SACRAMENTO -- And then there were eight. The Sacramento Kings walked into the 2017-18 season with 10 young players on rookie scale contracts. That number was reduced by two at the trade deadline with former first-round selections Georgios Papagiannis and Malachi Richardson leaving the franchise.
It was a bold move by Vlade Divac and assistant general manager Brandon Williams. Giving up on two young players that you invested picks and nearly two years in development isn’t easy. It was also the right move.
“We wish both kids nothing but the best,” Vlade Divac said Friday morning. “I think it was a plan to develop the group that we have, moving forward and creating a little bit more flexibility.”
Not every player taken in an NBA Draft develops at the right pace. Not every player taken in the NBA Draft is an NBA player.
By moving away from two young players, the Kings acknowledged that they are willing to make difficult moves. They also acknowledged that they are willing to take the criticism that goes comes with that decision.
“It was a tough decision, but as a GM, you have to sometimes make tough decisions,” Divac added.
Taken with the 13th overall selection in the 2016 draft, Papagiannis struggled to earn any rotational minutes with the Kings. At 7-foot-1, 240-pounds, the 20-year-old out of Greece might have come into the league in the wrong era.
While he has passing skills, a soft touch and can set a mean screen, the pace of the game appeared too much for Papagiannis. He may one day develop, but with so many other young players on the team, the Kings can’t eat up roster spots and valuable coaching time with a project that might be another year or two out.
Richardson earned a look last season before a hamstring tear set him back. From that moment on, the 22-year-old has struggled to gain traction in Sacramento. He tweaked the hamstring again in Las Vegas Summer League and quickly fell behind rookie Justin Jackson on the depth chart.
When given brief opportunities this season, Richardson failed to produce. He’s worked hard to reinvent his body and his 3-point shot looks clean in practice, but translating his skills to an NBA court proved difficult.
Neither of the moves were all that surprising, nor is this an indictment on a coaching staff that has worked tirelessly on player development this season. Both Papagiannis and Richardson were buried on depth chart behind both veterans and young players. With two draft picks in the 2018 NBA Draft, the roster needed reshaping.
“As you know, development projects can be challenging,” assistant general manager Brandon Williams said. “Our coach has done a fantastic job in trying to manage and disperse minutes and opportunity knowing that it’s difficult for young guys that have some talent, have some upside to not have as many minutes.”
The focus will now turn to De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Justin Jackson, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Frank Mason, Harry Giles and possibly even Bruno Caboclo, who was acquired in the Richardson deal. With 28 games remaining, there is still plenty of time to continue the development of the young core.
“This is like another college season in a lot of ways,” Williams said. “So, how much more progress do we make by not dividing minutes up among more players.”
It wasn’t a banner trade deadline for Sacramento, but the Kings made important moves for their future. They now have roster and financial flexibility that they didn’t have before. It came at a cost, but that’s part of the NBA business.