After a three day silence to begin the 2017 free agency period, the Sacramento Kings made their move on the morning of the 4th of July, acquiring two seasoned veterans to add to their ultra-young squad.
The first signing the Kings announced on the morning of July 4th was the acquisition of point guard George Hill. After a season in which his 16.9 points per game average was second on a Jazz team that made the Western Conference Semis, Hill signed a 3 year, $57 million contract with Sacramento. He had met with the Lakers less than 24 hours before he signed with the Kings, and had reported interest from the Nuggets, Knicks and Spurs.
Hill brings a winning mentality to an organization that is starved for one. He was drafted by Greg Popovich and the Spurs in 2008, and was Tony Parker’s backup for three years. On the night of the 2011 NBA Draft, when the Spurs traded Hill to the Pacers for the 15th overall pick (Kawhi Leonard), Popovich was quoted as saying that it was the toughest decision he’s ever had to make as the Spurs head coach, and “it's not even close”. Hill was the starting point guard for the Pacers team that took the LeBron-led Heat to a Game 7 in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, and a Game 6 the next season. The only time that Hill has missed the playoffs in his nine-year career was in ’14-’15 when the Pacers were tied for the 8th seed but were left out after a tie-breaker. The guy knows how to win.
Having spent two of the first 34 picks in this year’s draft on point guards, the Kings were desperate for veteran leadership at the position. Last season’s production from the Darren Collison/Ty Lawson duo was mediocre enough for the Kings to allow them to walk, opening a hole for a veteran who could be the starter on Opening Night. George Hill fits the bill. Though he is not a traditional pass-first point guard, he does not demand the ball in order to be effective. This gives the young players around him more opportunities and chances to develop, especially if he gets any run with the second unit. Barring any injury, Hill will be the starter and will force De’Aaron Fox to earn his rookie minutes. With Hill’s contract being three years, it seems as though the Kings have a timeline for when they’ll hand the keys over to the point guard of the future.
Within 15 minutes of the George Hill announcement, news came of yet another veteran signing for the Kings. After eight seasons in Memphis, Zach Randolph signed a two year, $24 million contract with Sacramento.
The reasons for the signing are evident. Randolph has been known as a physical bruiser throughout his career. For starters, his nickname (Z-Bo) is a reference to the massive neighborhood bully in the movie “Friday”. He was the face of a Grizzlies team whose reputation was hard-nosed, blue collar basketball and played in an arena nicknamed “The Grindhouse”. Due to his attitude and physicality, he is one of the most respected veterans in the NBA today. But it wasn’t always that way.
Zach Randolph began his career as a member of the “Jail Blazers”, a supremely talented team whose veteran and vocal leader was Rasheed Wallace, a man who committed 317 technical fouls in his career. As a rookie, Randolph’s teammates included Damon Stoudamire, Bonzi Wells, and Ruben Patterson in addition to Wallace (I always find it funny that Steve Kerr was on this roster as well). While the Blazers underachieved during Randolph’s stint, the tenure undoubtedly molded him into the tough, unyielding player he is today. His contract was eventually dumped on New York in 2007 when the Blazers drafted Greg Oden. He played 80 games as a Knick over two seasons before being traded once again, this time to the Los Angeles Clippers. He played 39 games in LA, punching Louis Amundson in the jaw in one of them. In the summer of 2009, Randolph was traded to the Grizzlies, and his career has been on an uptick ever since. Memphis missed the playoffs during his first season, but has qualified for the post season every year since.
Despite being undersized, Randolph has held his own and outplayed some of the best big men of the last 15 years. He has had memorable, heated exchanges with guys like Kendrick Perkins and DeMarcus Cousins, seen below.
Zach Randolph is the perfect veteran for the Sacramento Kings. They have ten players that are on rookie contracts, and bullying the youngsters is a foreseeable game plan for opposing teams this season. Randolph will not allow that. He will be the enforcer, the bouncer of the Golden 1 Center. When Skal Labissiere takes a hard foul from DeMarcus Cousins, or when De’Aaron Fox takes a cheap shot from Draymond Green, Zach Randolph will be right in the middle of all of it. It is his duty to ensure that the rookies do not get punked.
In addition to the presence he brings, the man can still play ball. Last season, at the age of 35, he averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds in 24 minutes per game off the bench. Randolph will presumably begin the season as a starter in the Kings front court, though he knows his job is there for the taking.