Jan 22 2014, 9:17am CST | by Forbes
Sacramento Kings’ senior advisor Chris Mullin sums up the reality of luring marquee players to his club this way: “If we have (salary cap) space and New York has space, we know where they’re going to go.”
Vivek Ranadive, the Kings’ new owner, has vowed to propel his franchise to new heights through a new arena and a global marketing push into India and beyond. One thing he knows, though, is that sports, at the core, is still sports. Marketing and customer satisfaction matter, but nothing draws eyeballs and brings out fan passion like winning.
To that end, he’s turned to Mullin, the former All-Star player and general manager with the Golden State Warriors, the same club Ranadive later owned a minority stake in before buying the Kings. Mullin helps oversee a basketball operation that includes GM Pete D’Alessandro and head coach Mike Malone. Both, like Mullin, are New Yorkers who made their NBA bones at Golden State, Malone as an assistant coach and D’Alessandro as assistant GM.
Under Ranadive and Mullin, the Kings vow to implement a forward-thinking, analytical model to improve their team, which currently has little to showcase beyond talented young big man DeMarcus Cousins. D’Alessandro most recently worked in Denver, where he used an analytical approach to help build one of last season’s top NBA teams after a 2011 trade of leading scorer Carmelo Anthony to New York. Denver obtained several players either directly or indirectly from that deal that helped them go 57-25 last season.
With Anthony’s desire to get to New York well known, the Nuggets seemed to have the weaker hand – everyone knew Anthony wanted out. But by waiting things out until mid-season, Mullin points out, the Nuggets “got the Knicks anxious, and made a great deal.”
It’s the kind of approach that seems to fit Sacramento, the NBA’s eighth-smallest market. The league’s major stars – LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul – often gravitate to big markets, where clubs compete for attention with other entertainment options, including other sports teams. The Kings, as the only major sports franchise in town, don’t have such worries.
Given the early lip service to an advanced-stats approach, it is a bit curious that one of the new administration’s first major moves was to acquire high scoring forward Rudy Gay from Toronto in December. Gay, who is making $18 million this season and has a $19 million player option for next season, is a whipping boy for an analytic crowd that doesn’t like his mediocre career numbers in shooting percentage (44%) or assists (two per game). Mullin defends the deal by pointing to the weak teams Gay has had to carry during his seven-year career. “Those (stats) are variables you can change, what you can’t change is six-foot-nine and athletic,” he says. “Analytics are a huge part of it, but you still have to balance it against the eye test.”
It’s early, but the deal hasn’t exactly worked out in Sacramento’s favor. The Kings are 8-12 since the trade, while Toronto is 13-8. Quipped ESPN basketball guru Bill Simmons on Twitter, noting Toronto’s sudden improvement: “If a girl breaks up with Rudy Gay, does she immediately lose 15 pounds and look better than ever?”
Maybe the Gay deal will compel the Kings to stick that much more closely to analytics. And to remember that a splashy move for a scorer isn’t really necessary when you’re 90 miles from San Francisco Bay, where it’s the Warriors who have to compete for attention against Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh and Buster Posey.
Mullin says as much himself: “In our market, if we win 55 games, our guys won’t be able to walk down the street.”
Source: Forbes Business
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