Kings

Vlade Divac's growth into GM job has Kings heading in right direction

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AP

Vlade Divac's growth into GM job has Kings heading in right direction

SACRAMENTO -- A lone microphone sat perched on a table when media members assembled for a post-NBA trade deadline press briefing Thursday afternoon at Golden 1 Center. All 7 feet of Kings' general manager Vlade Divac lumbered up onto the stage, sat down and, in classic fashion, made jokes.

“Two days ago, I had a better deal, but it didn’t go through,” Divac said with a smile after further transforming the Kings' roster at the NBA trade deadline.

Of course, Divac was taking a self-deprecating jab at himself. Those are the words he spoke following the deadline trade of DeMarcus Cousins two years ago, and they went viral and made him a target around the league.

Divac has come a long way since that moment, and he continues to grow into his role. The fact that he was sitting alone on the stage speaks volumes about how far he has come.

Like raising a child, running an NBA franchise takes an army. But someone has to lead the way.

Standing along the side wall during the press conference was Ken Catanella, one of Divac’s three assistant GMs. Known for his work with the salary cap, Catanella had plenty to do with the Kings’ position coming into the trade deadline.

“I’m so thankful for the people that work with me,” Divac said. “I think we did a great job preparing ourselves for this time. We did a great job as a team.”

A series of conservative short-term deals allowed Sacramento to leverage expiring contracts and its existing $11 million in cap space as assets to acquire Harrison Barnes from the Dallas Mavericks.

Iman Shumpert’s expiring contract yielded Alec Burks and a second-round draft pick in a three-team trade with the Houston Rockets and the Cleveland Cavaliers. None of these deals would have worked without budget-conscious Catanella.

[RELATED: Kings praise Shump's leadership after he's traded away]

Brandon Williams and Peja Stojakovic stayed behind the scenes, but both were instrumental in supporting Divac as he navigated the treacherous trade deadline waters.

“It’s very easy to execute when you have a group of people that know each other very well,” Divac added while jokingly pointing out that Catanella was getting a raise for being the only one who showed up at the press conference to support him.

Divac and his team had a clear set of objectives coming into the season as to how they would approach their assets. Initially, they were looking to leverage their expiring contracts and massive cap space to perhaps gain back a 2019 draft pick.

With the team winning, goals shifted, but the Kings’ front office never lost sight of the basic principles that have allowed the franchise to take giant leaps forward in their rebuild.

“Our focus going into this process was to improve our team and not jeopardize our future,” Divac said. “I think we achieved exactly what we tried. We brought talent that is going to help us be a better team, not just for now, but moving forward.”

Sacramento came into the deadline with a glaring hole at small forward, as well as a need for more talent. Shumpert was undersized for the position, and second-year forward Justin Jackson, who went to Dallas in the Barnes trade, wasn’t ready to take on the role full time.

After making it through the first half of the season with eight players on rookie scale contracts, Divac looked for and found a seasoned veteran who matched the team’s age arc.

At 26 years old, Barnes checked a lot of boxes for the Kings. He has the size and physical tools to step in and help right away. Also, his $24.1 million salary for this season with a player option next season at $25.1 million is manageable considering the team's overall cap structure.

“I see him as a player who’s going to help us go to the next level,” Divac said of Barnes. “Everything else about his playing position or whatever, that’s for Dave [Joerger] to decide how he’s going to make happen.”

It’s a hallmark of Divac’s managerial style. He’s learned what he knows and what he doesn’t. While he’s had to play peacekeeper on occasion, he lets the people around him do what they do best.

Barnes will have a chance to see if Sacramento is a good fit. The Kings took a gamble that he will decide to stay with the team beyond this season.

“We want to focus on the rest of the season, and we’re going to talk about it after, but definitely, we have interest to have him here for a long time,” Divac said.

[RELATED: Relive the NBA trade deadline with our live blog]

Burks and Shumpert were a virtual wash financially, and the Kings picked up an additional second-round pick in the process. While it’s not an earth-shattering addition, it’s another transaction in a series of savvy moves that the team has pulled off.

