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Is the new King a David or a Goliath?


In 2009 Malcolm Gladwell told the story of Vivek Ranadivé, a tech titan who also coached his daughter's basketball team. Supposedly, Ranadivé had many disadvantages on his team. The girls were all daughters of Silicon Valley "nerds", few of them were good at basketball, and most weren't fantastic athletes. To try and teach his team to play basketball "the right way" was futile. But this gave Ranadivé one of his greatest advantages: the ability to use unorthodox strategies. This worked well with his other advantage: as an immigrant to the US with little exposure to basketball, Ranadivé had an outsider's perspective on the sport. The result was a team that focused on running the full court press every play. Instead of worrying about scoring, his team worried about turnovers and rebounds. His team didn't look at all like a traditional basketball team, but they managed to make it to the state championship.

A New David or Old Yay Points?

When I realized the Vivek Ranadivé that became part owner of the Sacramento Kings was the same as the one in Gladwell's story, I was excited! A smart tech person with unorthodox views was coming to fix a train wreck NBA team? Yes! However, following the Kings' recent moves, this isn't what I'm seeing. There are two major things that have me scratching my head. The first is giving DeMarcus Cousins a max contract. Cousins was a draft prospect that many -- including us -- thought highly of. However, his terrible shooting has kept him from being anything but a mediocre talent. Now, you still might think he has an upside, but paying $60 million for the possibility that a player might become productive in the future is not my idea of a good move.

Trading Wins for Conventional Wisdom

A more confusing move came recently when the Kings traded Luc Mbah a Moute for Derrick Williams. Luc has had a pretty good career; it looks like he had some injury trouble at the end of his time in Milwaukee, but he was one of a few good players on the Kings this season. Additionally, Mbah a Moute is 27 years old -- right around the prime of the average NBA player -- and on a super cheap contract. All of these qualities make for the type of player a team should want. On the other hand, Derrick Williams is on a slightly more expensive contract and has been unproductive during his time in the NBA. His shooting percentage is pretty close to Cousins', which should give the Kings cause for concern. But there is one area where Williams defeats Mbah a Moute: he scores more points. Yes, the ever famous Yay! Points! syndrome that plagues many front offices seems alive and well in Sacramento.

Summing Up

A big lesson in David and Goliath was that being free from the shackles of conventional wisdom and being forced to adopt an unconventional strategy could lead to major success. The Kings looked poised to be this team. With Ranadivé in charge, they had someone who had seen that success could come from ignoring the Yay Points! thesis. Yet the Kings still seem to be falling down the rabbitt hole of paying for scorers. If they keep this up, then Kings' fans can expect the last five years to repeat themselves. The thing is, I've read that story many times before and it's boring. But the story in David and Goliath was fascinating. I hope we can see more of that in Sacramento.

Why are you mixing Cousins´ contract, which is bad and probably will be bad in the future, with Williams?. We can´t know for sure their approach but it´s obvious for me they are trying to take only two aspects, youth and "potential"(athleticism in this case), not win now, Luc is a fine player like you say but is in his prime and pretty much is who he is, in 3 years, when(in theory) the team´s core should be in place and competing he will be 30 and probably getting worse, instead is Williams who will be in his prime, whatever that could be, it´s (almost) nothing to do with points rebounds or any other stat.
> in 3 years, when(in theory) the team´s core should be in place and competing

.308, .341, .333, .293, .305, .207. That is the winning percentage of the kings for the last 6 years. In three years, that will be 11 years since their last winning record.

I don't think trading players you know are good for players that haven't been productive is wise.

And the concept that you want players at their peak is weird. You want better players FULLSTOP, and Garnett well past his peak at 35 is better than Darko Milicic at Darko's peak.
Motherwell,
I give cred to trying to aim for a player's prime. But you're right, trading for a bad player "in their prime" at the cost of a better player is just folly. And Mbah a Moute stays both affordable and in his prime for another few years.
It´s simply opportunity cost, what is more valuable for u: a cheap but injury prone role player at the top of his game or a young former 2 pick in the draft who you think have much more potential? i agree with both of you in this but i can understand their thinking
The bottom line is Derrick Williams is one of those barometer players- if you want a guy that can't defend a position and has a career 42% FG, then you don't get it.
That the Kings traded a reasonably productive player with a friendly contract for him only confirms that.
Small sample size theater, anyone?

Those moves are obviously bad basketball decisions, and I don't think that's arguable. I do think that the Cousins contract is an understandable (if fundamentally misguided) attempt to build a consistent 'brand' for the team. Almost everyone who watches basketball (those of us who come here excepted) believes that Cousins is a supremely talented player whose situation has prevented him from being productive. He's the biggest name they have, and with all the turmoil in Sactown, it would be extremely difficult to explain why you let him walk (and given the limited evidence the public has about his character, it seems plausible that not offering him this contract would've been akin to pushing him out the door). You can talk till you're blue in the face about how that's a mistake, that it would be better to ditch him and try to find actual productive players, and so on, but look at how the Warriors fans (myself excepted) reacted to the Monta Ellis trade: until the team demonstrated that they were far better without him, most of the fanbase was terrifically pissed.

The difference here is that the turnaround that the Warriors underwent was already in the cards. Curry was a great player (when he played) and the team clearly needed to restructure its offense to support Curry (by loading the floor with 3-point shooters to punish double teams, shoring up the interior defense to make up for Lee and Curry, and by giving Curry the ball as frequently as possible).

The Kings, as currently constructed, have no such future. They have a few players worth keeping around (Thomas, Vasquez, Landry, and Outlaw, surprisingly), and only Vasquez and Thomas seem like solid foundational pieces. Those guys don't offer a clear direction to follow when making future acquisitions, because none of them seem (at least as yet) to be able to form the foundation for a successful team in the way Curry and Lee did.

All of which is to say that giving away Cousins would inspire the same kind of wrath that getting rid of Ellis did, but it probably wouldn't carry with it the same salve of success that the Warriors' move did.

Now, as far as trading for Williams, I've got nothing. It's just stupid, the guy has never looked like a capable player, and getting rid of a capable player like Mbah Moute (who would've been a great pickup for the Spurs...) to bring in Williams is insane. That said, I think it's a little early to judge the entire organization based on two moves. Sure, roster changes aren't as obviously probabilistic as 3-point shooting, but Morey's had some stinkers too.
@Doodoo Jump, the Kings had an ace in their back pocket: new owners promising to keep the team in Sacramento. In the next three years, they could trade/let go every single member of the 2013 team and no have a single person in Sacramento bat an eye, because 1) they have a team! and 2) everyone knows the previous owners screwed up the team. There was no reason to tie themselves to an unproductive player for a max deal that will hinder them in free agency and in trades.

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