The Sacramento Kings have seemingly been in a constant state of rebuilding for the better part of a decade. So far, none of that tinkering has led to improved results on the court. What it has resulted in, however, is a roster that's not only ineffective, but also inflexible.
To build a competitive franchise in the NBA, you need an ownership group willing to invest money into the product. There was a period during the early 2000s when things were going well for the Maloofs (the team's current owners) financially and that correlated with healthy investments in the team.
Like a lot of Americans, the Maloofs hit hard times during the recession and were even forced to sell all but two percent of their stake in the Palms Casino (from The Sacramento Bee). This, of course, came less than two years after they'd sold their main money-making enterprise, their beer distributorship, to focus their financial endeavors on the Kings and the Palms (from The Sacramento Business Journal).
These sales were followed by consecutive years of them being unwilling to invest heavily into the Kings. But after two years of having a payroll barely above the league's minimum, the Maloofs finally authorized enough spending to bring the team up to the salary cap.
However, the players that management invested in haven't provided improved results. In fact, all they've really done is hamstrung the organization from making the necessary improvements in the future.
According to Hoopsworld.com's Kings salary breakdown, Sacramento already has $58.7 million potentially locked into next year's payroll. That's roughly $4 million more than it's doling out for its 2012-13 payroll. Now, of that money, only $40.7 million is guaranteed, meaning there could be some options to free cap space.
The difference between the projected payroll and the guaranteed payroll comes in the form of player options, qualifying offers and non-guaranteed contracts. Some of those figures will surely be added to the docket; others will be cleared from the payroll.
Of those, Isaiah Thomas' contract is the only sure thing to factor into the cap in some form. Because Thomas was drafted in the second round, his contract is non-guaranteed. IT has clearly earned his 2013-14 salary of $884,000, so expect him to be back.
We also know that point guard Aaron Brooks recently received a buyout from the Kings. Brooks had a player option for 2013-14 worth about $3.4 million. The exact terms of his buyout are unknown, but there should be some form of salary relief from Brooks' contract.
Beyond that, the rest of the team's non-guaranteed salary obligations come in the form of qualifying offers. Because the Kings assuredly won't give the qualifying offer to every player that's eligible, they're certain to gain some cap space there.
For example, it's hard to envision the Kings bringing back James Johnson with a qualifying offer of $3.95 million. The forward hasn't been worth this year's salary of $2.8 million, so there's no imaginable scenario where they'd be willing to give him a raise.
The other two players with qualifying offers are more up in the air. Toney Douglas, who has a qualifying offer of $3.1 million, could be back. My inclination is that he won't be, but it's also not unfathomable to see Sacramento work something out with him.
As for Tyreke Evans, what happens with him is a complete unknown, as with everything surrounding Evans at this point. Based on how he started his NBA career, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he'd be with the Kings at least through restricted free agency. Since Evans has made no discernible strides in his game, that's no longer the case.
The Kings should give him his qualifying offer of $6.9 million. From there, he'll be a restricted free agent and what that has in store could be a completely fluid situation. If he has no real market value and Sacramento could get him for relatively cheap, then he could be back. But if one of the 29 other teams offers him a substantial contract, the Kings are unlikely to match it.
Based on upside alone, gambling on Evans for the right price isn't a bad bet to make. Yet he hasn't improved much, if at all, since coming into the league, so there's got to be some caution in how much the Kings pay him.
Given that Sacramento still owes Marcus Thornton $16 million-plus over the next two seasons, it probably won't give Tyreke a long-term contract that rivals Thornton's in average annual value. And with Evans' talent and the crazy contracts that teams routinely give out during free agency, he should get enough money to price himself out of the Kings' range.
Even if Evans, Douglas and Johnson don't return, plus the buyout of Aaron Brooks' contract, the Kings are still only looking at about $17 million in cap space. That's a decent amount of money to work with; however, it's not as much as you think. After the Kings sign their first-round pick, which is likely going to be a top-10 selection, that figure will shrink to around $13 million.
Sacramento hasn't used the amnesty clause yet, so there's always the possibility of getting some salary relief there. If it goes that route, the two best options are John Salmons or Chuck Hayes.
Salmons' then-remaining $7 million is non-guaranteed following 2013-14. Unless the Kings can trade him as an expiring contract, they might be better off just riding it out until he hits free agency. Even if they amnesty him, they'll have to pay him anyway, although they would gain the cap space.
If they amnesty Chuck Hayes, they'd save $5.7 million in space (plus owe him his nearly $12 million over the next two years). That's flexibility they could surely use, but it's also not enough to make or break a whole offseason.
What do you think the Kings should do with their players slated for free agency?
At this point, they might be better off just riding it out, assuming they can't swing some sort of trade involving one of their expiring contracts.
After 2013-14, the guaranteed total drops substantially. Regardless of what happens with the potential relocation, the team will almost assuredly have a new ownership group as well. Since this isn't MLB and there's a salary cap, having deep-pocketed owners won't allow it to buy its way back to relevancy.
So it will take sound decision-making, in terms of player evaluation, potential coaching changes and contracts given out, to turn this thing around. Which is a scary proposition considering it's the Kings' inability to do those things in the past that has led to the inflexible and unenviable position they're in now.
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