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Fall from Royalty, Part Three: The Final Touches on the Decline of the Sacramento Kings

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Fall from Royalty, Part Three: The Final Touches on the Decline of the Sacramento Kings
By the 2000-01 season, Geoff Petrie had assembled a championship quality team from the ground up, turning water into wine in the Sacramento Valley. 

For the next four seasons, the Kings played in the Western Conference semi-finals or finals and won at least 55 games a year. 

What has King Geoff done lately? How has the 2002-03 team, which returned 11 players, evolved into the current roster following the Bibby deal? In this three-part article, I will go through the major deals, ignoring the Rodney Bufords and Ronny Prices of the world.

Part one described five key moves through the 2005 deadline deal of Chris Webber.

Part two got us through the transformation from good guys to bad guys that occurred in 2005-06. Part three will finally get us to today's roster.

First a quick recap: In the previous articles I explained how the Kings acquired Kevin Martin, Brad Miller, Ron Artest, Francisco Garcia, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and Kenny Thomas. That leaves us with only the final touches, up to the Kings most recent decision to give the Hawks Mike Bibby for three expiring IOUs and a second-round pick that just happened to come off the board at number five two years ago.

On to the final chapter...

 

Step 10: Fired Rick Adelman and hired Eric Musselman (Summer 2006)

Despite reeling off a 26-14 record to end the season and creating a new identity for the Kings in the mold of its newest star, Artest, Adelman got the axe at the end of the 2005-06 season. While I am not entirely sure what Geoff Petrie had to do with this, I can only say BOO!

Why would you fire a Hall of Famer in favor of a guy with a 45 percent career winning percentage in the NBA? Perplexing.

With the hindsight of the problems of the Musselman era in Sacramento, I can only say double BOO.

Given all that Adelman did for Sacramento, he deserved to decide for himself when he was ready to leave. I get pretty upset when I realize that he's now enjoying a 13-game winning streak in Houston and keeping that team in the thick of the Western Conference race.

 

Step 11: Draft Quincy Douby (Summer 2006)

If this weren't a draft I would ignore this transaction altogether. Given his lack of playing time, you almost have to consider Douby on a per minute basis. According to Basketball Reference, per 36 minutes he puts up the following poo-poo line: 13 PPG, 1.7 APG, 2.2 TOPG, 4 RPG. In actuality, he's averaging only 4 PPG. Plus, for a guy who could supposedly fill it up in college, he's having a lousy career thus far, 37 percent FG and 30 percent 3FG.

So, what were the options? Well, for starters the Kings have not had a decent backup point guard since Bobby Jackson left (Step 7), so drafting a solid PG should have been the focus.

However, Douby (at best an undersized shooting guard) was selected with the 19th pick, ahead of PGs Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry, Marcus Williams, Jordan Farmar, Sergio Rodriguez, Booby Gibson...seriously, should I even continue? There is no chance that any GM would consider a Douby for (fill in the blanks with any of these guys), even if you tossed in a second-rounder for good measure. This was a big miss. 

 

Step 12: Sign John Salmons (Summer 2006)

I hated this deal when it went down.  Here's proof from an entry in my old blog:

"Can someone please explain to me why my Kings thought it necessary to pay $5 million over 5 years to a guy with career averages of 5 pts, 2 rebs and 2 assists? Not to mention the fact that they already have full house of 6 players at 6-7 or 6-8 on the roster...and Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia at the same position, but who can actually shoot. Why not give Bonzi $8 million? At least he cleans the glass and bullies dudes. From what I can tell Salmons is a jack-of-no-trades...

My friend Hutch: Who is John Salmons?

How can the King's spend $5 million a year for John Salmons and the Wizards sign DeShaun Stevenson for less than a million per? Damn that's frustrating"

I still think the Kings would be much better off with Bonzi than Salmons and would have received similar contributions from DeShawn Stevenson if the Kings signed him to the two-year (NBA minimum) $2 million deal the Wizards inked.

While Salmons has played well this year, the Kings still owe him $16 million over the next three seasons. Stevenson—who is two years younger, plays better defense, and had three years as an NBA starter at 24 years old—opted out of year two of his deal and resigned with the Wizards last summer for four years $15 million. In the end the Wizards paid $9 million less for a guy that they even got to test drive from $1 million.

