Consider, for a moment, the following statistics for a group of players this season.
(Points / Assists / Rebs/ St’ocks (Steals + Blocks) / FG% / 3Pt% / FT%)
- Player A (Center / Age 26): 27.6 / 4.8 / 10.7 / 2.7 / 45.4% / 35% / 77.3%
- Player B (Center / Age 27): 16.7 / 0.7 / 14.1 / 2.9 / 55.4% / 0% / 57.8% (does not attempt 3’s)
- Player C (Guard / Age 28): 29.6 / 6.2 / 2.8 / 1.0 / 46% / 38.3% / 91.3%
For discussion purposes, let us assume these three players are on a single team. Add three or four reliable role/bench players, a couple of playoff-tested veterans and a competent coach.
The question is, can they make the playoffs in an uber competitive Western Conference? Without doubt.
Can they win 55+ games and take home-court advantage into the Playoffs? Absolutely.
Can they make it to the NBA Finals? Yes, they can (barring untimely injury).
Who is Group Purple? The 2016-‘17 Sacramento Kings, had they not traded away DeMarcus Cousins (A) and Isaiah Thomas (C), and not banished Hassan Whiteside (B) to the NBA Development League, eventually cutting him off.
Do not believe me? Then let us consider another group of players from two seasons ago.
- Player A (Guard / Age 26): 23.8 / 7.7 / 4.3 / 2.2 / 48% / 44.3% / 91.4%
- Player B (Forward / Age 24): 11.7 / 7.3 / 9.5 / 2.9 / 44.3% / 33.7% / 69.6%
- Player C (Guard / Age 25): 21.7 / 2.9 / 3.2 / 46.3% / 43.9% / 87.9%
They had four reliable role/bench players, three playoff-tested vets and a competent coach.
Let us run those questions again:
Did they make the playoffs in an uber competitive Western Conference? Yes, they did.
Did they win 55+ games and take home-court advantage into the Playoffs? They won 67.
Did they make it to the NBA Finals? Actually, they became NBA Champions.
Who is Group Yellow? The 2014-‘15 Golden State Warriors, featuring Stephen Curry (A), Draymond Green (B) and Klay Thompson (C).
From the frying pan into the fire?
The Maloofs, the Vegas millionaires who owned the Kings before Ranadivé’s consortium, had a strange run. On one hand they oversaw some of the greatest Kings’ teams and would have ended up with a couple of championships if not for untimely injuries, or a historically great shot. On the other hand, the Kings franchise, who were beacons for “honesty and loyalty to core players and local community” (ranked third in ESPN The Mag’s Ultimate Team Rankings) dangled the team in a bidding war and initially agreed to relocate the Kings to Seattle for a deal worth nearly $625 million.
Enter Sacramento mayor and NBA Legend Kevin Johnson, and a group led by Vivek Ranadivé, formerly a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors, who after much intervention from the league (NBA Board of Governors), convinced the Maloofs to keep the franchise in Sacramento and sell it for a then record price of $534 million, with the promise to the league and the city of Sacramento that they would build a spanking new stadium in a couple of years.
Ranadivé delivered on the state of the art and jaw dropping stadium.
But he did not deliver on much else.
A series of questionable decisions
Ever since taking the reins in Sacramento, the franchise has been in a free fall of sorts with instability in everything ranging from coaches to players and front office personnel. The Kings have had three coaches in the three seasons since Ranadivé took over. His first order of business as owner, in a move then widely believed to be a display of prompt action, was signing off on a trade that sent his second best player Tyreke Evans, to New Orleans in a three-team deal that netted the Kings Greivis Vasquez, a guard who is not in the NBA anymore.
Next season he traded away Isaiah Thomas, once again his second best player no less, to the Phoenix Suns to get a $7 million trade exception (basically, save some cash) and someone called Alex Oriakhi (who has never played an NBA game, and is not in the NBA anymore).
He then fired Mike Malone barely six games into the season, only to hire an aging, out-of-tough George Karl mid-season. This is still among the most inexplicable moves he has made considering that Malone was the first coach that Cousins genuinely liked and respected.
After all that damage, you would think Ranadivé was done. But as a New Yorker article said, “He [Ranadivé] was not one to accept losing easily”.
Among the most lopsided deals in NBA history
Amongst the 2017 NBA All-Star festivities, Ranadivé traded away DeMarcus Cousins, his best player, and one of the ten best players in the league to New Orleans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans (remember him from earlier?) and a 2017 second round pick. The deal has already been raised to be included among the most lopsided deals in NBA history. It is not hard to see why.
Cousins is downright unguardable. The only chink in his armour was his range, which he has extended well beyond the 3-point line this season. His ability to score at will in one-on-one situations, which at times make him look like a Hall-Of-Famer, is what makes him such a threat in the pick-and-roll as well. Teams cannot switch on him, and if they do, cannot leave the defensive task to just one player. Defensively too, he can be among the league’s elite centres when motivated, even stepping out to get quicker guards to change direction.
