In the final NBA transaction before the owners locked out the players on July 1st, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded talented big man JJ Hickson to the Sacramento Kings for small forward Omri Casspi. The swap allowed Cleveland to clear some space from its crowded power forward position, while filling a glaring need at the small forward position once manned by LeBron James. It also allowed Sacramento to add a talented, yet flawed player with tremendous potential, all while clearing out its crowded small forward situation.
The trade also involved a draft pick, as the Kings sent a heavily protected first-round pick to Cleveland. However, the protections on the pick make it so that Cleveland will only acquire it this season if the Kings make the playoffs. For a Kings team that finished second to last in the Western Conference this season, that seems like an unlikely scenario. Despite the seemingly tall odds against it, there are several reasons to believe the Sacramento Kings will make the playoffs, thereby transferring their 2012 first-round draft pick to Cleveland and making this trade very successful for the Cavaliers. Here are five reasons for Cavaliers fans to be optimistic about this trade.
The Kings have the most salary cap space of any team in the NBA, and in this economy, that is a powerful asset. Although this particular free agent class is considered weak, there are a few potential impact players that could fit nicely in Sacramento—for the right price.
Sacramento could use a true center, and restricted free agent Marc Gasol could be perfect for them. Memphis has the right to match any offer the Kings make for him, but they have their own issues with re-signing players and would likely be unable to match a healthy offer from Sacramento. Acquiring a solid young center like Gasol would allow DeMarcus Cousins to start at PF, creating a potentially devastating frontcourt tandem.
Another potential center addition, Tyson Chandler, would immediately make the Kings a potent defensive squad, although it is unclear whether he would leave the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks for a rebuilding team in Sacramento. If the Kings can find a way to add one of these talented centers to replace incumbent starter Samuel Dalembert, they would be in great position for a playoff run.
On draft night, the Kings were involved in the 3-team trade that brought SG John Salmons to Sacramento. Salmons has acquired a deserved reputation as a guy that plays extremely well when dealt to a new team, before regressing back to his status as a versatile but selfish scorer and quality defender.
The numbers bear out this reputation. During the 2008-2009 season, Salmons was traded from Sacramento to Chicago. He maintained his 18.3 points per game scoring average, but did so on fewer shots. He also helped a 23-30 Bulls squad to finish the season 18-10, leading to an epic 7-game playoff series against eventual champion Boston Celtics, in which Salmons averaged 17 points. The following season his scoring average dipped sharply to 12.7 points, prompting a trade to Milwaukee. With the Bucks, Salmons raised his scoring average to a shade under 20 per game and again averaged 17 during their playoff series with the Atlanta Hawks. This past season, Salmons regressed again, scoring 14 per game.
If history tells us anything, Salmons will improve his game for a few months before dropping off again. In a potentially lockout-shortened season, a few months of great basketball from John Salmons will go a long way towards securing a playoff berth for the Kings.
It's impossible to project what kind of impact BYU rookie Jimmer Fredette will have in Sacramento during the coming season. A fan favorite, Jimmer is expected to contribute scoring and long-range shooting off the bench. Depending on the free agency situation of SG Marcus Thornton, the duo could provide instant offense and potent scoring ability with the second unit. There is no guarantee that the Legend of Jimmer will grow in the NBA, but if he can score efficiently in his rookie season, he'll be a valuable contributor. Considering that JJ Hickson and Marcus Thornton may be coming off of the same bench, the second unit in Sacramento has a chance to be very special.
Hickson is arguably a better player than Omri Casspi, whom the Cavaliers will receive in return. However, Hickson appears to overestimate his own value, and will certainly expect a big payday when his contract expires at the end of the coming season. Unless he truly begins to reach his potential, the Cavaliers would not be in a position to offer Hickson the contract he desires.
If he does begin to reach that potential in Sacramento, it will likely help the Kings win more games, which will only increase the likelihood that they make the playoffs and forfeit their first-round pick to Cleveland. It is a win-win situation for the Cavaliers. On the other side of the trade, Omri Casspi's development is largely irrelevant to Cleveland in the coming season. If he performs well, they may have found a valuable piece for the future. If not, the Cavs maintain the status quo and will likely receive a top-5 draft pick in a strong 2012 draft. In the event that the 2011-2012 season is lost to the lockout, the Cavaliers receive Casspi and a future draft pick for essentially nothing, as Hickson's contract will end without him playing a minute for the Kings.
It has been no secret that the Maloof brothers, who own the Kings, are interested in moving the team to Anaheim. The Maloofs are also rumored to be looking for a new GM to replace Geoff Petrie. For this reason, it behooves Sacramento's front office to put together a playoff contender and show that the organization is on track to playing competitive basketball for the first time since the 2000's.
DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans are young, talented players with almost limitless potential. Together with newcomers JJ Hickson, Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons, the Kings have a great blend of talent, athleticism and scoring ability. With the potential additions of a free agent center like Marc Gasol, and the possible re-signing of dynamic wing scorer Marcus Thornton, the Kings may find themselves in a good position to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. As playoff teams like New Orleans, Memphis and Denver are in line to lose quality free agents, the future looks even brighter for the young Sacramento Kings, and that is good news in Cleveland.