The new car smell on the Sacramento Kings is starting to wear off. The initial excitement around the team’s early season moves is starting to fade, as ugly loss after ugly loss starts to mount. Nobody said this would be an overnight process, and those ready to throw in the towel after a couple weeks would be foolish. But the fact remains: With an aggressive front office clearly not interested in standing pat and a roster that has revealed some serious flaws, more moves are clearly in store.
Enter the news this week that Milwaukee Bucks defensive whiz Larry Sanders may be available for the right price. Sanders, the 25-year-old, 6-foot-11 shot-blocking extraordinaire, is coming off a terrific season that saw him finish 7th in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He finished second in the NBA with 2.8 blocks per game to go with 9.5 rebounds and 9.8 points.
The breakout season earned Sanders a hefty extension (four years at $11 million per season starting next year). But early season struggles and more off-the-court concerns have Sanders possibly out of favor in Milwaukee. Could the Kings make yet another big play in the trade market? Let’s take a look.
First of all, what would it take to pry Sanders away? Milwaukee probably will not settle for simple cap relief alone. It would likely take some young talent and/or draft picks. Do the Kings even have what it takes to get a deal done? Jason Thompson and Marcus Thornton are logical possible inclusions to match salary, Jimmer Fredette may be a flier added to even cap numbers, but it seems the Kings would hope to retain DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Ben McLemore in any deal. Who knows what the Bucks would ask for or where Sanders’ value lies across the league.
For a team getting scored on at will around the basket, there may be no better fit than Sanders. The stats paint a pretty picture, but when you dig deeper, it gets better. At this year’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Kirk Goldsberry and Eric Wise of Harvard University concluded that Sanders is the best interior defender in the NBA, based not just on blocked shots but also on shots affected around the basket and the reduction of offensive efficiency within five feet of the rim (a great read for stat geeks). Long story short, Sanders is a game-changing force on the defensive end. It’s clearly becoming obvious that that type of player is the best complement to Cousins on the Kings front line.
Offensively, Sanders is limited. But really, who cares? The Kings don’t need another ball-dominant offensive player stealing touches from Cousins and others. Sanders uses his athleticism to crash the boards (top-20 offensive rebounder last season) and converted 50.7 percent from the field in 2012-13. He’s not a go-to guy, but he has a role offensively.
The first concern with Sanders has to be his temper/off-the-court issues/character. Sanders is currently on the inactive list with a thumb injury he suffered in a bar fight…a bar fight that allegedly included Sanders throwing punches and breaking champagne bottles over people’s heads. Also on Sanders’ rap sheet are a fine for abusive comments toward refs, openly questioning his playing time through the media and multiple ejections.
Now, on a team that is already devoid of any true veteran leader, does it make sense to add a potentially volatile player like Sanders to the mix? We don’t get to see him on a daily basis — we know that some of the negative press Cousins receives is much ado about nothing — so maybe it’s not as bad as it looks. However, it doesn’t look great.
These questions lead to his new contract. $44 million for the next four years. On the court, yeah, maybe he’s worth it. But could a move backfire on the Kings if Sanders character concerns go to the next level?
If you include Rudy Gay’s option and Isaiah Thomas’ qualifying offer, the Kings have about $70 million of obligations for next season. Sanders’ addition would likely be offset by the salaries going to Milwaukee in a deal. But you’re still looking at a team that would be over the $58-60 million salary cap. Furthermore, does Sanders’ addition kill the Kings flexibility down the road? Is he the player you want to take a chance on and commit $11 million to?
It’s a high-risk, high-reward situation. General Manager Pete D’Alessandro is exploring every avenue and has shown a willingness to make the big move.
Larry Sanders. What do you think?