There is no doubt the Kings are threadbare at the time of writing this. They would need to tank, and tank soon. Cousins’s brilliance in the first half of the season had left them competing for the eighth spot in the West. With the Kings’ making it clear that they are in rebuild mode, fans of the franchise ought to expect a whole lot of losing in the last third of the season. Why? Because Sacramento has traded away its 2017 first round draft pick, protected 1-3, which means, New Orleans owns Sacramento’s pick it if falls between 4-30.
Yes, Sacramento have a decent record at the Draft. Not enviable, but decent. However, the 2017 draft is loaded, and they are not the only team competing for a bonanza, come June. Even if they begin tanking as early as next month they are way behind Brooklyn, Lakers, Philadelphia and Phoenix in the 2017 Draft race.
Assuming they get that pick, and Hield lives up to his “Steph Curry potential”, the Kings’ front office have done absolutely nothing to assure free agents that they are an organisation worth playing for. The questionable trades aside, the Kings’ biggest blot on their reputation comes in the form of false promise they made just weeks before the trade, both publicly and to Cousins personally, that trading him was out of the question. If the Kings could do this to their star player, and one of the ten best players in the league, what chance do other players stand against the whims of a front office that, at least at this moment, does not seem to know what they are doing.
The fall from grace of this once great franchise has been quite a dramatic one. Try as he can, Ranadivé cannot avoid responsibility for this drama. A drama that threatens to continue at least for a few more seasons if drastic measures are taken to correct the path. The solution had been fairly simple for Sacramento. Hold on to your star player, give him stability in the coach’s corner, and surround him with competent professional players that will show up every night. The Kings had all these lined up for them three seasons ago. They, led by Ranadive’s strange whims, whittled it all away.
It will take nothing short of a miracle to put them in that exact, or similar, enviable position again.
Best of the week:
With the league on an All-Star break, there were too few games played to warrant a Best Of section. So we decided to mix it up for this week with the best trades that went down in time for the trade deadline.
The Taj Gibson Trade
- Oklahoma City Thunder get Taj Gibson (F) and Doug McDermott (F)
- Chicago Bulls get Cameron Payne (G), Joffrey Lauvergne (C), Anthony Morrow (G), and a 2018 second-round draft pick.
An underrated trade for both the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Chicago Bulls. At OKC’s end, do not underestimate the value of a playoff-experienced, battle-tested Taj Gibson to complement the team’s current frontcourt of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. OKC now has the flexibility to play any two of the three for all 48 minutes, bullying smaller teams (hello, Golden State) into submission in the paint. Yes, the range (of shooting) the three bring to the court is a still a shortcoming, but when newly acquired McDermott (37% from 3-point land), Oladipo and Westbrook are firing on all cylinders, that will not matter
At Chicago’s end, they have addressed a gaping hole: young legs to backup Wade and a lacklustre Rondo. Payne has the potential to be the backup point guard on a Championship team, and the Bulls will need all the help they can get in the backcourt.
The Cousins Trade
- New Orleans Pelicans get DeMarcus Cousins (C) and Omri Casspi (F)
- Sacramento Kings get G Tyreke Evans (G), Buddy Hield (G), Langston Galloway (G/F) and 2017 first and second round draft picks.
There is no question as to who has come out on top here. The Kings are in total rebuild mode. Look for them to start tanking immediately in hopes of landing a high pick in an incredibly loaded draft. For the Pelicans, Cousins is one of the NBA’s ten best players, and has been so for a while. He now gets paired up with Anthony Davis, who shares the same credentials. Throw in a solid playmaker in Jrue Holiday, and the Pelicans are in position to make a run at the eighth spot in the West. If they do get there, look for them to give serious trouble to the Golden State Warriors. Why? Because Golden State have lost every game that they have been outrebounded in, this season.
The Ibaka Trade
- Toronto Raptors get Serge Ibaka (F)
- Orlando Magic get Terrence Ross (F) and a 2017 first round draft pick
Acquiring Ibaka has allowed the Raptors to upgrade their most used line-up. They will replace Siakim with Ibaka effectively trotting out Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, Ibaka and Valanciunas as their version of the Death Lineup. Losing Ross is going to be costly to their bench, something they have sought to insure themselves against by trading for PJ Tucker. Expect Cory Joseph to play a bigger role off the bench. Would’ve been the trade of the season if not for...
The Lou Williams Trade
- Houston Rockets get Lou Williams (G)
- Los Angeles Lakers get Corey Brewer (F) and a 2017 first round draft pick.
The trade of the season. Yep.
Mike D’Antoni has unleashed The Harden on the NBA. Harden’s historically great ability to score at will, commands a double on every possession, opening up the floor for at least one other teammate. Houston had already loaded its line-up with Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, two of the NBA’s top 20 catch-and-shoot gunners, in the offseason. They now loaded up even further by adding Lou Williams, another Top-20 catch-and-shoot gunner. What that means for D’Antoni is, with a lineup of Beverly, Harden, Anderson and Ariza as constants, the Rockets can chose between Gordon OR Williams, giving him the option to have five 3-point shooters on the floor for the entire 48 minutes, a luxury both Golden State and Cleveland do not have. Who needs rebounds and defence when you can score 150 points a game?