Kings

Kings decided to take leap of faith by betting future on young core

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Kings decided to take leap of faith by betting future on young core

A season ago, the Kings shocked the NBA when they finished the year 39-43. Las Vegas oddsmakers predicted the team would win 25.5 games. Many around the league thought the win total might be lower than that.

With an increase in wins, expectations are on the rise in Sacramento. The Kings have focused heavily on player development and their young core, but it’s about to get very complex.

“You are grooming young men, young kids actually, into young men, to be better players and better people off the court,” assistant general manager Peja Stojakovic said on the latest edition of the Purple Talk podcast. “At the same time, you are investing a lot of money in them. So there’s a plan for everything in place.”

The team already locked up Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield on two of the richest contracts in team history, but they can’t stop there.

Bogdan Bogdanovic will be a restricted free agent over the summer and De’Aaron Fox is eligible for an extension as well. They can extend Marvin Bagley in the summer of 2021, which would keep the core five together for the long haul.

None of this sounds unreasonable. It’s the dynamics of contracts, player growth and economics in the NBA.

But what if this group for one reason or another isn’t good enough? What if general manager Vlade Divac and his front office team spend the required $120-130 million to see this through and the team plateaus earlier than expected?

The Kings want to keep the young core together, but in order to do so, they are going to have to extend themselves financially into a very uncomfortable place, and ask themselves a very difficult question -- how much can you pay without knowing if you have a playoff-caliber team?

It’s complicated, but the Kings have game planned for multiple scenarios that could play out.

“I think you always prepare for both options - you always have a Plan A or Plan B,” Stojakovic said. “Obviously, every move so far has been strategically made, with the thinking to have flexibility moving forward and also understanding that our young guys, our young core, is going through the period of developing an understanding of what it takes to win, but never putting, economically, this organization in jeopardy.”

In a perfect world, the Kings either would make the playoffs or at least get close this season. There was hope that the franchise would have a measuring stick to predict what might be next.

An 0-5 start complicated this issue, but the Kings have a handful of new players and they are learning an entirely new offense from an entirely new coaching staff.

“We kind of understood going into this season that there was going to be a transition period of having a new coaching staff, having our young guys in different roles, where you are going to expect more from De’Aaron Fox, from Bagley, and it will take some time,” Stojakovic said. “It’s getting slowly there.”

Fox’s role as the team’s starting point guard was beginning to expand. The talented 21-year-old had a breakout second season and looked strong before an ankle injury Monday likely wiped out a huge chunk of the first half of the season.

Bagley didn’t even have a chance to enjoy his time as the Kings' starting power forward. He broke his thumb in the opener and still is a week or two away from a return.

“Unfortunately, injuries are part of our game, but we believe in our group, we believe in what we are doing and good things are going to happen,” Stojakovic added.

Injuries happen. Both players are hard workers and the injuries they sustained are just bad luck. Fox is just 21 years old and Bagley is 20. They both are years away from their prime and have plenty of time to recover from their current bumps and bruises and continue their development.

Is it possible the Kings tread water until Fox and Bagley return? Sure, the Kings aren’t 100 percent reliant on any one player yet and the front office added depth to the roster that wasn’t there in past seasons.

“It’s not a one or two or three guys basketball team, it’s 15 guys on a roster and it’s next man up and it’s next opportunity for someone else to showcase their talent,” Stojakovic said.

This isn’t a short play for the Kings. They are in it for the long haul with what they believe is an intriguing group of young players and they have done their best to put the right support staff around them.

[RELATED: Hield blames headband for missing six 3-pointers]

None of this changes the fact that the Kings will have to continue to make major decisions with regard to this roster long before they are positive they have a winner.

The Kings aren't the first team to face this dilemma and they won’t be the last. They have no choice but to take a leap of faith with this group and stay the course.

Five moments to remember from Kings' buzzer-beating win over Rockets

Five moments to remember from Kings' buzzer-beating win over Rockets

Programming note: Watch the re-air of the Kings’ victory over the Houston Rockets from Dec. 9, 2019 today at 3 p.m. PT on NBC Sports California.

The NBA has closed its doors indefinitely, but we have been able to dig into the archives and come away with some of the best games from the last few seasons for your viewing pleasure.

In our sixth installment, we go back to earlier this season, when the Kings went toe-to-toe with the Houston Rockets and came away with a huge game-winner from Nemanja Bjelica.

