Sacramento Kings double down on signing DeMar DeRozan

Some trades are made to help a team reinvent itself, or make itself whole, or unburden itself. Others are made to let a team just be more of what it already is. That’s what the Sacramento Kings accomplished Saturday when they struck a deal to bring in one of the league’s most decorated scorers, DeMar DeRozan, who will outshine the offense and take a step forward based on talent alone. None of Sacramento’s perceived weaknesses are solved or even addressed by bringing in a player like DeRozan; he won’t do anything to change the fact that the Kings were unresponsive on defense last season, and he can’t fix any of the fundamental flaws in the team’s design. Still, DeRozan makes the Kings better by adding new layers to what they do best, by deepening an already brilliant offense into something far more formidable.

And honestly, that’s more than enough. A move to land DeRozan for just $74 million over three years is worth it for any competitive team, and especially the Kings, who are fighting for every inch of an unforgiving playoff race. (To complete the sign-and-trade, Sacramento sent Chris Duarte, two second-round picks, and cash to Chicago, while Harrison Barnes and a future pick were sent to San Antonio in a trade.) The competition in the Western Conference promises to be even more fierce next season, with more teams battling and less room for error. An upgrade from Barnes to DeRozan on the wing — a huge change in shot creation and playmaking — might be what’s needed for a team like Sacramento to simply hang in there. The Kings were good enough last season to almost make the playoffs. One more win in the play-in tournament would have been enough, but one more win in the regular season would have given them an easier path to begin with. Four more wins would have secured a spot in the first round. Every game counts, and last season DeRozan helped the Bulls win more games than they should have, turning a second-tier team into a crunch-time juggernaut.

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

Sacramento already had a great two-man game and a fluid offense and a capable 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 in a tough matchup, Sacramento can turn to DeRozan to spark a different kind of offense. When Fox can’t quite make his jumper fall, DeRozan can draw fouls and get the Kings to the line — something they didn’t do consistently last season. When a strong team defense focuses on all the motion behind the Kings’ favorite plays, DeRozan will give Sacramento the tools to score outside of their usual rhythms. He can contribute to the flow of the offense, but not depend on it for success.

That alone is a dramatic change from a pure role player like Barnes, who spent most of his minutes last season spacing the floor and staying out of the way. By contrast, the Kings will have to actively make room for DeRozan, who handled the ball more than almost any other frontcourt player in the league last season. His game requires touches and usage and a level of involvement that goes beyond what the Kings are used to. That will take some adjustment, and that adjustment could come at the expense of Malik Monk or Keegan Murray’s ability to create for themselves, or even as a compromise with Fox or Sabonis. That’s the price of adding this kind of talent, especially one who handles the ball quite well. The offense is safe with DeRozan; his game is reliable, difficult to counter and is buoyed by how little he loses the ball. He doesn’t have the creative flair of a superstar, but he can get a shot in the air and even convert his more difficult, off-balance and highly contested shots.

All of that makes DeRozan a bit of a luxury for a team still trying to figure out how to protect the rim and guard without making mistakes. The Kings’ newest addition won’t help with that. But what DeRozan can is exactly what he’s been doing in Chicago for years: scoring points, orchestrating the offense and dragging flawed lineups toward some semblance of stability. The worst of Sacramento’s most-used lineups last season stretched Sabonis too hard, flanking him with decent players but lacking in creative support. Not anymore. Adding DeRozan helps the best version of the Kings, to be sure, but arguably does a lot more for the lesser versions — allowing Sacramento to keep two stars on the court at all times and thus play more consistently like themselves.

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