Front-office change, Tyrese Haliburton give Kings hope in long road ahead

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Point guard De’Aaron Fox is the Kings’ franchise player. They did well to sign him to max contract extension that keeps him under team control for the next six years.

Sacramento also drafted Tyrese Haliburton, who’s usually listed at point guard, No. 12.

“First and foremost, he was the best talent available to us,” new Kings general manager Monte Nair said. “And we don’t pass up talent.”

I doubt McNair was taking a subtle swipe at his predecessor Vlade Divac, though that type of in-fighting wouldn’t be out of place in Sacramento. But it’s impossible to ignore the Divac connection.

Divac infamously drafted Marvin Bagley III over Luka Doncic, at least in part, due to fit concerns with Fox. Doncic looked like the better talent at the time and has certainly proven to be.

That mistake will cast a shadow over the Kings for at least decade.

But they started to creep their way out of the darkness this offseason – mainly by replacing Divac with McNair and drafting Haliburton.

Divac was in completely over his head when he took over Sacramento’s front office. Though he made moderate progress throughout his tenure, Divac still left his post as arguably the NBA’s worst lead executive.

McNair is more of an unknown. He came from the Rockets, has a background in analytics and is running a front office for the first time. He also isn’t Divac. For now, that’s good enough.

Drafting Haliburton is a promising start. The Iowa State product rated No. 3 on my board. I also think he’s miscast as a point guard and should thrive with Fox. If the Kings – recently known as “basketball hell” – convinced Haliburton to steer his way to Sacramento, that reflects even more favorably on the new regime.

Losing Bogdan Bogdanovic to the Hawks in restricted free agency stings. If they weren’t going to match a perfectly reasonable and predictable four-year, $72 million offer sheet, the Kings should have traded him last year. Of course, Divac probably would have matched. In an overall front-office upgrade, this was a transition cost.

Donte DiVincenzo would have been a nice, easy return for Bogdanovic. But the sign-and-trade with the Bucks fell apart, leaving Sacramento with a difficult choice.

Bogdanovic might retain positive value throughout this contract. Might. But matching definitely would’ve been costly to the Kings – in money owed to Bogdanovic, in further depleting Buddy Hield‘s value and in making the team too good next season.

Sans Bogdanovic, Sacramento looks even more likely to finish near the bottom of a stacked Western Conference. That’s not so bad, considering the top of the 2021 draft looks loaded and the Kings likely would’ve failed even if they tried to make the playoffs. I don’t know how long owner Vivek Ranadive will remain patient with a rebuild, but the timing is right for a step back this year.

Still, Sacramento signed ostensible win-now players in Hassan Whiteside (31), Glenn Robinson II (26) and Frank Kaminsky (27). But those are minimum-salary contracts that could hold positive trade value at the deadline.* The Kings could boost their collection of picks/young players.

*However, Robinson not even getting his minimum contract fully guaranteed suggests there’s more than meets the eye with his situation.

Drafting Robert Woodard and Jahmi’us Ramsey in the second round look like small steps in the right direction. Overall, Sacramento got the Nos. 3, 26 and 31 players on my board with the Nos. 12, 40 and 43 picks.

But there’s A LOT more work ahead for the Kings.

At least they have a new general manager undertaking the project.