In June of 2009, the Sacramento Kings were faced with a very tough decision. Do you draft for flash and marketability or do you try to change the culture of your organization?
At the time, the Kings were known as a “soft” organization, incapable of being consistently tough enough both mentally and physically. This identity, whether correct or not, had been stamped on the organization for the past decade. They were a wonderfully skilled team back in the Vlade-Webber-Peja triumvirate days, but as they continued to lose to the Lakers and couldn’t contain the power of Shaquille O’Neal year after year, they were tagged with the label of not being tough enough and not being a strong defensive team.
Looking back on this stigma, it was complete and utter guano. The early aught Kings were as good and as tough as any team in the NBA. Just because they couldn’t push Shaq out of post position time and time again had nothing to do with measuring just how macho they were as a unit. And yet there they were, labeled with being weak. After Chris Webber blew out his knee, the Kings struggled to find an identity. They traded C-Webb for more manageable roster parts, and tried to shift certain players here and there. After learning that Adelman wasn’t the problem (thanks for that, by the way!) and that turning Peja into Ron Artest wasn’t the solution, the Kings went back to the drawing board.
They had a tough decision to make. Do you draft the hype surrounding Ricky Rubio or do you take on a new identity with the soft-spoken and hard-driving Tyreke Evans?
Evans had killed the competition in his workout with other top prospects. He manhandled Steph Curry and any other young guard who dare measure up against him in pre-draft workouts. Ricky Rubio on the other hand left the team with a completely different feeling. He wouldn’t participate in workouts against other players. When he was scheduled for two workouts in one day with the Kings, he only made the first one before bowing out of the second. It wasn’t the best way to sell yourself to an organization, especially with buyout doubts hanging over the situation.
The Kings opted for the toughness they saw before them, rather than going after a glimmer of hope trying to make its way through a day of confusion from the workouts. When the Memphis Grizzlies passed on Evans for Hasheem Thabeet, the Kings pretty much knew they had Reke locked up. It made no sense for Oklahoma City to grab the guard out of Memphis with Russell Westbrook already filling the role of the lead guard on the team. When the fourth selection came up, the Kings happily selected Tyreke Evans and never gave Rubio another thought.
The Kings were so down on Rubio at the time that there were rumors they’d select Jonny Flynn if Evans was off the board, bypassing Rubio completely. Ricky Rubio fell into David Kahn’s lap at #5 and the organization was forced to wait two years before finally finding out a brief look at what they had.
So far, it looks like this was probably the best-case scenario for the Wolves. It’s probably too early to tell in any way, shape or form, but the Kings have been spinning their wheels in mediocrity (even though Tyreke had a historic rookie season) since the 2009 draft and the Wolves are just now starting to build some momentum toward the future. Both organizations have fired pretty underwhelming and maligned coaches within the past 9 months, and both teams have losing records at the moment.
However, the Wolves seem to be the darlings of the early NBA season due to the play of their young guard, while everyone looking into the Kings organization is curious if there is anything heading in the right direction. Little of that has to do with Tyreke Evans and most of it has to do with the attitude of DeMarcus Cousins and the state of the ownership and location in Sacramento.
It’s bizarre to wonder what would have happened if Rubio blew the Kings away during his pre-draft workouts, like he’s blown away the NBA in his brief time as an NBA player. Would the Wolves have ended up with Tyreke Evans and Jonny Flynn? While both of those players are plenty capable of being young stars on their own, would it give us the same feeling of hope we have now with the play Rubio has showed us? Would the Wolves be better off or worse? Would Rambis still be the head coach?
No matter what could have happened, I can’t imagine being happier than what we have in front of us now. Kevin Love has blossomed on his own, Rick Adelman has showed this fan base just what a great coach can look like for a young team, and Ricky is dazzling us on a possession-by-possession basis every time he’s on the floor. Similar to when we let the enigmatic DeMarcus Cousins fall into the lap of the Sacramento Kings, the Wolves have benefited from having the Kings pass on Ricky Rubio when he had a completely different set of questions marks surrounding him.
Both organizations have a good young core around them, but the Wolves are showing a little more tangible than potential. Thank Tebow the Kings did what they did.