Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings’ royal rebuild
Six months ago, Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac was lambasted for trading DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans for, essentially, rookie Buddy Hield and a first-round pick.
Divac admitted he could probably have acquired more assets if he had acted earlier, but said he had to change the culture of the team. Cousins’s surly attitude clouded a franchise seeking respectability.
The outlook is more positive for Divac now. He doesn’t hear as much criticism about the Cousins deal because of the subsequent moves he and former executive vice president Scott Perry made to improve the roster. Sacramento signed veterans George Hill, Vince Carter, and Zach Randolph, and drafted first-rounders De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, and Harry Giles, additions that could make the Kings a playoff contender in the Western Conference (though Randolph’s status is in question after he was arrested on drug charges last week).
“When we made that decision [to trade Cousins], we knew exactly where we were going,” Divac said. “We made a plan and try to execute it. So far, it’s exactly what we want. We have nice, young talented kids, and obviously with the addition of veteran guys [they] are going to teach them on a daily basis what it takes to win, what it takes to be a pro. It’s going to help a lot.”
Divac played for the Kings during their glory days of the early 2000s, when they nearly reached the NBA Finals. But Sacramento hasn’t been back to the playoffs since 2006, and Cousins’s leadership was questioned after he became the face of the franchise in 2010.
“The most important [thing] for me and the basketball operations was support from our owner [Vivek Ranadivé],” Divac said. “We felt confident that we’re going to come to the point where we have a good environment right now and I look forward to it. It’s early to say where we’re going to be in a year or two, but the thing for us is to improve every day.”
The Kings have done a solid job of amassing young talent the past few years. Skal Labissiere showed promise in summer league, while Fox could get considerable playing time alongside Hill. Willie Cauley-Stein, now the starting center, appears comfortable as a defender and has improved on offense.
“Vince sitting on the bench with our young guys will be a priceless thing,” Divac said. “To have those kids learn from him on the spot, same thing with [Randolph] and George. I’m really excited and happy about it.”
It has taken a few years for Divac to see the fruits of his rebuild.
“Our goal is for those kids to learn every day, to play hard and compete,” Divac said. “Good things are going to happen if they do that. We have to worry about us and trying to build what we believe is the right thing. We definitely believe this is the right way to do it. It’s early to say where we are going to be in the years ahead, but we’re headed in the right direction.
“We were ready and we knew exactly what we were going to do when the time comes. We executed exactly what we tried to do.”
Divac had never been in NBA management before taking the Kings job in 2015, and his tenure has been considered rocky because of the lack of on-court success.
“Obviously, I had some experience before working with the [Serbian] Olympic movement and [as a scout] with the Lakers when I retired,” he said. “But it’s something I do enjoy.
“We talk about the culture and that’s what you try to build, and when you have a clear vision, when I talked to those guys in free agency, it was easier for me because [we] speak the same language. They understood they wanted to be a part of it. When we start building the culture, hopefully down the road we will be winning and then it will be easier to get guys [to buy in].”
Morris twins are extremely close
The Celtics are excited about the acquisition of Marcus Morris and his potential as a swingman/shooter/defender in Brad Stevens’s positionless system. Marcus is the twin brother of the Wizards’ Markieff Morris, who made an impact on the Eastern Conference semifinal series against Boston.
The twins played together on the Suns for parts of three seasons but have faced each other the past two years. The twins are extremely close, so close they split their contract extension money with the Suns (a total of $52 million) because they shared the same bank account. The twins also have identical tattoos.
Marcus was asked about guarding Markieff, which should occur often when the Celtics face the Wizards.
“When we play against each other, it’s almost kind of like playing against myself at times,” Marcus said. “Because we work out together all the time. We know each other’s moves. We know what each other likes. It’s rare that I fake him out and he won’t know what I’m doing. We’re close. The thing about us is we’re going to compete. It don’t matter who is in front of us, we’re going to compete.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough matchup. It’s definitely going to be exciting to watch for the fans.”
Marcus is with his fourth NBA team. He said he was comfortable during with his two years in Detroit, where he became a full-time starter for the first time. He was disappointed the Pistons, considered a rising team in 2015-16, missed the playoffs last season.
“The trade was unexpected but once [my agent] told me who it was, I mean, how could I be upset about going to the Boston Celtics?” he said. “I’m coming and I’m going to put my hard hat on and I think that’s going to make guys better and that’s going to make me better. I’m ready to compete for a championship.”
Intriguing games in opening week
The NBA on Thursday released the schedule for the opening week and Christmas before it unveils the full schedule next week. The Celtics will play the season’s first game on Oct. 17 at Cleveland (8 p.m.), and play a Christmas home game (against the Wizards, 5:30 p.m.) for the first time since 1964.
Here’s a look at the opening week schedule:
■ Celtics at Cavaliers, Oct. 17: This game is loaded with story lines. Kyrie Irving wants Cleveland to trade him, but the Cavaliers don’t have to appease him. Can Irving and LeBron James come together in the next few weeks, or has the relationship been irrevocably broken?
The Celtics should have their full squad as Isaiah Thomas should be recovered from a torn hip labrum. Plus it will be Gordon Hayward ’s Boston debut.
■ Rockets at Warriors, Oct. 17: This will be Houston’s first crack at the team it has been chasing for years. Chris Paul is now the Rockets’ point guard, moving James Harden back to his natural shooting guard position. The Rockets also got stronger in the frontcourt by adding P.J. Tucker and Tarik Black.
