With the trade deadline having transpired, everybody knows Sacramento’s hold on the third spot in the west just got more precarious.
The Mavericks have Kyrie Irving and the Suns have Kevin Durant. The first place Nuggets got a backup center in Thomas Bryant. Memphis added Luke Kennard. Golden State dumped James Wiseman and got Gary Payton II back again. The Clippers moved on from Reggie Jackson and John Wall, but added Mason Plumlee, Bones Hyland, and are a favorite to acquire Russell Westbrook in a contract buyout after the former MVP was moved to Utah. New Orleans added Josh Richardson. The Trailblazers received Matisse Thybulle, Cam Reddish, and Kevin Knox. And the Lakers, after already acquiring Rui Hachimura, shook things up, bringing D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Mo Bamba on board to bolster their shooting.
For comparison, on Tuesday, the third seed Kings acquired Kessler Edwards. They did so without surrendering any real assets, but Edwards is not exactly expected to crack the rotation anytime soon.
Many of the moves that took place in the Western Conference looked like falling artillery shells causing the ground to tremble compared to the pebble landing in Sacramento’s pond followed by tiny ripples.
However, that isn’t to say it was a bad deadline for Monte McNair’s front office.
Initial appearances aren’t everything. Remember last year’s trade deadline?
First of all, ask yourself this question: How confident were you that the Kings would be sitting at third in the conference come early April?
Sacramento has done nothing but exceed expectations this year and in terms of building that legitimate contender, there’s little doubt that this organization can become a juggernaut. Plus, one can’t neglect experience; teams need playoff experience to be playoff heroes.
The second question then is: What did the Kings have to offer to begin with?
Not much. A blockbuster trade–say for OG Anunoby–seemed as if it was never going to happen without a first-round pick to offer. And a lot of medium-sized moves–say for Jalen McDaniels–did not promise much continuity going forward with many guys sitting on expiring contracts.
As many will point to, asking prices leading up to the deadline already appeared high based on various reports, and with the play-in tournament–which is now in its fourth year–the volume of teams that feel they’re competitive rises, which in turn raises those asking prices.
Which brings up another question, perhaps rhetorical: Would you want McNair to conjure up some crazy move just because the Mavericks and Suns are going all in on a championship?
There is something to be said of Monte McNair’s calculated approach. While the Sabonis trade last season seemed like a big swing for the fences, it was meticulously thought out. Like a smart batter, McNair waited for his pitch, taking into account the scouting report on the pitcher and the situation at hand.
There was nothing to offer at this time at bat.
Could McNair have added a backup 5 or wing depth (or found a way to move Richaun Holmes)? Maybe, but could he have done so without placing the big picture plan–assets included–in peril? Obviously not, or he likely would have done so.
The Kings are an exciting team that could have gotten better at this trade deadline. But unlike teams like the Mavs, and to a greater degree, the Suns and Clippers, there is not much of a big picture view; for them, they have tunnel vision, an acute and specific goal to win a championship, all else be damned.
On the other hand, the Kings have a young core that’s on the cusp of playing the best basketball of their careers with the roster’s average age around 24 to 26, and are very much in the thick of the playoff race.
Now, did the teams behind them in the standings get better?
Yes, that’s very clear and the chances that Sacramento ends up being a play-in team are very real. But here’s another question: Can all these Western Conference teams produce their maximum potential after making such drastic changes?
The Mavs looked great the other night with Irving (no Doncic), and it’s hard to argue that one of history’s best scorers can’t elevate Phoenix, but is every team that made a move going to hit the ground running with the deadline done?
This is where continuity and chemistry come into play.
In November, when James Ham reported that Sacramento was not engaged in any trade talks involving Harrison Barnes, illumination was offered as to what the organization’s priorities are.
“They are focused on building chemistry with this group of players,” Ham noted.
It may not have them atop the conference in terms of talent on paper nor will they be in most people’s projected top-five in the West, but after the deadline, the argument could be made that the Kings have the best chemistry.
That’s not to say the chemistry of other teams will be in the dumps, but the continuity of the first 54 games of the season should lend a lot to Sacramento’s final 28.
And beyond that, their growth and ascension should only continue through to next year and years after that.
Sacramento may very well slip in their conference before the end of the season, but their eyes are fixated on the bigger picture.
I was happy Monte did not give up any big future assets, or pieces like Davion. It would good to hold onto TD too as he’s a good SG to step in if Huerter or Monk get injured. If other team’s asking prices were too high, Monte was smart to sit on his hand and fold. I hope they are able to hang onto the 3rd or 4th spot, but worse case scenario I’m crossing my fingers they don’t fall below 6th. Suns, Clips and Mavs may end up passing the Kings though unfortunately but they should be able to stay at least 6th. Lakers made awesome moves to add 5 quality young players at the deadline but there’s a lot of moving pieces there, and may not be able to all get on the same page in time.
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