Kings

Vlade Divac helps De'Aaron Fox, Kings through NBA trade deadline sting

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USATSI

Vlade Divac helps De'Aaron Fox, Kings through NBA trade deadline sting

SACRAMENTO -- At 5:45 p.m. on Wednesday, TV cameras were lined up outside the Kings' locker room. Before the team even had time to clear out Iman Shumpert’s locker or pull down his name plate, a blitzkrieg of media stormed the room looking for the remnants of the animated veteran.

Slow pan shots of Shumpert’s jersey were taken. Players were questioned. What would become of the Scores?

By 7 p.m., wing Justin Jackson had been removed from the floor, and within the blink of an eye, he too was headed out of Sacramento. The second-year pro was able to step into the Kings' locker room at halftime to wish his now-former teammates good luck on their journey.

With a broken spirit, the Kings were lambasted by the Houston Rockets that evening by a final of 127-101.

With fewer than 30 minutes for Kings players to process the roster overhaul, cameras were allowed back into the locker room following the loss. It was an emotional room and an awkward reminder of the human element that often is forgotten with regard to professional athletes.

Rookie big man Harry Giles attempted to leave the locker room quietly out the main exit, but he was caught by the bright lights attached to focusing lenses. The 20-year-old stood in front of a blank white wall, and did his best to keep his composure.

Willie Cauley-Stein allowed his emotions to spill out during his postgame interview.

“Just the energy in the room -- who is the first people you hear talking when you walk into our locker room? Shump and JJ,” the 7-foot center said. “That energy is gone, and that ain’t going to come back.”  

Surrounded by two empty lockers, point guard De’Aaron Fox was engulfed by the media as well.

The stall to his left is a constant reminder that even a leader like Garrett Temple can be traded. The locker to Fox's right represented a childhood bond with Jackson dating to their days as AAU teammates.

With both cabinets bare, Fox appeared slightly isolated. For one evening, the 21-year-old’s swagger seemed shaken.

Somewhere in another part of Golden 1 Center, Kings general manager Vlade Divac and his group were busy putting the finishing touches on a few more transactions.

The Kings’ front office had won the day by their estimation. They landed size at small forward in 26-year-old Harrison Barnes, and depth in the backcourt with Alec Burks.

They had filled their two two biggest needs, and done so without hamstringing the franchise financially or giving away any of their core group.

That last sentence was easy to write, but it fails to capture the reality of what a group of 15 players feels.

Iman Shumpert and Justin Jackson were part of the main group. And while they didn’t see a lot of playing time, Ben McLemore, who was later waived, and Skal Labissiere, who was traded Thursday morning, also were part of the delicate and complicated family of players.

Sacramento took to the court with new faces and the need to rebuild chemistry Friday night against the Miami Heat. Before they took on that task, at least one Kings player needed to have a conversation with Divac and clear the air.

It’s complicated, but doing what’s best for the whole doesn’t always feel good to the individual. Needing some clarity, Fox walked into Divac’s office looking for answers. He walked out feeling better about the situation.

“When it happened right before the game, there was a little sting,” Fox told NBC Sports California on Sunday afternoon as he prepared to take on the Phoenix Suns. “It was kind of unexpected but not too unexpected. I think it was good for the team, and I do trust what Vlade’s doing. Since I’ve been here, it’s all positive things and great things. I think we’re still stepping in the right direction.”

Divac said that door always is open and that he welcomed the conversation with Fox and anyone else who needs to chat.

“Personally, I love it, not just De’Aaron, everybody -- how they react,” Divac said in a one-on-one conversation with NBC Sports. “It shows to me that everyone has a heart. The emotions are there. I love it.”

[RELATED: How Kings remade one-third of their roster at trade deadline]

As chronicled by The Athletic's Sam Amick, Divac used his own experiences to help his young point guard walk through the trades. Divac, one of the stars of the NBA European invasion in the late 1980s and early '90s, was a Los Angeles Laker for seven years. And then one day, he wasn’t.

In a gut-wrenching move for the Serbian-born center, Divac was traded to the Charlotte Hornets on July 11, 1996, for a high-school prospect named Kobe Bryant. The move stunned Divac but also gave him a unique perspective on the business side of the NBA.

While it’s likely the moves were the right ones to make, could Divac’s timing have been better? In the high stakes world of professional sports, you don’t always get to control things like timing.

“I don’t choose when I’m going to make a deal, when it happens, it happens,” Divac said. “If I had the choice, I would use better timing. But you never know when it’s going to happen.”

Unlike Shumpert and Jackson, Barnes actually had suited up and was playing for the Mavericks at the time the trade was first reported. In 26 minutes of play, Barnes scored 10 points for Dallas before being pulled from the game.

The conversation with Divac was exactly what Fox needed to clear his head. When you’re in the thick of a playoff race and the culture behind the scenes is good, it’s hard to see how the team could make changes that might help better the chances for success.

“Just the direction that we’re trying to get the team to go,” Fox said. “We do feel like we got better after the trades. We’re just working on chemistry after the trade, and ultimately, trying to make the playoffs with such a young team.”

Taken with the fifth overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft, Fox has elevated himself to franchise cornerstone in his sophomore season. While there might come a time when Divac comes to his point guard before pulling the trigger on major decisions, there always will be a need for a separation of roles within an organization.

“Things happen on the fly,” Divac said. “His job is to lead this team on the court, my job is to create the team, [head coach Dave Joerger's] job is to put all that together and coach. Everybody has their own thing. We have to communicate. We have to discuss. But everybody has to do their job.”

[RELATED: Kings' Bagley reminds Suns what they passed on in draft]

As for Fox, he won’t forget his time with his former teammates, but the current experience seems to have helped further the bond between he and Divac.

