The 2017 offseason was the wildest in NBA history. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are now Eastern Conference rivals. Out West, Chris Paul joined James Harden, while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony united with Russell Westbrook. Ten recent All–Stars changed uniforms, and we haven’t even gotten to Kevin Durant’s strange summer, so let’s get to previewing. The 2017-18 NBA season is finally upon us.
2016-17 finish: 32-50, 12th in the West
• Offensive rating: 104.6 (20th)
• Defensive rating: 109.1 (27th)
Additions: George Hill, Zach Randolph, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Vince Carter, De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles, Frank Mason III
Subtractions: Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, Anthony Tolliver, Langston Galloway, Tyreke Evans, Arron Afflalo, Ben McLemore
Did the summer help at all?
Yes. Few teams have seen as much turnover this offseason as the Kings experienced over the summer, but none of the outgoing players seemed much like needle-movers. (Except, perhaps, for Gay, though he’s coming off a serious injury and sure seemed uninterested in staying in Sacramento, anyway.) The newcomers, on the other hand, fit neatly into one of two categories for a team that’s now firmly engaged in a from-the-ground-up rebuild after several years of hastily crafted and even more quickly dashed pursuits of an elusive eighth seed.
On one hand, there’s the hoped-for future of the franchise, represented by a quartet of 2017 draft picks from the ranks of college basketball’s blue bloods — hyperspeed Kentucky point guard Fox, decorated North Carolina forward Jackson, heralded-but-hurt Duke big man Giles, and tough-as-nails Kansas point guard Mason, 2017’s consensus collegiate National Player of the Year. Joining that infusion of young talent: 25-year-old Serbian wing Bogdanovic, a 2014 draftee of the Phoenix Suns whose rights came over in a trade on the night of the 2016 draft, and who has developed in recent years into one of the best players in Europe.
On the other hand, there are the veterans imported to show the youngsters the way. Point guard Hill got a three-year, $57 million deal to leave a playoff team in Salt Lake City and take the reins in Sacramento. Bruising big man Randolph left behind an iconic legacy in Memphis, but saw greener pastures (two years, $24 million) and perhaps a more featured role (he’d been coming off the bench for the Grizzlies) in rejoining former coach Dave Joerger in California. And Vince Carter, who went from Dunk Contest immortality to the NBA’s oldest player in what feels (to those of us of a certain age, anyway) like the blink of an eye, took a one-year, $8 million deal to play wing minutes off the bench.
The plan’s not hard to see. In a perfect world, Hill plays productively now while showing Fox and Mason how to run the show at the next level. Randolph offers immediate post scoring, midrange shooting and rebounding help while teaching Giles and the rest of the Kings’ recent frontcourt draftees — 2015 No. 6 pick Willie Cauley-Stein, 2016 choices Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis — some of the dark arts of footwork, positioning and fool-thwomping that Z-Bo has perfected over the years. Carter, who has gracefully transitioned from explosive superstar athlete to versatile sixth man to perimeter-shooting rotation sage, brings along the likes of Bogdanovic, Jackson, Malachi Richardson and sweet-shooting two-guard Buddy Hield.
And then, in a couple of years, after the teens have packed weight onto their frames and developed the calluses necessary to survive NBA life, the old dudes come off the books, the training wheels come off the kids, and the young Kings start roaring.
The moves allow Joerger to work on developing a culture of accountability, toughness and professionalism — an environment more stable (and hopefully more successful) than the one in Sacramento during the often-chaotic, defeat-rich DeMarcus Cousins era — while ensuring that the next generation doesn’t have to shoulder too much responsibility too early. They’re an investment in balance and calm, qualities that this franchise has found in vanishingly short supply for the bulk of the past decade.
It’d be a shock for that investment to result in many more wins this season; a first playoff berth since 2006 seems unfathomable in a loaded West. But trying to lay down a foundation for greater future gains seems like at least a good a way to spend a bunch of Vivek Ranadivé’s money as robot security guards.
Best-case scenario: Hield continues the post-trade surge — 15.1 points per game, 48 percent from the field and 42.8 percent from 3-point range — that made skeptics wonder if maybe Vivek and Vlade Divac didn’t do a bit better in the Boogie deal than it initially seemed. Bogdanovic carries over his star turn for Serbia at this summer’s Eurobasket competition to give the Kings a pair of exciting young scoring threats on the wing. Fox flashes a combination of electric athleticism and beyond-his-years composure that cements him as a future star at the point.
At least one of the Kings’ bets on a young big man — hoped-for defensive game-changer Cauley-Stein, former top prep prospects Labissiere and Giles (who’s not expected to take the court until January as he continues to work back from multiple knee injuries), feisty Greek giant Papagiannis — shows signs of paying dividends. Even if no single player looks like an obvious franchise centerpiece, continued development leads to Sacramento exiting the season with at least a couple of clear future contributors in place, and a chance to add another with a high selection in the 2018 draft lottery.
If everything falls apart: Out of familiarity/stubbornness, Joerger leans really heavily on his newfound array of vets, taking away vital developmental reps and stoking frustration. Or, worse yet, he does so because the kids flat-out can’t earn their stripes when they get a chance. Cauley-Stein continues to look uncomfortable offensively and not quite up to the task of leading the first good Sacramento defense since Rick Adelman stalked the sideline. Labissiere’s bursts of epic-fantasy inspiration grow fewer and farther between. Neither Hield nor Bogdanovic prove capable of consistently generating individual offense. The young point guards look overwhelmed.
By year’s end, all the Kings have to show for hitting the reset button is a couple of handfuls of not-ready-for-prime-time players and a surprising amount of Aggressive George Hill, which isn’t a direction. That gets Vivek’s famously itchy disruption-finger right back on the trigger, as the owner again shuffles his deck — new execs, coaches, trades, all of the above, whatever — in another search of a shortcut to relevance. Spoiler alert: it isn’t there.
Best guess at a record: 27-55
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2017-18 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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