When the Sacramento Kings selected Thomas Robinson with the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, the assumption was that he'd be paired with DeMarcus Cousins for years, with the two eventually comprising one of the top frontcourts the NBA has to offer.
But less than one year into his NBA career, the Kings have traded Robinson. They sent him, along with Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt, to the Houston Rockets for Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich,Toney Douglas and $1 million cash.
As is often the case with trades, this one is neither black nor white for the Kings. There are some things to like about it from the team's perspective, some aspects that make it less appealing and even a few concerns that make it downright ugly.
The good part about the trade is that Sacramento is undoubtedly better now than it was before the trade. The two main components in the swap were Thomas Robinson and Patrick Patterson. At this stage, Patterson is clearly superior to Robinson.
Patterson averages 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. The power forward is also shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from three-point range. Robinson, on the other hand, is only averaging 4.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He's also shooting 42.4 percent from the field.
The current difference between the two is also apparent in advanced metrics. Patterson's 15.6 PER, 2.9 win shares and .116 win shares per 48 minutes trumps T-Rob's 10.8 PER, minus-0.2 win shares and minus-.014 win shares per 48 minutes.
Don't want to take my word for it? Check out what an expert on the Kings had to say about the trade. Here's what Grant Napear, TV broadcaster for the team wrote on Twitter.
Bottom line...Kings are a better team than they were 2 hours ago...you will like Patterson a lot!!! Will miss Cisco...class act!!!!!!— Grant Napear(@GrantNapearshow) February 21, 2013
Generally speaking, the purpose of making trades is to improve your team. There are also salary considerations when making a move but even then, it's done with the overall goal of improving an organization's chances of having success. To that end, the move the Kings made with the Rockets appears to be to the team's benefit.
While this trade certainly helped the Kings this season, that's actually a moot point. Sitting at 19-38, the team has virtually no shot at making the playoffs this season. With that being the case, even if the arrival of Patterson helps Sacramento, all it's really doing is decreasing its chances of getting a top draft pick in the lottery.
Then again, maybe that's a good thing. After all, the Kings just spent the fifth overall pick on Robinson, and they've already had to deal him partially for not living up to expectations. That's kind of a rare thing. In fact, Robinson was just the fifth top-five pick to be dealt during his rookie season. The others were Derrick Favors, Donyell Marshall, Drew Gooden and Chauncey Billups.
Part of what makes the trade looks so bad is obvious—the Kings getting rid of a top selection so early into his career. What makes it look worse is not only where Robinson was drafted, but also who was selected directly after him: Damian Lillard. Lillard is the clear front-runner for Rookie of the Year. It would certainly be nice to have him, especially considering how little value Sacramento got out of its selection.
Based on what we've seen from Robinson, it's unlikely he was ever going to develop into a star. However, he was improving throughout the season. His progression, coinciding with the simple fact that big men generally transition slower to the NBA game than guards, should have been enough to keep the Kings patient.
After all, the Kings are still squarely in the middle of rebuilding. One could argue that nobody should be untouchable in a trade. While that may be true, Robinson is the type of asset a team should keep if it's rebuilding. Sure, he hasn't shown much present value, but his potential's still intact. Furthermore, he's still on a really cheap rookie contract.
As it looks now, Sacramento didn't get much future value because only Patterson is under contract past this season, they didn't get any draft picks in return, and they traded a player with a higher ceiling for one with a higher floor.
In different circumstances, the trade would make a lot of sense. Given the team's current circumstances, it makes absolutely no sense. Although maybe it makes perfect sense...
My initial reaction when hearing of the trade was anger, largely for the reasons listed above. My next thought went to trying to understand the motivation behind the swap because it seemed so nonsensical. Suddenly it hit me: money.
It's no secret that the Maloofs (the team's owners) are cheapskates. This used to not be the case, but in recent years they've been reluctant to put much money into the team. At first glance, this doesn't seem like a money-motivated deal, especially considering Robinson's low salary by NBA standards. However, the proof is in the details.
On top of saving the money in salary this season, the Kings also didn't take on any salary commitments for next season beyond Patrick Patterson. Even then, Patterson's only on the books for $3.1 million and could hit free agency following 2013-14 if the team fails to give him a qualifying offer.
You could argue this gives the Kings even more flexibility. But given their track record of not spending money, it seems to be more about saving money rather than freeing cap space for a spending spree in free agency.
It is fair to point out that the team will almost certainly have new ownership next season. There's an agreement to sell the franchise to an ownership group in Seattle. If that doesn't happen, then it will likely mean the Maloofs sell the franchise to investors in Sacramento. Either way, they appear to be out of the picture, so judging what will happen with the team's salary in the future is next to impossible.
That's partially what makes this thing so ugly; that the Maloofs are almost assuredly out of the picture following the season. Because of that, they have no interest in the big picture. All they care about is their pocketbooks. Sure, they ran the deal by the Seattle ownership group.
The Seattle ownership group, which has a deal to purchase the Sacramento Kings, was briefed on trade before its completion, source tells Y!— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 21, 2013
But what recourse would that ownership group even have? They do have an agreement with the Maloofs to buy the team, but that agreement is still pending NBA approval. Whether they could do something to block the trade is unknown. But with everything going on surrounding their bid to buy the team, they've obviously got bigger fish to fry right now.
One could argue that all of this about the team making the deal to save money is purely speculation. It makes sense, it seems to add up, but where's the fire? Well, check out what Marc Spears of Yahoo! reported following the trade.
Kings move was all about cutting costs and not something management enjoyed doing, a source said.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) February 21, 2013
That's pretty straight forward. It's not, "Kings liked the package of players and the financial flexibility." It simply states the move was financially motivated. In fact, it appears it wasn't even supported by the basketball operations portion of the team's front office.
That's not how you run an NBA franchise. You don't flip rookies drafted as high as Robinson in a salary dump, especially without giving them more time to develop.
It's an absolute embarrassment to the fans of Sacramento. There wasn't really a veiled attempt to hide the motivation behind the deal. This looks to be the cherry on top of what has been an ugly last few years of ownership by the Maloofs.
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