issue.
So how did they do it?
First, they acquired Alec Burks, a 6-foot-6 combo guard who improves their backcourt depth. Then, they made a bigger splash with the acquisition of Harrison Barnes, a 6-8, 225-pound small forward who gives them the size, length and scoring ability they have sorely lacked at that position.
Both players arrived in Sacramento on Thursday and are expected to be in uniform when the Kings play host to the Miami Heat on Friday night.
“We’re fired up about who we are and what we can be, and this is part of the process for a young team,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said.
Sacramento made some less significant moves Thursday, trading Skal Labissiere to the Portland Trail Blazers for Caleb Swanigan and waiving Ben McLemore. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN also reported the Kings will sign Corey Brewer to a 10-day contract.
But those decisions are of little consequence for the foreseeable future. What really matters is the Kings were able to add Barnes and Burks while keeping intact their young core of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogan Bogdanovic, Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles III.
To make these moves, the Kings had to part with Iman Shumpert, Justin Jackson and Zach Randolph, three players who were popular among teammates. News of their departures took an emotional toll on some of the team’s young players, but Divac, who saw it all during his 16-year NBA career, knows how to handle that, too.
“Everything is going to be fine,” Divac said. “I talked to them, told them about the experience I had when I was in that situation. ... It’s a tough business, and I’m sure it’s going to be just fine moving forward.
“I think we had team chemistry last year, too. It’s part of the business we are in. You’re moving around. You create new friends. You create new teammates.”
Hield seems to understand.
“Our new teammates, Harrison and Alec, we will welcome them with open arms,” he said. “We can’t wait to get to know each other and play with them.”
And let’s face facts. Barnes is better than Jackson. Burks is better than Shumpert. Randolph hasn’t even suited up this season after the organization told him he didn’t fit into a youth movement that would feature an exciting new run-and-gun style, a system Barnes and Burks should fit perfectly.
“We’re going to have good chemistry,” Divac said. “We’re going to have fun. We’re going to have an exciting team and just get better.”
That’s what this was all about. The Kings wanted to get better today, if possible, without compromising tomorrow.
“Our focus was to improve our team and not jeopardize our future,” Divac said. “I think we achieved exactly (that). We brought the talent that is going to help us be better team, not just now but moving forward.”
Divac praised the effort of his front-office staff, which includes Brandon Williams, Peja Stojakovic and Ken Catanella.
“We worked hard last few days,” Divac said. “We were ready — prepared. We execute basically everything we had on the board, so we are excited.”