Rumors of a potential deal started to percolate ahead of the Kings' win over the Atlanta Hawks in a wild Wednesday night matchup.
As soon as the final horn sounded, the news hit the wire: Cory Joseph and a pair of second-round picks, traded to the Detroit Pistons for Delon Wright.
This is a rarity in the NBA. Seldom do you have an event like this moments before a coach and players stream in for postgame interviews. While no one could speak on the deal because it hasn’t cleared the league office quite yet, the conversation centered around Joseph and what he has meant to the Kings over the last season-and-a-half in Sacramento.
Known around the league as a pro’s pro, Joseph has made a habit of bringing young guards under his wing. It's how he was brought up with the San Antonio Spurs, and he made it a point of emphasis in Sacramento, too.
“We knew we had some young players and we wanted someone that could really anchor some of that stuff and teach winning habits and teach what it takes to be a true professional,” coach Luke Walton said Wednesday in a postgame video conference. “He’s been that every single day since he’s been here.”
De'Aaron Fox not only sat next to Joseph in the locker room last season, he also matched up with Joseph on the practice floor.
“I just told him, he was great for us and helping me continue to develop as a player and just little things that you can really do,” Fox said.
Fox credited Joseph with working with him on his post game and teaching him secrets to getting through screens on the defensive end. It wasn’t just about basketball, though.
Joseph was a strong and experienced voice behind the scenes as well.
“Just his veteran presence, he’s a guy that’s won a championship, he’s been in big-time games, he’s played a role on all of those teams and he was definitely good for us,” Fox added.
This is life in the NBA, Fox is used to trade-deadline chaos after four seasons. This is rookie Tyrese Haliburton's first experience, though, and Wednesday's events were unnerving for him.
Haliburton's emotions were raw postgame. Joseph was his veteran, a mentor the 21-year-old grew to trust.
“He’s really helped me become a better basketball player and a better person on a daily basis,” rookie Tyrese Haliburton said. “It means a lot to me. We’re going to be in constant communication, even though he won’t be here. He means a lot to me. He’s like a big brother for me and I’m sad to see him go, but at the end of the day, I understand that this is a business.”
Walton said Joseph and Haliburton drive to the airport together and are extremely close. Relationships like the ones that Joseph forged with Fox and Haliburton are what first drew the Kings to him in free agency two summers ago.
“We’re really close, so I’m very thankful for Cory and it’s all love on this side,” Haliburton said.
This is the business of basketball, and Joseph did his job well. He wasn't built for the speed with which the Kings want to play, and he struggled this season without a natural scorer alongside him on the second unit. But being part of a franchise isn't always about the box score.
Joseph came to work every day and played hard. He has the longest current games-played streak in the NBA (310), and he is the type of player you trust to teach a franchise’s most valuable young stars.
After spending plenty of time with him over the last 18 months, we wish him nothing but the best in his next stop. His professionalism, soft-spoken voice and unique laugh will be missed in Sacramento.
Just ask his teammates and coaches.