Kings lock down DeMar DeRozan after in-person recruitment and touch of familiarity


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Sacramento Kings sent a strategic chauffeur to the airport late Saturday morning to bring DeMar DeRozan back to their downtown facility. When DeRozan stepped off the plane, he was met Jay Triano, the Kings’ lead assistant coach who also happens to be DeRozan’s first NBA head coach.

Triano remembered the last time he was included in a high-stakes meeting regarding DeRozan’s future. It was 2009, the pre-draft process. Triano and Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo flew to Oakland, Calif., to watch DeRozan work out. They were so impressed that they promised DeRozan afterward, if he was available at the ninth pick, they’d select him. Don’t worry about working out for anybody 10th or later.

Promise kept. DeRozan went ninth to the Raptors and spent nine productive seasons in Toronto, becoming the franchise leader in minutes played, games played and points scored. His last six seasons were split between San Antonio and Chicago, continuing his streak of 11 consecutive seasons averaging 20 or more points.

He’s 34 now (and turns 35 next month), having just wrapped his 14th NBA season, but DeRozan still put up 24 per game for the Bulls and led the league with 550 fourth-quarter points. That’s why the Kings sent Triano — who maintains a great relationship with DeRozan after coaching him his first two seasons — to grab him, adding a dash of familiarity to what has been a full-court recruitment the last couple days.

The Kings went hard after the Utah Jazz’s Lauri Markkanen earlier in the week, protecting Keegan Murray in the discussions but putting on the table what they believe was a substantial enough picks-based offer, team sources said. But they put a deadline to their side of the deal, needing an answer quickly considering the urgency of the dissolving market.

Utah didn’t meet it. There’s growing skepticism leaguewide that Jazz executive Danny Ainge will actually move on any Markkanen deal. So the Kings pivoted quickly to DeRozan, getting wind he’d actually have interest and then hitting the gas pedal. They had several veteran players and assistant coach Leandro Barbosa, who played two seasons with DeRozan in Toronto, call and give their pitch.

In the meantime, considering their salary-cap constraints, the Kings front office had to map a creative path to make it work. DeRozan was searching for more than $20 million per season, and the Bulls weren’t interested in taking much money back in a sign-and-trade. So they found the San Antonio Spurs, flexible financially and interested in adding a veteran wing like Harrison Barnes as they look to surround Victor Wembanyama with more professionals in his second season.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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But San Antonio had a price. To close the deal, the Kings had to give up an unprotected 2031 first-round pick swap, according to ESPN, a risky move considering the expected rise of Wembanyama. But Sacramento has been thirsty to upgrade in the present after finishing on the outside of so many recent deals. The Kings also sent Chris Duarte and two second-rounders to Chicago, allowing them to give DeRozan a three-year, $74 million deal, league sources said. The third season is partially guaranteed.

But before agreeing, even with the trade teams in place, DeRozan wanted to visit the city and facility. Triano brought him in late Saturday morning, and DeRozan spent much of the day hanging out with head coach Mike Brown, assistant coach Luke Loucks and Triano. They toured the practice gym, weight room and arena. They chatted basketball.

DeRozan watched De’Aaron Fox go through one of his offseason workouts with Loucks, then Fox and DeRozan went to lunch. Fox was a crucial part of the recruitment process, league sources said, and an advocate of the move. That’s an important note considering Fox’s own contract situation. He has two seasons left on his current deal but has opted not to sign an extension this summer (as The Athletic reported), in part, because he’d like to see how the roster and future take shape.

DeRozan enjoyed his visit enough to agree to the deal later in the day. The terms were leaked around 7 p.m. PT, and that appeared to be somewhat strategic. About 15 minutes after news landed, DeRozan and Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé emerged from the home tunnel at Golden 1 Center right before tip-off of the Kings’ California Classic Summer League game and were met with this ovation.

There are legitimate questions about the fit. The Kings lost Barnes in the trade. While unspectacular, he has been a steady presence at small forward, starting 77, 82 and 82 games the past three seasons. He isn’t a wing stopper, but he provides a bit more size and length than DeRozan, meaning the Kings have become even smaller on the wing. There will again be defensive flaws for Brown and his staff to mask.

But this was a move for the offensive side. The Kings felt they needed an extra creator on the floor, particularly when they face playoff defenses with big wing stoppers. When the New Orleans Pelicans put Herb Jones or the Oklahoma City Thunder put Luguentz Dort on Fox, they now feel they can give the ball to DeRozan for long stretches and feel comfortable.

This becomes particularly relevant in crunchtime of close games. Especially after Malik Monk went down with a knee injury, the Kings suffered several huge losses late last season because of an inability to execute at key moments, slipping to the ninth seed in the Western Conference because of it in the final week.

DeRozan, this past season (and really his entire career), destroyed in the clutch, scoring 182 points in the final five minutes of tight games, per NBA.com/Stats. Stephen Curry was the only other player above 132.

The Kings now have the two leading fourth-quarter scorers from this past season: DeRozan (550) and Fox (538). After securing that combination late Saturday, they celebrated accordingly.

(Photo of DeMar DeRozan, Vivek Ranadivé and others: Rocky Widner / NBAE via Getty Images)





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