Additionally, the emergence of Kevin Martin makes this move even more difficult to swallow. With Martin and Artest in place, Salmons becomes a $5-6 million a year backup with similar skills to Francisco Garcia, who's still on his rookie contract for $1-3 million over the next two years. 

While this deal is not as awful as I first imagined, given Salmons team-first attitude, versatility, decent handle, and improving shot (50 percent FG this year for a 44 percent career guy), I think Stevenson would have been the better choice given the defensive direction and the contract he ended up with in Washington.

 

Step 13: Fired Eric Musselman and hired Reggie Theus (Summer 2007)

Taking a chance on Reggie Theus has been a very good decision thus far. While the jury is still out on whether he will be able to have success in the long run, this team is much more crisp and more disciplined than DUI Eric's team ever hoped to be last year.

 

Step 14: Draft Spencer Hawes (Summer 2007)

Given the Kings' worst offseason in recent memory and the incompetence of their coach, it was not a huge surprise that a team that mustered 44 wins in 2005-06 could not make the playoffs in 2006-07. The benefit of that failure of course was a couple of balls in the hopper for the Oden-Durant sweepstakes.

That didn't quite work like I'd hoped, but the Kings did have the 10th pick in what was supposed to be "one of the deepest drafts in recent memory." From my perspective, Hawes showed in college that he understands the game extremely well and is an excellent high-post passer. In that respect one can hope that his career follows a Brad Miller-type trajectory.

But was he the best pick for the Kings? Wouldn't the Kings have benefited from the athleticism of Sean Williams or, given the need for a backup point guard (pre-Beno), a player like Acie Law? This one's not going to be clear for another couple of years, so Geoff gets the benefit of the doubt for filling a need in the middle with a guy with a good feel for the game.

 

Step 15: Sign Mikki Moore (Summer 2007)

I have to agree with ESPN's John Hollinger on this one. Signing a 32-year-old late-bloomer to a three-year deal worth $18 million seems like a stretch. Sure he shot 60 percent last year off of feeds from Kidd and thanks to double teams on Vinsanity and RJ, but it was the first time Moore had averaged more than 20 MPG for a season in nine seasons.

Now, thanks to the incompetence of Abdur-Rahim and Thomas, he's the Kings' starting PF and is averaging measly 8 PPG, 6 RPG and 0.6 BPG in 28 MPG. That is mediocre.

And how about this tiny morsel or mediocrity: Moore is leading the league in fouls (despite playing only 28 minutes) and averages 5.3 fouls per 36 minutes for his career. He's an absolute hacker!

Now, this isn't an article about the Kings' future, but they have to do something about the PF spot. If Shelden Williams (step 17) is the future answer, I don't know.

Aside from figuring out Artest's future and resigning Udrih, getting a decent PF or trading away the crappy ones we have for someone else's crappy contract has to be a top priority this summer. Between Shareef, Thomas, Moore, and Williams, the Kings are paying $22 million this year to fill the PF spot (that is often filled by Artest or Garcia) and are committed to at least that amount over the next two seasons (aside for Williams' player option in 2009-10). Sickening.

Can someone really argue that keeping Webber to the end of his deal (this year) wouldn't have been better than paying this three-headed (now four-headed) PF over $60 million until 2010? Ugh.

You know the really sad thing? I would prefer to toss a Mikki Moore signing into the "not important enough for this article" pile with Ronnie Price, Maurice Evans, Tony Massenberg, and the like, but Mikki has started 54 freaking games this year! BOO!

 

Step 16: Signed Beno Udrih  (November 2007)

Thank you Gregg Popovich and Kevin McHale! Given the years of ignoring the fact that they didn't have a backup PG, the Kings found themselves between a rock and a hard place when Mike Bibby's broken thumb meant he would be out for a couple months to start the season.  

Petrie plucked Udrih out of the sky and stuck him in the starting lineup, where he has been quite solid, though not spectacular. However, when you consider the ridiculous amount of money being paid to terrible PFs, a starting PG for less than $1 million is quite a bargain. Especially one who is putting up 12 PPG, 4 APG vs 2 TO, shooting 44 percent FG and 40 percent 3FG, and gave Petrie the freedom to get rid of Bibby as he inevitably begins to fall apart.

