Kings

Kings May Never Find Another Fox

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The Sacramento Kings are not in a good place.

Fatigue from Failure

Clear as day, everything is not okay. Clear as mud, is how to remedy. The defense is letting up a porous 113.0 DRTG, good for 26th in the league, as the losing streak swells to five.

Better than second worst all time, but still. Certainly not the ‘top 15’ the team was bragging on as their goal at the beginning of the year. As a team, they’re shooting a triple fireball emoji worthy 34.5% from three-point land. In addition to the poor statistical output, there is also a growing reputation that the third quarter has evolved into a Pavlov bell; whoever is facing off against the Kings is salivating.

After such a storied history of defeat, many Northern Californians now choose to don blue and yellow, even if they are closer in vicinity to Sac.

I can admit, when I was living in Davis, I too would occasionally look westward down the interstate with longing in my heart.

Vivek only came here because he was first there.

But alas, loyal to soil, we Kings fan have perseverance. Our pain tolerance is with that of any fan base in history. Understandably, many are getting tired. This has been a long, harrowing journey with few bastions of safety along the way. Many look around and wonder what to do.

After all, it’s been 15 ye– oh you know..

Trade Talk

De’Aaron Fox is apparently not entirely off the table in a trade. And with a player of his caliber and potential, he would surly return a haul.

But I urge patience. Is the goal to squeeze into the playoffs through a generous roll of the play-in tournament dice and end the drought, yet toil in mediocrity? Or are you shooting for a chip? What are you really doing out here?

De’Aaron is 23 years old. That is a young man. That is not an old man. You want to capitalize on his title window, right? Well let’s just be serious about when that is.

Not this year. Not next.

Only if literally every domino falls right in Sacramento does the slightest crack open the year after that. Realistically, it seems fair to estimate between his aged 27-32 seasons: 2026-31. From an organizational standpoint the goal should be build the road — as the current roster clearly isn’t operating as a cohesive unit — and shoot for an honest timeline.

Growth and Development

Fox’s big question mark is and has always been his shooting ability. His career splits of 45.7/31.5/72.3 are the only logical weakness in his offensive game, with a strong emphasis on the second two numbers. If he was able to force his defender to respect the three ball, it would open up so much space to blow by them. If he hit his free throws at a higher clip, there are games that would have made all the difference. (not looking at just you, December 11th loss to the Hornets).

There are, however, a couple of signs that point to his potential to improve in this fashion.

First, his free-throw percentage was a solid 80.9% on 42 free throws over the last six games. Small sample size, but a noteworthy difference from his career numbers.

And word has long been out that his midrange game is actually pretty nice.

Often, his pull-up is immediately after slamming on the breaks after a quick drive halfway to the basket. A self-generated, quickly moving, and commonly off-balance shot should be a less-accurate shot, all other things held equal. But Fox does not hold all other things equal in that midrange elbow jumper. The defender is forced to pull back and defend the rim leaving plenty of room to operate for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The Next Level

If he can extend that shot and improve his splits long term, then there will be a whole different monster opposing teams will have to prep for.

The spacing would open up. The defense would be more required to occupy precious mental space with options of what to do if he does this or that, leaving less room to focus on their offensive gameplan. And right now, any distraction away from the nightly desecration on the less-glamorous end is a must. The group of players any general manager would consider to surround and support Fox would also change.

And this surrounding is where the problem truly lies. For De’Aaron — as for any top 20-40 yet not top 10 player — there will need to be a full group system operating at a high level for success to be available.

Environment Matters

This isn’t Philly. De’Aaron walks into that 76ers locker room after a theoretical Ben Simmons trade and his championship window is opened up into the immediate and extended into the foreseeable.

A Joel Embiid-Fox tandem would be an incredible offensive force– and one that would throw a solid one-two punch against any team in a best-of-seven series. Although the Sixers’ brass seem high on Tyrese Maxey, who has heated up in Simmons’ absence, recent word from Kyle Neubeck at The Philly Voice is they would rope in a third team to move Fox elsewhere.

