Despite an emotional trade deadline, the Sacramento Kings are poised for future success

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 9: Iman Shumpert #4, De'Aaron Fox #5 and Justin Jackson #25 of the Sacramento Kings look on during the game against the Orlando Magic on March 9, 2018 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 9: Iman Shumpert #4, De'Aaron Fox #5 and Justin Jackson #25 of the Sacramento Kings look on during the game against the Orlando Magic on March 9, 2018 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Despite being a difficult day for many Sacramento Kings players, Thursday’s trade deadline has the team poised for future success.

It was a chaotic day for the Sacramento Kings, as the team made a flurry of moves leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline — moves that were necessary, but painful nonetheless.

In a rush of activity before the 3 p.m. trade deadline Thursday afternoon, the Sacramento Kings saw locker room leaders in Iman Shumpert and Justin Jackson shipped out, as were Zach Randolph and Skal Labissiere. And while their trades had an immediate impact on Kings players, they were moves made in hopes of securing a playoff bid — a hope that now has a better chance to come to fruition.

Still, players were hurt by the loss of their teammates, some of which had been in Sacramento for multiple seasons. That emotional impact likely had an effect on the Sacramento Kings as they took the floor against the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, as evidenced by the post game comments of Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox and  Willie Cauley-Stein.

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"“I ran my ass off everyday with these dudes, I just show up and they gone — that’s trash but that’s the business,” Willie Cauley-Stein told KHTK’s Matt George on Thursday."

Cauley-Stein wasn’t done there, however, as he spoke to The Athletic’s Jason Jones as well, saying:

"“Who’s the first people that you hear when you walk into our locker room? Shump and J.J., that energy is gone and it ain’t going to come back…it’s going to be weird.” Willie said."

Fox, however, took a more measured approach, but it’s still hard to deny the impact a trade can have on players who view each other as friends and family.

"“[Shumpert brought a level of swag that we needed and we know where we have to be. We know what we’ve got to do — just keep it going. Today was a tough day, but it keeps going, the season keeps going.” Fox told Jones post game on Thursday."

Buddy was much of the same, as both showcased their leadership in a moment where leadership may be at its highest importance.

"“I’m ready, man. I’m excited. Today was a bad taste in our mouth, but come Friday — to the fans and the nation — we will be ready to play.” Hield told George."

The trade deadline for players is one of the most stressful times of the season — and perhaps their lives. This is highlighted even more so this year, as a record number of in-season trades were made this month, with the Sacramento Kings taking part in three of the 22 trades that went down. And while it’s important to have compassion for the players who are now tasked with uprooting their lives and dealing with all the logistics that comes with moving — sometimes across the country — it’s important to keep an objective perspective when it comes to trades and objectively speaking, the Kings nailed it.

By far the biggest move for Vlade Divac and Co. was acquiring Harrison Barnes from the Dallas Mavericks for Zach Randolph and Justin Jackson, a move that may very well propel them to the playoffs. There’s also the deal that sent Iman Shumpert to Houston in a three-way trade that sent Alec Burks and a 2020 second round pick (via CLE) to the Kings. Finally, the trading came to an end after the Sacramento Kings sent Skal Labissiere to the Portland Trailblazers in exchange for PF Caleb Swanigan.

The Kings are a better team heading into the All-Star Break and while losing locker room leaders hurts this young team, it’s important to note that both Alec Burks and Harrison Barnes are viewed as high-character players who will do a lot to help the Kings locker room recover.

The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd wrote on Tuesday that any trade involving Burks would be seen as “un-popular” within the Cavaliers locker room, as he was viewed as a leader and other players liked his play style.

Barnes appears to have been viewed similarly by his teammates, going as far as to suit-up and play in Dallas’ game against Charlotte despite trade rumors swirling — staying on the bench to support his teammates even after he was notified of his trade.

"“He’s just a genuinely good dude and he’s obviously got bonds with some of these players here for life. That’s just the kind of guy he is.” Dallas Mavericks player Dirk Nowitzki told the AP post game on Wednesday."

Barnes has also been active in whatever community he’s playing in, doing charity work in both San Francisco as a member of the Warriors and in Dallas while with the Mavericks. Trading away team leaders isn’t ideal, but the loss is certainly lessened when the team adds other high-character players to fill that role.

This, is the crux of the Kings moves; they upgraded on the court without sacrificing (for the most part) the leadership the players traded away provided in the locker room.

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The Sacramento Kings were able to add the legitimate small forward they desperately needed, then used other, more ancillary moves to help shore up a bench that’s struggled at times this season. And while Sacramento failed to add in a backup point guard or bench rebounder, there are several players available on the buyout market who could fill that role. Enes Kanter and Milos Teodosic immediately come to mind, but the point is Sacramento has options here. They do, however, have only one roster spot remaining after signing Corey Brewer to a 10-day contract and could choose to instead convert Troy Williams to a full-time contract — essentially filling out their rest of the season roster.

Should that happen, the Kings would be at 15 players — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Should that situation play out, the Sacramento Kings new rotation will likely look something like this going forward:

"PG: De’Aaron Fox/Yogi Ferrell/Frank Mason III*SG: Buddy Hield/Bogdan Bogdanovic/Alec BurksSF: Harrison Barnes/Corey Brewer/Troy Williams*PF: Nemanja Bjelica/Harry Giles/Caleb Swanigan*C: Willie Cauley-Stein/Marvin Bagley III/Kosta Koufos** = out of rotation"

Not bad for what might be, at best, a fringe playoff team. They’re not likely to win any playoff series’, but at this point just getting there should be the goal — which seems to be in line with the organizations thinking.

Regardless, it’s hard to argue the Sacramento Kings didn’t leave the trade deadline a better team than they were entering it. It may not change their ceiling this year, but this team will likely be pushing for a top-five seed in the West within a couple of years. Which is, undoubtedly, the point.

Should everything break right for Sacramento, they could become a top-three team in the West before too long. Of course, that means De’Aaron Fox developing into legitimate star, Buddy Hield taking another step forward and one of Marvin Bagley or Harry Giles joining them in stardom. Short of that, however, their floor is now more likely becoming a consistent playoff team — which is something they can further build upon. Besides, for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade, becoming a perennial playoff contender might not be such a bad thing, just ask the Portland Trailblazers.

All of this to say, this team feels like it finally has a clear direction. After years of general ineptitude by the front office (poor drafting, short-sighted trades, bad signings, etc.), 2017 represented a drastic change. Drafting De’Aaron Fox and Harry Giles and turning their other pick (Justin Jackson) into Harrison Barnes was a big win. And that’s not even touching on the DeMarcus Cousins trade that brought back Buddy Hield and the pick the Kings eventually turned into J-Jax and Giles. 2018 brought what seems to be another good draft pick in Marvin Bagley, along with the savvy signings of Nemanja Bjelica and Yogi Ferrell and, of course, the recent trades.

It’s of course entirely possible this blows up and things don’t pan out the way everyone feels they will, or more importantly, how the team feels they should. But, that’s not the point. The Sacramento Kings finally have a clear direction — a legitimate vision for the future with a good coach at the helm in Dave Joerger and roster built for success in today’s NBA. All of this, has them poised for future success. They’re the rare team that’s performed well despite being one of the NBA’s youngest (Denver Nuggets notwithstanding) and they’ve got years before Fox, Bagley and Giles are in their prime and have Barnes, Hield and Bogdanovic all entering or about to enter theirs.

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So, despite what may be one of the toughest days of their career (from an emotional standpoint) for many of the team’s youth, these moves have the teamed poised for future success — with ceiling higher than any Kings team since the early 2000’s.