For the first time in many months, it is safe for Kings fans to put the basketball aspects of a basketball team into the forefront of our basketball discussions.
With a new potential ownership group on their way (baring any last minute surprises or Maloofings), Sacramento is certain to have a crazy busy offseason.
Here are four reflections for the week—all about basketball, and none discussing relocation, arenas, binding agreements, lawsuits, or any of that messy mess. Let’s talk about basketball, darn it!
1. Kings might have limited space if they resign Tyreke Evans
While astounding to consider after many seasons of hanging around at the salary floor, the new Kings ownership group might have to deal with the NBA salary cap. According to Hoopshype, Sacramento’s total guaranteed salary for 2013-14 is at $41.59 million (with the obvious assumption that the team will pick up Isaiah Thomas’ option). That $41.59 million mark is before they even consider giving the qualifying offers/any offers to Tyreke Evans, Toney Douglas, Cole Aldrich and James Johnson.
None of the free agents will be as critical a decision as Evans. A reasonable range for a new contract for Evans should be around $9-10 million per year over four years—that is around the territory that other young guards like DeMar DeRozan ($38.5 million over four years) and Jrue Holiday ($41 million over four) got last season.
A $10 million contract figure for Evans would put the Kings at about $51.6 million. If the NBA cap stays at $58 million, the Kings would be just $6.5 under the cap. That isn’t much left with to go after any big names, and that means dropping the Kings other free agents. Mind you, the Kings still hold the mighty amnesty option if they wanted to clear necessary space (John Salmons or Chuck Hayes, perhaps?).
As Bryan Rosa discussed yesterday, Ken Berger of CBS Sports mentioned in his recent article that “a member of the proposed ownership group trying to keep the Kings in Sacramento” has looked into Milwaukee Bucks potential free agent Monta Ellis as a possibility if the Kings don’t resign Evans this season.
For all of Evans faults and potential high cost, he is a better option for the Kings long term than Ellis. Ellis may be a better shooter than Evans, but he is inefficient and a poor defender to boot. Evans is younger, a better defender, and a more efficient scorer (Evans’ true shooting percentage last year was 55.8 compared to Ellis’ 49.3). Ellis is also more ball dominant (a usage rate of 25.5% to Evans’ 21.2%) and this team already has enough of that.
Ellis would be walking away from an $11 million salary from Milwaukee if he leaves. A bit worrying thought—is it possible that the Kings ownership is looking at Ellis as a “cheaper” option to Evans? Could Evans demand more than $11 million per year? Golden State’s Stephan Curry got that much when he signed a four year, $44 million deal last summer. Would anyone be willing to pay Evans that much?
2. What will the Kings do with their non-Tyreke Evans free agents?
That whole last section ran under the assumption that the Kings will not make offers to the squads three other free agents.
James Johnson began the season as the starting small forward, but his minutes fell with each passing month. His slightly-above-average defensive abilities looked great in the otherwise terrible Kings defensive, but his offensive decision making was dreadful. Then, according to Carmichael Dave, he wore a Sonics hat when the sale was announced. Nail in the coffin, anyone? I can’t see the new Kings brass offering him a new contract, let alone the $3.9 million qualifying offer he’d be eligible for.
Toney Douglas is a bit harder of a decision. He plays a position that the Kings are deep at, and he might be left to walk if a new Kings organization decides they have enough with Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette. Yet Douglas was an intensive defensive worker who surprised fans late in the season with a capable offensive touch. The $3.1 million qualifying offer seems a bit much, but I’d like to see him return.
Finally, we come to the big man—Cole Aldrich. He provided the Kings with a true backup center, a tough rebounder and defender—as Bryan Rosa pointed out in the Royal Pain player review on Aldrich, “in games where he played over 20 minutes, Aldrich (despite a small sample size) averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds on 72% shooting.”
Of the Kings three non-Evans free agents, Aldrich is both my biggest hope and least likely returner. He shined late in the season, and provided the Kings bench with a defensive toughness they didn’t have enough of in the paint. He doesn’t have a qualifying offer, but the Kings will have space to sign him if they wish (on the open market, he won’t command much).
With the teams’ salary already clogged, it is unlikely that all three return to Sacramento next year. It’ll be interesting to see which of these young players (if any) the new Kings organization makes an effort to retain.
3. Which potential Head Coach best fits DeMarcus Cousins?
Scott Levin threw together an excellent list of potential Kings head coaching candidates. I disagree with a few (I’m nowhere near as high on Byron Scott, am a much bigger fan of Stan Van Gundy, and if I had my way, Mike Budenholzer would be hired tomorrow) but it’s safe to say that Kings fans would take most of this list over another year of Keith Smart.
DeMarcus Cousins is an enigma. He is the biggest attraction for potential coaches AND the biggest detractor. Not only will a new coach have to break Cousins of his bad basketball habits (poor shot selection, sparse defensive tenacity, bad decision making) but also have to command enough in the big man’s eyes to keep Cousins’ grounded.
Would former NBA big man Patrick Ewing be able to relate to Cousins on a personal level? Could Jerry Sloan handle the downsides of Cousins after the messy divorce in Utah? And with Cousins’ undeniable passing skills, could a guy like Brian Shaw—or, dare we say, even Zen Master Phil Jackson himself—be able to run the triangle in Sacramento?
On the flip-side – can you see probably-gonna-be-gone-soon Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro trying to see eye-to-eye with Cousins? Or how about reuniting Cousins/Evans/Patrick Patterson with John Calipari, who apparently scared Evans jump shooting ability out of him at Memphis?
4. The 2013 Draft keeps getting more depressing
Former UNLV big man and future 2013 lottery selection Anthony Bennett had rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder this week and will be sidelined four months. He will be out until at least September, meaning he will not be able to participate in pre-draft workouts or in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Bennett’s surgery makes him the third injured lottery talent—Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Maryland’s Alex Len will also miss pre-draft workouts and the Summer League. Making it even worse is the fact that Bennett, Noel and Len are considered the premier big men talent in the class… has anyone looked in Cody Zeller’s closet for voodoo dolls?
The draft was already looking weak—but then again, we’ve heard that about every draft for years. Regardless, would the Kings look to add a big man with their pick, currently slotted pre-lottery at No. 6?
Noel would be an intriguing option and would give Sacramento a true post defender and shot blocker they’ve lacked for years. But before you start daydreaming of a Cousins/Noel post tangent, the Kings would need to end up with a top 3 pick to snag Noel, who is believed to be in contention for the top spot.
As for Bennett, ESPN’s Chad Ford currently mocks him going No. 6 to Sacramento. Bennett is a bouncy, undersized power forward with sharp upside but who was never efficient offensively and never showed himself to be more than an average defender. Sounds perfect for the Kings, no?
Ford seems determined to give the Kings another inefficient ball-needy player, as he gave them UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad in his first mock. While Muhammad seems an attractive option on paper—he plays the much needed small forward spot and is a capable scorer—he did little else but score last season, and produced controversy when he admitted he lied about his age.