SACRAMENTO - The modus operandi has changed. The Sacramento Kings are no longer that team looking to add just one more piece to get them to the promise land, which in Kings terms likely means the 8th seed in the Western Conference and a first round drubbing in the playoffs.
Band-aid fixes haven’t worked. They didn’t work when the Kings signed Shareef Abdur-Rahim, John Salmons or Mikki Moore, and they certainly didn’t work when Sacramento inked Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Kosta Koufos last summer.
Starting over is a battle that every team faces. For Sacramento, the fact that DeMarcus Cousins is entering his prime makes the decision that much more difficult. And the new NBA salary landscape has only intensified the issue.
They have added Arron Afflalo and Anthony Tolliver on two-year deals. Each of those contracts have buyouts next season, Afflalo at $1.5 million and Tolliver at $2 million.
This is where the Kings are. They are a team that will build with youth and supplement with solid, high-character locker room guys this season. It’s not a rebuild, it’s a build, which has been needed for a decade.
Rondo will not be back. We told you more than a month ago that the team was cooling on the idea of a return and now we have confirmation that they will not re-sign the talented, but all consuming point guard. Despite the market drying up, the Kings will go in a different direction at the lead guard position.
The Kings have sent Belinelli packing as well, dealing him for the No. 22 selection in the draft where they landed Syracuse’s shooting guard Malachi Richardson.
After drafting big men Georgios Papagiannis and Skal Labissiere, Koufos has not only become a luxury, but a major trade chip in a market that makes no sense. He will be shopped once the noise dies down and players like Timofey Mozgov stop landing $64 million deals.
Rudy Gay is also on the block. The veteran forward made it clear that he wouldn’t mind finding a new home following the season and Sacramento will work to oblige. In the new world of the NBA, Gay and his $13.3 million deal is a budget buy for a team looking for a high-end scoring option at a reasonable price.
The hope is that a year of building will progress the team towards a new beginning. Not a rebuild or a reload, but laying the foundation for next summer when the salary cap will take another substantial jump and the Kings will have more money to spend than almost anyone.
In the meantime, Darren Collison will get the opportunity to start, which is probably what should have happened last summer. The Kings will look for a reasonably priced backup point on a short-term deal like what we have seen from Afflalo and Tolliver. Seth Curry is still an option, but the team will likely wait to see what kind of market there is for the 26-year-old before jumping in with a major deal.
Arron Afflalo will hold down the two while Richardson gets some much needed seasoning and European sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic finishes the final year of his contract overseas. The Kings will have the option to either keep Afflalo next season at another $12.5 million or go in a different direction with a small buyout.
If Gay is sent packing, he will yield something in return. Preferably a young player with major upside. With Gay out of the picture, the Kings will turn to veteran Omri Casspi or perhaps a newly acquired player to man the three.
The youth movement is already in place at the power forward spot, where Willie Cauley-Stein will play the bulk of the minutes. Tolliver will come off the bench in a stretch-four role and Labissiere will learn behind both of them in his first year in the league.
Cousins will own his center position for 35-plus minutes a night. Cauley-Stein will play plenty of minutes here as well while Papagiannis learns the NBA game. Expect the rookie big to play 12-18 minutes a night, depending on matchups and how well he adapts.
It’s not sexy, but this is a much better idea than throwing major money at mediocre players in a completely unsustainable NBA free agent market.
The Kings must build on the fly and at the same time keep Cousins happy. They must also build a culture that is sustainable by bringing in high-character veterans to support younger players.
Expect more changes in the coming days, but keep in mind that any signing is likely a short-term deal that gives the franchise flexibility moving forward. If Gay and Koufos are dealt, the Kings will have less than $30 million in guaranteed salary commitments going into next summer when the cap rises to an estimated $107 million.
We will see another wild free agency period next summer, but with many teams already going for broke in this free agency period, there will be less competition and the salaries might come in slightly lower.
It’s the smart play for the Kings. Ryan Anderson at $20 million per season wasn’t going to make this team a contender. Neither was Dion Waiters at $15-18 million per year. For once, the Kings chose prudence.
The argument could easily be made that at this point in his career, Collison is a better option than Rondo at the point. And Afflalo is a much better all-around player than Belinelli or Ben McLemore. Tolliver will replace Quincy Acy’s minutes, giving the team a consistent 3-point threat at the four. And the giant rookie class gives the team an infusion of talent and youth at severely discounted rate.
Nothing is guaranteed, but the Kings might already have a better roster than last season’s 33-win campaign. With more tweaks expected, you never know what this team might look like.
What we do know is that the Kings avoided grossly overpaying in the craziest free agent market in the history of professional sports. They erred on the side of caution and set themselves up to be major players next summer.