This year’s Rising Stars Challenge highlighted the immense potential of some of the lowly ranked teams in the present.
As things stand, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and a host of teams with representatives in the exhibition game have outstanding young talent which surely should translate to success in a few years.
However, not all of them will make the jump due to varied reasons. The Lakers are doing fine with Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, Chicago Bulls are heading in the right direction with Kris Dunn and Lauri Markannen leading the group behind Zach LaVine.
Atlanta Hawks can look forward to a “Big 3” that has Dennis Schroder and Rising Challenge participants John Collins and Taurean Prince. Philadelphia Sixers are primed for greatness in a few years yet doing big things in the present as Dario Saric, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are ahead of the pack.
The trio is playing a vital role in Sixers fight to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals which had Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday as the main figures. Boston Celtics duo Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have fit in quite perfectly as the Kyrie Irving led side is bound for another Eastern Conference Final series against Cleveland Cavaliers.
Just like Philadelphia Sixers, Sacramento Kings had three players feature in the game as De’Aaron Fox suited up for Team USA and Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield suited up for Team World.
Despite the enormous wealth of talent, the Kings have little upside considering repetitive bad choices management has made for a decade.
Sacramento has not been to the playoffs since 2006 and is staring at a 12th season without postseason basketball looking at the team’s position in the Western Conference standings. Only fellow rebuilding teams Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks have a worse record than Sacramento’s 18 win and 39 loss record this season.
A perfect blend of youth and experience is the right mix to make a Championship run and the Kings have it with veteran but not too players in Kosta Koufos and Garret Temple. Zach Randolph and Vince Carter- who have been in the league for more than a decade-are best candidates to mentor the young guns. But the team is likely to lose more games because management has done little to build beyond drafting good players and making vital trades.
The perfect illustration was played out in the final hours of midseason trade deadline as Kings managers were forced to cut Giorgios Papagiannis from the roster to free up space for Iman Shumpert. This move was necessary to facilitate a trade that sent Kings Point Guard George Hill to Cleveland Cavaliers and Jae Crowder from Cleveland to Utah Jazz.
First year Shooting Guard Malachi Richardson was added to the trade to force it through. Papagiannis was picked 13th in the 2016 Draft and Hill was signed to a two year guaranteed deal that pays him a $17 million salary. In just one move, Sacramento lost a very good Guard because he was discontent about the franchise’s direction and two future role players who could have been used to draft an impact player later down the years.
Questions were raised when Hill an inform player was signed before the season since his big price tag had to be justified by playing him many minutes at the expense of Fox, Richardson and Mason’s development. Hill on the Cavaliers roster is a perfect fit since his skills are best suited on a contending team than rebuilding side. This has been the bane of Sacramento management even before Vlade Divac took over as Basketball Operations President and Vivek Ranadive became owner.
Sadly, both men aren’t doing any better and Sacramento could soon hold the longest playoff drought record. Minnesota holds the title since last playing in the postseason in 2004 but that is set to end this season with a slew of good moves that built on the talent available. First, Minnesota traded Kevin Love to Cleveland to get 2014 first overall pick Andrew Wiggins while drafting Zach Lavine, lost enough games to land Karl Anthony Towns in 2015, added Kris Dunn in 2016 and secured the seventh pick in 2017.
Management traded LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen-2017 seventh pick to Chicago Bulls for Jimmy Butler, signed veterans Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford and Taj Gibson. Minnesota continued wallowing in the low ranks for years to create enough space to make a big splash in free agency; teams like New York Knicks, Lakers and Chicago Bulls are doing same. Boston did same and won the 2008 Championship; With Sacramento, the path is far from clear.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter