Finally, some good news for fans of the franchise currently known as the Sacramento Kings: holding onto Marcus Thornton is a major offseason priority for your team.
The purple-elephant-in-the-room bad news: He’ll probably be playing out a new contract in Anaheim.
As almost all of the signs continued to point to a Kings’ exodus for Southern California for next season, the second-year guard out of LSU was doing his best to offer a distraction by playing some phenomenal basketball. It continued a trend that I certainly didn’t see coming, as the phrase one executive used when describing Thornton after he was traded from New Orleans to Sacramento for Carl Landry on Feb. 23 was “chucker.”
As it turns out, Thornton – a second-round pick in 2009 who is earning approximately $762,000 this season – is not only chucking but converting. In 19 games with the Kings, Thornton has averaged 22.4 points while shooting 47.1 percent from the field overall and 42.6 percent from beyond the arc. The production has paid off recently, as they won five of six games before falling to Denver on Wednesday and posted a four-game winning streak that was their first since the last one that spanned from Nov. 25 to Dec. 2, 2009.
Thornton is doing much of his damage from three-point range, as his average of 5.7 attempts per game would be tied for fourth in the league if it was a season-long statistic. Golden State small forward Dorell Wright and Phoenix-Orlando shooting guard Jason Richardson lead the league at 6.1 per, followed by Milwaukee swingman Carlos Delfino at 5.9 and San Antonio guard Manu Ginoboli and Phoenix forward Channing Frye at 5.7.
Thornton is clearly making the most of a priceless opportunity, all while driving his price tag up for this summer when he becomes a restricted free agent (qualifying offer $1.05 million). The backstory here, of course, is that Thornton is unofficially the Kings’ only remaining asset from the Kevin Martin trade with Houston back in February of 2010.
And by the way coach Paul Westphal makes it sound, he is a commodity that they don’t plan to let get away. I had been told on good authority that re-signing Thornton was a major priority, and decided to check with Westphal on Tuesday night in Sacramento to see if that jived with his view.
“Oh, I’d say it’s an absolute must (to sign him),” Westphal said without hesitation. “We have to resign Marcus Thornton.”
He then reiterated the other part of the ownership-sponsored plan that has been no secret for quite some time.
“And it’s really important to resign (free-agent-to-be center) Sam (Dalembert) too,” Westphal said.
Major questions about defensive capability have followed Thornton during his time in the league. And truth be told, I haven’t watched enough Kings basketball recently to weigh in on that matter. But for Westphal’s part, he’s claiming happiness with Thornton’s play on both ends of the floor.
“I don’t think you can say enough about what he has brought to the table,” Westphal said. “He’s so versatile, such a versatile scorer. The players just understood right away that he was somebody. They were glad to throw him the ball, glad to see him create, and if he made a mistake they encouraged him. He encourages them.
“The rap on him was his defense, and his defense has been very good. He’ll get caught in a screen sometimes, or he doesn’t rotate sometimes. He’s a second-year player in the league. But he has a passion to play defense. He gets the other guys playing and competing…The fact is that he really competes – at both ends.”
After the Kings downed Phoenix on Tuesday night, there was a hysterical exchange between longtime Kings radio play-by-play man Gary Gerould and Thornton. The good natured youngster nodded with appreciation as Gerould heaped praise upon him, and I then mentioned Thornton’s free agency status and how he was certainly proving to be a player worth keeping.
The white-haired, suit-wearing Gerould dropped down in a defensive stance, then flashed his money clip in Thornton’s direction to reveal the unofficial first offer in the form of…nothing but George Washingtons.
Gerould laughed his way through the moment, with Thornton cracking up about his one-dollar offer as he left the locker room. Just before then, however, Thornton had made it clear that impressing the Kings has been a good first step toward ensuring he’ll make it to greener pastures.
“I’m with Sacramento now, and my job is to impress them, to go out there and play,” he said. “Whatever the summer holds, the summer holds, but I feel good in the spot I’m in now. My thing is to come back and play for Sacramento, or wherever we’re at (in terms of relocation). But whatever happens happens.”
Of his supposedly suspect defense, Thornton said, “Man, all that was talk, however it got out. I’m not out to prove anybody wrong. I’m out to prove myself right. However that came about, it came about. It is what it is. Tune in to see.”
The Hornets would likely tell you they’re glad they did this deal. David West’s season-ending ACL injury on Thursday was surely devastating, but now it comes in handy to have a proven scorer ready to replace him.
New Orleans is 2-1 without their All-Star forward, with Landry averaging 21.3 points (48.9 percent shooting) and 7.3 rebounds since becoming a starter. The unrestricted-free-agent-to-be is padding his possible paycheck just like Thornton, as the Hornets are likely to lose West to free agency and signing Landry could help with the sting of that departure.
But at a time when the Kings fans, players and powers-that-be simply haven’t had much to be happy about, Thornton has been a welcome surprise. – Sam Amick