These new Kings executives don’t fool around, do they? Their weary faces, their slumping bodies and those intense hallway conversations hinted that something substantial was imminent.
Vivek Ranadive, who often thrusts his face into his hands after one of his players’ silly and familiar turnovers, is adding gray hairs by the game. Pete D’Alessandro walks around Sleep Train Arena – actually, he jogs around the building – with a cellphone attached to one ear and both eyes riveted on the court. Michael Malone works into the wee hours in his office, examining his team’s pattern of fourth-quarter implosions, and often takes the first swing at himself.
“We’re not kidding anybody,” D’Alessandro said bluntly before Monday’s tipoff against the Dallas Mavericks. “We’re a long way from being a completed product. We have five wins. We need players here.”
The purge thus begins in earnest. Finally. Belatedly. Wholeheartedly. Kings fans who have waited almost a decade for this degree of seismic activity can look at the roster and almost recognize a plan, a semblance of sanity, a sense of purpose, a trade that makes sense.
Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons for Rudy Gay and his $17.9 million salary.
You can peek in the window and immediately see a more appealing product. Salmons and Patterson are better suited as reserves on playoff-bound teams. Hayes was overweight and overpaid when he arrived. Vasquez seldom flashed those passes that led to last year’s nine assists per game average.
DeMarcus Cousins is a potential All-Star center. Ben McLemore is a potential All-Rookie nominee. Isaiah Thomas is a charismatic scorer off the bench. When the Kings obtain a legitimate starting point guard, the diminutive one should contend annually for the Sixth Man of the Year award. And Gay, the former Connecticut standout, is easily the most talented Kings small forward since Ron Artest.
Monday’s deal for Gay has Kings execs smiling for two reasons. If he fills the void at small forward and produces on the frontline with Cousins, the organization will attempt to extend a contract that includes a $19 million player option for next season. If his presence doesn’t resolve the small forward dilemma, the Kings can cut him loose after next season (no one walks away from $19 million) and use the money to pursue other free agents.
“I put a high premium on talent and character, and Rudy Gay has an abundance of both,” said Bryan Colangelo, the former Raptors general manager who acquired Gay from Memphis last January in a deal that was widely regarded as a salary dump by the Grizzlies. “Obviously, Pete (D’Alessandro) has a mandate to increase the talent level of his team as opposed to depleting it. This move is a pretty good indication of that.”
At 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, Gay upgrades the Kings’ talent, length, athleticism and rebounding. The questions – besides that albatross of a contract – pertain to his offensive efficiency and a shooting percentage hovering at a career-worst 38 percent, a by-product in part of his tendency to dominate the ball and over-penetrate.
Some NBA types, however, envision Gay flourishing in a system that utilizes his versatility and puts him in position to make plays for himself and for his teammates.
The obvious downside to the deal is the departure of Vasquez, a pass-first point guard who missed much of training camp while recovering from ankle surgery. While splitting time with Thomas, he advocated for more pick-and-rolls and a more free-flowing system, one less reliant on Cousins to generate offense out of the low post.
The addition of Gay – putting another scorer into a lineup with Cousins, McLemore, Thomas and perhaps Derrick Williams – presents Malone with an interesting challenge. Adding talent is one thing. Adding talent that will mesh is something else. Look in the window. We shall see.