Kings Still Work in Progress, But There Is a Clear Plan in Place

[CSNBY] Kings still work in progress, but there is a clear plan in place
James Ham

There's a famous Benjamin Franklin quote that fits the bill of the 2016-17 Sacramento Kings at the All-Star brerak.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail," said Franklin.

It's an old quote that has taken on plenty of iterations. "Failing to plan is planning to fail," is a more modern version and plays directly into what many believe has plagued the Sacramento Kings over the last decade. 

Former Kings executive and long-time TV personality Jerry Reynolds will share with you that, "Anyone who tells you they have a five-year plan in this business, has no plan at all." 

It's hard to argue with that sentiment, but there has to be some short-term and long-term goals if you are building or rebuilding a franchise on the fly. 

When the Kings added Garrett Temple, Anthony Tolliver, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson this summer while also selecting three first round picks, the noise grew louder - what is the plan?

57 games into the season, the Kings are neither a world beater nor a bottom dweller. They are a game and a half outside of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. They have relied heavily on veterans the entire season as Dave Joerger looks to build a program, not perform a quick fix. 

For the first time in more than a decade, the Kings will play meaningful games in February and March. 

You could argue that some of the young players should have played more this season, but not if you understood the Kings' plan coming into the season. Yes, they had a plan and despite a 24-33 record, it might actually be working. 

The idea coming into the 2016-17 campaign was to surround DeMarcus Cousins with veteran players to help stabilize the culture of the team and make a run at a playoff spot. Young players like Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore were to stick around and learn the new system behind vets, while the rookies were scheduled to head to Reno to get much needed playing time with the Bighorns under Darrick Martin. 

Sacramento has options for next season on both Afflalo and Tolliver with the thought that if the young players develop faster, the Kings would then have the choice to either retain the veterans next season or buy them out for substantially less (Afflalo's buyout is for $1.5 million and Tolliver's is for $2 million).

Lawson was brought in on a league minimum, make good contract. He's done that and much more, possibly earning a long-term deal with the team going forward. Barnes has a player option for next season and has become the de-facto leader in the locker room. Temple is one of the few vets on a three-year deal and his ability to play three positions makes him an ideal utility player.

Joerger has been reluctant to use rookies Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Malachi Richardson. Both Papagiannis and Labissiere have spent the majority of the season in Reno, occasionally coming back to Sacramento to work with the coaching staff during long homestands. 

Richardson found limited minutes in Joerger's rotation over the last month, but a hamstring injury on Wednesday night has the rookie's season in doubt. In his short stint in the rotation, Richardson has instantly become a fan favorite and shown promise. But the goal was to give him a taste of the league, not overwhelm him after just one season at Syracuse. 

Sacramento has made plenty of mistakes in the past rushing young players into action. Easing the rookies into competition was the original plan and the Kings have stuck to it. 

Where the addition of veterans has paid huge dividends is in the development of McLemore and Cauley-Stein. McLemore is a restricted free agent at the end of the season and struggled mightily early in the season. But Lawson, Temple and Barnes have done a tremendous job of supporting the 24-year-old wing and when injuries hit, McLemore has made a huge impact on the floor.

His confidence is through the roof and over the last eight games, McLemore is averaging 12.8 points per game on 51.2 percent shooting from long range. The timid, shell of a player that the Kings saw last year and through the first half of the season is gone. McLemore has earned his minutes down the stretch, even when a slew of veterans return from injury.

Cauley-Stein has had a similar resurgence. Taken with the sixth overall pick in 2015, the 7-footer out of Kentucky looked completely lost in Joerger's system early in the season. But like McLemore, he has done the work and listened to the veterans around him.

During the last 14 games, Cauley-Stein has posted 9.7 and 4.4 rebounds in 18 minutes a night. He's given the Kings a new dynamic to their offense and his on-court chemistry with Lawson has helped transform the Kings' second unit into one of the league's best. 

The plan, as constructed before the season, hasn't yielded a 50-plus win team primed to compete for a championship, but that wasn't the goal. The plan might not even end the playoff drought, although they are still in the conversation. But the Kings are a competitive unit with an improved culture. They are building toward something, which hasn't been the case in quite a while.

Joerger and his group are developing young players for the future. The arrival of both McLemore and Cauley-Stein have shown a path to success and possibly even opened up options at the trade deadline. 

Vlade Divac and his team have five developing young players to pair with a 26-year-old DeMarcus Cousins and plenty of flexibility with the salary cap moving forward. They have options with veteran players and another young asset in Bogdan Bogdanovic ready to come over from Europe this summer.

The plan is still under review, but that doesn't change the fact that there is one in place. Cousins, veterans, development, flexibility and maybe, just maybe, playoffs.

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