There comes a time during the existence of an NBA franchise, which presents the team with a crossroads, a choice ultimately deciding the future success or failure of the organization for years to come. For some teams, the decision results in a “tanking” season, an attempt to win as little as possible to assure a higher draft pick. The Milwaukee Bucks did it. The Philadeplhia 76ers did it. The Los Angeles Lakers hopefully did it, either that or head coach Mike D’Antoni really wasn’t the guy for the job. For the Sacramento Kings, however, purposely losing for seasons at a time has never been a part of the game plan.
Regardless of the team’s efforts to put up as many wins as possible, its 28-54 record has landed Sacramento with the eighth overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. With it brings one of the Kings’ most important decisions since the installation of new ownership: Will the Kings continue to build one of the youngest teams in the league through the draft or shop their next pick to build a more experienced, veteran core? Even if the player the team receives by putting the pick on the trade market isn’t a particularly seasoned veteran, the choice Sacramento makes in this scenario will tell whether or not immediate success is an established goal.
It’s been surrounding the franchise since the end of its regular season; the ideal situation for Vivek Ranadive’s team is to make the NBA Playoffs in the 2014-15 season, which will likely only happen if management trades away the pick for pieces which could develop a core capable of winning now. In most cases, this mindset is unsuccessful. It’s a strategy duplicated in a handful of scenarios, the latest being Los Angeles’ signing of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to create what many believed should have been the Western Conference’s most dominant squad. It worked about as well as signing Mike D’Antoni to coach; the reach for immediate wins and a playoff run ended in nothing more than wasted contracts and conversations over whether or not Steve Nash is getting paid a full year after the shenanigans ended. Dwight Howard ended up leaving the team and began the process of Laker hopes being crushed and put in a trashcan somewhere in Downtown Los Angeles with nothing but a losing team as memorabilia of the pointless venture.
So comes the argument in the favor of sticking with Sacramento’s intended game plan and building through a number of drafts. Last year it was Ben McLemore, the young Kansas prospect still thought of highly by head coach Mike Malone, and Sacramento fans hoping he pans out in the league. If the franchise does indeed decide to stick with its young core and get even younger, its eighth overall pick would possibly send Aaron Gordon out of Arizona and into Sacramento’s hands.
The Kings’ starting five is more than decent when looked at piece-by-piece. Isaiah Thomas running the show at the point guard, a young Ben McLemore taking open threes (and missing most of them), but learning nonetheless, Rudy Gay reviving his career with an efficient offensive season, and DeMarcus Cousins at the center position putting up 20 points and 10 rebounds just by waking up and getting himself to the game.
Then, at the power forward, there’s Jason Thompson.
He started a majority of games for the Kings last season, so we’ll consider him their potential starter over Reggie Evans. Thompson is the weak link of this starting lineup; he doesn’t contribute enough offensively or defensively to be given any immense respect by opposing teams, especially at a position filled with talent with Serge Ibaka, Blake Griffin, Kevin Lov, and a whole bunch of other guys who tear up Thompson on a nightly basis. The Kings need a power forward who can guard professional power forwards, and this necessity brings the legitimacy of taking another year to build around a potential-filled Aaron Gordon. Or even any other power forward as the draft, in general, is very deep.
One of the best defenders in the incoming rookie class, Gordon’s ability to guard both forward positions and translate his stops into fast break points offensively is what the Kings are looking for. This team is terrible in transition. It can’t create stops defensively, and hardly finishes chances at the opposite end of the floor. It may go against the new Sacramento ownership’s win-now attitude, which it likely has because of the fan base’s thirst for a winning season, but taking the time and steps necessary to build around a young team can assure success for the future.
It’s a tactic which has had positive outcomes on numerous occasions. The Washington Wizards made a deep playoff run this year after being regarded as one of the league’s worst teams before drafting John Wall and Bradley Beal and surrounding the two young guards with a cast of veterans and more experienced players. The difference between Washington’s scenario and Sacramento’s predicament is that the Wizards waited until all the necessary pieces were in place before deciding that it was time to win. It had its two guards, it had a strong frontcourt in Nene and Gortat, and it had a slew of veterans and role players to balance out such a young team. The Kings almost have the pieces ready, but passing up on the possibility of snagging Aaron Gordon or another defensive big is a step in the wrong direction. For great franchises, the winning process has always begun at the draft. San Antonio drafted Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker and a future Hall of Famer named Tim Duncan with the belief that patience now would assure gratification and success in years following.
The thing that makes picking Gordon so promising is the defensive need he meets and exceeds. Even if his role is simply to alter shots and start off fast breaks, the Kings need a power forward capable of imposing his will defensively, especially with a team so impaired on that side of the ball.
If the Kings do decide to put the pick on the market, it will likely be to fish out a power forward. Sacramento has Reggie Evans and DeMarcus Cousins to take care of the center position, but a possible trade involving the pick and some older Kings players could see the arrival of a forward. David Lee is a potential trade option, as shipping the Golden State Warriors the number eight pick along with Jason Thompson, Travis Outlaw, and possibly a Jason Terry fresh off an injury could bring the arrival of Lee. Again, the Kings’ main soft spot as far as its frontcourt goes is defense, and Lee would not be meeting that necessity with any formidable presence. DeMarcus Cousins needs help in the paint on the defensive end of the floor, and no potential trade package brings with it a defensive prospect with the possibilities of Gordon.
If Sacramento does indeed come to the rationale that starting with a young core of players will ultimately result in more longevity and future success, the team will likely stick with its pick and use it on Gordon, if he is still available at that point in the draft, which he is prospected to be on most mock drafts. If he enters Sacramento as the defensive star he has the ability to become, the Kings’ future could include winning seasons for years to come.