The Sacramento Kings have been on a treadmill lately. No matter what changes they make to the roster or coaching staff, they don't seem to go anywhere—good or bad. At this point it's been seven seasons since the Kings made the playoffs, and four seasons since they hit rock bottom. As frustrating as it is, it's now time to go back to the drawing board.
There are a few different ways to do this, but the main thing is that you do it right. Because if you don't, you end up in the exact spot the Kings have been in for years.
The first step in the process is evaluating your assets. If you don't know what you have, then you can't figure out what you need. Then from there, it's about discarding what you don't need and filling in the gaps with talented players.
Lastly, once they get enough talent to have success, they need to find a coach that can mold that talent and get the most out of it.
As we've seen, it's often not a quick fix. But starting over is a necessity at this point. With that being the case, here's the way the Kings should go about it.
Note: All Kings contract info used in this article is from HoopsHype.com.
As frustrating as he may be, Cousins is still the Kings' best asset to build around.
Despite a lack of on-court success in recent years, there are actually a few players that serve short- and long-term purposes for the Kings. They are as follows:
Cousins' immaturity is extremely annoying. So much so that it might be worth it for the Kings to just let him walk when he hits free agency or try and trade him for pennies on the dollar.
The problem is that he's young, incredibly talented and still on a team-friendly contract.
The Kings could try to trade him, but they wouldn't get a fair return. With two more years before he becomes an unrestricted free agent (assuming the Kings give him a qualified offer), Sacramento should stay patient. If he begins maturing, the team has a potential superstar on its hands. If he doesn't, it could trade him closer to free agency. For now, the organization is better off taking a wait-and-see approach, because even with his immaturity, he's still its best player.
Fredette is clearly better this year than he was as a rookie. Will he ever be a star? That's doubtful.
But he's capable of being a solid role player on the Kings. He's also shown enough to where picking up his option for 2014-15 seems like a good investment. With that being the case, the Kings should see how he develops over the next few seasons. If they like the direction, they can sign him to a new contract. If they don't, they can try to trade him or let him walk via free agency.
The rookie has started to come on of late. It's obviously still incredibly early to jump to conclusions about his future prospects. The Kings need to give him at least another year or two to see how he develops.
And given his reasonable rookie contract, there's absolutely no reason not to.
Thomas may or may not be the point guard of the future. But what he certainly is, is a solid player. His $884K option for 2013-14 is team-friendly, regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench.
Assuming he doesn't get a huge deal when he hits free agency, which doesn't seem likely at this point, he's the type of player the Kings would be smart to invest in for years to come. He's mature beyond his years and he's effective in whatever role he fulfills.
Jason Thompson is here for a while. His contract runs through the 2016-17 season. Because of that, even though it's not a ridiculous contract, it's hard to envision another team wanting to trade for him. Besides, even if he's supplanted by Thomas Robinson in the starting lineup, he's still good enough to contribute to the team coming off the bench.
It's true that Thornton's scoring is down a bit this year, both in terms of points per game and points per 36 minutes. But he's shown during his time in Sacramento that he can flat-out score. And even in a down year, his 17.3 points per 36 minutes is nothing to scoff at. If the Kings don't retain Tyreke Evans following the season, Thornton will likely return to his starting role.
A player that can contribute 17-20 points per game, wants the ball and is effective with it at the end of games and is only making $17 million combined over the next two years is a bargain in the NBA.
The Kings need to keep "The Bayou Bomber" for now and into the future.
John Salmons provides value to the team but his contract makes him difficult to trade.
For the Kings, the players in limbo are ones that contribute enough to where cutting them and paying them to disappear isn't the right solution, but their contracts are such that other teams wouldn't be interested in acquiring them at this time.
There's a lot to like about Salmons. He can defend, albeit not as well as he used to. He's not an elite scorer but he does provide on offense and he brings value to a young team like the Kings because of his leadership qualities.
