Ailene Voisin

Opinion: As summer’s piñata, Kings need to hit back in free agency

Video: After playing for seven coaches in seven years, Sacramento Kings trade Jason Thompson

After playing for seven coaches in seven years, Sacramento Kings trade Jason Thompson and shares his experience in Sacramento. Video by Hector Amezcua/hamezcua@sacbee.com
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After playing for seven coaches in seven years, Sacramento Kings trade Jason Thompson and shares his experience in Sacramento. Video by Hector Amezcua/hamezcua@sacbee.com

Imagine six men sitting on a couch. Now imagine three more men crowding onto the same couch, with cellphones vibrating and trilling and voices rising and falling. Back rooms. Front rooms. All rooms. This was basketball’s version of war and peace, a turbulent season that transformed the Kings into this summer’s piñata.

But fear not. There’s a new target every offseason.

Throughout 2014-15, these were the Kings’ men – far too many wannabe power brokers and intruders with individual agendas, differing philosophies and conspiracy theories – wasting valuable time and retarding the organization’s progress.

The Kings have agreed to trade Nik Stauskas to the Philadelphia 76ers and send Carl Landry (two years left for $13.4 million) and Jason Thompson (two years for $13 million) along as a salary dump, immediately expanding their options in free agency.

There was agent Dan Fegan, poisoning the well where DeMarcus Cousins, George Karl and Vlade Divac sip water. (And, later, urging majority owner Vivek Ranadive to hire and promote another of his clients, Kiki Vandeweghe, to a position above Divac).

There was attorney Steve Kauffman, who conveniently represented former Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, former Kings coach Michael Malone, former interim coach Tyrone Corbin and Kings interim general manager Mike Bratz. If that sounds a bit too cozy, well, it should.

Then, in the past week, there was Kentucky coach John Calipari chatting up Ranadive – ostensibly about Cousins and first-round draft choice Willie Cauley-Stein – Karl discussing Kings’ personnel matters with too many friends and Divac forced to tamp down the rising hoops hysteria while proving to disbelievers that he is truly empowered to oversee basketball operations.

That piñata? Those punch lines? Tweets. Texts. Calls. Talk shows. Blogs. Sexy lies and tons of videotape. It’s all there, some of it credible, though most of it not. While the new arena is being built, growing daily before our eyes, Divac is scrambling to assemble a staff, pursue trades and signings and, to his credit, receiving assistance from one former high-powered attorney and league executive who has asked to remain anonymous for the time being.

“We have a plan, a list of people we have targeted, and we’ll see what happens,” Divac said. “If we don’t get any of the players we target, we’ll keep going down the list. There are some trade opportunities, too. But I don’t expect anything to happen right away.”

The Kings are caught, in a sense, because of previous poor salary cap management and the league’s trickle-down theory.

Before the Kings agreed to trade guard Nik Stauskas and forwards Carl Landry (two years left for $13.4 million) and Jason Thompson (two years for $13 million) to the 76ers late Wednesday night, the Kings were in a tight spot.

Because they only had an estimated $9 million in cap space and an estimated $5 million in the mid-level exception – and since they are not trading the coveted Cousins – they couldn’t financially compete for A-list free agents such as LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love; even Danny Green was out of their price range.

The trade, however, immediately expands their options.

Citing their priorities as depth at point guard and perimeter shooting, the Kings have considered trading for Atlanta Hawks backup point guard Dennis Schroder and in the free-agent market are looking at the oft-mentioned group that includes Rajon Rondo, Monta Ellis and Wesley Matthews, all of whom come with warning tags.

Ellis, who is seeking approximately three years and $32 million, is an aging, undersized shooting guard who can be an unsettling presence in the locker room. The Warriors improved dramatically when they traded him to Milwaukee and turned their backcourt over to Steph Curry and added the longer, defensive-oriented Klay Thompson a year later.

On a one-year deal, at a reasonable price, Rajon Rondo to the Kings could be the winner.

Matthews was a valuable combination playmaker and scorer with the Portland Trail Blazers, but he missed most of last season recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon, an injury that has ended the careers or significantly reduced the productivity of several NBA players, and the latest medical studies are not particularly encouraging. Matthews’ desire for a long-term contract for about $15 million per season, coupled with his age at 28, makes a Matthews-Kings pairing extremely problematic.

The Kings’ best option might be a one-year deal for Rondo, the veteran point guard looking to rehabilitate his career after a stormy half-season in Dallas. A terrific passer and open-court player when healthy, he bristled under coach Rick Carlisle’s insistence on calling plays from the bench. After a sideline cursing match Feb. 18 during a game against Toronto, the two appeared to have reached a peaceful accord. Instead, after Rondo appeared distracted and was assessed an eight-second call in Game 2 of the first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets, the parties agreed to part ways.

On a one-year deal, at a reasonable price, this could be the winner. Rondo would join close friend Rudy Gay on a roster that includes Cousins, Darren Collison and Cauley-Stein. But he would play for another demanding and accomplished coach, though one who sees point guards as floor leaders.

“It’s a process,” Divac said. “We want to make smart moves.”

In this instance, the best move might be to sit back and watch what unfolds.

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