Four games into the 2019-20 season, Luke Walton had seen enough. Just days into his first season on the job as the new head coach of the Kings, Walton had watched veteran Dewayne Dedmon turn from a prized free-agent signing into an albatross.
Dedmon was in the first year of a three-year, $40 million contract with the Kings. He was supposed to be a stretch five to pair with Marvin Bagley, but four games was enough to know he was the wrong fit.
Through his first two seasons in Sacramento, Walton has had some major ups and downs. But he’s also made some decisions that more than a few coaches in the league wouldn’t even consider. The first was benching Dedmon for NBA journeyman Richaun Holmes.
It seems simple now, but benching a player like Dedmon that management had just invested heavily in is bold.
“Sometimes you have to look on the bench and see there’s a gold mine sitting on the bench,” Dr. Lydecia Holmes, Richaun’s mother told NBC Sports California. “There’s a diamond in the rough sitting on the bench and if you just take time to dust it off, you’ll be very surprised what you get.”
Holmes was exactly as his mother described him, a diamond in the rough. Now in his second season as the Kings’ starting center, he is flourishing and according to the good Doctor, Walton deserves plenty of credit.
“Coach Luke Walton saw Richaun and saw what was in Richaun and he gave him a little more room than the other coaches did, to grow and to expand,” Dr. Holmes said. “And now what you’re seeing Richaun, yes, he’s matured into who he is now, but it came because coach Walton allowed him to grow, allowed him to expand.”
Walton didn’t really know Holmes coming into last season. He had coached against the big man during his time as coach of the Lakers, but he had only seen Holmes in a supporting role during his stops with the 76ers and Suns.
From what little he knew of the 6-foot-10 center, he liked, but it had come in small sample doses.
“He had always kind of been in a tough spot as a player, because he was in Philly, but they had [Joel] Embiid and then he was in Phoenix, but they drafted [DeAndre] Ayton,” Luke Walton said. “So there were these young cornerstones of the franchise that were ahead of him.”
While Holmes was never a starter in his previous stops, he was a bit of an advanced statistics anomaly. His player efficiency rating was through the roof, and his offensive and defensive ratings painted a picture of a player that needed more of an opportunity.
“Every time I felt like we played against him, whether it was a 20-point lead or a 20-point deficit, he would come in and just make impactful plays all the time,” Walton said. “I was very intrigued with him when we talked about signing him, but I didn’t think he had this amount of impact on a team.”
Walton was clear that he didn’t expect this type of success out of Holmes. It was a temporary move almost out of desperation. His team was playing poorly, dropping all four games to start the season, and Dedmon had unfortunately got to a point where he was unplayable.
“I just think that year, he found something that he felt worked,” Richaun Holmes told NBC Sports on the latest edition of "Kings Central." “I was able to come in with the starting lineup and just provide some things that the lineup needed. He was able to go with what worked.”
Holmes praised Dedmon for being a professional about the situation. He said that despite losing his starting job, Dedmon continued to work with him on the finer nuances of being a starter.
But after biding his time and waiting for an opportunity, Holmes seized the moment. He had put in the work to be a rotational player in the league and he wasn’t going to allow the opening with Sacramento pass by.
“As a coach, you’re very happy for players that are on that journey that just never quit, never complain, never give up,” Walton said. “He got his opportunity and he made the most of it.”
In his second full season as the Kings’ starting center, Holmes is averaging 13.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, two assists and 1.6 blocks in 30.8 minutes per night. All of those numbers are career-highs.
In addition, Holmes is leading the NBA in field goal percentage and offensive rating. Out of the Kings’ regulars, he leads in PER and win shares, and he’s the most consistent player on the squad on both ends of the court.
Holmes is a free agent at the end of the season and would love to call Sacramento his permanent NBA home. He’s no longer a diamond in the rough. He is shining brightly and at least part of his success can be squarely linked to Walton and a very difficult decision from last season.