The Sacramento Kings are coming off an improbable season that included a run at the playoffs that has been a long time coming. This was the kind of improvement the franchise has been hoping for years, and a group of talented, young players finally delivered. Now, Sacramento heads into an offseason where they’ll look to add those final pieces to take the next step to making the postseason.
One of those pieces was added along the sidelines, as the Kings moved on from Dave Joerger, who clashed with the front office, and replaced him with Luke Walton. Walton was seen as a promising young coach due to his success with the Golden State Warriors, but had some ups and downs the Los Angeles Lakers. He did well helping to develop the Lakers' young roster, but seemed to have struggled under the pressure that came with coaching a LeBron James-led team. Walton’s easy-going demeanor and knack for development should fit well with Sacramento’s young core.
Walton was accused of sexual assault shortly after he was hired by the Kings and while that situation remains unresolved, the Kings have been filling out his coaching staff around him as an indication that business will continue as usual at least for now.
At last season’s trade deadline, the Kings got involved in deals designed around improving the roster for the playoff push versus selling off pieces to contenders. The important thing was that Vlade Divac did not take on long-term money, with one notable exception, while improving the team in-season. This means Sacramento enters the summer with great flexibility as they fill out the rest of the roster.
Part of that summer is expected to include Harrison Barnes, the one acquisition with a contract that didn’t expire this summer, exercising his player option for the 19-20 season. Barnes was one of the players the Kings acquired at the deadline and fit in well as a primary scoring option for a young team. If Barnes is in the fold, the Kings likely have a starting unit of homegrown players in De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Marvin Bagley III plus Barnes. If Sacramento needs to go big, they can push Bogdanovic to a bench role and start Harry Giles alongside Bagley and Barnes up front. Or they could go with veteran Nemanja Bjelica at the four.
The point is that the Kings already have seven rotation spots filled. They could have an eighth if they keep backup guard Yogi Ferrell on the roster, but they may choose to waive Ferrell before his contract guarantees on July 4th. And all of this is before Sacramento uses any of the $35 million to $38 million they have in available cap space.
Some of that space could go towards retaining Willie Cauley-Stein as a restricted free agent. But with Bagley and Giles both developing rapidly, it might be time for Cauley-Stein to move on. He’s been good defensively since day one, but his offensive game has never really caught up. Veteran center Kosta Koufos is also a free agent. He could be brought back on a short-term deal as a depth option behind the young bigs.
The most pressing need the King have is for a combo guard that can play behind both Fox and Hield, who have established themselves as one of the NBA’s more exciting young backcourts. Alec Burks could return but he’s more of a pure wing than an option at the point. Malcolm Brogdon would make an ideal third guard in Sacramento, but he could be out of the Kings' price-range. A veteran like Austin Rivers or Patrick Beverley would make a lot of sense if they were willing to join an up-and-coming team as opposed to a contender.
Wing shooting is another need for Sacramento. There are several good options in this free agent group. If they keep it to a short-term deal, the Kings could even overpay players like Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock or James Ennis to fill the role of bench shooter. If they wanted to for a higher-priced option, someone like Terrence Ross or even JJ Redick would fit perfectly.
The Kings have also been linked to Tobias Harris. While Harris is a terrific player, he duplicates a lot of what Sacramento gets from Barnes. If Barnes should opt out, which would increase Sacramento’s cap space to over $60 million, Harris would be a perfect replacement. A more reasonably-priced 3/4 could be Marcus Morris, DeMarre Carroll or Jabari Parker.
If Sacramento can’t sign a big ticket free agent, there is no issue with spreading the money around, provided they stick to one or two-year contracts. Committing to anyone who isn’t a foundational piece beyond a year or two, would be a mistake. It’s important that Divac retain his flexibility as his younger players like Hield, Fox and Bogdanovic come up for their second contracts over the next couple of seasons.
This past season was a surprise for the Kings. They’ve got a fun group of young players who really fit well together on the court. They play an exciting style that fits the modern NBA. They did well to add quality veteran role players last summer and then supplemented that with in-season trades. This summer is about taking the next step by adding more talent around the young core. The transition from playoff contender to playoff team is a hard one to make, especially in the Western Conference, but at long last it appears to be a step Sacramento is finally ready to take.
Guaranteed Contracts (8): Marvin Bagley III, Nemanja Bjelica, Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox, Wenyen Gabriel (Two-Way), Harry Giles, Buddy Hield, Caleb Swanigan
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts (2): Yogi Ferrell, Frank Mason III
Potential Free Agents (7): Harris Barnes (UFA – Player Option), Corey Brewer (UFA), Alec Burks (UFA), Willie Cauley-Stein (RFA), B.J. Johnson (RFA), Kosta Koufos (UFA), Troy Williams (RFA – Two-Way)
“Dead” Money on Cap ($2,133,541): Matt Barnes
First Round Draft Pick(s): None
Maximum Cap Space: $62.6 million
Projected Cap Space: $38.4 million