With all respect to all of our high hopes for the 2008/2009 season, I think some of us here in Sactown would feel a wee bit better if we could begin to envision a Kings team that, say within say three or four years, could compete for the Western Conference Championship and be on the path to an NBA Championship.
Ah, yes! As Deborah Harry once sang: dreaming is free.
Maybe it's not all necessarily dreaming though. In fact to some degree the franchise has already made a few steps in The Right Direction. Yes, Mike Bibby is gone, soon Brad Miller and all other vestiges of the Kings glory days early in the decade will be in the rear view mirror, but this means that the aging, top heavy pressure on the salary cap is being cleared. Meanwhile, Kevin Martin is a rising star and hopefully Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes will develop as hoped. Little rays of sun peek through the dark nimbus clouds.
Still, obviously we have a loooong road to hoe, and if indeed the Kings are to reach for the brass ring, some of that road along the way will probably resemble a Trail of Tears. At least one, maybe two pretty awful seasons are likely in store as part of any serious rebuilding process. But we all know that the Celtics had to endure that kind of indignity, as did the Lakers and pretty much every other team that's been to the Finals in recent NBA history.
In my picture of things the leaner, meaner "Sacramento Kings 2.0" is within reach, but it will probably will only include a handful of the players currently on the roster. The NBA Title contending version of our heroes will once again be dynamic on offense; featuring sharp ball movement, finding and hitting the open man, running snazzy pick and roll plays, etc. But along with that the Kings will have younger and more athletic players on the court who are committed to playing solid team defense and can really lock down in the crunch. It’ll be a team that fights hard for rebounds and unlike recent seasons, doesn’t give up easy buckets, especially in the paint.
Sound cool by you so far? Let me outline a modest four part plan to get us to the Top of the Mountain:
Phase 1 (2008 thru 2010): Continue to unload older players with oversized salaries; (preferably getting decent value in return).
Artest and Miller still have trade value, especially to contending teams, and should be moved before the March 2009 deadline for any reasonable offer. Petrie should take whatever he can get (if anything) for K-9, and hopefully the Kings can get a break on Shareef’s salary if he retires due to injury.
Ron-Ron will be likely be moved first, and I predict that he will fetch a better return than the bargain basement offer Petrie wisely turned down last trade deadline.
My favorite scenario is: Artest and Douby to the Mavericks for Josh Howard. Other scenarios are possible, and in fact are probably already being discussed; but the bottom line is Miller and Ron Artest will no longer be in purple and black unis by no later than March 2009.
Phase 2 (2008 or 2009): Acquire a younger big man (preferably a 5) who can play defense, rebound and run the court.
Example 1: Spencer Hawes to the Bulls for Joakim Noah.
Hawes is certainly a talented (albeit raw) young player, but his talents don’t fit the vision I have for the Kings frontline two years from now. For far too long we’ve needed an infusion of athleticism and hard nosed defense up front, and Joakim Noah would deliver that immediately. Sure, Spencer can shoot and Joakim can’t, but Noah is quicker and longer and he can score on put-backs and dunks. More importantly Noah's a much better defender, he can run like a deer, he’s a really good passer and ball handler, and he plays team basketball with fire. Total commitment at all times. Interestingly, I think Hawes would be a better fit with the Bulls, who could use someone who can shoot and score around the basket.
Example 2: Brad Miller (plus a throw-in) to Miami for Udonis Haslem and (the expiring contract of) Ricky Davis.
I'm no expert with the NBA Trade Machine, and I'd be happy to have some of you throw out some similar possible moves.
There are also some younger Bigs I’d be just as interested in seeing the Kings pursue: Chris Wilcox, Paul Millsap, LInas Klieza, Nene (assuming he’s healthy), Anderson Varajao, Andray Blatche.
If Miller and/or John Salmons can be a piece in the puzzle needed to acquire one of the above, so be it, as long as any other contract the Kings acquire in the deal is relatively short termed. Salmons doesn't seem all that happy about coming off the bench, which unfortunately is where I think his future lies with the Kings. He's a nice role player, but Salmons is expendable.
In fact, although I'm building this model of the Future Kings around Kevin Martin, no one should be considered untouchable on the current roster, IMO. I’d also prefer not trading Francisco Garcia because his aggressive style, gritty defense and committment to continualy improve his game exemplifies the kind of player the Kings will need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
Phase 3 (2009): Get those ping pong balls bouncing our way and draft a great young point guard.
