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How The Iman Shumpert Trade Changed The Sacramento Kings

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

‘The Scores’ were here. And then they weren’t.

Throughout the course of the 2018-19 NBA season, the Sacramento Kings had a definitive rallying cry.

“The Scores are here!”

For a team that ranked among the top-five in pace and top-ten in scoring, it was a fitting nickname for a speedy Kings team.

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The driving force behind ‘The Scores’ was undoubtedly veteran guard Iman Shumpert, who many around the team saw as the pulse of the revamped team.

Acquired in a salary-dump deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers in February of 2018, it was expected that the Kings would waive Shumpert after the season–even if the former champion opted to exercise his player-option for the 2018-19 season.

By trading away guard George Hill’s bloated two-year, $24 million deal, eating Shumpert’s $10 million contract would still save the franchise millions of dollars.

Instead, Shumpert opted in and Sacramento opted to retain the ‘three-and-D’ threat for the upcoming season.

After coming off of the bench for the first two games of the season, then head coach Dave Joerger decided to insert Shumpert into the starting lineup in the third game against Oklahoma City.

It was then that ‘The Scores’ arrived.

Shumpert scored 23 points in the first-half, finishing with 26 points and draining a four-of-seven three-point attempts in a 131-120 Kings win.

Sacramento went on a run after inserting Shump into the starting-five, winning six of their next seven contests to improve to 6-3 on the season–the franchise’s best nine-game start since the 2002-03 season.

With De’Aaron Fox running the point and Buddy Hield at the two-spot, Shumpert slid into the small-forward role to help pace the offense.

This Kings team loved to run–finishing with 103.1 pace rating (fifth best in the NBA), the team’s highest since the 1999-00 season (99.9).

The offense was incredible to watch.

The Sacramento Kings were fun to watch.

It had been years since the Kings had been talked about nationally in a positive light. The fast-paced offense and volume scoring showed up in the win column, with Sacramento hovering around playoff contention on February 4th with a 28-25 record.

Then, the trade deadline happened.

Former general manager Vlade Divac decided to swing for the fences, dealing Shumpert–the unofficial captain of the team–in a three-team deal with Houston and Cleveland that brought guard Alec Burks to Sacramento.

This deal was the move that made it possible to acquire current small-forward Harrison Barnes from Dallas on the eve of the trade deadline.

On the surface, acquiring Barnes was and is an upgrade from a talent standpoint. Not to mention that Barnes is regarded as one of the best locker-room presences that a team can have.

But with the trading of Iman Shumpert, it wasn’t just about the talent.

In sports, there is one aspect that arguably stands above every other analytical measure, every number and every stat. It’s something that you can’t count and that you can’t see in the boxscore.

It’s called chemistry.

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 26: Sacramento Kings Guard De'Aaron Fox (5) looks on during a NBA game between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Clippers on December 26, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“Just the energy in the room — who is the first people you hear talking when you walk into our locker room? Shump and JJ,” former center Willie Cauley-Stein said after the news broke. “That energy is gone, and that ain’t going to come back.”  

It was obvious that the trade hurt the moral of the locker-room, with the Kings putting forth a sluggish performance in a blowout loss against Houston in their first game after the trade.

Losing the presence of Shumpert hurt Fox as well, who cited that there was some shock in the initial reaction to the news.

“When it happened right before the game, there was a little sting,” Fox told James Ham of NBC Sports California. “It was kind of unexpected but not too unexpected. We’re just working on chemistry after the trade, and ultimately, trying to make the playoffs with such a young team.”

The 2018-19 Kings would miss the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, losing 18 of the final 29 games to finish with a 39-44 record.

Since the 2007-08 season, Sacramento had not topped the 38-win mark. The near-playoff berth might have been seen as a step in the right direction, but it’s hard to not think about what might have happened if Divac opted to retain Shumpert.

Was Iman Shumpert the most talented player on the Kings roster?

No.

But he was possibly the most valuable during the 2018-19 season because of what he brought into the locker-room and the gritty play he put forward on the floor.

Iman Shumpert was the heart and soul of the Sacramento Kings.

Fans, players and many more resonated with Shumpert’s leadership, pedigree and most importantly, they resonated with his love of Sacramento–a place that has been seen as an undesirable destination among NBA free-agents and draft prospects.

In retrospect, the Iman Shumpert trade hurt the trajectory of the franchise.

While the move alone isn’t entirely responsible for where the team is today, it was the first domino to fall in a series of unfortunate moves by Divac.

Since the trade, the team is 42-59 over the last season-and-a-half.

Divac fired Joerger after the 2018-19 season, bringing in Luke Walton who implemented a different offense–an offense that finished 22nd in scoring and 17th in pace, just one season after finishing within the top-ten in both categories.

New general manager Monte McNair, who has spent the last decade-plus with the Houston Rockets, will begin his first off-season with the franchise in an interesting position.

Will De’Aaron Fox become the new leader of the locker-room? Could McNair bring in a new presence to give the team chemistry a boost?

Maybe McNair has Shumpert’s number from their time in Houston. Maybe ‘The Scores’ will return.

Hey, we can dream.