Suffice it to say, he's worthy of a roster spot on nearly every team.
The problem is Salmons' contract, which runs through the 2013-14 season with a team option for 2014-15. There's a chance the Kings could trade Salmons at some point next season, because he is still a capable player and he'd be an expiring contract at that point. But the odds of Sacramento dealing him at the deadline or during the offseason probably aren't very good.
There may come a day when the Kings would be better off just cutting their losses and eating Hayes' contract to free up a roster space. For now he's still capable of playing a handful of minutes a night, providing some defense, rebounding and passing from the high post and scoring on the rare occasions when he doesn't have to create his own shot.
But with two more years on his deal worth a total of $11 million-plus, there isn't a team out there that would trade for him in the near future. Like with Salmons, he could have some value as an expiring contract, but we're at least a season-and-a-half from the day that would be feasible.
A lot could happen between now and then, namely Hayes regressing to the point where even that's an unlikely scenario. For the time being, he provides enough value for the Kings to keep him, but that may change in the future.
Outlaw was the toughest one to categorize. On the one hand, he's got two full years on his contract, meaning trading him in the near future is unlikely. On the other hand, he only makes $6 million combined in those two years.
With that being the case, a scenario could arise where it's worth it to just buy out Outlaw's contract in order to free up a roster space. But for the time being, the Kings should just keep him into next season and see what happens.
Evans is a good player, but with him entering free agency it may not be worth it for the Kings to invest a lot of money into keeping him.
This category is made up of players who shouldn't be with the Kings following this season. This is for a couple different reasons: they could have expiring contracts and aren't worth re-signing or they could be under contract beyond the season, but the Kings would be better off just cutting their losses.
Putting him in this category implies that Evans isn't worthy of being on the Kings.
That's simply not the case. He's a solid but not great player.
The problem is that with him being a restricted free agent following the season, it's going to cost the Kings a decent amount of money to retain Evans. It's debatable whether he's worthy of a big extension, and chances are he'll receive an offer that the Kings wouldn't want to match.
Furthermore, the Kings have a lot of roster spaces locked up into the backcourt and, although Evans has the size to play the 3, he hasn't played well when getting minutes there.
He's also dealt with a lot of nagging injuries—nothing too major, but injuries that are problematic enough to make re-signing him unappealing.
Lastly, for whatever reason, he hasn't improved much since his Rookie of the Year season. That could change in the future, but it's a gamble, and the Kings can't gamble considering the money they'd have to invest in Tyreke.
Garcia's been a good teammate and a consummate professional during his eight seasons with the Kings. But the organization can finally get out from under his lengthy and expensive contract by declining his team option for the 2013-14 season. Doing so would save the Kings $6.4 million, as well as clear up a roster space for a younger, cheaper player with more upside.
Johnson's rookie contract expires after the season, assuming the Kings don't give him a qualifying offer. With the qualifying offer slated for $3.95 million, it's too steep to pick up given Johnson's one-dimensional game and the roster spot he occupies.
Because of the logjam in the backcourt, there's really no place for Aaron Brooks. He's recently fallen behind Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette on the depth chart at point guard. There simply aren't enough minutes to go around for three point guards, which means something has to give.
Given Brooks' lackluster season, he's likely to pick up his team option for 2013-14, which is worth $3.4 million. Even if it comes to that, the Kings should just work out some sort of a buyout with Brooks. At 28 years old, he's unlikely to get better, and given the improvements we've seen from Jimmer Fredette between year one and year two, the Kings would be better off tying their future to him as a backup point guard.
Honeycutt has a team option for $900K for next season. One could argue the Kings should pick it up considering how inexpensive it is.
The problem is that Honeycutt has played a total of 115 minutes over two seasons in the NBA.
If he can't get on the court given how bad the Kings have been the last two years, it's unlikely he'll see a dramatic increase in playing time next year. The team would be better off going in a different direction and seeing if it can get a contributor for that roster spot.
