Kings work out the kinks

The Kings arrived at Las Vegas NBA Summer League as a solid bet to win it all. With returning players Buddy Hield, Skal Labissière, Georgios Papagiannis and Malachi Richardson, plus exciting rookies De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Frank Mason III in tow, Sacramento sported a larger contingent of roster players than any other team. But like most who venture to Vegas, they left as losers.

As De’Aaron Fox and so many others pointed out, none of this matters. “It’s only summer league” is the official slogan of summer league. Still, the Kings are poised to enter their first post-Cousins year with one of the youngest rosters in history, and this looked to be a great chance for them to come together and show what they could do.

It wasn’t entirely disappointing. Fox, the fifth overall pick, showed flashes of top-range speed and a nasty midrange game. Frank Mason displayed a mixture of tenacity and composure that could land him a spot in the rotation. Justin Jackson looked like an NBA-ready wing, right out of the gate. But injuries robbed us of a chance at an extended preview. Fox aggravated an ankle injury, Mason hurt his ankle shortly thereafter, Malachi Richardson (technically a rookie after an injury-shortened 2016) strained his hamstring, and all three sat for the rest of summer.

Meanwhile, the second-year players failed to impress. Hield shot poorly, and big-named Labissiere and Papagiannis had little impact. Recite the mantra: It’s only summer league. Hield finished strongly last season, which should carry more weight than his summer performance. And front-court players often struggle in a summer league setting, without much of an offense to throw them the ball. Papagiannis added some much-needed muscle, but eventually succumbed to a bruised glute, and he should start the season in the G-League.

Perhaps the biggest blow this summer was off the court, when the Kings let their newly appointed vice president of basketball operations, Scott Perry, leave for the Knicks’ vacant general manager position. Yes, Perry was only in Sacramento for three months, but those 90 days happened to coincide with the most competent period the Kings’ front office has put together in years. Kings president Vlade Divac could have refused the Knicks’ request to negotiate with Perry, but he showed goodwill by giving Perry the opportunity for a promotion. Vlade even managed to get the Knicks to surrender a second-round player pick for Perry’s services, and any time you can trade a jersey for a suit, you did OK. Hopefully, that was a sign Perry’s acumen has rubbed off on Vlade.

So, here’s the silver lining: The Kings have now dispensed with the hype they built after a great offseason. They weren’t a summer league super team, which means the expectations for this season are reset right where they should be: reasonably low. The new kids can come in and play pressure-free ball, and we can sit back, relax and watch them grow.