The Kings need leadership and this years' FA crop has some excellent veterans.
The numbers, of course, might fluctuate a little, considering the labor dispute may end with the lowering of the cap from its current $58-million position, but Sacramento will remain with some of the most space, no matter the changes.
While this free agency lacks in true stars, it does have something the Kings have a desperate need for: leadership.
The Kings' lack of leadership remains the team’s biggest weakness.
Back in the Golden Days when the team actually played past mid-April, the Kings had an abundance of leadership.
Guys like Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, and Bobby Jackson were all excellent players but never the team’s best, yet fans will always remember them as we do Chris Webber because they brought more than stats.
They brought leadership, they brought energy, and they brought tenacity.
Even though it failed to net a championship, that leadership can never be valued enough.
That is what this Kings team lacks now: a strong locker-room presence who can be that respected voice of reason; someone who can pull Tyreke Evans aside when he drives to the basket and forces up a layup instead of passing it out; someone who can tell DeMarcus Cousins to stop relying on jumpshots and to get inside the paint; someone who can remind JJ Hickson why defense is important.
Hopefully that leadership can come from head coach Paul Westphal, but it also needs to come from someone who actually plays on the court.
And while this free agency lacks in star power, it has some talented veterans who could be exactly what the Kings need to get over the hump and back into respectability.
The Kings currently have $29.9 million of committed salary going into the 2011-12 season.
This also will change, considering that it takes into account “qualifying offers” that the teams can make to forward Darnell Jackson and guard Marcus Thornton.
It also doesn’t have the contract of rookie guard Jimmer Fredette, whom the Kings took at No. 7 in the draft and who would be set to make $2.3 million this year, according to the 2010-11 rookie scale.
Fellow rookies Tyler Honeycutt and Isaiah Thomas Jr.—both second-round picks—do not have guaranteed contracts, and if the team signs either, it would change the figure.
At the current NBA salary cap and taking Jimmer into account, the Kings would have about $26 million or so in cap space.
This will likely fall, of course, when labor negotiations are all complete, but the Kings will have one of the biggest cap spaces to play with. And, despite the team's almost fleeing to Anaheim last year and multiple reports indicating that the Kings owners, the Maloof family, are in dire financial straits, Joe and Gavin Maloof claim they’re ready to spend money to improve the team next year.
The biggest free-agency priority for the Kings must be the re-signing of Thornton, who played fantastic for the team last year after coming over at the trade deadline from New Orleans. Thorton is a restricted free agent and the team can match any offer, so all signs point to his returning.
Darnell Jackson is another FA, but he isn’t important enough to the team’s future that the Kings need to seriously worry about re-signing him.
And while Center Samuel Dalembert was a strong defensive force last season, if he asks for too much money or takes his talents to a contender, it wouldn’t be a huge loss for Sacramento.
The problem in free agency for the Kings remains same that it’s always been: Players don’t want to come to Sacramento.
The Kings are not a large-market team, and the city isn’t as attractive as most of the others in the league. Big names are unlikely to come to Sacramento unless the Kings overpay them.
But if the team is really committed to spending their money—wisely, of course, since signing carelessly is far worse than not spending at all—there are some players who could really help this team.
The biggest prize in free agency would arguably be Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, a strong defender/rebounder who would be an excellent addition to any team.
While his price tag will be high and the Kings already have bigs in center DeMarcus Cousins and forwards Jason Thompson and JJ Hickson, Gasol would instantly come in as the best banger/defender of the bunch.
His tenacity on the boards and at the defensive end would hopefully be contagious amongst the other bigs, and adding him to the team, even if the Kings have to pay a little more than other teams, would be a fantastic move.
Considering that the Grizzlies can and probably will match any offer thrown at Gasol, the Kings should also seriously consider Nuggets big Nene Hilario.
Nene has consistently been one of the more underappreciated bigs in the league and a tough rebounder/defender, even if he isn’t a strong shot-blocker.
If he can be enticed away from Denver, he could be a great teacher for Cousins, Thompson, and Hickson, showing all three how to be tough around the basket.
While the Kings wing positions are the most crowded on the team—newly acquired John Salmons, longtime guard Francisco Garcia, fourth-year pro Donte Greene, and the rookie Honeycutt—the Kings could stand to add another wing or two, and this free-agent crop has some strong veterans.
The top wing the Kings should try to get is Grizzlies unrestricted FA Shane Battier. While the 32-year-old veteran would probably look for a winning squad, he is a perpetual leader, a tough defender, and a real solid shooter who could help round out the Kings locker room on and off the court.
There isn’t a wing in the league (that the Kings could realistically obtain) that would be a better fit than Battier.
Grant Hill, should he leave Phoenix, would also be an excellent addition. He doesn’t have many miles left on his legs, but in his old age, he is incredibly smart and has that veteran leadership Sacramento so direly needs.
With playing time to be likely split at guard between Tyreke Evans, Thornton, Thomas, and Jimmer, the Kings do need another point guard.
While Jose Juan Barea is an obvious choice here and could fit in well, he wouldn’t likely get the playing time he needs/deserves, and his price tag makes him an unrealistic candidate.
Another PG who played in the finals, though—Mike Bibby—could be an excellent fit. He’d get the attention here as a fan favorite returning home, and considering many think Bibby is a realistic comparison for Fredette, he could definitely teach Jimmer some things about balancing as a shooter/passer.
While his play has deteriorated immensely, he’d fit well as a veteran who could spell the youngsters at times and would hopefully rub off on them a little.
Whenever the NBA finally gets the labor dispute settled, it’ll be time for the Kings owners to put their money where their mouths are.
They have been increasingly unwilling to spend dough in the past few years, but if they want their team to starting winning consistently again, this free agent class may have exactly what they need.
Veteran talents like Nene, Battier, Hill, and Bibby wouldn’t come in as the best players on the team, of course.
But you can never value veteran leadership enough.