By Dylan Davis
As I re-watched highlights of the travesty known as Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference NBA Finals yesterday, the first thing that struck me (besides the WWF-style officiating) was just how talented the Sacramento Kings were that year. When thinking of the early 2000s version of the Kings, most people envision a freewheeling offensive juggernaut that wasn’t quite good enough to capture a championship. What people don’t remember is just how balanced and superbly fun the Kings were. They had outside shooting with Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby to complement the inside capabilities of Vlade Divac and Chris Webber. The entire first unit of Bibby, Doug Christie, Stojakovic, Webber, and Divac were superb passers and they were aided by a deep bench that included Bobby Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu, Scot Pollard, Lawrence Funderburke, Gerald Wallace, and the immortal Mateen Cleaves. While they weren’t exactly savants on the defensive end of the floor, Christie and Divac did provided a nice one-two shutdown punch.
The Kings cruised to a 61-21 record, which was good for first in the league and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Kings balance was shown when they only had two all-stars and a second-team all-NBA performer (Webber) despite being the only team to top the 60-win plateau. What pushed this talent over the edge, besides Rick Adelman’s guidance as head coach, was the best home court advantage in the league. The Kings were in the midst of 354 consecutive home sellouts to go along with a 105-18 run in home games from 2000-2003. I was just beginning to explore the supreme athleticism and excitement of the NBA at this point and the front running Kings were the perfect team at the perfect time to hold my interest and bring me back for more. While I did enjoy watching Peja threes and Bibby dimes on TV, I was never able to take in a Kings game live at Arco Arena during this run. I missed that three year window of opportunity and I’ve regretted it ever since. When the Warriors had Oracle Arena rocking in the 2007 playoffs against the Mavericks and Jazz, I was reminded of the raucousness that had passed me by at the start of the millennium.
I eventually did get to a Kings game. On February 12th of this year I attended a Kings-Thunder tilt with fellow Sack Lunch writer Will Robinson that featured four of the league’s best young stars in Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant. I figured that if Kings fans would show up for any game this year, it would be to see the best young team in the league, and the reigning scoring champion. Boy was I wrong. We got to our seats right after tip-off and I had a perfect view of a half-empty arena. I spent half of the game wondering when the rest of the spectators would arrive before realizing that no one wanted to watch a last place team, no matter whom they’re playing. While Sacramento used to supply the best crowd in the league that was contingent on the Kings winning, and being competitive in every game, that’s just not the case anymore.
This is not me pleading for the Kings to stay in Sacramento; the time for that has come and gone. The decision will be made soon enough by the league as to whether or not there will be a franchise in Anaheim next season. If the Kings move away from Northern California, I will continue to root for them, and that’s why they must do the following two things to be able to compete for a championship for years to come. If they stay in Sacramento, I would like to be a part of a crowd that makes a difference in playoff games, but obviously that can’t happen with the current roster. Here’s what needs to happen.
1. Trade Tyreke Evans: This may sound like heresy to Kings fans. Why would they trade the 2010 Rookie of the Year? If the aim of the Kings is to make the playoffs intermittently for the next 15 years while not ever winning a championship, keeping Tyreke is the perfect move. Winning Rookie of the Year doesn’t seem to have any bearing future championships as 19 of the past 22 winners since 1990 have a combined zero titles in the NBA. Evans did play very well last year, there is no doubt about that, but what value can he have carrying over into the future? Evans is only a point guard in the sense that he brings the ball over half court, he’s not a shooting guard as that would involve being good at shooting, which he certainly is not. You may be saying, “But he’s young, give him time and he’ll get better at shooting.” Assuming that he does get better at shooting, he will probably approach, and possibly precede, the level of play Gilbert Arenas achieved before he got a monster contract and blew out his knee.
Arenas averaged between 25 and 30 points from 2004 to 2007 and was considered one of the best offensive guards in the league. He was flanked by all-stars in Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison while playing in the decrepit Eastern Conference. During none of those three years did the Wizards make it past the second round. It has become clear that Tyreke looks for his own shot (just like Arenas) before looking to pass and there is not a precedent for title teams having shoot-first point guards. In fact, other than the 2006 Miami Heat, no team that had a shoot first ball handler has won the title since the mid 1980’s. Tyreke is a good player because he can get to the basket and score, but that is not a recipe for winning it all. Many teams around the league are looking for a quick fix that can get them ticket sales, and acquiring Tyreke would be the perfect move to get some buzz going for decrepit franchises such as Toronto, Cleveland, and Detroit. If the Kings were to trade Tyreke this summer, they would be able to sell high and stockpile future draft picks and young players. While people may call this a panic move, I say doing nothing is a panic move. Letting the young players grow up together is a good strategy if you have a good group of players that can fit a championship type, but Tyreke is not that type. Completely blowing up the team is not the best move either, that’s why they do this:
2. Keep DeMarcus Cousins: This may seem obvious to some people, but with Cousins’ attitude and penchant for throwing temper tantrums like a six year old, some have talked about trading the mercurial big man before he destroys the team. This would be a horrible move. Let’s hop into the NBA time machine and travel back to the early careers of Hakeem Olajuwon and Magic Johnson. Both were derided as selfish, me-first players hat needed to be run out of town. Obviously, both stayed with their original franchises (Houston and L.A. respectively) and combined for seven rings. When looking at their careers from today’s perspective it’s hard to tell that both were looked at in the same way that Cousins’ is now, so let’s look at another young big man that was traded early in his career: Moses Malone. Moses is remembered as the greatest rebounder of all time (Cousins’ best trait) but came into the league as an immature teenager (like Cousins) and was spent time on eight teams in his illustrious career. Big men that can rebound and have good post moves (like Cousins already does) are often the cornerstones for championship contenders, and with Cousins, the Kings can compete for championships for the next 10-15 seasons. If they just can weather the storm…
While I’m obviously not an NBA general manager, I’m not a total idiot when it comes to NBA moves. A lot of fans only look at stats when deciding how good a certain player or team is, but the style of play and chemistry are often much more important, and that’s why the Kings would be better off in the long-run if they traded the popular Tyreke Evans and kept the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins.
Have a great weekend, see you next week when the Kings are hopefully still in Sacramento.