Sacramento Bee staff writer Jason Jones takes a look at three keys to the Kings’ future heading into their 11th consecutive offseason without a playoff appearance:
Commit to youth, coach Joerger
Kings general manager Vlade Divac said he was happy with how rookies Buddy Hield, Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis finished the season after DeMarcus Cousins was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans. Another rookie, Malachi Richardson, missed the final 25 games due to injury but showed signs he could develop into a contributor before partially tearing his right hamstring.
Summer league will be big for this group, and having the chance to play together with the mistakes that are bound to come are major. One way the Kings could express their commitment to patience would be to pick up the fourth year of coach Dave Joerger’s contract. The Cousins trade reset the progress Joerger and the staff made toward turning the Kings into a playoff team. The Kings were 1 1/2 games behind a playoff spot when Cousins was traded.
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They might have ultimately fallen short with Cousins, but we’ll never know. With so many young players – and more on the way – Joerger will need the next three years to get the Kings back on track, unless someone quickly emerges as a superstar.
Convince league that front office is stable
The Kings are still battling the perception of being a poorly run team. The handling of Cousins – trading him after telling him he would not be dealt – gave some around the league reason to question the direction of the Kings’ front office and furthered the belief the team has no true sense of direction.
The Kings would disagree and point to the fact that this is Divac’s third offseason in charge as a sign of stability, along with the fact that next season will be Joerger’s second go-round with the team. It didn’t help that the Kings spoke with former Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie. Multiple reports linked him to a position with the Kings, which the team strongly denied.
Showing stability is important if the Kings are to get some of the top prospects in the draft to pay Sacramento a visit, which is a must for a team that could have two top-10 picks. Top college prospects have avoided Sacramento the past two offseasons before the draft, hoping to persuade the Kings to pass on them.
Team may have big holes to fill
The Kings face the prospect of replacing their top-two point guards (Darren Collison and Ty Lawson) as well as the loss of top small forward Rudy Gay. The Kings could replace them through their recent and future draft picks, but finding veteran free agents to help in those areas might be the most prudent.
The Kings will have plenty of room under the salary cap, which could mean a big payday for Lawson or Collison to mentor a young point guard. If Gay does not opt out of the final year of his contract, the Kings will retain their veteran small forward. If Gay departs, they’ll need to find a veteran via free agency to plug in or risk relying on another less experienced player.