SACRAMENTO, Calif. — If the NBA played with a crystal ball, Jimmer Fredette probably wears a different uniform next season.
Time and place have not been his allies. He’s like the star of a drama series that gets dumped after the pilot airs, prompting questions about what might have been if the program had been scheduled in a different time slot, on a different network, on a different night.
What would have happened if, say, Jimmer was drafted by Miami? San Antonio? Chicago? Franchises where conversations these past few years have been dominated by musings about defense, passing and movement, not moving vans and coaching changes, or estimates about what percentage of the arena floor had been permanently damaged by chronic over-dribbling?
Fredette was a quick hit, then he wasn’t. It happens. The former BYU standout and 2011 NCAA Tournament sensation had the misfortune of being taken by a franchise that doesn’t play to his strengths — shooting — and currently is in the process of evaluating everything from the sound system in the arena to the brand of soap dispensed in the locker-room showers.
And that’s exactly what principal owner Vivek Ranadive, general manager Pete D’Alessandro and the Kings’ other decision-makers are supposed to be doing. This is the do-over, remember. Declining to pick up the fourth year of Fredette’s contract was a wise move for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a need to distance the current regime from the prior management pattern of committing too quickly and too generously to unproven or ineffective players.
This Jimmer-Kings union was probably doomed from the start, anyway. Instead of drafting wing players Kawhi Leonard or Klay Thompson, the Kings reacquired small forward John Salmons and plucked the highly publicized Fredette from Milwaukee, which chose him with the No. 10 pick in 2011.
Missing on Leonard, Thompson and Nikola Vucevic was bad enough. But Fredette wasn’t even the best rookie the Kings picked up that year. Isaiah Thomas was. Drafted with the 60th and last pick, the diminutive guard out of Washington has outperformed Fredette from the opening minutes of training camp.
All this occurred well before the Kings drafted guards Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum, decided Marcus Thornton had too much value as a scorer to bench, and traded for a point guard (Greivis Vasquez) who has tremendous vision and court awareness, but would never have been confused with a sprinter or even a middle-distance runner.
For Fredette, the numbers just don’t add up. In the overall scheme, the body parts just don’t fit. He is a 6-foot-2 backup shooting guard whose offense relies on unselfish teammates to set screens and deliver crisp, precise passes, which the Kings have done very little of this past decade.
That doesn’t mean Fredette can’t flourish elsewhere. It doesn’t even mean he can’t flourish here, under the right circumstances. But surrounding him with one-on-one players is the fastest way to cripple a career, which is why the third-year pro is disappointed, but hardly devastated, that the Kings declined Thursday to pick up his fourth year for an estimated $3 million.
“We weren’t sure what they were going to do,” said Fredette, an unrestricted free agent next summer. “They told me it was a very difficult decision, that they were on the fence until the last few days. And I understand that. This is a business. It’s tough to hear sometimes, but you still have an NBA career. It’s not over. I’m just going to move forward and play as hard as I can this year, try to get better, and see what happens.”
That very small lump in his throat, of course, is caused partly by the fact he had a very productive preseason. He shot well and showed off some new escape dribbles. His improved ballhandling should enable him to separate from defenders and create cleaner, open looks. Additionally, while he’ll never be a stopper, he was a more physical, attentive defender throughout camp.
But again, back to time and place. Coach Michael Malone’s four-guard rotation consists of Vasquez, Thomas, Thornton and McLemore, the wrath of the Kingdom notwithstanding. And not everyone is thrilled. Fredette is immensely well-liked, as is the cherubic Thomas. A popular vote involving these two might well end in a runoff.
“I want to pet him (Fredette),” longtime season-ticket holder Ann Tedesco said Friday.
Her husband, John, offered sentiments held by many within Sleep Train Arena: “He projects as unpretentious, and he’s an underdog. And have we really tested him? Given him the opportunity to show what he can do?”
D’Alessandro, who anticipated a strong reaction, joked he avoided Twitter for several hours after the announcement.
“This was a hard decision,” he said, “but I go back to how new everything is for us. That Oct. 31 deadline forces you to make decisions prematurely. That’s the reality. But this is an opportunity for us to look at everyone, to take a wait-and-see approach, to see what this thing is, and how to build correctly. We really need to evaluate what we have going on here before we commit.”
Yes, yes, yes. That will benefit Jimmer and, ultimately, will benefit the Kings.