What Does Future Hold for Isaiah Thomas and Sacramento Kings?

D.J. FosterContributor IFebruary 19, 2014

Feb 11, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas (22) reacts against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland won 109-99. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Considering how well he's played this season, you would think Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas would be safe at the deadline.

Theoretically, he's everything a team like the Kings should want. Thomas is young (25), productive (20.2 points and 6.3 assists a game), cheap (salary under $1 million) controllable (restricted free agent this year) and consistent. 

If Thomas was bigger than 5'9", or drafted earlier than the 60th pick in 2011, or a "true" point guard (whatever that even means), he'd probably be untouchable.

Honestly, he probably should be anyway, but that doesn't seem to be the case. 

Most intriguing Sacramento-based deadline story is increasingly loud buzz out there that Isaiah Thomas is available in midst of career year

— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 18, 2014

The Kings have their issues, of course, and it's understandable that the new regime may want their own players in, as Thomas is a holdover.

This wouldn't be the first ownership, management or coaching staff to have a lack faith in Thomas to run the point, after all, as he's had to battle his way up the depth chart multiple times. Yet every time, Thomas proves more capable than the players who were brought in to take the starting point guard spot instead.  

Even if Thomas isn't dealt, he could have to earn his keep all over again, based on an earlier report from Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports.

"The Kings still like Isaiah Thomas, but they are also interested in acquiring a true point guard as the trade deadline approaches, a source said," Spears said.

If the Kings think they can upgrade from Thomas easily, at least offensively, they're probably mistaken.

Even with below-average talent on the wings, Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins have led the Kings to a 13th-ranked offense in efficiency this year and the 12th-ranked offense last year. That side of the ball really hasn't been the problem, and while Thomas has his deficiencies, spearheading a pick-and-roll attack with Cousins isn't one of them. 

Earlier in the season, head coach Mike Malone told the Sacramento Bee exactly what he needed from Thomas in his increased role, and it's hard to say that Thomas hasn't responded.

“Isaiah’s got to be an extension of me on the court,” Malone said. “He’s got to make sure he’s getting guys looks, know what plays to call, knows what matchups he’s going to exploit and how to get those guys going where they’re most effective, and that’s part of his maturation of going from being a scoring guard off the bench to being a playmaking guard.”

Thomas has shown that maturity over the course of this season, but as Marc Stein of ESPN.com explains, there are plenty of variables outside of just the play of Thomas for the Kings to consider.

It's a tricky case all around. Thomas is making less than a million bucks this season on the final year of his rookie contract while producing at some genuinely gaudy levels with his sparkly PER of 21.06. Yet it's also true that re-signing him this summer could take the Kings into luxury-tax territory depending on the size of the offers Thomas receives. So a trade can't be ruled out, especially not if someone is willing to offer a quality draft pick, which has become such a coveted form of currency in the NBA

The Kings are in a tough spot financially, and perhaps Thomas is viewed as being part of the problem next year. 

It's hard to predict what kind of offer sheet Thomas will receive in restricted free agency, though, especially because it doesn't appear there will be very many teams in the market for a point guard. Somewhere in the range of what Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague received this past offseason ($8 million a year) seems reasonable.

One of those teams (think Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors or Milwaukee Bucks) could always swoop in with an even larger offer, knowing that Sacramento would have to go into luxury-tax territory if the Kings want to match and keep the University of Washington grad.

The likelihood of that will probably depend on Rudy Gay and whether he accepts his player option worth $19.3 million or opts out for a long-term deal. Point being, it's certainly a conceivable scenario that Sacramento will indeed be a taxpayer next year, which is a scary proposition given the makeup of the roster.

Money does appear to be on the mind of Kings management already, as Sacramento took a small step toward cutting next year's salary by trading Marcus Thornton to the Brooklyn Nets for Jason Terry and Reggie Evans.

That move will save the Kings nearly $1 million in cap space next year, and close to $7 million if Terry were to retire this offseason, which seems like a possibility given how poorly he's played and where he's at in his career.

In some ways, you can see why Sacramento would test the market now for Thomas.

Paying the luxury tax itself isn't really the issue; it's more about not having the flexibility to improve. If the Kings can't make a play for free agents, shopping Thomas before he gets paid in an effort to gain future considerations could potentially put the Kings in a better place down the line.

The key word there, though, is potentially. There's no guarantee that the draft pick earned in a trade for Thomas would turn into an equal or better player. The odds are actually against that. Thomas is making nothing in terms of salary now, so an upgrade via a straight player swap (save for, say, Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons) is nearly impossible.

Thomas is Sacramento's best movable asset by a large margin, but that doesn't mean he should be moved. He's formed a nice offensive tandem with Cousins, and there's no reason to think he won't continue to be one of the best scoring guards in the league going forward. Safer opportunities to improve will come along, as Thomas is one of the few "sure things" on the roster.

It's true that the Kings don't have enough talent or cap flexibility, and yes, it's hard to get better without either of those things.

It's just harder to imagine that a trade for Thomas would cure both of those ills. He's a player whose production has always greatly outweighed his perceived value. Those are the exactly the type of guys Sacramento needs to find, not trade away.