Out of the frying pan and into the fire. That is the life of Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac. He has survived round two of George Karl watch, choosing patience over impulse. The book isn’t closed on Karl’s future with the club, but Divac has much bigger issues on his plate.
The NBA trade deadline is February 18 and teams are calling. Are the Kings buyers or sellers?
This is the first midseason deadline for Divac. Two weeks ago he was likely looking to bolster a club that had just climbed into the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. Now his club is four and a half games out of the race and their schedule gets decidedly more difficult.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Kings walk into a new building later this October and they would love to do so with a winner. Any deal must help the team now and down the road.
Do the Kings make a major move to try and jump back in the race? Do they stand pat and hope to improve in the offseason when the salary goes bananas? Or do they blow it up completely and start from scratch with draft picks and young players?
It’s a lot to put on a first year executive, but Divac seems happy to take on the challenge. Here is a look at the Kings most attractive assets and a few predictions on what might happen.
DEMARCUS COUSINS . . .
This is the Kings number one asset and franchise cornerstone, but it’s highly unlikely he is available. Divac would have to make a complete change in organizational direction to move Cousins and risk blowing up his fan base eight months before moving into a new building. He is bold, but that is a dangerous proposal. Teams are calling. They always call. But this is a doomsday scenario for Sacramento.
It’s complicated, but the short answer is Cousins is more valuable to the Sacramento Kings than he is to anyone else. A star isn’t signing in Sacramento anytime soon and we have seen how the draft has worked out. If the Kings decided to move him, it will take more than two or three first round picks and a good player or two. Cousins is the best big man in the game and he’s under contract for two more years after this season at a bargain price.
90-10 he stays. Does keeping Karl mean dealing Cousins? Of course not. You don’t deal a 25-year-old star unless A) you have to, or B) someone backs up a truck load of assets so big you can’t say no. The Kings need a star level player under contract long term in exchange and I’m not sure that deal is out there.
RUDY GAY . . .
At 29-years-old, the veteran wing has plenty left in the tank. He’s under contract for next season at $13.3 million and he has a player option for $14.2 million. Adding to the confusion is his relationship with both Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins. Gay has been in this situation before, but he seems settled in Sacramento.
“It’s part of the game, for the most part, 98 percent of the league has been in a trade rumor,” Gay told CSN California last week. “It doesn’t both me.”
According to Gay, Divac communicates with him regularly. If he is dealt, he will know about it long before it happens.
Gay is having a very solid year, despite the slight dip in scoring. Plenty of teams would love to have a no. 2 scoring option that averages 17.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per night while shooting 47.3 percent from long range. Still a top 10 small forward in the league and under team control at a reasonable rate for at least one more season, Gay has plenty of value in trade. The Kings would want a young shooting guard with major upside if they are going to move on from one of the best players.
60-40 he stays. Unless a team like Orlando is willing to dangle Victor Oladipo in a multiplayer swap, it’s hard to see the Kings handing over an asset that is still has plenty of game left in the tank.
BEN MCLEMORE . . .
The Kings have waited patiently for McLemore’s enormous athleticism and skill set to translate on the court. Taken with the 7th overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft, McLemore is one of the few pieces the Kings have to show for 10-years of draft lotteries. But his production in year three has been disappointing and his starting job now sits in the hands of Marco Belinelli.
The Kings picked up his fourth year option in October, making him an affordable $4 million option next season. Unfortunately, McLemore has not found a niche in Karl’s system. His shooting numbers are up, but his he still has plenty of holes in his game. He no longer has the value of a top ten pick, but there might be a team willing to cash in an aging wing for one with potential.
70-30 he goes. At age 23, McLemore has the look of a player that will blossom late. But the Kings are impatient and want to win now. Rumors of Cleveland and other Eastern Conference teams being interested have surfaced. If the Kings can improve the position today at the expense of tomorrow, McLemore is the most likely King to go.
OMRI CASSPI . . .
This is a name that is likely to draw a ton of buzz. Since rejoining the Kings for a second go-around, Casspi has been so much more than anyone expected. If Gay is dealt, it’s because the Kings feel secure that handing the starting job to Casspi won’t be a huge drop off. Not only a fan favorite, Casspi is the team’s best perimeter shooter. On the season he is averaging 12.1 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from downtown. In addition to his play on the court, Casspi loves Sacramento. He signed a sweetheart deal to remain a King and the team is reaping the benefits.
Casspi is so much more than a shooter. He can start or play off the bench and when motivated properly, he has proven to be a more than adequate defender. He has one of the best value contracts in the league, signing a two-year, $6 million deal in the summer. He would make double or triple that this summer if he was a free agent. Again, the Kings would have to have a no-brainer deal that brought a young, can’t miss player at a position of need.
80-20 he stays. Divac would have to be crazy to give away a 27-year-old combo-forward that can shoot and run the floor like Casspi. Rumors of conversations between the Kings and the Miami Heat almost seem comical, but you never know.
MARCO BELINELLI . . .
Miscast for much of the season as a primary scoring option, Belinelli is still a nice fit in Sacramento if used correctly. Divac chased the 29-year-old in free agency for his shooting ability. With Cousins anchoring the post, the team needs shooters to stretch the floor. His three-year, $19 million contract inked in the summer will look extremely attractive next season when the salary cap explodes.
Everyone wants a shooter, but teams have come at the Kings trying to buy low on Belinelli. Divac is willing to listen to offers, but he wants value in line with what Belinelli has accomplished in his eight previous seasons in the league. He may not find a team willing to pay that.
50-50. Divac openly admitted that he would like to add a few defensive-minded players and that will likely come at the expense of either McLemore or Belinelli. He’s much better than his 38.6 percent shooting from the field and 29.9 percent from 3-point range and teams around the league know that.
The Kings have plenty of other moveable pieces. Teams will likely shy away from calling on Rajon Rondo, who is a free agent this summer. His short stint in Dallas last year after coming over in a midseason trade didn’t work and there are very few playoff caliber teams willing to hand over their club to a player midseason.
With the uncertainty surrounding Rondo’s future with the Kings, Divac would be crazy to give away Darren Collison who has proven very capable of running the show in the past and a very reasonable salary next season.
Kosta Koufos might draw interest on the open market, but his four-year, $32 million deal signed in the offseason is a gamble. He’s a quality big man, but he needs the right fit. With the development of rookie Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento would likely listen to offers for Koufos.
The Kings will not even entertain inquiries on Cauley-Stein, but the rest of the roster could be moved as filler in a larger deal.