While we know the final outcome of the game, sometimes the details become murky over time. Here are five things to watch from the Kings’ 119-118 buzzer-beating win over the Rockets at the Toyota Center.

“F--k it, we deserved this win.”

Bjelica usually is quiet and stays away from the media when he’s given the choice. After drilling a 32-footer as time expired to give his team a huge win, Bjelica stopped by to speak with the Kings’ broadcasting team of Grant Napear and Doug Christie and he let loose with an F-bomb that has since been made into t-shirts.

The veteran stretch four has been very good for the Kings since signing as a free agent in the summer of 2018. He has hit plenty of long range 3-pointers, but none was bigger than the dagger against Houston.

“Game over. Game over.”

Star point guard Russell Westbrook put up 34 points and eight assists against the Kings in this game, including nine of the Rockets' final 12 points in regulation. With one second remaining on the clock, he put in a layup to give the Rockets a 118-116 lead and wouldn’t stop talking.

Westbrook's shot was huge, but Bjelica outdid him with the buzzer-beater. Sometimes it’s best to wait until the clock strikes zero before proclaiming victory.

Buddy Buckets

Where would the Kings be without Buddy Hield and his ability to knockdown the triple?

While Bjelica gets the fanfare in this one, Hield’s 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds remaining tied the game and gave the Kings a shot. 

Hield scored a team-high 26 points in this game, including 6-of-13 shooting from long range. In a hostile environment, he came up huge for Sacramento.

It’s raining 3s

Hield tied the game late with a 3-pointer and Bjelica hit the game-winner while wading in the Gulf of Mexico, but these shots were part of a larger trend in this game.

Sacramento went a stunning 20-for-45 from behind the arch, outscoring the high-powered Rockets 60-51 from deep. Only eight players stepped on the court for coach Luke Walton in this game and seven of them knocked down a 3-ball.

Back-to-back

The Kings got off to a rough start to the 2019-20 season, dropping their first five games. They bounced back, but came into this stretch in dire need of some wins.

[RELATED: Sleep Train Arena could be converted into COVID-19 hospital]

They dropped the first two games of the road trip in Portland and San Antonio, and then had to finish the trip with a back-to-back against the Dallas Mavericks and Rockets on Sunday and Monday.

Sacramento almost blew an eight-point lead in the final three minutes in Dallas, but held on for a 110-106 victory. With the win in Houston, the Kings returned home with a .500 trip and then beat the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center for their third win in four days against high-level teams.

Why Hawks trading for Dewayne Dedmon made no sense to Kings' Alex Len

Why Hawks trading for Dewayne Dedmon made no sense to Kings' Alex Len

The Atlanta Hawks had a chance to re-sign center Dewayne Dedmon last summer.

Atlanta passed on the opportunity and let Dedmon leave in free agency, where he eventually signed a three-year, $40 million contract with the Kings.

But in an odd twist, the Hawks brought Dedmon back in a Feb. 5 trade with the Kings.

One of the two players the Kings acquired, Alex Len, recently spoke to The Athletic about his time in Atlanta and the trade that landed him in Sacramento.

“They didn’t want to pay him in the first place, so it didn’t make sense to me,” Len told Chris Kirschner. “If they wanted him, they could have just paid him. So they get him as a backup now and end up paying him anyway."

Len was taken No. 5 overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 2013 NBA Draft and signed with the Hawks as a free agent in 2017. He was hoping to be part of the group that returned Atlanta to prominence, and told The Athletic he didn't want to be traded.

“One-hundred percent -- I wanted to stay,” Len said. “I like the coaching staff. I liked my teammates. Everyone was cool. It really had a family feel to it. Last year, you could see the trajectory was going up. Everyone was getting better towards the end of the season. The way we started this season -- I think the mistake we had was we had too many young guys. I didn’t think we had enough veterans and leadership on the team. This season didn’t work out as planned, so they had to make changes. It’s a business, so I understood they had to do it.”

The Hawks appeared to be making progress last season. With Lloyd Pierce in his first season as coach and Trae Young bursting onto the season, Atlanta finished with a 29-53 record. Expectations were high entering the 2019-20 campaign.

[RELATED: Len pleasantly surprised by Kings trade]

But when the NBA suspended the season due to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Hawks were in possession of a 20-47 record, the second-worst in the Eastern Conference.

Len wanted to stay in Atlanta, but he entered an NBA playoff race when he joined the Kings.

In nine appearances with the Kings, all off the bench, Len is averaging 6.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in 16.7 minutes.