This is the bitter pill I fear has to be swallowed at some point. The Kings will have to suffer through a nasty season or two in order to draft a future star who will help carry us to The Promised Land. Might as well be sooner rather than later as far as I'm concerned...
The Kings haven't had a draft pick higher than #7 overall since Geoff Petrie was hired as GM in 1995! Most of his picks have been much lower than that. and the fact that he’s been able to turn Jason Wiliams into Mike Bibby, or dig up gems like Peja, Gerald Wallace, Kevin Martin, and Francisco Garcia late in the draft is a testament to his savvy and keen eye for talent.
In any case, I’m afraid we’re about to get a shot at a Top 3 pick next year, and although on the surface the draft class of 2009 doesn’t appear to be quite as talented as 2008, it does look to have a strong crop of point guards. That’s a great opportunity for the Kings, and hopefully Brandon Jennings or Ricky Rubio should fit the bill. One of ‘em they will probably be there when we draft.
Phase 4: (2010/2011) Sign a Major Free Agent.
By no later than 2010 the salaries of Miller, Artest, Kenny Thomas, Shareef Abdur Rahim and Mikki Moore will all be off the books.
And by 2011 the only current Kings who will still be under contract are Martin, Hawes, Udrih, Garcia and Thompson (I’m excluding the two 2008 2nd Round draft picks. If they’re still with the team they’re contracts will be relatively small).
In other words the Kings should have plenty enough cap room to be high rollers in the looming 2010/2011 Free Agent sweepstakes. Clearly Petrie has this as a goal, and it’s very reach-able. Here we’re looking particlularly to sign somebody who can score, (hopefully in droves), create major match-up problems, and share the focus of the offense with Kevin Martin. I think we’re particularly looking for a dominant player at the 4 spot, but a terrific 3 or 5 would also be fine and dandy.
Some potential targets who could or should be offering their services in 2010 or 2011 include:
* Pau Gasol (due $17.8 million in 2010, FA in 2011). Age: 28
* Andrei Kirilenko (due 17.8 million in 2010; FA in 2011). Age 27
* Amare Stodemire (Player Option for $17.6 million in 2010; Free Agent in 2011). Current age: 25
* Chris Bosh ($17.1 million Player Option in 2010; FA in 2011). Age: 24
* Richard Jefferson (due $15 million in 2010; FA in 2011). Age: 28
* Carlos Boozer ($12.6 million Player Option in 2009; FA in 2010). Age: 26
* LaMarcus Aldridge ($7.6 million Qualifying Offer in 2010; FA in 2011). Age: 23
* David West ($7.5 million Player Option in 2011). Age: 28
I don't expect every one of these names to be available, since some will likely re-sign before they hit the market, but I haven't even mentioned the numerous smaller players who will be out there around the same time. Nor can we predict which players currently not on the radar will emerge as rising stars and also be available.
The point is that in a couple of years there will be a lot of big-time basketball talent vying to land hither and yon, and a young, improving, cap-friendly Sacramento Kings team should be in a position to reel some of it in.
Signing one of these (or similar) players should crown the rebuilding process, although obviously the degree to which the younger players already on the team continue to develop and team chemistry meshes will determine how fast and how far the Sacramento Kings 2.0 advance toward an NBA title.
OK, based on this little plan, here's one hypothetical but not too far-fetched example of...
Your Sacramento Kings Version 2.0
(starters in bold)
PF: Chris Bosh; Jason Thompson; Chris Wilcox,
SF: Josh Howard; Jason Thompson; Francisco Garcia
C: Joakim Noah; Chris Bosh; (2010 1st round pick)
SG: Kevin Martin; Francisco Garcia; Pat Ewing II (or 2011 1st Round pick);
PG: Ricky Rubio; Beno Udrih; Sean Singeltary (we'll give him the benefit of the doubt);
I'm sure other folks here could with a similar plan arrive at a somewhat different roster with equally eyebrow-raising potential. I'm also sure holes can be shot in parts of my argument. Playing NBA GM even for a week is incredibly complex!
In any case, IMHO a healthy, two-years-more-mature version of the above roster would not only create a bunch of match-up nightmares for any opponent, but, if playing up to their abilities and within the confines of an intelligent offense and a tough-minded defensive philosophy, would absolutely challenge any team currently in the West, including the Lakers.
I'd certainly pay good money to see these guys push the tempo, pass, hustle, crash the boards, defend and score their way into the Western Conference Finals.
And hey, maybe, (just maybe) the King's championship banner will finally be raised at a brand new, sold-out, extremely LOUD arena!