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The Sacramento Kings Double Down With DeMar DeRozan


The Sacramento Kings Double Down With DeMar DeRozan

Some trades are made for a team to reinvent itself, or complete itself, or unburden itself. Others are made for a team to simply be more of what it already is. That’s what the Sacramento Kings accomplished Saturday by engineering a deal to land one of the most decorated scorers in the league, DeMar DeRozan, topping offense with offense and taking a step forward on the basis of talent alone. None of Sacramento’s established weaknesses are resolved or even addressed by bringing in a player like DeRozan; he won’t do anything to change the fact that the Kings didn’t offer much resistance on defense last season, and he can’t fix any of the fundamental flaws in the team’s design. Yet DeRozan makes the Kings better by adding new layers to what they already do best, deepening an already brilliant offense into something that much more formidable.

And frankly, that’s more than enough. A move to land DeRozan for just $74 million over three years is worthwhile for any competitive team, and particularly for the Kings, who are vying for every inch in an unforgiving playoff race. (To complete the sign-and-trade, Sacramento sent Chris Duarte, two second-round picks, and cash to Chicago while sending Harrison Barnes and a future pick swap to San Antonio.) The competition in the Western Conference promises to be even more ruthless next season, with more contending teams and less margin for error. Upgrading from Barnes to DeRozan on the wing—a huge swing in shot creation and playmaking—might be what’s required for a team like Sacramento to simply hold its ground. The Kings were good enough last season to almost make the playoffs. One more win in the play-in tournament would have done the job, but one more win in the regular season would have given them an easier path to begin with. Four more wins would have locked up a first-round spot outright. Every game matters, and last season DeRozan helped the Bulls win more games than they should have by turning a second-rate team into a crunch-time juggernaut.

The Kings didn’t particularly need to clean up their play in the clutch, but this move wasn’t really about need. It was about a good team reading the chessboard, making the best move available, and getting better by leaning even harder into what makes it successful in the first place. Over the past six seasons, DeRozan has turned himself into the kind of player who could thrive in a kinetic offense like the one Mike Brown runs in Sacramento. He’s a better passer now, not just in orchestrating plays but in facilitating them. He cuts well off the main action, which will allow him to play alongside De’Aaron Fox, another star creator on the perimeter. So much of what DeMar is able to manufacture out of the pick-and-roll (where he remains one of the best scorers in the league) should adapt easily into dribble handoffs with Domantas Sabonis. Whatever you may think of Sabonis and the limitations of his game, DeRozan has been in the league for 15 years and rarely played with a big as skilled and as capable as his new teammate.

Sacramento already had a killer two-man game and a fluid offense and a skilled closer. Now it has a greater diversity of options in all of those pursuits. The most important thing DeRozan brings to the Kings is a functional alternative. When Sabonis gets bogged down by a tough matchup, Sacramento can turn to DeRozan to initiate a different kind of offense. When Fox can’t quite get his jumper to fall, DeRozan can draw fouls and get the Kings to the line—something they failed to do consistently last season. When a stout team defense keys in on all of the movement behind the Kings’ pet actions, DeRozan will give Sacramento the means to score outside of their usual rhythms. He can contribute to the flow of the offense but isn’t reliant on it for success.

That alone is a dramatic shift from a pure role player like Barnes, who spent the majority of his minutes last season spacing the floor and staying out of the way. By contrast, the Kings will need to actively make room for DeRozan, who had the ball in his hands more last season than almost any other frontcourt player in the league. His game demands touches and usage and a level of involvement that goes above and beyond what the Kings are used to. That will demand some adjustment, and that adjustment may come at the expense of Malik Monk’s or Keegan Murray’s ability to create for themselves, or even as a trade-off with Fox or Sabonis. That’s the cost of adding this kind of talent—particularly a player who manages quite well with the ball in his hands. The offense is safe with DeRozan; his game is dependable, difficult to counter, and buoyed by how little he turns the ball over. He doesn’t have the creative ease of a superstar, but he makes sure that a shot goes up and manages to capitalize even on his more difficult, off-balance, and heavily contested looks.

All of which makes DeRozan a bit of a luxury for a team that’s still trying to figure out how to protect the rim and guard without fouling. The newest member of the Kings won’t help with any of that. But what DeRozan can do is the very thing he’s done in Chicago for years: get buckets, settle the offense, and drag deficient lineups toward a kind of stability. The worst of Sacramento’s most used lineups last season asked far too much of Sabonis, flanking him with decent players but little in the way of creative support. No more. Adding DeRozan helps the best version of the Kings, to be sure, but likely does so much more for those lesser versions—allowing Sacramento to keep two stars on the floor at all times and, in doing so, play more consistently like themselves.

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