An offseason ago, the Kings attempted an accelerated Big Fix to coincide with the near completion of the Big Deal, the sports and entertainment complex that is the new home of the area’s NBA franchise, transforming the look and feel of downtown and attracting marquee performers, NCAA Tournaments, tractor pulls and the usual and assorted sought-after events.
But we all know what happened when the Kings boarded that bullet train. It was too fast, too much, too soon. The historic finale at Sleep Train Arena became the Big Flop.
The pricey additions of Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Kosta Koufos – the veteran center whose presence would benefit an established team – was attractive on paper but a fiasco on the court. There was serial drama, repeated locker room eruptions, another coach fired, another season of technicals, another season without a playoff appearance.
The best that can be said about the disappointing 2015-16 season is it ended. Since then, the Kings retained their first-round draft pick that was swapped for three selections, and general manager Vlade Divac appears to have muzzled principal owner Vivek Ranadive and assembled a front office staff that no longer is the joke of the league.
The crucial lesson: Slow down. Stop pretending. Start again.
Fans are asking for progress, not demanding a parade. Not yet, anyway.
The Kings dug their way into this mess over a period of years by hiring the wrong coaches and front office executives and using lottery picks on Thomas Robinson, Jimmer Fredette, Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas while rushing to save the franchise, build an arena, complete an ownership transition and restore a damaged reputation.
But the past is the past. If Divac overreached in his rookie offseason, his front office stretched thin with the ill-timed departures of Pete D’Alessandro and Chris Mullin, this time he has a supporting cast that includes an energetic young coach, Dave Joerger, and a talented personnel executive, Ken Catanella.
The presence of Catanella, who helped craft the league’s collective bargaining agreement and gained valuable experience with the Detroit Pistons, cannot be overstated. He (or someone with his skills) is the missing piece in the front office. The way the TV money has exploded? The salary cap ramifications for the short and long term? The ability to grasp the nuances of the CBA and extrapolate the terms and conditions over the next several years?
Hiring Catanella has enabled Divac to catch his breath, reflect and, yes, acknowledge his mistakes. He knows he tried to accomplish too much too soon. He tried to accommodate ownership’s grand plan by hastily altering the roster to make a playoff push during the final season at Sleep Train, but a year later, he is wisely changing course.
He made no attempt to re-sign Rondo, who led the league in assists but defended atrociously and stopped challenging DeMarcus Cousins around midseason. He swapped Belinelli, who labored in a loosely structured system and failed to make open jumpers, for a first-round pick that became Syracuse shooting guard Malachi Richardson. He swapped the No. 8 pick for the rights to first-rounders Georgios Papagiannis (13th) and Skal Labissiere (28th) and the rights to Serbian star Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is expected to remain in Europe for one more season.
Divac also drafted Oklahoma point guard Isaiah Cousins near the end of the second round and agreed to very reasonable – and short-term – contracts with veterans Arron Afflalo, Matt Barnes Garrett Temple and Anthony Tolliver.
Though the team payroll is capped at $94 million, there is more to come. The Kings are continuing to discuss trades involving Koufos, McLemore and small forward Rudy Gay, who is miserable and wants out.
“We need a little support at the point guard position for Darren (Collison),” Joerger said. “We generally need some playmaking, and we need some shooting. But we’ve got some size, we’ve got length, we’ve got some younger guys.”
One other factor to consider in the upcoming days: Will Kevin Durant’s departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder pressure Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin into another move? How does his superstar’s exit influence the thinking of Thunder general manager Sam Presti? And could the Kings exploit the drastic shift that shook the NBA terrain this week?
Divac, who is intent on maintaining salary cap flexibility with an eye on the talented 2016-17 free-agent class, said Kings executives are exploring everything.
“But no rush,” he said. “We want to do this right.”
NBA Las Vegas summer league
- When: Friday through July 18
- Where: UNLV
- Kings games: Friday vs. Toronto, Cox Pavilion, 7 p.m., NBATV; Sunday vs. Houston, Thomas & Mack Center, 3:30 p.m., NBATV; Monday vs. New Orleans , Cox Pavilion, 7 p.m., ESPN2; Games 4 and 5 to be determined after seeding for tournament
- Championship: July 18
INSIDE: Kings roster, 2C
Kings summer league roster