As the Sacramento Kings closed the curtains on another disappointing season last April, the franchise was keenly aware significant changes had to be made. Since the moment Vivek Ranadivé saved professional basketball in Sacramento as we know it, change has been the one constant.
It has been musical chairs in and around the Kings’ front office since Vivek purchased the Kings for a then record franchise valuation of $534 million in May 2013. A number of coaches, general managers and advisers have come and gone since Vivek’s ownership tenure began. But the latest change leaves the franchise and their devoted legions of fans quite optimistic.
That change is the addition of former King Vlade Divac into the franchise’s brain trust. The man who was a key figure of Sacramento’s revitalization in the early 2000’s was called upon to do so again, but in a far different capacity in this iteration.
Vlade was hired in March as Vice President of Basketball and Franchise Operations, and shortly thereafter attained the title of General Manager. Divac has crafted an impressive portfolio as a basketball administrator since retiring in 2005, with experience gained in Europe as the club president of KK Partizan for a few years as well as time served as a European scout for the Lakers.
Divac spent the off-season aggressively altering the Kings roster from a year ago. The Kings invested a high draft choice on a defensive minded player, Kentucky C Willie Cauley-Stein, for the first time in 20 plus seasons. Rarely are players of Cauley-Stein’s ilk (non offensive threats) taken so early in drafts, but also rare are players, particularly of the 7 foot variety, with the athleticism, quick feet and raw gifts that Cauley-Stein boasts.
Cauley-Stein projects as a Tyson Chandler/DeAndre Jordan caliber center, an elite rim protector who runs the floor well, sets screens and can serve as a game changer defensively. Anyone who has watched the Kings play regularly the last several years can attest that a defensive minded big is precisely what has been missing. Cauley-Stein figures to pair well with budding superstar and first time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, both of whom are Kentucky products and are close personally.
Dealing with a somewhat restrictive cap situation and the ostensible fact that prominent NBA free agents simply do not sign in Sacramento, the Kings still came away with a number of proven veterans and a key veteran hellbent on proving to the league he still has All-Star talent.
Acquisitions include former Memphis Grizzlies’ center Kosta Koufos, an outstanding team defender and capable scorer, San Antonio Spurs’ guard Marco Belinelli and his career 39% mark from 3, Caron Butler, a former All-Star now in the twilight of his career, but figures to serve as a key reserve and a positive figure in the locker room, and lastly, Rajon Rondo, certainly the most high profile of the additions.
Rondo hopes to rejuvenate his career with the Kings. In many ways, his performance will determine how well the Kings do in 2015 and beyond. Rondo was traded from the Celtics early last year to the Mavericks and had several run ins with his new coach Rick Carlisle and was a detriment to Dallas’ high octane offensive attack. After an extremely poor performance in the playoffs, his tenure with Dallas came to an unceremonious conclusion.
Despite all that, Rondo is still a very accomplished player. He’s a four time All-Star, has twice led the league in assists, and was the starting point guard on a championship team. If he’s closer to the latter than the former, the Kings are optimistic they could realistically compete for a playoff spot.
Photo by LWYang/CC Flickr