Why Isaiah Thomas Is a Real Threat to Bolt Sacramento Kings in Free Agency

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Why Isaiah Thomas Is a Real Threat to Bolt Sacramento Kings in Free Agency
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

As Darren Collison's time with the Sacramento Kings begins, Isaiah Thomas' Sactown reign may be drawing to a close.

According to the Los Angeles Times' Brad Turner, the Kings have poached Collison from the Los Angeles Clippers:

Per CBS Sports' Ken Berger, there are no strings attached to Collison's deal:

Well, there is at least one string attached: Signing Collison makes it difficult for the Kings to re-sign Thomas, perhaps impossible.

Thomas' future with the Kings has been in limbo since the beginning of last year. He headlined a trade proposal for the Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo during the regular season, per Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears, a surefire sign Sacramento was prepared to move forward without him.

Not much else has become clear during the start of free agency. 

Although he was one of only four NBA players—LeBron James, Stephen Curry and James Harden—to average at least 20 points and six assists per game while shooting 45 percent or better in 2013-14, interest hasn't been radiating out of Sacramento. Extending him a qualifying offer suggested he was not unwanted, but everything since has pointed to the Kings moving in a different direction. 

If there was any serious interest to begin with, the Detroit Pistons, among other suitors, may have squashed it.

From NBC Sports' Aaron Bruski

The Pistons, Heat, Lakers, Mavs and Suns have all expressed interest, with the Pistons showing the most interest to date and numbers starting in the three-year, $24 million range. Talks with teams in playoff contention have started in the $6-7 million per-year range.

Are the Kings prepared to invest $6-7 million annually, or more, in the 5'9" Thomas? It sure doesn't seem like it. 

More importantly, after signing Collison, it doesn't appear they can even if they wanted to.

The Kings' salary situation could have been filed under "iffy and confusing" before signing Collison. They have roughly $44 million committed to Rudy Gay, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams and Jason Terry next season. DeMarcus Cousins' extension will also kick in. Toss his salary into this cap-clogging fray and the Kings have $57.7 million devoted to six players, only one of which can be considered a star (Boogie).

Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Hello, Darren. Goodbye, Isaiah?

Next season's salary cap is projected to stand at $63.2 million. Upon accounting for the rest of their salary obligations, Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com says the Kings are entering dangerously expensive territory:

To match any offer sheet Thomas signs, Deeks points out the Kings will have to get super creative:

Dan Feldman of NBC Sports breaks this angle down even further:

Forget the Kings re-signing Isaiah Thomas and remaining under the luxury tax. They’re now hard-capped, and even if they waive Quincy Acy and Willie Reed, I project they could offer Thomas a stating salary of less than $5,745,652 – which could max out at $33,037,499 over a five-year contract. However, that starting salary must be lowered by the amount of Carl Landry’s potential incentives, an amount I do not know.

Dangling under $5.7 million to start won't cut it. Not for Thomas. The market has dictated his value, and it's higher than that. There's a chance his next contract is worth even more than most reports calculate now that rival teams know the slightest uptick in salary significantly complicates Sacramento's plans.

Unloading Terry won't be enough of a security blanket. Major moves would have to be made and substantial salary dumps would need to be staged for the Kings to get serious about keeping Thomas.

This is, of course, assuming the Kings even want to pay him at all.

Which they apparently don't. Not when they went after Collison with such fervor.

"The Kings were the most aggressive team by far in the free agency," he said, via Turner, "and I respected that on all levels." 

Sacramento may be completely comfortable moving forward with Collison—who was productive in limited playing time with the Clippers—as its starter and Ray McCallum as his backup. That appears to be the plan at this point. The alternative is simply too mind-bending to comprehend.

Managing to pay Thomas means the Kings will have at least $43 million invested in two point guards over the next three years. It ensures they're paying out the wazoo for a rotation that is nearly identical to the one that finished with the league's seventh-worst record.

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Egos may invariably come into play here as well. Signing another point guard who plans on competing for a starting job doesn't scream, "Isaiah, we believe in you!"

And to this end, you can understand the Kings' trepidation. Thomas piloted a 20th-ranked offense last season, which hardly implies he's worth a big-money contract.

Collison isn't a major upgrade in that sense, but he is cheaper. 

Then again, nothing about the Kings' roster is especially affordable. It's just confusing. 

Only one thing is truly for certain: Collison's arrival paves the way for Thomas' departure.

 

Salary information via ShamSports.com.

 

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