Sacramento has gone from market to market, year over year, begging quality players to take its money. Many have played along for the sake of leverage. There has been no surer way to beef up an offer from another suitor in recent off-seasons than to take some ridiculous figure that Vivek Ranadivé scribbled on a napkin. A meeting with the Kings provided real proof of what else is out there.
This time around, the Kings actually found some decent takers in George Hill, who agreed to a three-year deal worth $57 million (the final year of which is not fully guaranteed), and Zach Randolph, who will sign a two-year pact for $24 million. These are dependable veteran contributors for a team that has few, and fair prices for each individually. The only rub could be the context; it might be years before Sacramento is actually competitive again, by which time both players might have aged beyond their best games or out of these contracts entirely.
Reconciling the dissonance between Hill, Randolph, and a developing roster is part of what makes rebuilding such a strange process. In concept, teams want their young players to have every developmental resource available—including playing time and on-court responsibility. Hill and Randolph will, strictly speaking, get in the way of that. Hill will take some minutes earmarked for De’Aaron Fox or Buddy Hield, possibly in the sort of close-game, high-leverage situations from which young players learn. Randolph could wind up starting and closing in place of Skal Labissiere or Willie Cauley-Stein based on the simple fact that he is the better player today.
This dynamic is unavoidable. Players like Hill and Randolph are competitors employed by a franchise whose first priority probably shouldn’t be winning today. Yet if managed correctly, even that friction can be productive. The only way to bring stakes to a likely losing season is to find ways to make the games matter. Hill and Randolph will because they don’t know any other way; both have been part of successful organizations for so long that winning standards have become a part of their approach. In ways conscious and not, veterans like these carry themselves in a way commensurate with the demands of a more competitive team.
This might manifest in their reaction to a particularly distasteful loss. It might come to the forefront in the middle of a long road trip. Hill and Randolph could be an extension of the coaching staff at a time when the players need to reorient themselves. Young teams need veterans because they really don’t know better. Even those who have been with the Kings for a few seasons could stand some reinforcement of how things work in more functional franchises around the league. This is where Hill and Randolph come in—to mentor, sure, but also to demonstrate how a professional goes about his business.
Having Hill around doesn’t necessarily take the ball out of Fox’s hands. Adding Randolph doesn’t have to mean that Labissiere won’t see enough time on the court to bring his game along. As always, a team’s signings are what they make of them. There are ways these elements can be brought to balance, particularly when the veterans involved are as smart and mature as these two. Hill lives on an even keel, and should be as successful in mentoring players like Fox as he is playing alongside them. Randolph has turned into exactly the kind of personality a developing team would want around its younger players. Dave Joerger, who coached Randolph for seven years in Memphis, knows this as well as anyone.
There could be some tangential cost in Hill and Randolph making the Kings a better team ahead of schedule, but an organization can trade that possibility for the sake of building better habits. There is an opportunity cost, too, in investing so much cap room in veterans rather than younger talent. Otto Porter, whom the Kings had mulled offering a max offer sheet before tying up their cap space with these moves, is a case in point.
Yet realistically, Sacramento needs to get its house in order before its money really spends. Teams are only taken seriously when they prove they have something to offer. The Kings, for the time being, are still the franchise that cycled through coach after coach, antagonized Isaiah Thomas, botched its teambuilding for a decade, and bailed on DeMarcus Cousins. Porter might have signed an offer sheet with the Kings for the same reason Andre Iguodala reportedly met with them: because both knew they could benefit from an offer without ever having to actually join the Kings.
Signing good, reputable players to fair contracts is a step toward changing that mentality.
Hill Grade: B-
Randolph Grade: B-