Signing Udrih for next season has to be a priority, though they may want to wait until the draft to find out if a Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, or Eric Gordon falls into their laps before spending too much money on a guy who's better off as a solid backup. Regardless, if they can get him at a reasonable price, signing Beno is good business.

 

Step 17: Traded Mike Bibby to Atlanta for Shelden Williams and expiring contracts (February 2008)

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived out our destination. The final piece to this dysfunctional puzzle was ridding the Kings of the long-term commitment to the (less controversial) face of the franchise. Bibby was the torch-bearer from the Kings' glory years of 01-03 (though Brad Miller put in some semi-finals work in 04).

I've argued over and over that Bibby didn't deserve the money he was resigned for in August 2002, when the Maloofs opened their wallets to the tune of $80 million over seven seasons. The fact that Bibby didn't opt out of his deal last year was proof that the Maloofs had seriously overpaid for their middle-of-the-pack PG.

When they signed that check in 2002, they were signing a player who had averaged 14 PPG and 5 APG and played defense like Steve Nash, Jason Williams, or (insert name of famous Spanish bull-fighter here). Essentially what they were paying for was the clutch performance Bibby put on in the playoffs in 2002, when he scored more than 20 PPG. 

Another very important factor was the Maloofs' feeling that they owed it to the supportive fans of Sacramento to keep the 2002 team in tact for one more run at the Lakers. 

Bibby did raise his game when he became the go-to guy, peaking at 21 PPG in '05-'06, but this came at the expense of efficiency as his shooting began to suffer from the increased attention he received without Peja and Webber attracting so much attention.

The point is, Mike Bibby is a very nice third or fourth option as a shooting PG in a half-court set, which means that he should do well in Atlanta with Joe Johnson and Josh Smith attracting most of the attention and drawing Bibby's defender with penetration. A true PG does just the opposite. Look at the Mavericks or Suns. It is the PG that draws to defense to set up the shooters. Bibby is not that type of PG.

As for the Kings' booty from the trade, it is measured not in PPG, but in $$$. Ironically, a team that was without a decent backup PG for so long now has three: Udrih, Anthony Johnson, and Tyronn Lue. To demonstrate, in Wednesday's Kings-Hawks head to head, the four former Hawks amounted to 13 minutes, two points and zero rebounds, while Bibby had 24 points and 12 assists in 37 minutes.

Is Williams the future of the PF position? His early returns say maybe. In (six games and) 40 minutes in a Kings uniform he's scored 25 points and pulled down 11 rebounds on 53 percent shooting. Promising if you ignore the fact that his revenge game in Atlanta ended in three minutes of nothing what-so-ever—a three "trillion" in the business.

 

Conclusion

How does Petrie grade with his current roster? Well, there seems to be a lot of mid-level exception type talent, but compared to the roster in the glory days, the hodge podge of players on this version is completely mismatched.

Petrie has built the core of this roster with good drafting (Martin, Garcia, Hawes), understandable deals (Miller), and successful risk taking (Artest), and plugged the other gaps with injury-induced pick ups (Udrih), salary dump trades (Williams, Thomas), poor drafting (Douby), and poor free-agent signings (Abdur-Rahim, Salmons, Moore).

When you build a roster in that fashion, there is a good chance your experiment will fail.

To Petrie's credit, this team has played well considering. They began the season without Bibby or Artest and have had injuries to Martin, Hawes, Bibby, and Artest. Despite all of that they are 17-10 at home and would be a playoff team in the Easern conference (against whom they are 15-12).

The problem is that they are in the Western conference where 10 teams above .500, so no matter how you look at it, the Kings are the 11th best team in a ridiculously good conference.

Isn't it better for their future that they don't take this dysfunctional team to a first-round playoff loss and hope a PF like Michael Beasley or PG like Derrick Rose falls to them in the draft and fills their most glaring holes with hope?

 

The final score for Petrie:

Positive steps: 1, 3, 6, 9, 13, 14, 16

Sideways steps: 4, 12, 17

Mis-steps: 2, 5,7 (for not resigning Bonzi), 8, 10, 11, 15

 

What do you know! He graded out at .500...Just like his team since the Bibby trade.

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