Tom linked to it earlier today, but Kevin Pelton over at Basketball Prostpectus had a great article on the options for a team that wasn't able to land one of LeBron, Wade or Bosh this season. I know that as much as we as fans love to think about the possibility of one of those three possibly wearing a Sacramento Kings uniform next season, the rational part of us tells us that its very, very unlikely that we manage to sign one of them. So then, what are our other options?
According to Pelton:
Option 1: Signing Cheaper Free Agents
Option 2: Trade Using Cap Space
Option 3: Patience
Option 1: Signing Cheaper Free-Agents
Now there are a few tiers of free agents that could be available this summer. The first tier is obviously LeBron/Wade/Bosh. Now this is a little subjective, but here are my next 3 tiers:
Tier 2: Joe Johnson (UFA), Amar'e Stoudemire (UFA), Manu Ginobili (UFA), David Lee (UFA), Rudy Gay (RFA), Carlos Boozer (UFA). Additionally, Nowitzki and Paul Pierce can become UFA if they exercise their Early Termination Clauses, but we will ignore them for now, because they likely won't.
Tier 3: Tyrus Thomas (RFA), Nate Robinson (UFA), Raymond Felton (UFA), Ronnie Brewer (RFA), Ray Allen (UFA), Brendan Haywood (UFA), Will Bynum (RFA), Anthony Morrow (RFA), Kyle Lowry (RFA), Luis Scola (RFA), Drew Gooden (UFA), Jermaine O'Neal (UFA), Luke Ridnour (UFA), Al Harrington (UFA), J.J. Reddick (RFA), Marcus Camby (UFA), Roger Mason (UFA), Randy Foye (RFA), Josh Howard (UFA), Mike Miller (UFA)
Tier 4: Everyone else
Now if you look at Tier 2 (the best players available) a young team like the Kings probably doesn't want to sign Manu, who will be 33 next season. Joe Johnson could fulfill the extra scorer the Kings need, but he seems to be on the downside of his career. David Lee is intriguing because of his ability to score, pass and rebound, although his defense isn't anything special. Amar'e can score with the best, isn't the greatest rebounder, and rarely plays defense. He also has a bad injury history. Boozer has been playing phenomenal as of late, is an excellent rebounder and scorer, as well as a better defender than Amar'e or Lee, but he likely doesn't want to join a young team like the Kings. Rudy Gay is intriguing because of his athleticism and potential, and because he's still young (24 next year), but a team would likely have to overpay to get him, as he's a RFA.
Tier 3 is where it gets a bit more interesting. This tier has some young players with potential (Tyrus Thomas, Ronnie Brewer, Anthony Morrow), as well as veterans who have done well in this league (Luis Scola, Brendan Haywood, Josh Howard). The Kings biggest needs at the moment are defense, rebounding, and another guard that can handle the ball. The draft could solve one or two of these problems, but it can't solve all. Luke Ridnour is an intriguing option to me as a 3rd guard, as he can shoot the ball very well and get his teammates involved while taking care of the ball. I've explained what I like about Tyrus Thomas before so I won't repeat myself on that front. Morrow is probably the best shooter in the league, although he needs to work on creating his own shot and playing defense. As for the veterans, most would likely want to sign with better teams, closer to or already contending, but if any were able to be swayed to join the Kings, I would go after Brendan Haywood, who would provide a presence in the middle and give us consistency where we need it most. Other options like Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola could be good fits for Sacramento, but their restricted status complicates things.
Option 2: Trade using Cap Space
Memphis was a prime example of this strategy last year, grabbing Zach Randolph and his huge contract, and it has worked out very well for them. Okhlahoma City uses this strategy to a smaller extent, preferring to stay away from big contracts like Randolph unless they're expiring, and nabbing young players as a reward for helping other teams avoid the luxury tax (Eric Maynor).
