Looking Ahead: What Kings' Needs Will Arise In 2012?

Aykis16 did superlative work breaking down free agent options at each position this week. Here are some quick links to recap:

 

 

The team will likely target a center ... and probably not a whole lot else in free agency. For the 2011-12 season, adding a center would fill up the rotation quite a bit: four heavy-minutes bigs in [new center], DeMarcus Cousins, J.J. Hickson and Jason Thompson, two heavy-minutes small forwards in John Salmons and Francisco Garcia, and three major-minutes guards in Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton (under the assumption he's retained) and Jimmer Fredette. Donte Greene and Isaiah Thomas are the leading candidates for extra minutes on the wing and in the backcourt, though the addition of another point guard wouldn't be a surprise. Tyler Honeycutt and Hassan Whiteside aren't likely to figure heavily early, barring injury.

But who's back in 2012-13? What positions do the Kings need to keep an eye on going forward?

THE POWER FORWARDS

Cousins is locked up for a while, but Hickson and Thompson can both become restricted free agents -- assuming restricted free agency exists -- in one year. Under current rules, the Kings could grant early extensions (as they did with Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia) before the season starts. That worked really well in Martin's case; he would have been more expensive after his fourth season than he was after his third. It didn't really work out in Garcia's case. I don't think you can extend Hickson before seeing how he plays with Evans and Cousins. I'm not sure you can extend Thompson before determining how Hickson fits.

So chances are that both players will reach restricted free agency next offseason. How they play this season will obviously determine whether either reaches Thornton, must-resign status, or not. But keep in mind that even if the Kings sign a big-money center once the lockout ends, they will only have two rotation-worthy big men under contract for 2012-13. The team has to be prepared to pay to keep Hickson, J.T. or both, or find another player or players (depending on Whiteside, a bit) to fill in going forward.

THE SMALL FORWARDS

The Kings' four guards (including Thornton) have an average age of 22. The Kings' four big men have an average age of 22. The Kings' four small forwards -- including the 21-year-old Tyler Honeycutt -- have an average age of 26. Salmons is 31, Garcia is 29. 

If you believe in Donte Greene, you aren't worried ... though Donte Greene is on the same path as Thompson and Hickson: he'll be a restricted free agent in 2012, barring a completely unexpected extension. Salmons and Garcia are locked up for the 2012-13 season, but you do have to question as what point Salmons will be become untenable as starter. A team that is serious about getting to the playoffs in 2013 or so can't have a 31-year-old Francisco Garcia as a starting small forward, can it? (My best guess: it can, but only if the other four starters and one bench guy are regularly winning their match-up.)

Honeycutt is a ways away. He's basically Donte Greene Part II.

THE GUARDS

Evans is under contract for two more seasons; he'll be eligible for an early extension in 2012, but all indications are that the league wants to strengthen a team's ability to keep its stars, so I'm not worried about losing Tyreke in 2013. Jimmer is under contract for four years. No worries. Thornton should be locked into at least a three- or four-year deal, so no worries.

The backcourt? The only worry is whether it will work. Will Jimmer work in the NBA? Can he play with Tyreke effectively? Can he play with Thornton effectively? Can Tyreke and Thornton play together effectively? If not, needs -- most likely a pass-first point guard -- could arise by 2012. But this is a huge 'remain-to-be-seen'.

COACH

Paul Westphal's contract expires in 2012. What will it take to get an extension? I don't think 30 wins gets Westphal a new deal. Thirty-five might. One consistent facet of Westphal's reign has been wins over everything. Development, exploration, trying new things -- it all takes a backseat to wins. You can judge the success or impact of that elsewhere, but just know that nothing is going to change in '11-12. Westphal is trying to win more games than he has with this team. That's why John Salmons will be starting. That's why Francisco Garcia is playing ahead of Donte Greene. Wins. Now.

ASSESSMENT

If things work as the Kings believe they will work, the 2012 offseason will be dedicated to re-signing their own free agents: Hickson, Thompson and Greene. If Salmons/Garcia don't fill the small forward spot, the team could end up dedicating resources to finding a solution there. If the backcourt shows signs of fissure, a point guard could be a target. Depending on how the season goes, the first order of business in the 2012 offseason could be finding a coach.

Regardless, it really does look like this 2011 offseason -- whenever it resumes -- is the big splash for the Sacramento Kings. Let's hope it works.

(Note: I purposely neglected the specter of midseason deals. Obviously, Geoff Petrie is not shy about shaking things up midstream. If something isn't working by February, the team could very well get an early shake-up.)

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