The point is less about the Sixers’ best move forward and more about Fox’s potential with adequate talent surrounding.

In Sacramento, however, the infrastructure is falling apart. Earlier, we already highlighted some of the woes. With all these failures in view, it is far too late for this roster. The multiple years of failure coupled with heating trade rumors are proof thereof.

But it is not too late for Fox, and we must not squander the truth that a player like him will not sign with Sacramento; they would only be drafted.

Until an entire group is able to come together and maximize the talent available, the Kings will still lose and we fans will still cry. But yet, it is of utmost importance to be sure of your moves, for they only will be able to be made once.

Some Say Pull The Plug

Carmichael Dave, a longtime media member and Sacramento local, said on his radio show with where everything is that the only pathway to success is to trade De’Aaron. His view is to remedy the drought of talent everywhere else with the glut at the guard position.

Time to sell high. Blow it up. Cash in on your top established talent and balance out the roster.

Woah man, an indictment?

I know feelings are difficult and that it’s hard to view things from a wide lens when staring at failure so close for so long. But this is not a simple task, to make a championship-winning basketball team. Surely, it will take a separation from emotion with the cold, precise hands of a heart surgeon must each incision be made.

The house of cards is unstable and wobbles. It is ready to fall at a slight breeze.

At the crux of this struggle is the acquisition of top-level talent. And for Sacramento, options are limited. Stars aren’t putting the city on their free-agency list.

Fox is a bird in the hand. He is a very talented basketball player and there is obvious potential that he could be a key piece in a winning basketball team. But with how talented the entire league is at this point of history, one player alone may not win. Even LeBron James didn’t make the playoffs his first year in LA because the system around him was so bad.

Fox is not LeBron– he never will be. But he is De’Aaron Fox, and that may yet be enough.

A Group Effort

In our previous article, we at Kings Lead hashed out that leadership is missing and disjunctive on the current squad. That Fox’s reserved personality may not be the catalyst to correcting the culture of underperformance plaguing this group. Yet be aware that it is no contradiction to say there is still opportunity for De’Aaron to be the best player on a winning Sacramento basketball team.

Kings Have Keys, But No One to Drive Car

He alone will not change the culture– that is not how culture works. But he can put up numbers on his own. You won’t have to look far into distant memory to see his impact on the team. His missed game-winner last night is a perfect encapsulation of his hot-and-cold time here in Sacramento. He put up 30 points three times during the current losing streak.

Big numbers, but holding the L.

But as a shining example of what he could do when things break right, Fox crushed it down the stretch against the Heat on January 2nd. He put the team on his back, went 14-15 from the line and closed the game practically on his own.

On nights where he doesn’t have a great performance, however, the odds for victory swing heavily. The Kings are a .500 basketball team this year — in actual reality — when Fox scores at least 20.

These numbers suggest that although Fox can make an impact on a game and his time out there is positive, there is an utter lacking in support around him.

Team D

The team defense is atrocious. They will not be a good team until that gaping hole of lack is filled. And although there is an occasional high-level defensive play from an individual, the unit lacks general communication, is slow to rotate, has lapses of attention, and will not follow up the rare individual effort with a full 24 seconds of focus.

It doesn’t matter if Fox is an offensive force if they’re hemorrhaging points on the other end as a group. In the modern era of basketball analysis, it is clear that good defense does not come from an individual play or player in a vacuum, but rather from consistent skill and effort exerted by a group of players over a period of many plays.

Another reason why Fox alone can not be the answer.

But he is clearly an operable part — a major one at that — and this again where caution must be exhibited by general manager Monte McNair.

Where Impatience Leads

Going back to Carmichael Dave’s comment, he does a good job of exemplifying the frustrated and urgent state of the zeitgeist surrounding the Kings organization and fan base. The coaching carousal is a-spinning. The seats are not filling up at the Golden One Center. Conversely, the Twittersphere is filling up with trade machine hypotheticals detailing Fox’s exit.

Dave’s assertion that the answer is to balance the talent in the roster by trading Fox is where the urgency of the feelings surrounding the team needs to be tempered with foresight.

