The Kings' belief in rookie guard Ben McLemore was made clear Tuesday, when general manager Pete D'Alessandro told the media McLemore was not part of any trade discussions, dispelling published reports.
That's a rare move so close to the trading deadline, which is noon PST on Thursday. Tight-lipped executives and rumors are the norm.
Wednesday, the Kings made a deal designed to give McLemore more opportunity, trading starting shooting guard Marcus Thornton to the Brooklyn Nets for guard Jason Terry and forward Reggie Evans. The move clears the way for McLemore to return to the starting lineup.
Terry and Evans are veterans who will add experience to a team that was one of the youngest in the NBA.
"I think they'll both provide some veteran leadership this team needs," said Kings coach Michael Malone. "At the same time, it's a great opportunity for Ben McLemore."
McLemore was drafted to be the shooting guard of the future, and Thornton's presence stood in the way of playing time after McLemore lost the starting job.
The trade also allowed the Kings to shed Thornton's salary next season, $8.7 million.
Entering Wednesday's game against the Warriors at Sleep Train Arena, McLemore was averaging 7.6 points on 36.6 percent shooting. But the Kings' coaching staff and front office have never wavered in their support in McLemore and believe he will be a good NBA player.
The deal leaves just five players from last season's roster still with the team. The Kings want to see the players they've added begin to play together, namely McLemore and seldom-used rookie Ray McCallum.
Thornton's departure could open up backup minutes at shooting guard for McCallum, the third point guard behind Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette.
"My main thing moving forward is Ben McLemore," Malone said before Wednesday's game. "And that's no disrespect to anybody, but we drafted Ben seventh, and it's been an up-and-down season for him at times. But with these last 29 games, there's no pressure on this team. I want us to play together, I want us to play the right way. I want us to have fun, and I also want to have a great opportunity to see Ben, Ray (McCallum), Carl (Landry) and Derrick (Williams). Especially to see what they're able to do with the last 29 games."
Thornton, 26, was the Kings' leading scorer in the 2011-12 season, averaging 18.7 points. But he never quite fit in this season, especially after Rudy Gay was acquired in December.
Thornton is a scorer, and when the Kings were at full strength, he was at best the fourth option on offense. He was averaging a career-low 8.3 points as the Kings' second-highest-paid player at $8.2 million.
Terry, 36, is averaging career lows of 4.5 points and 16.3 minutes this season. He has one year worth $5.5 million left on a three-year deal he signed with Boston before last season. The Celtics traded him to the Nets last offseason in the deal that also sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn.
Evans, 33, averaged 11.1 rebounds last season but, in a reduced role, is down to 5.0 per game this season. He is due $1.8 million next season.
"We get a couple of veterans, which is always good for a young team," D'Alessandro said.
D'Alessandro was asked about the possibility of a buyout for Terry, who might be looking to join a contender to finish his career. Playing time for Terry also could take minutes from McCallum and Fredette.
"We haven't gone there," D'Alessandro said. "I'd like to see him in uniform. With that said, this is the NBA. I need to sit down with Jason and talk to him, but our plan is we brought him in to be a part of this team."
Evans joins what is now a glut of power forwards. The Kings already have Jason Thompson, Quincy Acy and Landry and also use Williams as a power forward at times.
Since being hired in June, D'Alessandro has engineered five deals, three in-season, as he continues to remake the roster.
"We're an unfinished product. We're still an unfinished product," D'Alessandro said. "... I think change is good when you've lost a lot. You have to change. You always have to change."
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