Over time, certain franchises take on personality archetypes. The perennially moribund Sacramento Kings are a chaotic compulsive gambler swinging wildly between winning big at the slots and squandering their winnings on shell games outside the casino. Sacramento dumping the 6-foot-5 Tyrese Haliburton into a trade package that included sharpshooter extraordinaire Buddy Hield and Tristan Thompson to the Pacers for All-Star Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, a 2027 second-round pick and Justin Holiday was the Kings shoving their riches down the toilet for the umpteenth time in the past decade. Sabonis will give the Kings a short-term stimulus, but B-List bigs who dwell inside the arc or who are targets defensively are imperfect investments in the long run.
Conversely, Haliburton exceeded sky-high expectations in his sophomore campaign. In the last nine games of his Kings career, he was averaging 17.3 points, nearly achieving 50/40/90 splits and dishing 9.4 assists per outing to 2.6 turnovers. At 21, Haliburton is 12th in the league in steals, 11th in assists and is the NBA’s most efficient scorer out of the pick and roll when the defense switches screens.
Instead of igniting a bidding war as Haliburton stock was booming (see what I did there?), the Kings locked in on Sabonis. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, there were teams who considered Haliburton a foundational player that weren’t aware he was on the market. The primary Kings trade speculation swirled around Fox in recent weeks. Kings fans were giddy about handing the reins to Haliburton. Following a 53-point loss to the Boston Celtics on Jan. 26, Haliburton vowed to be a part of the solution in Sacramento.
“I don’t know how long it’s gonna take...but, I’m gonna be here and we’re gonna make it work. I promise that,” he said.
Instead of building a corner office for Haliburton within the Kings locker room after that composed response elicited excitement among its fanbase, Sac-Town shipped him out for a good, but not great, young veteran on another non-playoff team.
Of course, the Kings have made it a tradition of zigging when they should be zagging and running and getting trampled in the process. In 2015, they fired the beloved Mike Malone and cycled through a revolving door of coaches from the gig economy since then.
They will never live down drafting Marvin Bagley over Luka Dončić because of concerns over whether Dončić could mesh with Fox. You don’t pass on a generational talent like Dončić because you don’t want to risk alienating a fringe All-Star. Bagley was a long, athletic forward who has spent the last few seasons on the shelf nursing injuries, feuding with the organization and collecting healthy DNPs. Dončić was a precocious 18-year-old Euroleague MVP.
Kings general manager Monte McNair was a stabilizing presence in the Sacramento front office after selecting Haliburton in 2020 and Davion Mitchell a year later. Building for the future made sense. Pairing Sabonis with Fox would be a worthwhile endeavor if the Kings weren’t sloshing through the swampy bottom of the Western Conference. Fox is now in his fifth season, hasn’t sniffed the postseason, and appears to have plateaued as a flashy but inefficient lead guard. He inked a five-year $163 million extension last summer, then made the franchise regret it by draining just a quarter of his 3-point attempts this season, placing him a few bars worse than the much-maligned Russell Westbrook. There’s no upside and less cap flexibility in building a play-in team around Fox.
The Pacers benefit by getting a rangy lead guard with a high basketball IQ and a steep upside. Haliburton will replace the minutes left behind by the recently traded Caris Levert and the injury-riddled Malcolm Brogdon at both guard positions.
In Sabonis, the Kings now boast a bruising big averaging 18.9 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game. He’s also in the second year of a four-year $75 million deal, whereas Haliburton’s rookie extension wouldn’t kick in for another two years.
It’s difficult to imagine a world in which the Sabonis-Fox connection strikes fear in the hearts of opponents.
Giving up on the future to double-down on a lackluster present is a reminder that the Kings are still easy marks.