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NBA Daily: Sacramento Kings In Rare Position

For years, they’ve been the NBA’s perennial laughing stock, but the league’s most hopeless team may have reason to hope this summer.

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On paper, the Kings have been as incompetent as they’ve ever been in the past couple of seasons.

In 2015, the team traded its salary cap fodder along with two pick swaps (2016 and 2017) and an unprotected first-round pick in 2019 to the Sixers for cap space. This trade blew up in their face because they weren’t able to woo anyone special and they gave Philly golden assets.

In 2016, the Kings traded the eighth overall pick (Marquese Chrisss) to the Phoenix Suns for the 13th pick (Georgios Papagiannis), the 28th pick (Skal Labissiere), and the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic. This trade was odd because while Chriss was no sure thing, his stock was much higher than the unknowns the King had acquired for him.

In 2017, the Kings traded superstar DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, and the Pelicans’ pick in the 2017 draft, which wound up being the tenth overall pick. This trade was awful because the Kings waited too long to trade Cousins, all things considered.

It’s abundantly clear that the term “Murphy’s Law” doesn’t register with Kings’ management, because these moves were very ill-advised, to say the least.

But upon further inspection, these trades may not have panned out as badly for the Kings as they initially looked.

Philly seemingly made out like bandits when they took those picks and pick swaps when they agreed to swallow the Kings’ excess salaries, but none of the players they acquired—Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, and Carl Landry—panned out, and they invested their returns from Sacramento—the third overall pick and the Kings 2019 pick (Top-1 protected)—in Markelle Fultz. Fultz still has his whole career ahead of him, but as it stands, De’Aaron Fox has done a lot more in his NBA tenure so far than Fultz has.

Phoenix seemingly got the better prospect when they acquired Chriss’ rights from Sacramento, but Chriss regressed in his sophomore year after making the all-rookie second team. The Kings have waived Papagiannis, but Bogdanovic has proven to be a keeper and Labissiere has had his moments. Labissiere is a question mark but it appears Bogdanovic may have a better future than Chriss.

New Orleans seemingly stole Cousins when they paid pennies on the dollar for him, but now, after their surprise playoff run after losing Cousins mid-season, his return to the team could be very much in doubt this summer since there’s a fair case that they’re better off without him. Cousins could very well walk away from them, while the Kings have even more solid prospects on their team with Hield and Justin Jackson because of the deal.

Does all of that pardon them for their poor execution when they agreed to these deals? Of course not, but look where they are now. Winning 27 games while missing the playoffs for the twelfth straight year is nothing to brag about, but believe it or not, the Kings are presently in a solid spot to build off of from here.

This starts with their youth movement. In a league where rookie contracts are valued now more than ever, the Kings have a foundation of intriguing young talent on bargain deals such as Fox, Bogdanovic, Hield, Labissiere, Jackson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Frank Mason III. None of these guys are guaranteed future all-stars, but they have shown promise.

The team is also going to get Harry Giles back after sidelining him this season. Giles was originally believed to be the best prospect coming out of his class before injuries ruined his draft stock. His long list of injuries, which the Kings are well-aware of, are indeed a concern, but his teammates had nothing but the utmost praise for his skills this season.

There are teams with better youth movements out there, but the Kings have the start of something promising with their collection of young talent. They haven’t really had anything like that since before the DeMarcus Cousins era.

This brings us to the draft. As luck would have it, the Kings snagged the second overall pick in the lottery in a class loaded with talent up front, primarily in the frontcourt. The Kings already have bigs with potential such as Cauley-Stein, Labissiere, and Giles, but this class’ bigs have the tantalizing talent that would make it impossible to pass up.

With the second overall pick, the Kings have plenty of options to go to. They can just keep it and draft whoever they think is the best available, whether if it’s DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., or Michael Porter Jr among others. Or, if they believe in the guys that they have now and think there isn’t much disparity in talent between the second pick and the sixth, they can trade down and go after one of those aforementioned names depending on who is available or go for someone else like Mo Bamba or Trae Young.

Trading down in the draft is risky – There’s a reason why it happens much more often longer drafts like the NFL – but the Kings have shown no apprehension in making this exact move in the last two years, so them doing it again wouldn’t be much of a surprise.

Point being, the Kings have options by the barrelful in this upcoming draft so that, no matter what they decide, not much can go wrong for them.

Sacramento’s surprisingly stable situation doesn’t just stem from their promising youth movement, but from their payroll as well. It’s been stated multiple times that money will be in short supply this summer with the cap crunch, but the Kings will be one of the teams with available cap space.

Let’s not sugarcoat anything here. The Kings aren’t getting any of the big fish on the open market this year, but that shouldn’t be their goal. Their goal should be to pursue another young asset(s) who can only add to their youth movement, which they can do if they basically copy Brooklyn’s shrewd strategy over the last two years.

Brooklyn may have been in a wretched situation over the last several years, but they made the most of it. They forced Miami’s, Portland’s and Washington’s hand when they gave Tyler Johnson, Allen Crabbe, and Otto Porter bloated contracts. They also sold high on rotation players such as Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic by getting first-rounders out of them. They then took on mammoth contracts such as Timofey Mozgov and DeMarre Carroll so that they could fetch more first-rounders and D’Angelo Russell.

Those moves didn’t make things much better, but it gave the team some optimism after everything that had gone wrong for them. Sacramento has the opportunity to do the same especially with the way the climate in free agency is now.

Restricted free agents really got the short end of the stick this summer. Because most teams will have a sticky cap situation this summer, very few RFA’s on the market should anticipate big offers. The Kings are one of the few teams that should be able to offer money that restricted free agents will be looking for. The Kings could invest money in a defensive dynamo like Marcus Smart, or a potentially elite scorer like Jabari Parker, whose teams are going to be cautious with their money in a few weeks.

Even if that doesn’t work out, the Kings can acquire more first-rounders/young players by taking on more salary. Next year’s free agent class will have names such as Klay Thompson, DeAndre Jordan, and Kawhi Leonard, so teams will look to open up cap room. The Kings have over $30 million in expiring contracts in Zach Randolph, Iman Shumpert, and Kosta Koufos, so teams may be willing to sacrifice future assets to get them.

No matter what happens, the Kings can make things even more complicated for everyone else than they already will be this coming July. At the very least, Sacramento has put themselves in a position to gradually build a winning team over the next couple of years.

For most of the franchise’s tenure, the rationale among spectators for the majority of Sacramento’s moves have been, “Well, they’re the Kings.” If they play their cards right from here on out, that line won’t be uttered in a bad light again for a long time.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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