Our NBA Insiders go 5-on-5 on the Sacramento Kings.
1. What do you foresee and advise for the Kings this offseason?
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider: Stop treating the organization like a fantasy basketball team from the top down. Hiring and firing high-level staffers every year breeds insecurity and dysfunction and scares away potential top-shelf talent. If you're going to commit to a rebuild, don't flake out.
David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Trade DeMarcus Cousins for a solid veteran, some young prospects and picks. Forget about "equal value" and just move on. Trade Rudy Gay. Don't re-sign Rajon Rondo. Start fresh with the few solid veterans you have plus what you get in the deals and the draft. And let Dave Joerger coach them up.
Try to be in position to sign a great player next July and have the roster ready to go at that point to be in playoff contention. Doing it that way allows for some sustainability.
Jeremias Engelmann, ESPN Insider: Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo have long been players whose impact falls way short of what one would expect when looking at their box score stats. I'd try to (sign and) trade both, and I'd also throw in Marco Belinelli, one of the league's 15 worst players in Real Plus-Minus (RPM).
Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Insider: First and foremost, the Kings have to get everybody pulling in the same direction. As for the roster, general manager Vlade Divac needs to build around his frontcourt with better shooters and defenders on the wing.
I'm not burning my cap space for Rajon Rondo. Darren Collison, a draft pick like Providence's Kris Dunn and Seth Curry (if they can re-sign him) present a nice mix at his position, and their contracts wouldn't eat up the money you need to fill the hole at shooting guard.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: I foresee a relatively quiet offseason by Kings standards. Re-signing Rondo takes care of most of their cap space, and while Sacramento might be able to clear enough room to resume the trade-deadline pursuit of Pau Gasol in free agency by trading someone like Rudy Gay, I don't see dramatic changes beyond that and the change on the sidelines. I figure the Kings will hope that a new coach can revitalize Ben McLemore's career rather than trying to trade him.
2. Fact or Fiction: Dave Joerger (coach) and Ken Catanella (assistant GM) signal a new day in Sacramento.
Pelton: Certainly. Hiring Joerger means a fresh start for both management and DeMarcus Cousins (whose relationships with previous coach George Karl failed), and he was one of the top coaches on the market based on his success in Memphis. Catanella's expertise will help fill in the gaps in Vlade Divac's education as an executive. That said, "new days" haven't been the problem in Sacramento, given the constant turnover on owner Vivek Ranadive's watch.
Engelmann: Fiction. Joerger cannot be blamed for the Grizzlies' early playoff exit, but according to my coach metric, he's one of the three worst currently employed coaches in the NBA in the past 16 years. Also, I can't imagine Catanella having a significant impact on personnel decisions with Divac still there.
Doolittle: We'll see. I love both hires. Joerger is a fine coach and will foster an improved locker room culture. Catanella appears to be the perfect complement for Divac. Still, both of these guys are underlings in the franchise's pecking order. If Ranadive and Divac don't show growth in their roles atop the organizational chart, these hires won't matter.
Thorpe: Fiction, probably. Joerger can coach. But as long as Vlade Divac is the GM and DeMarcus Cousins is there, this "day" is the same as the day George Karl was hired. That guy can coach too, but the lack of leadership from management allowed Cousins to serve as the true "King," and that proved to be a catastrophe.
Haberstroh: I like Joerger and Catanella. But I also liked George Karl and (former director player personnel and analytics) Dean Oliver too. And I also liked (former head coach) Mike Malone and (former general manager) Pete D'Alessandro. It's not a new day; it's "Groundhog Day."
3. Fact or Fiction: The Kings should keep and build around DeMarcus Cousins.
Thorpe: Fiction, to the extreme. While Joerger might be able to reach him, it makes more sense to move on. As Karl once told me, Cousins will likely grow up one day and reach his potential, but probably not in Sacramento. Dallas or Houston, big-city teams featuring stars to help him find a place in this world, would be ideal for him. He wouldn't be the most famous guy in either spot, and in the case of Dallas, he wouldn't have a coach he can disrespect.