Thomas Robinson is one of the players that could potentially be a cornerstone for the franchise.
Based on the "players to build around" category, there are seven players on the roster that provide enough short- and long-term value to keep going forward.
Of those, only DeMarcus Cousins has established himself as a worthy starter on a playoff-caliber team. With DMC, the talent has never been the problem, it's whether he's willing to reel himself in enough to consistently produce and maximize his abilities.
If he's going to continue to be a problem, the Kings might have to eventually cut bait. However, since they have some time before he hits free agency, they have time to make that determination.
Thomas Robinson is still young and talented enough to develop into a starting power forward on a successful NBA franchise. He may never get there, but he's young enough in his career to where the Kings need to wait and see.
The rest of the guys on this list are ideally bench players when the team is good enough to contend. When you look at it that way, you see there's some value on the roster. Take Isaiah Thomas, Jason Thompson and Marcus Thornton for example—in an ideal world, those guys would be excellent backups on virtually any roster.
As for Jimmer Fredette, the hope is that he can make a similar improvement from year two to year three. If he can, he'd easily be a solid backup on any team. If he can't, he's still a rotational player, and his contract is such that it wouldn't prevent the Kings from upgrading the team at other positions.
What it all comes to is that while there is some talent on the roster, the Kings need to add a lot more to get where they need to go. So, how should they do it?
If it comes down to it, trading DeMarcus Cousins might be one of the team's best options in acquiring more talent.
Based on how things have gone this year, it's a foregone conclusion the Kings will be picking in the lottery, and likely closer to the front of the lottery than the back. If they play their cards right, they should be able to get another asset for the future that way.
In general, the Kings need to do most of their building through the draft. Sacramento isn't a top destination among free agents, so the team would be better off drafting players then retaining them with extensions before they hit free agency.
The good thing is that with the roster comprised the way it is, with the possible exceptions of Thomas Robinson and Cousins, the Kings aren't set at any particular position. This means they can try and acquire the best players, regardless of where they play.
The team could use the picks it automatically gets each year. However, it should also try and trade for more selections in the draft. As players like Salmons and Hayes get closer to free agency, the team may be able to package them for picks.
If that doesn't work, the Kings could try and build through trades. It's how they acquired Chris Webber and Mike Bibby, who were two of the team's cornerstones during its successful years. It could use DeMarcus Cousins for this purpose, or it could package some of its expiring contracts for a player that's out of favor with another team (like Webber was in Washington).
Regardless of how the Kings do it, the most important step in the process is acquiring enough talent to be a successful team. Once that happens then they can worry about the next important step in the process—figuring out a coach for the future.
Sacramento needs to determine whether Keith Smart is the coach of the future.
It's unfair to blame Keith Smart for the team's subpar play this season and last season.
Sure, he's probably not the best coach in the NBA. You could probably find a better coach that could get more out of this roster.
But no matter who you brought in, there simply isn't enough talent to expect this team to make the playoffs. That's why building a talented roster is more important than hiring the right coach.
While getting the right talent is more important than getting the right coach, it doesn't necessarily mean the team should wait until it has enough talent to find the right coach. It just means the on-court success it has will be a reflection of the talent level more than a reflection of the coach.
In fact, it might make more sense to acquire the coach first, because then you could get players that fit the coach's system. However, that's something that can be done down the road, once you've set up a system of success.
For now, the Kings should hang on to Smart at least through the end of the season. Firing him now would serve no purpose. After the season they should evaluate him and see if he's worth keeping. With his contract expiring after next season, it may behoove them to let him play it out, then make a determination on his future with the organization then.
If young players like Jimmer Fredette, Isaiah Thomas and Thomas Robinson keep developing under his tutelage, then it's worth keeping him for a while. After all, the talent is the most important thing, so as long as that's developing there's no reason to make a change.
However, if the players are improving individually but the team isn't improving on the court, then they need to go in a different direction. But there's time to make that determination—at least until the end of the season.
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