Divac has made plenty of mistakes since taking over the Kings following the 2014-15 season, but he’s learned on the fly and made adjustments. He’s helped rebuild the franchise that he led as a player, and he’s positioned the team well for the future.

While it started off rocky, Divac has stabilized the Kings, who as of now sit only one game out of the Western Conference's No. 8 playoff spot.

NBA Power Rankings 2019: Standing of every team at All-Star break

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USATSI

NBA Power Rankings 2019: Standing of every team at All-Star break

Welcome to another week of Power Rankings! We’re nearing the home stretch and very little is decided outside of the Warriors dominance.

There are surprising teams and some major disappointments. One of the biggest surprises is in Sacramento. 

Nobody expected the Kings to be in playoff contention. But at 30-27, the young squad is just one game back of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with 25 games to go. 

[RELATED: De'Aaron Fox sends message on potential Kings-Warriors playoff series]

Here is where the league stands heading into the All-Star break:

VIEW THE POWER RANKINGS HERE

De'Aaron Fox sends message on potential Kings-Warriors playoff series

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AP

De'Aaron Fox sends message on potential Kings-Warriors playoff series

With a trip to All-Star weekend comes the barrage of media conversations. The Kings are a hot topic and De’Aaron Fox might be the belle of the ball.

After a brutal 120-118 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday evening, Fox was already sitting in front of a camera having conversations Thursday morning.

“We feel like we’re in a great position,” Fox said on ESPN’s First Take. “There’s been a lot of games that we’ve dropped that we probably shouldn’t have lost and there are games that we won, that we probably shouldn’t have won. But with 25 games left, I feel like we’re getting better and better.

"Marvin [Bagley] is growing throughout this year. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to get the eight seed, if not, even the seven.”

Confidence has never been an issue with Fox. The 21-year-old has a moxie to him that makes him a natural born leader and he backs it up with a great work ethic.

With the Kings just a game out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff chase, Fox was asked about a potential matchup with the Golden State Warriors in the first round.

“I think every team can be beat,” Fox said. “We’ve played them three times this year already. I think we lost by a combined eight points and all three of those games, we probably had the game, but Boogie [DeMarcus Cousins] didn’t play. He adds an entirely different dynamic to that team, but like I said, everybody is human, so every team can be beat on any given day.”

Fox was off by a couple of points. The Kings have lost all three games this season to the Warriors by a combined 10 points, although they held leads in the fourth quarter in all of them.

The Kings were a Bagley tip-in from winning one game. Buddy Hield had shots in the final minute to either tie or win the other two games.  

Sacramento will get one last look at the champs next Thursday coming out of the All-Star break.

In his sophomore season in the league, Fox has taken incredible strides. Going into the All-Star break, he’s averaging 17.2 points and 7.2 assists while shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range.

After shooting just 30.7 percent from long range last season, Fox was asked about his improved shooting stroke by Max Kellerman.

“All summer, I just shot the ball, that’s all it is, it’s all about work, it doesn’t just come overnight,” Fox said. “All summer, that’s literally all I did. I didn’t work on ball handling, I had that. I didn’t work on athleticism, I had that. I just worked on my strength and shooting the ball. That’s all I did the entire summer.”

In a ranging conversation, Fox gave Giannis Antetokounmpo his nod for the NBA’s MVP award. He spoke on the 2017 NBA Draft and why he might have been the third point guard taken. Lastly, he was asked about the Kings future and whether he and his teammates have spoken on sticking together for the long haul.

“It definitely comes up,” Fox said. “With Buddy in his third year and Marvin in his first year, me in my second and what we’re able to do already - we’re definitely competing. We go out every game, we’re competing against some of the best.”

Kellerman, a renowned Lakers fan, finished the interview by loudly proclaiming, “I can’t wait until you’re a Laker.”

[RELATED: Breaking down Kings' chances to break 12-year NBA playoff drought]

Fox replied quickly, “I don’t know about that one.”

Sacramento has put Fox as the centerpiece to their rebuild and through the first season and a half, he’s exceeding expectations. Sacramento fans can have confidence going out and buying a No. 5 jersey, Fox isn’t going anywhere for a long time.