Doolittle: He's always going to be a handful on and off the court, but I still come back to the feeling that many of his problems stem from unadulterated competitiveness. The Kings have never really put Cousins in a winning situation during his NBA career. If they do that and it still doesn't work, then trade him.
Pelton: Fiction. Cousins might ultimately become the kind of teammate who can anchor a consistently successful NBA team, but I don't think that's going to happen in Sacramento. His trade value is highest now, when a new team could get two years of Cousins on his relatively cheap rookie extension before he hits unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.
Haberstroh: Fiction. Ranadive or Cousins -- one's going to have to go before this organization can take a serious step toward relevance. Ranadive has shown almost no ability to maximize a top-10 talent like Cousins. And I don't see Ranadive being the one to step away.
Engelmann: Cousins is a very good player -- he ranks 13th in RPM this season. But if he doesn't get along with the next coach either -- as seems to be the common theme with him -- I'd certainly listen to trade offers. If only the Kings didn't unnecessarily fire the only coach Cousins had no quibbles with.
4. Cousins aside, how many keepers do the Kings have on the roster?
Haberstroh: Four. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos, Seth Curry and Omri Casspi. All of these guys can play and are still in the middle of their prime or entering it. Cauley-Stein is probably the only true keeper, but the rest are nice pieces to keep around in the modern NBA.
Pelton: For the long term? Possibly only Willie Cauley-Stein, who showed more offense than expected as a rookie. For the short term, there are some solid role players on the roster who could be part of a playoff-caliber team, but those players are mostly interchangeable when we look further out.
Engelmann: Three and a half: Darren Collison, who's on this list mostly because he's cheap; Willie Cauley-Stein, because he's a rookie who has shown promise; and Omri Casspi, who's also cheap and had the Kings second-best RPM this season. The jury's still out on Ben McLemore.
Thorpe: Five. I love Darren Collison. Omri Casspi has emerged as one of the NBA's best 3-and-D players. Willie Cauley-Stein has All-Star potential, and Kosta Koufos is solid. I also think Ben McLemore would prosper in a new era sans Cousins and be at least a solid shooter/athlete for them.
Doolittle: Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein are the only foundation pieces, but I like the overall frontcourt rotation with those two, Kosta Koufos, Omri Casspi and Rudy Gay as an occasional 4. I'm letting Rondo walk and trading both Marco Belinelli and Ben McLemore. As for Curry, I'd hate to see him sign elsewhere and turn into a quasi sensation.
5. Fact or Fiction: The Kings will make the playoffs by 2019.
Engelmann: Fiction. Given that the Kings have one of the most incompetent owner-GM tandems in the NBA, I would be shocked if they made the playoffs by 2025. They owe a total of seven draft picks or pick swaps from now to 2019, including three in the first round, so I have a hard time picturing them improving significantly over the next few years.
Haberstroh: Fiction. This feels a lot like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Kevin Love under David Kahn, except with a whole lot more coaching instability. The win totals might be going up marginally, but all the while it feels like hustling backward.
Doolittle: Fiction. Could go either way, obviously, but there is too much of a track record of instability for me to believe things will turn around. Plus, there are so many other teams in the West either established as playoff worthy or, in the case of Denver, Utah and Minnesota, on that trajectory.
Thorpe: Fiction, only because there's still too much fog in my crystal ball for them. Can they? Yes. That core listed above, with smart acquisitions and picks and Dave Joerger coaching, is surely a good playoff possibility. With luck, they can add an All-Star via the draft, trade or free agency. But as long as the Kings have the trio of Rondo, Gay and Cousins, I cannot envision long-term success.
Pelton: Fiction. It's certainly possible the Kings do, but if I'm forced to say yes or no, I'm leaning against. This year was Sacramento's best opportunity to make the playoffs in a down Western Conference. Other lottery teams like Utah, Minnesota and New Orleans all have a better shot to reach the postseason next year, in my opinion, and as the Kings focus on short-term moves to win now, it becomes progressively more difficult to win later.