More than a month since Sacramento Kings power forward Carl Landry returned from a hip flexor injury that sidelined him for the first few months of the season, the veteran has had trouble getting going. That, coupled with the team's depth at power forward, has created doubt as to whether or not the franchise needed to sign him in the first place.
Kings head coach Michael Malone talked about Landry's return and how he's still not all the way back.
Malone told Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:
It's a work in progress. He’s still not in 100 percent game shape and he’s still not fully recovered. His first game in Oklahoma City, he looked great. I think he’s been a little bit inconsistent, but that’s to be expected. We haven’t lost a bit of confidence in him at all.
For Landry, this isn't his first stint with the Kings. The team traded for him back in the 2009-10 season, acquiring him from the Houston Rockets at the deadline. The 30-year-old spent roughly a season in Sacramento, as he was flipped to the then-New Orleans Hornets at the 2010-11 deadline.
Landry's first stint with the Kings provided mixed results. He was solid in his initial season, but he dropped off considerably in 2010-11. However, the forward had a nice bounce-back season with the Golden State Warriors.
Due to Landry's resurgence in Golden State and the familiarity with him by the Kings management—many of whom came over from the Warriors—bringing the veteran seemed like a good idea. But now, 15 games into his return to Sacramento, the team maybe made a mistake in signing him.
Too Many Power Forwards
At the time the Kings signed Landry, they already were chock-full of power forwards. Adding an additional 4 simply wasn't a need.
Jason Thompson (JT) was the incumbent starter, entering the season. The six-year veteran, while never a star, always was consistent.
Coming into the year, Thompson boasted career averages of 10.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. Expecting comparable production in 2013-14 seemed like a reasonable assumption. Sure enough, JT is pretty close to his career line, averaging 7.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 0.7 assists in 25.7 minutes.
The Kings also had another solid option at the 4 in Patrick Patterson. He, like Thompson, provided an adequate rotational piece, averaging 8.0 points and 4.8 rebounds with Sacramento in 2013-14. Between the two of them, adding another power forward of the same mold was a redundancy.
Granted, Patterson since has been traded to the Toronto Raptors. But it's not as if that ultimately opened up much for playing time for Landry. In that deal, the Kings also acquired Quincy Acy, giving them another power forward.
Derrick Williams and Reggie Evans have been added since, providing even more players capable of manning the power forward position. As things currently stand, that leaves Thompson, Williams, Evans and Acy as 4s on the roster. Travis Outlaw, who plays both forward positions, also provides another capable option.
So, while the composition of the team has changed considerably, there still isn't much of a need for Landry.
Bad Use of Cap Space
On top of not really needing another power forward, it's not like the Kings got Landry at a discount.
According to Sham Sports, Sacramento signed Landry to a four-year deal worth $26 million. With the money spread evenly throughout the life of the contract, that comes out to a $6.5 million cap hit every season. That's money the Kings really couldn't afford to shell out.
Sacramento has $62.3 million committed in salary for the 2013-14 season, which includes Landry's deal. With the salary cap slated at $58.6 million, the Kings are already over the cap.
It's also not like the team has a ton of money freeing up next season. With DeMarcus Cousins' max extension kicking in, plus the contracts previously on the books, the Kings already are committed for $68 million in 2014-15, assuming Rudy Gay picks up his $19.3 million option.
Compounding issues is that Thompson's deal is similar in length and salary to Landry's. Thompson still has two more guaranteed years after this one, totaling about $12.5 million. So not only did Sacramento bring in a similar player to JT, but it's also paying him a similar amount.
|Jason Thompson contract vs. Carl Landry contract|
|Jason Thompson||$5.6M||$6.0M||$6.4M||$6.8M (non-guaranteed)|
If it weren't for some bad deals previously on the books, like the ones for John Salmons, Marcus Thornton and Chuck Hayes (those deals were all traded, but the team took back comparable salary in return), the Landry deal might not look so bad.
However, the Kings were saddled with those deals. By adding Landry to the mix, it only amplifies the issue more. As a result, Sacramento is going to have a hard time keeping one of its better players, Isaiah Thomas, who's a restricted free agent after the season, without going over the luxury-tax threshold.
Landry Simply Hasn't Played Well
If Landry were playing better, some of the other issues surrounding the signing wouldn't look so bad. Sure, the Kings still would have too many power forwards, and they'd still be without much cap space, but at least they'd have something to show for it.
Unfortunately, Landry just hasn't done much since returning to the court.
The power forward is averaging 3.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in 12.5 minutes of action. Those numbers are considerably worse than anything he's posted during his career.
It is fair to point out Landry's playing time is down, because it is. Yet his per-36-minute averages of 11.4 points and 9.6 rebounds don't stack up to his career line—especially in the scoring category.
|Landry's career numbers compared to 2013-14|
|Points per Game||Rebounds per Game||Points per 36||Rebounds per 36|
It'd be one thing if he'd just returned from injury. It obviously takes a while to get back into a rhythm after missing so much time. However, since Landry's been back for a month and played in 15 games, the "he just needs more time" argument is starting to go out the window. Fast.
Not surprisingly, his lackluster play also has led to decreased playing time. With the exception of a recent game against Golden State, in which the Kings were undermanned due to an injury to Cousins and the trade of Thornton, Landry only has played more than 13 minutes in one game since Jan. 31.
The presence of so many power forwards obviously makes it more difficult to find playing time for Landry. But don't kid yourself, because if Landry were playing better, he'd be playing more.
Just 15 games into a contract that spans four years, it's hard to conclude outright that the Landry signing was a mistake. There's still a small sample size to consider, and he's been better at virtually every other point in his career. But it's not looking good.
Even if Landry does pick up his play, which is entirely plausible, there are still the other issues creating obstacles.
It's not like the Kings will have considerably more cap space next season, making the contract less of a burden. And with Thompson, Williams, Outlaw and Evans all guaranteed contracts next year—not to mention Acy, who's due a qualifying offer—Sacramento still will be facing the same logjam at power forward.
Yet, because of those factors, which are totally out of Landry's control, the signing does look like a mistake. He can play better and his playing time will increase, but it's hard to envision him playing much more than 20 minutes a night with so many power forwards.
Landry also could play better and it won't change the fact that Sacramento shouldn't have allocated the cap space to sign him in the first place.
The issue isn't so much that Landry isn't a good player—even though he's clearly not playing well now—or that the Kings considerably overpaid him, because some other team likely would have doled out a comparable contract.
The problem is he doesn't fit the Kings and their situation. That's what makes signing him a mistake.