The Sacramento Kings traded for J.J. Hickson on Thursday, just hours before the NBA lockout began, freezing further movement for the forseeable future. Hickson is cheap -- just over $2 million for the next season -- but the price to land him wasn't: the Kings sent out Omri Casspi, a promising if flawed prospect with two years left on his rookie deal, and a protected first-round that will almost certainly go to the Cleveland Cavaliers as something like a No. 12 to No. 20 pick in the next three or so years. Casspi for Hickson is a big win for the Kings; Casspi and a mid-first for Hickson? Pretty darned even, which makes the price pretty serious.
In that sense, then, the Kings were obviously serious about Hickson as a prospect, as a player who can help the team win over the next some-odd years. The question is where he fits, and how he affects the team's decisions in this free agency and trade period of great import, which will certainly begin in the next two weeks to 16 months.
The immediate item it solves: DeMarcus Cousins is now the center on the roster. Sam Amick reported Thursday that Samuel Dalembert wasn't feeling the love from Sacramento as he tried to get a pre-lockout extension -- something that could never have seriously been on the table -- and likely won't return. That already made Cousins a strong option at center, with free agency remaining. As the roster stands, with Cousins, Hickson and Jason Thompson under contract, Cousins is the center. Thompson can play both spots, and at times the situation seems completely interchangable. But the idea of playing Cousins at power forward next to a longer, more shotblockin' player? There is not such a player on the roster.
(I'm not counting Hassan Whiteside as being in existence quite yet.)
SHIFTING FREE AGENT PRIORITIES
Hickson is a good rebounder, but his primary talent is as a scorer. Whether that's as a featured scorer -- he had a Tyrekian 25 percent usage rate last year in Cleveland -- or a "garbage man," as he was on the LeBron-led Cavs in '10 -- remains to be seen. I'd prefer the latter under the assumption Jimmer Fredette can shoot in the NBA and that Evans and Cousins see their efficiency soar. (Fingers crossed.) Again, Hickson is a rebounder ... but he's not known for his defense.
Neither is Cousins. Thompson? Eh. He's a solid defender at this point, still flawed, but solid. There's no great defender up front, though ... no Dalembert. So this fourth big man is going to have to fix that.
So the frontcourt free agent priority is now a defensive-minded center. Maybe it always was, though the urge to replace Carl Landry had to have been a consideration. Hickson replaces Landry. Who replaces Dalembert?
STILL CROWDED AT SMALL FORWARD
Trading Casspi relieves the roster pressure at small forward, but it doesn't exactly solve it. Look at the depth chart. (Note: we don't have official word on the fates of Pooh Jeter and Darnell Jackson, but given that the Kings had to take action to keep them for next season under their established, didn't announce any action and almost always announces action, we'll assume they are gone.)
PG: Jimmer Fredette / Isaiah Thomas
SG: Tyreke Evans / Marcus Thornton
SF: John Salmons / Francisco Garcia / Donte Greene / Tyler Honeycutt
PF: J.J. Hickson / Jason Thompson / Hassan Whiteside (there he is!)
C: DeMarcus Cousins
Right now, the team has four players for two guard spots (average age 17), four players for two big man spots (average age 17) and four players for one small forward spot (average age 37). (Note: all average ages approximate.)
Garcia and Salmons can also play shooting guard, and other than Whiteside Honeycutt has to be the player Paul Westphal has the least immediate faith in. So those are somewhat mitigating factors. But the fact remains: because of the depth at one position (small forward), the Kings are a bit shallow at the others. Add a defensive-minded center, and the hole shows more in the backcourt ... specifically at point guard, where there's no definite, no questions asked distributor. (Thomas comes closest, but he's also a 5'8 rookie known most for big-time shots.)
To me, picking up Hickson intones that the Kings will first chase a defensive-minded center, then a pass-first point guard. Assuming a fairly reasonable CBA outcome, this should be attainable. Let's just hope the defensive-minded center is good and the pass-first point guard affordable.