The Kings have plenty of space to do both, so let's take a look at teams with big contracts that might want to shed them for relief:
Charlotte Bobcats: Tyson Chandler ($12.6 million left, expires next year)
Chicago Bulls: Luol Deng ($51.4 million left, expires after 2013/14)
Detroit Pistons: Rip Hamilton ($37.5 million left, but last year of 2012/13 unguaranteed), Tayshaun Prince ($11.2 million left, expires next year)
Golden State Warriors: Monta Ellis ($44 million left, expires after 2013/14), Andris Biedrins ($36 million left, expires after 2013/14), Corey Maggete ($21.8 million left, expires after 2012/13)
Indiana Pacers: Troy Murphy ($12 million left, expires next year), Mike Dunleavy ($10.6 million left, expires next year)
Los Angeles Clippers: Donald Sterling would trade anyone for anyone for less money. Sort of joking, but not really.
Milwaukee Bucks: Michael Redd ($18.3 million left, expires next year)
New Orleans Hornets: Peja Stojakovic ($14.3 million left, expires next year), James Posey ($13.5 million left, expires 2011/12), Emeka Okafor ($53.1 million left, expires after 2013/14)
New York Knicks: Eddy Curry ($11.3 million left, expires next year),
Orlando Magic: Rashard Lewis ($63.4 million left, but last year of 2012/13 unguaranteed), Vince Carter ($36.4 million left, but last year of 2011/12 unguaranteed), Marcin Gortat ($28.1 million left, expires after 2013/14)
Philadelphia 76ers: Elton Brand ($51.2 million left, expires after 2012/13), Andre Iguodala ($56.4 million left, expires after 2013/14), Samuel Dalembert ($12.9 million left, expires next year)
Phoenix Suns: Jason Richardson ($14.4 million left, expires next year), Leandro Barbosa ($14.7million left, expires after 2011/12)
San Antonio Spurs: Richard Jefferson ($15.2 million left, expires next year)
Toronto Raptors: Hedo Turkoglu ($43.8 million left, expires after 2013/14), Jose Calderon ($29.4 million, expires after 2012/13)
Utah Jazz: Andrei Kirilenko ($17.8 million left, expires after next year)
Washington Wizards: Gilbert Arenas ($80.1 million left, expires after 2013/14)
Now the one thing to remember when you want to focus on taking back big contracts is the new CBA that will likely come into effect after next year. So big contracts that last a bit longer than that, you should probably stay away from. The biggest stay-the-hell-away-from contracts are Gilbert Arenas, Elton Brand, and Hedo Turkoglu. My personal opinion as to which players the Kings might trade for are Andrei Kirilenko (who the Jazz might try to trade in order to re-sign Boozer), Marcin Gortat (a likely starter on most teams with a reasonable contract), and Samuel Dalembert (elite rebounder and defender).
It also could be worth it to see about taking a big contract like Michael Redd's and seeing if you could get a young player or picks in return. The Kings obviously might not think thats worth 18 million dollars, but we'll see.
Option 3: Patience
Pelton's 3rd option is to be patient and roll over your cap space for 2011. The Kings could afford to do this because they're so young and have so many guys on rookie contracts. This is what the Thunder have been doing for the last couple years.
Some of the names in 2011 include Al Horford (RFA), Paul Pierce (UFA), Joakim Noah (RFA), Caron Butler (UFA), Carmelo Anthony (if he doesn't sign extension and exercises his ETO), Aaron Brooks (RFA), Shane Battier (UFA), Mike Conley (RFA), Marc Gasol (RFA), Zach Randolph (UFA), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (RFA), Marcus Thornton (RFA), Wilson Chandler (RFA), Kevin Durant (RFA), Jeff Green (RFA), Thaddeus Young (RFA), Greg Oden (RFA), Tony Parker (UFA), and the players I mentioned above as expiring next year.
So the Kings have a lot of options when it comes to this free agency, and the final decision on what they do will be critical for this Franchise's future.