“Our relationship has definitely developed over the year and a half I’ve been here,” Fox said. “I think it’s just going to continue to get better.”

Despite very little practice time, the Kings have rattled off back-to-back wins since the trade. It will take time to create bonds and build chemistry both on and off the court with the new players, but the early returns are promising.

As Kings rookie Marvin Bagley surges, is starting role on the horizon?

As Kings rookie Marvin Bagley surges, is starting role on the horizon?

The time is coming. Whether it’s this week or two weeks from now or the start of next season, young big man Marvin Bagley III is going to work his way into the Kings’ starting lineup, where he could reside for the next decade or so.

His talent is undeniable, and he continues to show flashes of brilliance. His 32-point, seven-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns last week comes to mind.

But the stretch run is here, and for the first time in more than a decade, the Kings are playing for more than just lottery balls. In most seasons, this is when Sacramento usually turns the team over to players like Bagley for crucial developmental time on the court.

With just 25 games remaining and Sacramento just a game back of the eighth seed, coach Dave Joerger is still trying to balance the future and the present. Yet It’s becoming more and more clear that the future and the present are one in the same.

Over the first six games of February, the game is slowing down for Bagley, and he’s playing his best basketball of his rookie season.

Since returning from a knee injury in early January, the former Duke star is posting 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game off of Joerger’s bench. In February’s first six games, those numbers jump to 15.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game.

Bagley’s ability to score in the post gives Sacramento’s high-octane offense a new wrinkle. As his shot selection improves and he develops as the roller in the two-man game, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft is only going to get better.

“He has a special talent, nobody can block his jumpshot,” teammate Buddy Hield said last week. “He’s gifted and I just want to see him succeed at the highest level.”

In Sacramento’s equal-opportunity offense, having a big body to feed in the post is a nice luxury. It also doesn’t hurt that Bagley is one of the best rebounders on the team, especially on the offensive end.

“He jumps so high, it doesn’t matter what anybody does,” point guard De’Aaron Fox said. “Just pick a spot, get to it and be able to just rise up.”

[RELATED: Webber confident Kings are headed for brighter days]

With Bagley stepping up his game, veteran Nemanja Bjelica has seen a reduction in court time. After carrying the team through stretches early in the season, the former Euroleague MVP struggled in January.

Bjelica has bounced back a bit in February, averaging nine points on 38.1 percent shooting from 3-point range in 18.8 minutes per game. Bagley has taken some of his playing time, but newcomer Harrison Barnes has seen time at the four as well.

Joerger has been clear throughout the year that Bjelica’s shooting ability opens the spacing on the floor for Fox and the team’s up-tempo style. The addition of Barnes at the deadline may give Joerger even more flexibility with his rotations.

Bagley has been shooting with the guards following practice, and he’s pushed his 3-point attempts to nearly two per game during February.

The rookie is shooting just 27.3 percent from behind the arc on the month, and 25.5 percent on the season. If teams don’t have to defend Bagley on the perimeter, it complicates things for the Kings’ offense.

If the Kings were struggling, it’s likely that Bagley would already be starting. With the team in the thick of the playoff race, Joerger has a tough decision to make about if or when Bagley assumes his position with the opening group.

Count Chris Webber as firm believer in new era of Kings basketball

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USATSI

Count Chris Webber as firm believer in new era of Kings basketball

The Kings have had quite the presence at NBA All-Star Weekend.

First, De'Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Marvin Bagley III all stood out during the Rising Stars game.

Then Fox participated in the Skills Challenge, falling to eventual runner-up Trae Young.

He was followed by Hield, who took third place in the 3-Point Contest.

It represents just the second time in franchise history that the Kings have had four players participate in events at mAll-Star Weekend. The last time it happened, well, it was a different era of Kings basketball.

In 2002, Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic were All-Stars, Stojakovic won the 3-Point Contest, Hedo Turkoglu played in the Rising Stars game, and Gerald Wallace competed in the Slam Dunk contest.

That season, of course, finished with a memorable Game 7 loss to the rival Los Angeles Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference finals. The Lakers went on to win the championship that season, and the Kings have never been closer to a title since.

Sacramento entered this All-Star break with a record of 30-27, one game back of the Clippers for the final playoff spot in the West. A new era of Kings basketball has been established, and a prominent member of the former certainly has noticed.

Webber has been in attendance at All-Star Weekend in Charlotte as an analyst for TNT, and in speaking with Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee, he related that he's not surprised by what his former teammate, Kings general manager Vlade Divac, has been able to accomplish.

"Vlade has believed in these guys, especially Fox and Buddy, telling me a long time ago they were going to change the trajectory of the team,” Webber said. “The great part about it as a Sacramento fan is, I know Vlade, he doesn’t just work for the organization, but he is a fan of the city. He wants it to be great, not only on the court but in the community as well.

"And, yeah, he’s going to (turn) it around. He already has. He said, ‘Give me two years.’ He’s done that. Just wait till we give him a little bit more time."

[RELATED: Webber joins 12 others as Basketball Hall of Fame finalist]

Webber has fond memories of his time in Sacramento, particularly of the fan support during the years of playoff contention.

"During that time, I remember that was the most passionate basketball experience, professionally, that I ever witnessed, from the city shutting down for the playoffs to the first playoff series we had (when) J-Will and myself took pizzas out to the fans who were out there tailgating before the games,” Webber said. “From the fans and how passionate they were, to the cowbells to Sign Lady and just everyone there, from the vendors all the way to the owners, you knew it was a feeling of community. Vlade is trying to recapture that."

Sacramento will have plenty of work to do over the final 25 regular-season games, but there's no denying the new era of Kings basketball has impressed that of the old.