Houston also is still pursuing a trade for Carmelo Anthony. Anthony wants to play for the Rockets, but they do not have enough assets to facilitate a two-team deal with the Knicks. A third team would likely have to be included to send Anthony south.
■ 76ers at Wizards, Oct. 18: With Markelle Fultz joining the club, along with Ben Simmons returning after missing his rookie season because of injury and Joel Embiid healthy after being limited to 31 games, the 76ers will be one of the league’s more fascinating teams this season.
The Wizards return their full squad after re-signing swingman Otto Porter to a maximum extension. Washington’s biggest offseason move was adding Jodie Meeks in free agency, but the Wizards are essentially the same team that lost to the Celtics in seven games in the Eastern semifinals.
■ Timberwolves at Spurs, Oct. 18: Minnesota acquired Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague to join Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. It will be a playoffs-or-bust season for coach Tom Thibodeau, who was aggressive in upgrading the roster — trading Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio, and then adding shooter Jamal Crawford to come off the bench. Opening the season at San Antonio will be a great test.
The Spurs added Rudy Gay and brought back Manu Ginobili for another season, but they are aging and could slip in the West. The LaMarcus Aldridge-Kawhi Leonard combination has never really worked, and Aldridge is reportedly unhappy.
■ Knicks at Thunder, Oct. 19: Will Anthony still be a member of the Knicks? How will rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina fare in the Knicks’ new offensive system that does not include the Triangle? We know the Thunder will be an intriguing team with Paul George joining Russell Westbrook. Oklahoma City is banking that a season of playing together will encourage both George and Westbrook to stay long term.
■ Clippers and Lakers, Oct. 19: This should become a rivalry again, with the Lakers making major improvements this summer — drafting Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and acquiring Brook Lopez to join Brandon Ingram and Jordan Clarkson. The Lakers may not be a playoff team, but it should be fun to watch Ball develop into a frontline point guard.
The Clippers revamped their roster when Paul decided he wanted to play for another team. They re-signed Blake Griffin to a max deal, and then acquired seven players in the Paul trade, including Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell. They also traded for Danilo Gallinari, signed Milos Teodosic, and drafted Sindarius Thornwell. That’s a lot of new faces and a lot of chemistry that will need to be established for the Clippers to be a contender in the West.
■ Cavaliers at Bucks, Oct. 20: Milwaukee has been pushing to make a run at the Cavaliers the past few years and this may be its best chance with Cleveland in turmoil. The Bucks didn’t make a lot of moves in the offseason but they will welcome back Jabari Parker, who missed 31 games last season after tearing his left ACL for the second time. Milwaukee plays strong defense but will have to rely on players other than Giannis Antetokounmpo to flourish. This could be the beginning of an interesting rivalry, and perhaps the end of the Cleveland’s dominance in the Central Division.
■ Warriors at Pelicans, Oct. 20: The new-look Pelicans and former Celtic Rajon Rondo will get a chance to see how well they mesh against the defending champions. New Orleans is going to give the Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins combination every chance to succeed before possibly making some difficult decisions. Cousins is a free agent after this season and could demand a maximum contract. The Pelicans also just paid point guard Jrue Holiday $126 million over five years, while Davis has potentially four more years on his maximum contract.
Rewarding Cousins would mean the smaller-market Pelicans having three max contracts on their payroll. That combination has to result in success or the Pelicans could be in for another rebuilding plan.
Do jersey patches cheapen brand?
The Celtics are among 11 teams that will wear a sponsorship patch on their jerseys for the next three seasons. The club agreed to a deal with General Electric after commissioner Adam Silver and the board of governors voted to allow advertising logos on jerseys.
While these patches will earn teams money, the policy does bring to question whether teams are cheapening their brand for a quick buck.
The Timberwolves (Fitbit), Cavaliers (Goodyear), 76ers (StubHub), Nets (Infor), Kings (Blue Diamond Almonds), Jazz (5 for the Fight), Magic (Disney), Nuggets (Western Union), Raptors (Sun Life), Pistons (Flagstar Bank), and Bucks (Harley-Davidson) will also feature patches.
Would love to know what Red Auerbach would have thought about such a promotional move. Remember, he was against the Celtics having a dance team.
Isaiah Thomas told the Globe that he hopes to be ready for training camp after spending the summer recovering from a torn labrum in his right hip that did not require surgery. The Celtics open camp in about six weeks. The Celtics begin their four-game preseason schedule Oct. 2 against the Hornets . . . The Cavaliers don’t feel a pressing need to trade Kyrie Irving unless he brings back a great return. The Suns have several young players and point guard Eric Bledsoe to offer, but they are not willing to part with first-round pick Josh Jackson, who impressed during the Las Vegas Summer League . . . The free agent market is drying up with many players signing above-market deals that filled teams’ salary cap requirements. Remaining free agents will have to settle for minimum deals and try to make an impression for next season. Former Celtics swingman Gerald Green could be marketable after helping Boston win its first-round playoff series with the Bulls. The Knicks signed point guard Ramon Sessions and swingman Michael Beasley to minimum deals. Some teams, such as the Lakers, are saving their 2018 salary cap space for particular players, meaning the market could be dry for Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins, Tony Parker, and Greg Monroe.
Former Celtics great Kevin McHale did his damage with a bevy of post moves, a skill set seemingly marginalized by the current 3-point revolution. He is one of three players to average 25.0 points per game in a season while shooting 59 percent or better.