ESPN's Marc Stein has reported that the Sacramento Kings have offered Chuck Hayes a four-year, $20 million contract, and are optimistic that the free agent will take it once transactions are cleared for take-off on Friday. SI.com's Sam Amick has confirmed the report.
The initial opinions on Hayes have been all over the place -- from disappointment at the lack of a big splash to satisfication with a top defender in the frontcourt to a good number of height jokes. (Someone is going to make Tyreke Evans and Hayes stand back to back at some point, aren't they?)
Amid all of the fair points, though, there is some misunderstanding of Hayes, I feel. So let's talk about those things and some other things. The single most important thing about Chuck Hayes to know is that Chuck Hayes is not Kenny Thomas.
1. Chuck Hayes is not Kenny Thomas. I really need y'all to understand this: Chuck Hayes is not Kenny Thomas. When Kenny Thomas arrived in 2005, he had five years and $40 million remaining on his contract, or an average salary of $8 million per season. Under the deal as reported, Hayes will have an average salary of $5 million for a shorter term. Keep in mind that the salary cap has risen. In 2005-06, K-9's first full season in Sacramento, his $6.5 million contract represented 13 percent of the Kings' salary cap. A $5 million year for Hayes now represents 8.6 percent. Further, K-9's deal ran through a phase of the Kings' history where the team needed to drop salary and rebuild. The Kings cannot really drop salary at this point, and it's going to take a lot of bad contracts to make Hayes' contract a killer that hurts the Kings' ability to rebuild (again, within the next four years). If the Kings need to drop salary and rebuild within four years, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
2. Chuck Hayes is not going to make life more difficult for DeMarcus Cousins, the most important Kings' big man. There has been some concern as to what Hayes' presence could mean for Jason Thompson and J.J. Hickson. It feels like a ridiculously solid bet that Hayes will be the opening day starter, based on what we know about Paul Westphal and veterans. (I turn your attention to Desmond Mason and Antoine Wright.) So yes, that doesn't help Hickson or Thompson as the approach free agency. I love Thompson; I think he's a player worth keeping and I hope he sticks in Sacramento for the team's rise. But the Kings' fortune will not be determined on how many minutes Jason Thompson gets. The same applies to Hickson: he's a neat piece, but he's not the make-or-break player in the frontcount. That's DeMarcus Cousins. And Cousins will, in theory, get a whole lot of help from Hayes. Chuckwagon has proven he can defend both frontcourt positions, which will help Cousins (in theory, it's always theory with DMC) stay out of foul trouble and hide some defensive weaknesses he has. On the other end, Hayes will help hit the offensive glass hard; Cousins underperformed there due to setting up shop further from the rim, and will move the ball. He's not going to be taking shots away from Cousins or Tyreke Evans. That's no small matter. Even in Hayes' most shot-happy season last year, he took two fewer FGAs per 36 minutes than Samuel Dalembert, and he's obviously a much better passer and ball-protector.
3. Chuck Hayes will be the best frontcourt defender the Kings have had in years. Dalembert added an interior defensive presence that the Kings had long been looking for, something we hadn't seen since Scot Pollard, really. Hayes won't be blocking shots at the rim, which means that our guards have to do a better job keeping their man in front of them. But on the ball, he's better than Dalembert. As more big men step out to 18 feet and begin creating their own offense -- LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk, Kevin Love, Amar'e Stoudemire, Pau, Zach Randolph and the golden child himself Blake Griffin -- those on-ball skills are going to be incredibly important. Think about it: if you keep Dalembert and run with that four big rotation (Sam, DMC, JT, J.J.), who do you put on Griffin? Sam's not stopping Blake or players like him. Hayes might. When you look at how many clubs (especially in the West) have skilled, high-offense power forwards, the usefulness of a defender like Hayes is readily apparent.
4. We're going to find out if Tyreke, DeMarcus and Jimmer Fredette can carry the team's offense. Hayes is a limited offensive player ... which means that Evans, Jimmer and Cousins will be required to bear the heavy load on that end ... which means we;re going to find out if this crazy experiment Geoff Petrie has cooked up will work. (That's one of my bigger problems with the John Salmons trade: in addition to playing unattractive basketball, he's going to take the ball out of Evans' and Cousins' hands. That might be good for the team's immediate efficiency needs, but long-term, it's Tyreke's and DeMarcus' team, right?) A high-touch big man wouldn't exactly have stunted the growth of the Tyreke-DeMarcus-Jimmer triumvirate, but we wouldn't have as clean a look at the potential of the group.
5. Chuck Hayes is a fan favorite. If we're not going to be a championship-caliber club for a few (few?) more years, why not love our guys?