SACRAMENTO - The NBA season didn’t end with the Cleveland Cavaliers hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy on Sunday evening. There are no more games, but that doesn’t mean that the league closes down operations. The NBA Draft is on Thursday night. Free agency begins in less than two weeks. Then Summer League and the Olympics. It’s a never ending cycle that a club like the Sacramento Kings know all too well.
Teams in the lottery have been working hard for months preparing for this portion of the season. It’s where franchises set lofty goals of turning things around. It’s where they build excitement for the coming season by tweaking their rosters in hopes of finding the chemistry to take a step forward.
While the Kings have two selections in the 2016 NBA Draft, it won’t stop there. After a 33-win campaign, they have had a mass exodus of sorts. Quincy Acy, Seth Curry and James Anderson have opted out of their one year deals and Caron Butler has until June 22 to decide on his player option for next season. Rajon Rondo is an unrestricted free agent and there are serious doubts as to whether he will return. Eric Moreland and Duje Dukan are non-guaranteed roster fillers.
If all seven of these players leave, the Kings roster would stand at eight. There is a ton of work ahead of Vlade Divac before this team moves into the Golden 1 Center in October.
With DeMarcus Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos all under contract for at least two more years, the Kings have a base to work with in the post. Divac will need to add depth along the frontline. He would love to re-sign Acy to a deal, but there are other targets as well, including Sacramento native Ryan Anderson.
A stretch four is almost a must in today’s NBA, so expect some movement at this position. Washington's Marquese Chriss, another Sacramento native, could fit this mold as well, but he’s skyrocketed up most draft boards and is likely a Top 5 pick.
The small forward spot is occupied by veterans Rudy Gay and Omri Casspi. Gay is coming off a sub-par season and is under contract for two more seasons (year two is a player option at $14.2 million). Casspi is entering the final year of his deal and is owed just $3 million. He’s one of the best deals in the league and he loves playing in Sacramento.
The Kings need depth at this position, but nothing major. Sacramento native Matt Barnes is interested in finishing his career with the Kings, but a long term solution at the position is needed as well. If Cal’s Jaylen Brown fell to this spot, the Kings would likely jump at the opportunity to land the athletic wing. That could set off a chain reaction with the roster that could lead to big changes.
At the shooting guard spot, the Kings have Ben McLemore locked up for one more season and are on the hook for another two years of veteran Marco Belinelli. But neither of these players stepped forward and wowed last year. In fact, McLemore regressed in year three and Belinelli had the worst season of his career.
The Kings would love to address this spot in either the draft or free agency. There is no way they walk into the season with these two as the only options at the off-guard spot.
Rumors of the Kings’ interest in Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield began while the senior guard was still burying 3-balls in the NCAA Tournament. Hield is mature enough to start on day one and he fits a position of need. But like Chriss and Brown, it’s not a sure bet that he will make it to Kings spot on draft night.
So far we have a need at the stretch four, a long term solution at the three and an immediate need at the shooting guard spot. And we haven’t even made it to the team’s biggest hole.
Divac still has an option to bring back Rondo to man the point. Darren Collison is under contract for next season, but his legal issues are bound to cost him at least some sort of suspension from the league. Curry proved that he can play in the league, but it’s unlikely the Kings are looking at him as a long term solution as a starting point. This is the single biggest position of need for the Kings not only immediately, but long term.
Sacramento would love to see Kris Dunn fall to them here on draft night, but there is no certainty that he will. Jamal Murray might fit as well, but he played predominantly at the two during his one season at Kentucky, and again, he might not make it to No. 8.
The free agent crop isn’t great at the position either. Mike Conley Jr. is the marquee name and the Kings just landed his former head coach, but landing a free agent of this ilk would take a tremendous sales job.
Outside of Rondo, the rest of the group reads as a who’s who of failed experiments. Jeremy Lin, Ty Lawson, Deron Williams and Brandon Jennings all have starting experience, but none of them are a long term solution. The list goes even further south after this foursome.
Sacramento has plenty of needs, but the primary focus has to be at the point guard position. There are rumors that the Bulls might shop Derrick Rose and Atlanta’s Jeff Teague might be available as well, but whether the Kings have the assets to land one of those two is unknown. In a weak draft, the No. 8 pick doesn’t have the draw that it has had in past.
Divac will likely cross his fingers and wait to see who falls to them in the draft, but if both Dunn and Murray are off the board, it’s time to get creative. There isn’t enough value in this particular draft to move up, regardless of need.
The Kings could also choose to move back a few spots and give Vanderbilt’s Wade Baldwin a look while picking up another asset or two. Baldwin was brought in for a “high priority” workout last week and is the only lottery projected player to make the trip to Sacramento.
Nothing is off the table, except maybe a trade involving Cousins or Cauley-Stein. Expect the Kings to be active over the next two weeks, both in the draft, via free agency and in the trade market.
Don’t be shocked if the Kings revamp nearly their entire roster for the second straight season. They have a pick. They have a new coach and a new arena. They have over $30 million in cap space to spend and they are extremely motivated to break their decade long playoff drought.