The Atlanta Hawks are looking to complete a season sweep of the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night. The Kings have been one of the more discussed teams of the season thus far, mainly because of their activity in the trade market. They've acquired Derrick Williams and Rudy Gay, two controversial players who most agreed were in need of a fresh start. To answer questions on how the newcomers will fare with their new teammates and to discuss how roles have opened up for other incumbent players, Greg Wissinger of SB Nation's Sactown Royalty provided us with some insight.
Question: Isaiah Thomas has been getting a lot of buzz around the blogosphere lately. Everyone seemed pretty excited that the Rudy Gay trade would open up starting minutes for him. How has he been since the trade? Has he had an expanded role? How do you think he matches up with Jeff Teague?
Answer: Isaiah Thomas was leading all NBA bench players in scoring before the trade, but more than just scoring, he was leading team in energy and effort. He and DeMarcus Cousins were the lone bright spots on the roster. Isaiah has a rough outing Tuesday against the Bobcats, but has generally been very good since moving to the starting lineup. His first game as a starter this season he had a career-high in assists.
As for matching up with Teague, I’ll have to plead ignorance. I’m not as familiar with Teague as I should be. Hopefully your readers won’t hate me for that. But I know he’s good and he’s a guy I should watch more often than I do. If I had to guess, I’ll say that he’ll put up a pretty good stat line tonight. The Kings haven’t been able to slow down opposing guards at all this season. Isaiah will probably have a nice offensive stat line, but won’t be able to slow Teague.
Q: Speaking of the Rudy Gay trade-- how does Gay fit with the Kings' current roster? Is he part of the long term future as a complementary piece to DeMarcus Cousins? What's been his immediate impact?
A: In the immediate term, he’s a massive upgrade for the Kings at small forward. He’s the best 3 the Kings have had since Ron Artest in 2008. And he’s made the Kings look better in his first few games, even if he hasn’t had a dramatic impact on the win-loss column. The Kings are a ways away from playoff contention still. Rudy isn’t the piece to put them over the top, but I don’t think he was acquired to be.
Long term, I’d be surprised if Gay is a King. He has a player option next season, and while many folks think it’s impossible that he opts out of $19 million next year, he’s already gone on record saying the situation is a lot more important than the money. He could opt out to secure a long term deal. The Kings are building around DeMarcus Cousins, plain and simple. Gay’s future with the team depends on his willingness to accept a secondary or tertiary role, and how he fits with Cousins.
Q: The Kings have been active in the trade market this season, acquiring both Gay and Derrick Williams. What are the Kings' goals for this season? The playoffs? Do you think there are more moves to come?
A: The Kings aren’t going to be a playoff team this year, and they don’t have illusions that they will be. Ownership, management and the coaches have all said that this season’s success won’t be measured in wins and losses. It’s about changing the culture. What you’re seeing is the current management freeing itself from the roster and culture of the past regime. I don’t think the Kings are done making moves. But even though a lot of people saw the Gay acquisition as a panic move, I don’t think the front office is making moves just to make moves. They’re making moves when the right opportunities come along. When another opportunity is right, there will be more moves. That could be tomorrow, at the deadline, or in the offseason. We know moves are coming, we just don’t know when.
Q: Hypothetically, if I were to tell you the Kings won this game by 10 points, what would they have done differently in comparison to their usual play that enabled them to win?
A: The keys for the Kings is limiting turnovers and committing to defense. No earth-shattering secrets there, but the Kings have a lot more talent than their record indicates. DeMarcus Cousins is the team’s leader, but can’t do it alone. Isaiah Thomas needs to have a good game for the Kings to win. But more than anything it’s about the defense.