Dec 21, 2013; Orlando, FL, USA; Sacramento Kings small forward Rudy Gay (8) and point guard Isaiah Thomas (22) high five against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
With the season winding down on what should be considered an excellent overall year for the Sacramento Kings, a real retrospective look back seems in order.
Of course, retrospective approaches aren’t as fun when you can consider the future instead. The team, for the first time in years, will end the season 100% guaranteed to remain in Sacramento—now that that is out of the way, how do we get this team back to the playoffs?
After Vivek Ranadivé and company exceeded all expectations and more that Kings fans could have asked them for off-the-court issues, it was easy for on-the-court expectations to raise as high. As the season proved, this was never a team built for the Playoffs in the deep Western Conference. The team is still rebuilding, and will continue to do so for another year or two, although talent-wise there are many points for optimism.
The team still needs a big boost in talent, especially in two key areas—defense and shooting. The Kings bench is still one of the worst in the league, and still needs multiple additions of depth, but any and all additions should focus around giving Coach Michael Malone real defensive players to work with, and many more shooters to help space the floor. As much as possible, additions should be good at both shooting and defense, and not just above-average at one or the other.
With those top two talent needs in mind, let’s take a look at the biggest positional needs for the Kings, and breakdown where those additions might come from.
(Key note – full breakdowns of all mentioned rookies will be coming over the next few months, so I’ll avoid too much in-depth analysis on them for now).
As the Roster Stands Now:
Feb 8, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) drives for the basket against Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders (8) in the first
quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
1. Defensive Power Forward who fits with DeMarcus Cousins
Getting Cousins his long term front-court partner is a must. Alongside Cousins, the best fit would be a primary defensive force who can block shots and lock-down on opposing teams’ best big men.
The draft offers two such big men. Kansas’ Joel Embiid provides all the skills on that list, but the Kings would need to jump into the top 2-3 picks to have a shot at Embiid. Arizona’s Aaron Gordon is a bit undersized and not an great shot blocker, but he does have potential to be a lock-down defender and is an all-around tough player—he’s already locked himself in as this writer’s favorite draftee.
The Kings have shown in the past 12 months that they will go after talented players when their value is low—see the Rudy Gay trade. With that in mind, Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders would be a fantastic fit next to Cousins. He’s an elite shotblocker and, when healthy, a top defensive big man in the league. He’s had a dreadful season, though, and multiple injuries and off-the-court issues have made his $11 million salary look dreadful. Would the Kings take a risk like that, even for a great fit next to Cousins?
A final option could be free agent Ed Davis. He’s a capable defender and gets 2.1 blocks a game per 48 minutes, but he’s also never been a full-time starter.
2. Defensive minded Shooting Guard who won’t break the bank
Ben McLemore is still the Kings future at the SG spot, but a veteran defender could take over the starting role for a year or so. Oklahoma City’s Thabo Sefolosha would be the best fit possible, giving the Kings a great defensive answer who won’t be expensive. Cleveland’s CJ Miles would be another great add, although he’s not to the level of Sefalosha.
3. Cheap Depth at the Wings
It’s a shame that the Kings don’t have a 2nd round pick in this years’ draft, as the class has a wide number of talented wing players expected to go early in the 2nd round.
As for free agents, New Orleans’ Anthony Morrow never seems to get the contractual respect his shooting deserves, and he would be a cheap shooting backup who’d help with floor spacing. A more fell-good add would be long time King Francisco Garcia, who’d provide the lockerroom with another leader, but would Garcia return to Sacramento rather than chase a winner?
Unfortunately for the Kings, they won’t be able to just add pieces to the current roster. Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay are free agents, and to make things worse, the possible replacements in free agency aren’t too promising.
Mar 18, 2014; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Isaiah Thomas (22) directs the offense during the fourth quarter of the game against the Washington Wizards at Sleep Train Arena. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Washington Wizards 117-111 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
If Isaiah Thomas Leaves:
If Isaiah Thomas leaves in free agency, a lot will hinge on what the Kings get in return for a sign-and-trade. The departure of Thomas would possibly leave the Kings with one point guard—Ray McCallum—on the roster.
As promising as McCallum has looked over the past two weeks, a full season of consistency is needed before the team should consider him a permanent fit. Even if one considered McCallum the point guard of the future, going from Thomas to McCallum as their talents stands now would knock the Kings back down the rebuilding latter.
The draft comes before free agency, and there are two promising rookie point guards who the Kings could add at their realistic draft position, even if they intended to keep Isaiah. Both Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Australian Dante Exum are big enough and talented enough to play point guard OR slide over and play alongside Thomas.
If Thomas leaves in free agency and the Kings didn’t add a point guard in the draft, things become dire. Kyle Lowry and Eric Bledsoe top the list of free agent point guards, but neither seems likely to come to Sacramento. Rodney Stuckey, Mario Chalmers and Greivis Vasquez would all be a big step down from Thomas. The options aren’t great if Thomas leaves this summer.
Apr 12, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay (8) looks for a pass defended by Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes (22) during the first quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
If Rudy Gay Leaves:
Unlike Thomas, Rudy Gay’s departure would free up massive amounts of cap space. He could also stay, sign a long term extension and save the Kings immediate cap space—but if Gay does leave, the Kings would be one again in no-mans land with Small Forwards. Travis Outlaw and should-be-Power-Forward Derrick Williams are the teams’ best options after Gay.
The draft offers a few immediate replaces for Gay, but mostly at the top. If the Kings were picking high enough to snag either Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins or Duke’s Jabari Parker (a SF/PF hybrid), the writing might be on the wall for Gay to begin with. James Young from Kentucky, a late lottery talent, is the next best SF on my draft board, but he isn’t ready to make an immediate NBA impact.
The market for realistic free agent small forwards is just as bleak as for point guards. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Luol Deng aren’t realistic. Gordon Hayward is just as talented as Gay, but will receive more money on the free agent market.
After Gay, the next best talents at the SF spot are Shawn Marion, Paul Pierce, Danny Granger and Andrei Kirilenko—all past their primes. Trevor Ariza is the best realistic option, and previously-mentioned CJ Miles would be a solid addition, but replacing Gay with either would be a certain step back.
The Kings have multiple needs for the roster as constructed, but the likelihood is that either Thomas or Gay will leave. Don’t envy General Manager Pete D’Alessandro all the tough decisions he’ll be making this year—the road to the Playoffs will be much longer than Kings fans wish it to be.