- Entering the post DeMarcus Cousins era, the Kings must exercise patience to create a success future.
With the NBA playoffs behind us, the 2017 off–season is here and many teams must make massive decisions. CBA expert Danny Leroux breaks down the major challenges and opportunities for the Sacramento Kings in The Crossover's NBA Summer Preview series.
Sacramento starts the post-Boogie era in earnest this summer, after trading DeMarcus Cousins for Buddy Hield and New Orleans’s 2017 first-round pick in February. While general manager Vlade Divac may not have received the strongest haul for his All-Star, the move clarified the Kings’ present and what it will take to become more competitive in the future. With numerous veterans coming off their books, this summer will reveal whether Sacramento’s front office can embrace the long game.
Here are three key storylines to watch for the Kings this off-season:
Lottery picks: The fifth and 10th picks in the 2017 draft provide Sacramento a great opportunity to lay a foundation for the future. Considering their lack of elite young talent, the Kings should take the prospect they feel will be the best player without consideration of their existing talent. Choosing a point guard would be a reasonable use of resources since this is a strong class, and it will always be hard to get a talented point guard, much less one with almost a decade of team control.
Bogdan Bogdanovic: On draft night last year, Sacramento acquired the rights to the 24-year-old Serbian scorer. Since the Suns drafted Bogdanovic back in 2014, he is not tied to the NBA’s rookie scale. That means the Kings can pay him more than that low scale amount ($1.4 million) and they will need to dip into cap space to bring him over. It will be an incredibly challenging negotiation for Divac, since Bogdanovic can simply return to Europe if their offer is not to his liking.
Cap space: Sacramento has an underrated opportunity with their cap space. After the reckless spending around the league last summer, many teams are looking to unload bad contracts of varying length. The Kings have significant space this season and very little committed other than rookie scale contracts moving forward, making them a logical trade partner for the most desperate general managers. They should use that power to make the single best deal they can, extracting significant assets either early in the summer or at the trade deadline.
Potential Free Agents: Darren Collison (Unrestricted), Rudy Gay (Unrestricted), Anthony Tolliver (Unrestricted), Ty Lawson (Unrestricted), Arron Afflalo (Partial Guarantee), Ben McLemore (Restricted), Tyreke Evans (Unrestricted), Langston Galloway ($5.4m Player Option, then Restricted)
Likely Summer of 2017 Cap Space: $31.5 million
Realistic Maximum Summer of 2017 Cap Space (using $101M estimate): $51.6 million
2017 Draft Assets: 5th overall (via pick swap with Philadelphia), 10th overall (from New Orleans) and 34th (from Philadelphia via New Orleans)
Potential Targets: As strange as it may sound for a team with enough space for a max contract, the Kings should be very judicious about their spending on free agents this summer. Trading Cousins set them on a longer path to relevance and there are very few players on the market this off-season young enough and good enough to be a part of the next great Kings team. Those factors mean they should look for bargains on the margins, particularly those left out of the early rush looking for playing time.
With openings at both forward positions and point guard if Collison does not return, the Kings are a good destination for discarded young talent looking to make a name for themselves as long as they hold firm and give team-friendly contracts to those players. Incidentally, Divac could use Seth Curry’s two-year deal with the Mavericks as a model for what those deals could look like. As discussed above, Sacramento’s other opportunity is wielding that financial flexibility in trades, which provides a more workable path to long-term assets.
Pressure Scale: 6. Nearly all of their stress comes on draft night, which carries even larger stakes for the Kings because they have two early choices and also do not have their 2019 first-round pick. They effectively have three shots at difference-makers the next two years and the success rate of those picks will be the largest determining factor in when they next make the playoffs. After July 1, the front office will have to figure out how to handle free agency for Collison and McLemore, but those negotiations will not be especially complicated, particularly McLemore which will be a straight-forward match decision once he signs an offer sheet. Finding the best value on the trade market will be an endeavor, but the Kings can negotiate from a position of strength because there are not many teams positioned to take on salary, much less long-term burdens.
State of the Franchise: Rebuilding. Other than Brooklyn, Sacramento is the single clearest example of a team that cannot and should not win now. While some will see that as a negative, it is not. That clarity allows their front office to approach the off-season differently in ways that could help them. A vast majority of franchises will be chasing after free agents, fighting feverishly in the early days of July to make their teams better for next year with serious long-term consequences. The Kings should take advantage of that desperation by asking for massive returns in exchange for onerous contracts and relying on the lack of competitors to establish value. They should also try to bring back their own free agents on reasonable deals, but be ready to move on if they receive irresponsible offers elsewhere.
Divac should also solicit offers on veterans like Kosta Koufos and Garrett Temple without settling for substandard packages because both would help the team next season and could become more valuable when teams suffer injuries in training camp or early next season. That approach also makes it easier to treat their cap space as an asset, one of the most rare commodities in the league this summer. If the 76ers decide to spend their cap space on free agents this off-season, Sacramento wields even more power. It may be hard for ownership to swallow this sort of approach when they just moved into a beautiful new arena but a summer or two of patience will be rewarded down the line.