Sports Out West

The Sacramento Kings’ veteran crisis

Sacramento and its NBA team are no strangers to put-downs, but it’s rare to hear from a current player who’s yet to run with the club.

Jason Terry, who joined the Sacramento Kings before last year’s trade deadline and missed the remaining season with a knee injury, expressed his desire to re-join the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, despite the fact he’s owed $5.45 million through 2015. Quotes from the Fitzsimmons and Fredo Show in Dallas (credit to Jason Jones):

“I bleed blue. I’m a Maverick.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s (Sacramento is) rebuilding, but a building process. DeMarcus Cousins is a huge talent. Attitude, a little shaky. Rudy Gay, not a proven winner in this league but a tremendous talent and a guy you can build around.”

“They’re in transition right now. For me, at this point in my career, I want championships.”

Terry’s comments are reasonably tame, but they underscore a deeper issue with the Kings. The notion that if Sacramento offered a washed-up player a roster spot, or an all-expenses-paid vacation to Iraq, they’d need a few days to mull it over.

Sad to say, NBA veterans avoid the Kings. Fans point to Vlade Divac and Shareef Abdur-Rahim to prove otherwise, but can you remember the last free agents Sacramento signed who were over 30?

The Ime Udoka (2009), Mr. “Dunk” Desmond Mason (who Udoka replaced after five games in 2009), Mikki Moore (2007) and Greg Ostertag (2004). Also known as the “forgettable four.”

It wasn’t always so pathetic. Pre-mid 2000s, the Kings could occasionally ink a fading star like Jim Jackson (after he couldn’t find any better offers), or an aging headcase like Vernon Maxwell. There were Tyrone Corbin’s late-career stints, and folks like Otis Thorpe and Bill Wennington who came back as greybeards too. Those were the days.

For better or worse, NBA philosophies have evolved. It makes much more sense now to lend a roster spot to an unproven youngin over a washed-up vet because of the potential future production they can provide. Yet the Kings have embraced this strategy to poor results.

Part of Sacramento’s struggles can be blamed on coaching, which in recent years have included many ex-NBA players. Their experience helps, but it can’t compare with an elder who can still play meaningful minutes and lead by example. The Kings’ young nucleus needs as much guidance as it can, even at the expense of wet-eared 12th and 13th men.

The Kings can continue to depend on trades for disgruntled or former stars (which they’ve managed very effectively), or they can attempt to give life to their nonexistent free agency hopes. Assuming re-location to a bigger market is out of the question (too soon?), here are a few suggestions to recruit older players:

Overpay

The Kings infamously needed every cent of available cap space to sign a 30-year-old Divac to a six-year, $63 million contract in 1998. The bargains stopped there. Abdur-Rahim, who was 28, required a five-year full mid-level exception despite failing an ominous physical with the New Jersey Nets. In 2011 and 2013, Sacramento lavishly doled out dough to Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry respectively. And let’s not forget Moore.

Money talks, but the Kings are over the salary cap and used their MLE on Darren Collision this offseason, meaning their finances are tied up for the immediate future. Fortunately, owner Vivik Ranadive appears willing to spend when he can.

Surpass .500

Winning cures mostly anything, and odds are the Jim Jackson pairing would’ve never happened if the Kings weren’t championship-caliber. The high of being a playoff regular likely influenced Anthony Peeler and Tony Massenburg to sign with Sacramento. The Cleveland Cavaliers are a good example of a veteran free agent hub in a small (sleepy) market when the team is competitive. But as Terry noted, the Kings have a ways to go.

Upgrade the office

Sleep Train Arena’s visitor locker room is so pitifully small, any images of the room are banned from the internet for fear of upsetting human rights activists. Throw in an exteriorly outdated practice facility, and it’s no wonder veterans would prefer to work for a team like the Mavericks where there is a world-class gym.

Hopefully when the Kings’ new state-of-the-art downtown arena is unveiled in 2016, free agents will bask in its glory and be proud to call it home. If not, Sacramento should refer to steps 1 and 2 and ask Kevin Johnson to make a pitch.

Photo Credit: Kelley L. Cox / USA TODAY Sports

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Rui Thomas

Rui Thomas is an NFL and NBA aficionado whose credits include Yahoo! Sports, FanNation, GoldenGateSports and Radiosurvivor.com. He also owns the Theruination.net. Rui grew up an obsessive fan of the Sacramento Kings and Oakland Raiders, but he sympathizes with every West Coast team.
  • Adrian Rehn

    Lol the locker rooms would anger human rights activists. A smart team looking to the future wouldn’t trade away tyreke and isaiah thomas

  • King Kris

    Hilarious. The Kings are certainly something else. They need someone who really knows what they’re doing in the front office too. Cuz their game is weak.