What do you do when you have an All-Star center who wants to win now on your yet-to-realize-its-considerable-potential NBA team? Do you (A) draft a ball handler or a shooter to complement your star or (B) say damn it all to hell and pick a gangly-ass, out-of-nowhere 18-year-old European who probably won’t even join the NBA anytime soon and who fills none of the team’s substantial backcourt holes because he also — oh yeah — plays center?
The Kings chose B.
Sacramento isn’t actively trying to drive away DeMarcus Cousins — because that would be insane — but the team has done just about everything in its power to do so. After trading down from the no. 8 pick on Thursday night, the Kings tapped Georgios Papagiannis at the no. 13 slot. The Greek center averaged just 6.5 points and 2.7 rebounds with Athens-based Panathinaikos, and … well, he’s big? At 7-foot-2, 240 pounds, he fits the mold for an NBA center, but the pick does nothing to address the Kings’ lack of shooting or the fact the team’s only real assists came from a point guard who refused to shoot (or play defense), and who is also probably leaving in the offseason. Plus, the Kings picked Gorgeous Papa John while a plethora of worthy guard prospects (Wade Baldwin IV and Denzel Valentine among them) remained on the board. Boogie seemed less than excited about the decision.
(Cousins said afterward that his tweet was in reference not to Papagiannis but to a “hot sculpting class.”)
But “decision” might be giving the Kings too much credit. This, after all, is not a team that has seemed especially devoted to careful deliberation of late. A year ago, the front office descended into chaos just in time for the draft, with vice president Vlade Divac, who had no prior NBA administrative experience, eventually filling the GM role by default. Twelve months later, despite an effort to bring more experienced leadership to the front office, the stopgap measure continues: Divac is still the acting GM, and it appears that head coach Dave Joerger has been left to pick up the pieces. Joerger marks the team’s sixth coach since Cousins was drafted in 2010, and the center seemed to get along with only one of them, Mike Malone (whom the team summarily fired midway through a promising second year). Meanwhile owner Vivek Ranadivé has advocated playing 4-on-5 on defense and the team has few assets left after a disastrous trade with the Sixers sent a bundle of future picks to Philly. Sacramento appears to have no thoughtful strategy.
Divac has said that the team will be active in free agency, with a particular eye toward finally adding some guards, but time is running out. Cousins has two years left on his deal, and, despite an occasionally fractious relationship with some of his teammates, has made it clear that he wants to stay loyal to Sacramento if it can just find a way to win, telling Slam in December, “I love Sacramento. I consider this home, so that’s not the problem. The losing is.”
Given that, the team would be wise to push hard for a playoff appearance sooner rather than later. But if the Kings are trying to win now — i.e., while they still have Boogie — they’re going about it in a very strange way.