WHY THE KINGS MISSED OUT ON DAMIAN LILLARD
For anyone who thought my recent report on the dysfunctional dynamic between Sacramento Kings ownership and front office in the DeMarcus Cousins saga was covering new ground, you're forgiven for not paying attention the last couple of years.
It's been ugly on that front for quite some time, largely because of the drastic decline in the spending habits of the Maloof family that owns the team. While there was a recent increase in the price tag of this team (from minimum payroll the last two seasons to a 2012-13 payroll that is at the salary cap), the penny-pinching precedent came with a cost during the summer. According to three people with knowledge of the situation who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, part of the reason the Kings drafted forward Thomas Robinson fifth overall out of Kansas in June instead of Rookie of the Year frontrunner and Weber State point guard Damian Lillard (who went sixth to Portland) was because of internal doubt about ownership's ability or willingness to pony up for restricted free agent forward Jason Thompson.
There was strong support for Lillard among the team's front-office and scouting staff, but the unexpected chance to grab Robinson when he slid was seen as a safer option in case the Maloofs didn't pay the market price for Thompson and the team was left with Cousins and veteran forward Chuck Hayes on the frontline. The Kings were legitimately excited to take Robinson, who was seriously considered as high as No. 2 (Charlottte), but Thompson's situation was a factor.
The Kings eventually signed Thompson, of course, with his deal reportedly worth $30.2 million over five years that came with a ripple effect on Robinson's rookie campaign. While Lillard is leading all rookies in scoring (18.4 points per game) and assists (6.4 per) while looking like a future All-Star, Robinson has had virtually no effect on the Kings' season. He's averaging just 15.1 minutes (21st among rookies), 4.3 points (23rd), and 3.8 rebounds per game (10th).
The move looks even worse considering the uncertain future of fourth-year guard Tyreke Evans, the former Rookie of the Year who was moved from lead guard to off-guard last season and who could be traded before the Feb. 21 deadline. Second-year point guards Isaiah Thomas (60th pick) and Jimmer Fredette (10th pick) took over the duties last season, but the free agent addition of point guard Aaron Brooks last summer showed the Kings weren't averse to adding another point guard.
Sacramento certainly wasn't the only team that missed on Lillard, but their miss was the worst. New Orleans made the move every general manager likely would have by taking big man Anthony Davis out of Kentucky at No. 1, while Charlotte (which already had point guard and former No. 9 pick Kemba Walker from the 2011 draft) opted for small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (also out of Kentucky). Washington used its No. 3 pick to select Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal to pair with former No. 1 pick, point guard John Wall, and Cleveland picked Syracuse scoring guard Dion Waiters to pair with former No. 1 pick point guard, Kyrie Irving at No. 4.
On the rare positive side for Kings fans, their team has played .500 basketball (8-8) since starting the season 4-12.