The Kings have one star-caliber player in DeMarcus Cousins. Now they need to give him a sidekick.
There's no doubting that DeMarcus Cousins has enough talent to be a franchise cornerstone for the Sacramento Kings. However, even the best players need a legitimate wingman to take their teams to the next level.
As it stands, the Kings don't necessarily have that legitimate No. 2 option. Ben McLemore could certainly develop into that supporting role and Greivis Vasquez has shown to be one of the league's better floor generals. Yet neither player currently matches the upper echelon of NBA talent that comes with Cousins.
Getting that player won't come easy either. The Kings don't figure to have a ton of cap space to work with in next summer's free agency. Furthermore, Sacramento isn't exactly a destination city for premier free agents.
The Kings could acquire their missing piece from the draft, but again, there's no certainty of it panning out and there are almost always learning curves involved.
Sacramento's best bet in pairing an impact player with Cousins will come through a trade. The Kings have a history of acquiring their best players via trades and they could add to that tradition by acquiring that perfect fit for their team through another deal.
* Note: All trades were cross-referenced with ESPN.com's Trade Machine to make sure they're financially feasible. I also tried to include trades that were plausible. After all, one could use the trade machine to make a deal for LeBron James fit within the parameters, but no amount of expiring contracts, promising prospects or voluminous draft picks would be enough to entice Miami at this stage of the game.
Pairing David Lee with DeMarcus Cousins would give the Kings a legitimate frontcourt. Lee is an All-Star and one of the league's better big men. The 30-year-old has averaged 16.2 points and 10.5 rebounds over the last seven seasons, including 18.2 points and 10.3 rebounds since coming to Golden State.
He'd be an immediate upgrade over any power forward currently on the Kings and he'd be familiar with much of the franchise's management, including head coach Mike Malone from their mutual time in Golden State.
Lee is under contract through 2015-16, but the Warriors have explored his trade market in the not-so-distant past.
With Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson due substantial raises in the future and the Warriors lacking a ton of cap flexibility, shedding Lee's $13.8 million salary could make sense. The move would weaken their team at the 4 spot, but Jason Thompson and Patrick Patterson provide the overall volume produced by Lee.
Furthermore, the acquisition of Thompson, Patterson and Fredette wouldn't affect the Warriors'bottom line that much in 2013-14. However, both Patterson and Fredette could be dropped following the season, shedding $5.5 million. Coupled with Andrew Bogut's $14 million salary coming off the books, Golden State would have plenty of room to re-up its core members.
With Dwight Howard now in Houston, Omer Asik has become expendable. Yet the center still has excellent value and would be an excellent acquisition for the Kings.
Your initial reaction may be that by bringing in Asik, Sacramento would be facing the same dilemma that is currently plaguing Houston—having two above-average centers with only one starting spot. In the simplest of terms, there's some validity to that thinking.
However, pairing DeMarcus Cousins with Asik is different than pairing Howard with Asik. That's because Asik is a defense-first center. His strengths are Cousins' deficiencies while Cousins' strengths are where Asik is lacking.
Asik is a formidable shot-blocker, averaging 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes over his career. He's also a solid rebounder, posting 14 rebounds per 36 minutes last season.
Furthermore, unlike Howard and Asik, Cousins and Asik could play side by side. With Asik's quickness, dribbling ability and range, DMC could capably manage power forwards on offense. While he's likely better suited for center on defense, Asik doesn't have the shot-blocking capability that comes with most centers.
Getting Asik wouldn't come easily. It would have to involve multiple teams and there's a good chance the Kings would have to throw in a draft pick to New Orleans to help facilitate the deal. Still, in getting a player of Asik's caliber, that would be a small price to play.
The Kings wouldn't be getting another star-caliber player to pair with DeMarcus Cousins, but would be getting two players who immediately upgrade both forward spots.
The acquisition of Amir Johnson would add another middling power forward to the mix of Jason Thompson and Carl Landry. However, Johnson is younger than either of those two and he helps out in different areas.
Johnson's defense-first mentality would play well next to Cousins. The power forward impacts all areas of the game on defense, averaging 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per 36 minutes with a defensive rating of 105 over his career.
While Johnson isn't a volume scorer, he still brings value on offense. He boasts a .575 field-goal percentage and an offensive rating of 118 over his career. He also does a nice job on the offensive glass, pulling down 3.7 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Fields, who has been going backwards since his rookie season, provides upside play at the Kings' weakest position. Still only 25 years old, he'd give Sacramento an immediate rotational player at the 3. Like Salmons, Fields could be paired with Mbah a Moute to handle the majority of the work at small forward.
But unlike Salmons, Fields still has a shot to elevate his game. As a rookie, he averaged 9.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.0 steals with a .497 field-goal percentage and .393 three-point percentage. He's seen virtually all of those numbers plummet over the past two seasons, but he's still young enough to regain that form.
From the Raptors' perspective, the trade could work because it increases their flexibility. The team is taking on decent salary in the swap, but Salmons' contract is non-guaranteed after this season and Patterson can be shed by declining his qualifying offer. The first-round pick the Kings throw in would only sweeten the deal.
Bringing in Luol Deng would give the Kings a second star-caliber player to pair with DeMarcus Cousins. The 28-year-old has been named to back-to-back All-Star Games, and provides the type of two-way presence desperately needed.
On defense, Deng has a career defensive rating of 103. He was an NBA All-Defense second-teamer in 2011-12, but the small forward didn't exactly fall off the map last season. In fact, according to 82games.com, Deng held opposing 3s to a player efficiency rating of 11.2 (where 15.0 is average).
He's also consistent on offense, averaging 16 points per game for his career on 46 percent shooting from the field and 33.6 percent from three-point range.
