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.”
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.”
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.