Trapped in an eight-year playoff drought, the Sacramento Kings have a reason to feel restless.
However, sleepless nights should not be driving front-office decisions. Not when they lead a clearly rebuilding club to chase "win-now" assistance in the form of Josh Smith, his unsavory shot selection and the three years and $40.5 million remaining on his deal, at least.
Fresh off a disastrous debut season with the Detroit Pistons during which he set career lows in both player efficiency rating (14.1) and true shooting percentage (46.3), via Basketball-Reference.com, Smith has somehow landed on Sacramento's radar. Again.
As sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the Kings have reopened trade talks with the Pistons regarding the enigmatic forward:
The Detroit Pistons and the Sacramento Kings have resumed trade discussions on a deal that could send Josh Smith to Sacramento, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.
Sources told ESPN.com the Kings have continued to express interest in Smith and the parties are on the hunt for a third team that could help facilitate the deal.
As ESPN.com reported last month, Detroit and Sacramento have engaged in trade discussions that would potentially land Smith in the same frontcourt with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. Initial talks called for Sacramento to send Jason Thompson and either Derrick Williams or Jason Terry to the Pistons for Smith, but those discussions reached an impasse and were pushed into July along with the rest of both teams' free-agent business, sources said.
Upon first glance, the price—in terms of the trade, not Smith's contract—actually sounds decent. Jason Thompson is mediocre at best, Derrick Williams still looks like a better athlete than a basketball player and Jason Terry sounds desperate to find a new home.
That's a pennies-on-the-dollar return for the do-it-all forward, right? Not exactly.
Smith's contract cannot be removed from this discussion. Neither can his declining stat sheet. The Kings might not have to give up much to get him, but that's an indication of his value, not a sign that Sacramento is closing in on a larcenous exchange.
"At this point, just breaking Smith up into lesser pieces could be helpful," wrote Dan Feldman of PistonPowered.com.
The Pistons putting Smith on the trade block isn't news. ESPN Insider Chris Broussard (subscription required) reported back in January that "there's strong opinion around the league that the Pistons would trade him if they could." Citing Smith's contract, the ESPN analyst called him "one of the most untradable players in the league."
It speaks volumes that the Pistons are entertaining Smith trade talks just one year after committing major free-agent funds to bring him aboard. The fact that this might be the best Detroit can get? Well, that only raises the decibel levels.
He needs a ticket out of Motown and relocating to NoCal would at least move him back to the 4 spot where he belongs. There is motivation on Smith's side for this deal to go down, but where is the incentive for Sacramento to pull this off?
League sources told CBS Sports' Ken Berger that the Kings would like to pair blossoming big man DeMarcus Cousins with either a rim protector or a floor spacer:
Kings scouring the market for a shot-blocker or stretch-four to play alongside DeMarcus Cousins, league source says.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) July 11, 2014
Let's start by looking at the rim-protection aspect, since Smith has a stronger argument to make there.
Thanks to a potent blend of quickness and hops, he's been known to leave more than a few opposing drivers feel rejected.
However, he's more of a shot-blocking help defender than a true rim protector.
Sacramento allowed its opponents to shoot 62.6 percent within five feet of the basket, via NBA.com, the second-worst rate in the league. If Smith helps improve that number, the advancement could be marginal.
Supporters of dealing for him might point to his career 2.1 blocks-per-game average. That number looks enticing considering Cousins' 1.3 rejections-per-game average led the Kings last season.
But Smith himself hasn't swatted that many shots since the 2009-10 campaign. And that category on his stat sheet was falling long before the Pistons inexplicably envisioned him as a perimeter player.
As for his ability to stretch the floor, well, that's almost laughable. His shot chart from last season looked like the crowd at a Nebraska Cornhuskers football game—nothing but a sea of red.
Yet his 26.4 three-point percentage didn't stop him from firing off a career-high 265 triples. It was the fourth straight season in which he's launched at least 109 threes, a stretch that has seen him convert just 28.8 percent of his long-range looks.
The idea of Smith as an athletic, disruptive defensive presence and jack-of-all-trades offensive contributor sounds like something the Kings could use. Snap back to reality, though, and it's hard to imagine what Sacramento sees in him, as CBS Sports' Zach Harper noted:
If you're getting a good offensive version of Smith, it's a good move for the Kings. Unfortunately, we haven't seen that version of Smith in a few seasons. He's one of the worst 3-point shooters in NBA history, and he's fallen in love with a jumper he can't consistently hit over being an great all-around player like we used to watch.
The Kings need to add fluidity to their offense. Their 51.5 assist percentage ranked 29th last season, via NBA.com.
Between the quick triggers of Smith and Rudy Gay, plus the post-up touches Cousins commands, where are the Kings going to get any ball movement? Is Darren Collison and his career 4.9 assists-per-game average really the solution?
Maybe the franchise has something bigger in mind. As Stein noted, team owner Vivek Ranadive "is known to be fond of splashy moves."
Could Smith's addition be the precursor to a trade for his Oak Hill Academy teammate Rajon Rondo? After all, sources told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears that Sacramento discussed a deal with the Boston Celtics for the prolific playmaker at the trade deadline.
However, outside of Rondo's friendship with Smith, the Kings wouldn't have a lot to sell to what could be one of the leading members of the 2015 free-agent class.
"That’s some odd thinking out of Sacramento: 'I want to recruit Rajon Rondo so let’s get a guy who will take touches away from DeMarcus Cousins and take more awkward threes than Rudy Gay. And he costs a lot over the long term, all the better!'" wrote NBC Sports' Kurt Helin.
Clearly, the Kings are trying to build something of substance.
But would a Rondo-Gay-Smith-Cousins core really lift this franchise into the crowded Western Conference playoff race? Would head coach Michael Malone be able to control that locker room? How would that group even keep defenses from overloading the paint and plaguing Cousins' production?
It feels like the Kings are trying to rush their rebuilding process, but why?
I'm not sure what the Sacramento Kings are doing, quite honestly.— Eric Koreen (@ekoreen) July 11, 2014
Is this because Gay—who's slated to hit free agency next summer—said he needs to see "where the organization is going," via Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee, before committing to a long-term future with the franchise? He's a nice player, but he should not dictate the direction of an organization.
Do the Kings feel compelled to strike now with Cousins entering his prime? They shouldn't. The big man is on the books through the 2017-18 season.
None of this makes sense.
It takes time to build a winner, but the potential reward makes it worth the wait.
If rookie Nik Stauskas hits the ground running and sophomore Ben McLemore recovers from a rough debut season, the Kings could have an intriguing collection of young talent. They have to keep adding to that mix, even if it means that postseason drought lingers for a few more years.
Patience is more than a virtue for the Kings right now, it's a necessity.