The Sacramento Kings' playoff drought now stretches to 11 years after missing the postseason yet again in 16-17. And at the trade deadline, the Kings decided DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t going to be part of the group to reverse the losing and traded him to New Orleans, kicking off the latest iteration of their decade plus rebuild.
Before giving up their franchise centerpiece, the Kings had undergone a series of moves to safeguard against a potential Cousins' departure. At the 2016 NBA Draft, Sacramento swung two big trades. The first saw them send Marco Belinelli, who was somewhat of a bust of a free agent signing in the summer of 2015, to the Charlotte Hornets for a late first round draft pick.
The second deal saw the Kings move back from the eighth overall pick to pick up the 13th and 28th picks and the Draft Rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic in a trade with the Phoenix Suns.
What the Kings did with those draft picks at the time was questionable at best. After drafting Willie Cauley-Stein in 2015 as a big man partner/backup to Cousins, Sacramento not only doubled, but tripled down by drafting big men Georgios Papagiannis and Skal Labissiere. Sandwiched in between the two bigs was Malachi Richardson. The Kings had now created a big man group that included Cousins, Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos and the two draftees. Jokes followed about revolutionary five center lineups designed to counter the increasing downsizing of the league.
In retrospect, given the Cousins trade, it doesn’t seem to have been that bad of an idea to keep adding youngsters up front. Labissiere had a strong second half and looks like a steal. Papagiannis needs a lot of work, but turns only 20 this summer. Partnered with Cauley-Stein, the Kings have something to work with for the future in the frontcourt.
In free agency, Sacramento added wings Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, and Garrett Temple. They also signed stretch four Anthony Tolliver and backup point guard Ty Lawson. All four were productive, but none had the impact above your average rotation role player. Barnes was later waived (at the cost of eating $6.1 million this season and $2.1 million each of the next three seasons), when the Kings needed to clear roster spots after their next big move.
After assuring Cousins they weren’t looking to trade him and wanted to build around him for the umpteenth time, Sacramento turned around and dealt him to New Orleans on the night of the NBA All-Star game. While the optics of the course reversal were plainly bad, it was probably the right move for the Kings. They hadn’t won with Cousins and there were serious questions about their ability to do so. They got back a package headlined by Buddy Hield and a first round pick (top three protected), which wasn’t a bad return after reports surfaced that the trade market for Cousins was far more tepid than most assumed from the outside.
This summer, the Kings could go in any number of directions. Rudy Gay has a Player Option for next year of over $14 million, and his choice to opt in or out could drive a lot of decisions for the team. After calling Sacramento “basketball hell” and requesting a trade, it was seen as a lock Gay would opt out. Then he tore his Achilles’ tendon and that puts his future earning ability in question. He may now opt in and take that $14+ million as his last big NBA payday.
Beyond Gay, Darren Collison and Ben McLemore seem to be the next biggest decisions. Collison has enjoyed a productive run with the Kings, but he might want to move on to a situation where he can win instead of being a veteran stuck in a rebuild. McLemore has had an up and down tenure since being drafted in 2013. With Hield in the fold as the shooting guard of the future, McLemore will seek a situation that offers a better opportunity to play and to compete on a playoff team.
Langston Galloway, Tyreke Evans, and Ty Lawson, the Kings' other free agents, are all unnecessary for their current plans. Galloway could choose to opt in and would fill a role as a combo guard off the bench. Both Evans and Lawson are veterans who would just block the playing time of younger players who need the minutes more. Both are likely to seek bench roles with playoff contenders instead of returning to Sacramento.
That leaves the decision of guaranteeing contracts for Arron Afflalo and Anthony Tolliver. Sacramento would save $11 million by waiving Afflalo, and that seems the likely course. He’s also best fit at shooting guard, and the Kings have no need with Hield holding down that spot. Tolliver is in a bit different situation and will probably stick. Dave Joerger likes the veteran’s fit with the young bigs and he’s also the only big man on the roster who can reliably stretch the floor.
The Kings could also look to move on from Koufos this summer and recoup some assets for another player they don’t really need. They could do similar with Garrett Temple, but he’s signed to a reasonable contract and can give the team valuable minutes at 1-3 behind young players.
At the draft, Sacramento seems likely to target a point guard and a wing scorer. The Kings have no young point guard options, but this draft is deep at the position and they should come away with a player who can start right away. With their extra first round pick, they can find another outside scorer to complement Hield, as Richardson is still a question mark after an injury marred rookie year. And there is always the option of being really aggressive, pairing the picks together and seeing if they can move up, if there is a player they like.
In free agency, pending how the draft goes, Sacramento should look to add a veteran at point guard that can help shepherd along whoever they draft. If Gay opts out, and the Kings manage to free up cap space, they could be in the market for a young small forward like Otto Porter or Shabazz Muhammad. A player like Andre Roberson would also go a long way towards fixing some of the issues that have plagued the Kings for years on defense and he seems like a Joerger kind of player. If they want to add shooting, options like Justin Holiday or Anthony Morrow could be helpful and shouldn’t break the bank.
As it stands, the Kings are relaunching their rebuilding process yet again. This time around Buddy Hield, a host of young bigs and two lottery picks. For the fans of Sacramento, it has to be frustrating to be starting over yet again. And with the instability at the top of the franchise on direction, who knows how long it will be before this team sniffs the postseason again? At least they have a shiny new arena to tide them over, right?
Guaranteed Contracts (7): Willie Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield, Kosta Koufos, Skal Labissiere, Georgios Papagiannis, Malachi Richardson, Garrett Temple
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts (2): Arron Afflalo, Anthony Tolliver
Potential Free Agents (6): Darren Collison (UFA), Tyreke Evans (UFA), Langston Galloway (RFA – Player Option), Rudy Gay (UFA – Player Option), Ty Lawson (UFA), Ben McLemore (RFA)
“Dead” Money on Cap (2): $2,133,542 (Matt Barnes), $517,220 (Caron Butler)
First Round Draft Pick(s) (pre-Lottery): Pick #8, Pick #10
Maximum Cap Space: $61,879,992
Projected Cap Space: None. $5,948,898 over