He'd be an immediate upgrade on both offense and defense over John Salmons and Luc Mbah a Moute. On offense, that's not saying much, but having a guy who is an above-average offensive player and is also better than Mbah a Moute on defense says a lot about what Deng brings to the table.
The only concern with him is the tread on his tires. Deng has averaged 38.8 minutes over his last four seasons. While he's only 28 years old, he may decline sooner than others simply because of his insane workload.
That's somewhat concerning since he's entering the final year of his contract and the Kings would likely want to re-up him to ensure they're getting a good return on their investment. Only Deng's play could decline soon into his contract, making that return one of the diminishing variety.
For the Bulls, trading Deng from a personnel standpoint isn't a necessity. And the return they'd be getting wouldn't provide any one player who could match Deng's value. However, with the emergence of the younger and cheaper Jimmy Butler, coupled with Deng's contract status, anything Chicago gets in return could be a bonus.
And it's not like Thompson and Thornton aren't good players. Both would add quality depth to Chicago's roster. Fredette would provide an excellent floor-spacer with his three-point capabilities. Plus, the Bulls could decline his option to get out from under his contract if they wanted to add cap and roster flexibility.
Trade Breakdown: Kings get Rajon Rondo and Gerald Wallace. Celtics get Omer Asik, John Salmons, Jimmer Fredette, Isaiah Thomas and two first-round picks (one apiece from Houston and Sacramento). Rockets get Kris Humphries, Jason Thompson and Greivis Vasquez.
Full disclosure: I had help coming up with this one. My topic editor at Bleacher Report, Joel C. Cordes, thought of the idea of acquiring Rondo and put together the trade package.
It's worth noting that this trade couldn't occur for a couple of months yet because Humphries and Wallace aren't currently tradeable. For that reason, I'll include a screenshot of what the trade would look like, because generating it and getting the link is currently impossible.
From the Kings' viewpoint, the trade makes a ton of sense. While Greivis Vasquez is an above-average point guard, he's not in the elite category in which Rondo resides.
His 2012-13 averages of 13.7 points and 11.1 assists are quite similar to what Vasquez posted. Yet Rondo's field-goal percentage (.484) is vastly superior to Vasquez's (.433). However, their offensive ratings and player efficiency ratings show that not a lot separates the two on offense. Rondo has the advantage in PER while Vasquez has the advantage in offensive rating.
The big difference is on the defense. Rondo has been All-Defensive first team twice and All-Defensive second team an additional two seasons. His career averages of 2.1 steals and five rebounds per 36 minutes are significantly better than Vasquez (1.0;4.0). Furthermore, Rondo's 101 defensive rating trumps that of Vasquez (110).
The only way this trade goes down is if Boston finds itself in pure tank mode. Rondo is the best asset the team has, so trading him in that circumstance makes sense. Not only would the Celtics increase their odds at a No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft by posting a worse record, but they would also add two additional draft picks in what figures to be one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. Plus, by dropping John Salmons' non-guaranteed contract for 2014-15, the Celtics would also free up cap space.
The move would allow the Rockets to unload Jeremy Lin's contract, as they'd have a viable replacement in Vasquez. Kris Humphries' expiring contract would provide an additional $12.1 million that they could put toward re-signing Chandler Parsons as he nears free agency.
Trade Breakdown: Kings get Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner. Sixers get Jason Thompson, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette and a first-round draft pick.
Of all the proposals, this one may be my favorite. Don't get me wrong, the Kings would be better off acquiring Rondo, David Lee or Luol Deng. At least then they'd receive a player capable of being a No. 1 or No. 2 option on a contending team.
Yet those other propositions are unlikely and somewhat contingent upon the cards falling the right way for Sacramento. This trade is certainly plausible, and the thinking behind it fits with what we've seen from the 76ers over the past few months.
Neither Thaddeus Young nor Evan Turner would provide the bona fide star to pair with DeMarcus Cousins. But putting the two of them together on a Kings team that already possesses some talent would be enough to put this team in the playoff picture.
Both Young and Turner would be upgrades over what the Kings currently have at their respective positions.
Young's 14.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.8 steals are very well-rounded. The power forward also boats a career field-goal percentage of .512, including .531 in 2012-13. He's also a better defender than any incumbent power forward, posting a defensive rating of 102 over the last three seasons.
Turner, on the other hand, would be an upgrade mainly because the Kings are so lacking at small forward. The former No. 2 pick did set career highs in scoring (13.3), rebounding (6.3) and assists (4.3) in 2012-13. Still, he has plenty of work to do, as his PER of 12.1 and offensive rating of 95 indicate he's not the most effective offensive player.
Bringing him in would be somewhat of an upside play for the Kings. Theoretically, the talent that got him drafted so highly is still intact. Furthermore, he's only 24 years old, meaning there could still be growth to his game. If not, the Kings could always decline his qualifying offer, ridding the team of his services and providing cap space.
Either way, the trade would be a positive for Sacramento, if only because Young would give the team a rising power forward and Turner would upgrade the biggest weak spot.
For Philadelphia, the trade makes virtually no basketball sense for the upcoming season. But that's precisely why it's a trade they may be interested in exploring. The 76ers are obviously tearing their team down. They've already begun that process with the Jrue Holiday trade and this trade would only continue to hasten that operation.
Fredette could be released after the season to provide cap space while Thornton only has two years left on his deal. They'd also be getting another first-round pick to add to their growing pile of selections. As for Thompson, he's thrown in for salary purposes, but he could help fill the void of losing Thaddeus Young. And even though he's certainly not a star, JT's salary is pretty well in line with his on-court production.
Follow me on Twitter: @SimRisso