What’s even more troublesome than the playoff drought for the Sacramento Kings is the daunting cap situation the team finds itself in.
The Kings desperately need to improve their team, yet they don’t have much flexibility because $41 million has already been guaranteed for next season. Furthermore, nearly $56 million is tied up when you factor in qualifying offers and non-guaranteed contracts.
Some of those qualifying offers, most notably the $3.95 million one to James Johnson, likely won’t be doled out. The Kings also may be able to deal a few of their players, providing them with an opportunity to upgrade the team.
For the most part, they’re stuck with what they have. A few tweaks here and there will surely occur over the offseason, but the main nucleus of the team is likely to remain the same. With that being the case, the Kings will need to find a way to improve without making too many wholesale changes.
Continued Progression from Young Players
As I pointed out in a recent article, one positive thing to take from the Kings this season is their young players are all taking steps forward. Without the flexibility to go out and drastically improve the team through free agency, the team will need to see this trend continue if it’s going to continue improving.
Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer Fredette and Tyreke Evans all made strides this season. Thomas went from 11.5 points per game to 14.0 points per game, 16.3 points per 36 minutes to 19.0 and from 4.3 win shares to a team-high 5.1.
Fredette progressed from 14.7 points per 36 minutes to 18.5, a 100 offensive rating to an offensive rating of 106 and a PER of 10.8 to 14.6.
Evans finally took some steps forward too, this after not progressing much for each of the past two seasons. He's setting career highs in field-goal percentage (.479), three-point percentage (.331), offensive rating (111), offensive win shares (3.6), win shares per 48 minutes (.110) and PER (18.3).
Develop At Least One Rookie
As was pointed out by Darryl Arata, who is the Kings’ PR statistician, Sacramento doesn’t have any rookies on its roster. It’s the first time since 2002-03 that the Kings will end a season without one on their team.
Of course, as Arata notes, and as many fans remember, the team drafted Thomas Robinson No. 5 overall in the 2012 draft, but he was traded midseason for Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich. The trade could end up being to the Kings’ benefit…which isn’t the point.
The point is Sacramento needs to have at least one rookie on its roster next season. It’s not often that rookies turn around franchises in their first year, but being able to develop them is a necessity, especially when you don’t have the cap space to bring in many free agents.
Furthermore, with the rookie spending cap, the Kings have enough cap space to add young talent to their team. It’s cost effective, it provides a basis for the future and it’s a necessary step to building a long-lasting contender.
Utilize Three-Point Shots
The Kings are currently hitting 36.3 percent of their three-point shots. That’s ranked 12th of the 30 NBA teams. Their 1,583 three-point attempts are good enough for 11th most in the league.
Simply put, the Kings need to utilize three-pointers more. They've had 17 games where they've made at least 10 three-pointers. Their record in those games is 9-8. That's certainly a much better winning percentage than the team's overall season output. By relying on treys, maybe Sacramento would see the same success over a larger sample size.
Think of it this way, the team’s overall field-goal percentage of 44.8 percent is only 8.5 percent higher than its three-point percentage. Yet hitting a three-point shot yields 50 percent more points than hitting a two-point shot.
That means as long as the two percentages are fairly comparable—which they are in this case—it’s beneficial to increase your number of three-point attempts.
The Kings could bring in some sharpshooters this offseason. This would increase their efficiency. But even if they stick with the shooters they have, they’ll still increase their production simply by shooting more three-pointers.
Make a Few Savvy Trades
In some respects, the Kings certainly have their hands tied behind their back. They’re not going to be able to deal players—at least not while getting a worthwhile return—like Chuck Hayes or Travis Outlaw because no teams want to pick up their accompanying contracts. But the team can still use the pieces it has to make some deals.
Sacramento could package some of its expiring contracts to get a player that’s fallen out of favor on his team. Of those, the Kings have few. They could deal John Salmons, whose $7 million salary in 2014-15 is not guaranteed.
The team could even swap DeMarcus Cousins, although that could prove a daunting task, at least in terms of improving in the short term. Because of Cousins’ relatively cheap $4.91 option for next season, it will be difficult to get a comparable talent with a comparable contract. It becomes even more daunting when you consider Cousins’ perceived value has decreased due to his character concerns.
Either way, improving through the trade market is something the team has used to get most of its marquee players over the years. Chris Webber, Doug Christie, Mike Bibby, Brad Miller and Marcus Thornton were all acquired via trade.
It’s a strategy that’s worked in the past. It could work in the future as well, but only if the team makes the right moves.
Find the Right Coach
Personally, I think Keith Smart has done a pretty admirable job. Under his tutelage, the Kings have actually posted their best winning percentage in four years. And this is despite absentee owners, the relocation saga and DeMarcus Cousins disrupting the locker room. Yet the team’s .359 winning percentage still leaves a lot to be desired.
As I pointed out in a recent article, Smart is unlikely to return, mainly because the team figures to have new ownership next season that will want to bring in its own guy. While the team could certainly do worse than having Keith Smart as head coach—as we’ve seen over the years—it could also do better.
Bringing in a new coach likely won’t take the Kings from the lottery to the playoffs in one year. But the right coach, with the right system, could establish a foundation for success—just look at what Mark Jackson was able to do in a similar situation in Golden State (hired by new ownership, brought the team to playoffs in second year on job).
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