Fox is 23. Tyrese Haliburton, Davion Mitchell and Marvin Bagley are all 22. And the Kings are still not a winning basketball team, once again. As far as modern basketball logic is concerned, they are at a stage of development where they should be trying to accrue talent in the best-player-available approach. Fit should not be a focal concern until the talent floor has raised to the point where the team is actually competing every night, which they are clearly not.

Make the trade if you believe you are maximizing the future of the team. But again– De’Aaron Fox is not an old man. He is not LeBron, Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony trying to crystallize their final years into a ring. This is a long-term process and needs to be handled and addressed as such.

At his age, time is on most certainly his side.

The Long Game

Look at the age 22-23 season of Giannis Antetokounmpo. You can see he led his team to the 12th seed in the East at 33-49 in 2016. Four more go-rounds before the patience of the front office was eventually rewarded with a coveted chip. Only he and Khris Middleton remain from that 2016 roster.

In the multi-verse branch where the Kings do win a championship somewhere on the Fox timeline, that 2016 Bucks roster’s mold is likely what we’re looking at here. Fox and one, maybe two others that are here now would be on that winning roster. The rest would be some conglomerate of yet-to-be draftees, trade chips and free-agency signings– the likes of which we can not even begin to theorize because they are middle-school basketball players and professionals that aren’t yet on the team they will be traded from.

The very question of how Jrue Holiday would get to Milwaukee and be the final piece missing to push them over the hump would be unfathomable in 2016; before the Pelicans caved in on trading Anthony Davis; before the trade demand even existed.

Use the same thought experiment for Brook Lopez and you’ll find a similar story. Who could have imagined he would be a perfect fit as a floor spacer, when in ’16 he shot 14.3% from three?

This chain of cause and effect has obvious implications– that you may only operate with the information available at the time, and that you must be ready and willing to adjust previous conceptions.

The Kings have a player of incredible potential in Fox, but maximization of that potential is critical to the organization’s goals. For that, a wide lens and a steady hand is crucial.

Learn From The Past

There are a couple of other teams whose recent history bears lessons to be learned, relevant to this situation: the Blazers and the Suns. Because of the surroundings of each of the team’s drafted stars — Damian Lillard and Devin Booker — each organization is in a vastly different place.

Let’s first take a look into Portland’s situation. Lillard is 31. The clock is not ticking. It thunderously roars and bellows at each passing moment.

The team is surely considering any potential trade to improve the context surrounding their shining superstar, but any trade including Dame Dolla is strictly off the table. With multiple cracks at the postseason, paired with some incredible moments of individual takeover, it is clear that the magnificent performance of any individual has its limitations when the structure around them is lacking.

However, this repeated near-success-still-failure has not yet been enough for the Blazers management to even consider moving Lillard.

So Portland shops C.J. McCollum and their draft picks, but not their cornerstone. With Fox eight years younger then Lillard, the same logic should be amplified for Sacramento.

Breaking The Right Way

It wasn’t too long now that the Kings and Suns were viewed on similar terms. Year after year, Booker would shine on his own, showing the same potential Fox is showing now– that he could be the leading scorer on a winning team.

And yet, his flamethrower nights would culminate in losing seasons.

It was clear that until the group around him was able to adequately support this mercurial young talent, the losing would continue. A few more years of good drafting raised that floor, but then they still could not put it all together.

Enter Chris Paul. The group of players, whose obvious potential talent consistently under-achieved, unified into a powerful cohesive collective with intentions locked in and skill to execute the game plan. From bottom-dwelling lottery drafters to finalist contenders in an amalgamation of young talent banded together with an experienced leader at the helm, they are running it back and have a shot.

Of course, the Kings want to be in a position where they too will have a shot when they run it back. With the first half of the season in the books, nobody with an ounce of realism in their mind would consider this group a title contender for this year or next. But what they do with what they have will determine the foundation of the years to come. Do they trade their best-established player to venture into the unknown, or do they rework everything around him?

With an honest assessment of where they are, the Kings should be holding onto No. 5 with an iron grip.

 

About Brad Bates

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