The Sacramento Kings have been quiet as usual in the offseason since the draft, until yesterday. The Kings used their remaining cap space to acquire James Johnson from Toronto in a trade and agreed to a contract with free agent Aaron Brooks. In the process, the Kings waived Hassan Whiteside and now have 14 players on the roster. With a team salary at or near the NBA salary cap this year, the Kings are most likely done with their offseason moves, though a trade remains a possibility. With the Kings’ roster set for next season, it is time to evaluate the moves the Kings made during this offseason.
With the fifth pick of the 2012 NBA draft, the Kings selected Thomas Robinson from Kansas University. What a steal! Thomas Robinson was widely expected to go to the Charlotte Bobcats as the second overall selection, and was probably the second player on the Kings’ board after Anthony Davis in the draft. It was rumored that the Kings have a deal in place with the Houston Rockets to obtain Kyle Lowry and two of the Rockets’ picks in the teens for the pick, as long as Robinson was taken before the fifth pick. That is a lot for the Kings to give up for Thomas Robinson. I am not disagreeing with what the Kings did, as a frontcourt of Cousins and Robinson is indeed too enticing to pass up. It is the right move for a rebuilding team to get a player with higher upside, than three players who probably will never be all-stars (though Lowry came really close to being one last season). I can’t help but thank luck for this draft steal, as the Kings reportedly would draft Dion Waiters (another scoring guard) had Robinson been drafted before the Kings’ pick.
Even with the drafting of Thomas Robinson, Jason Thompson remained the priority of the Kings. Jason Thompson never had serious talks with any other team, and eventually signed a 5-year 30-million contract with the Kings, with the last year being non-guaranteed. Take away the last year of the deal and the contract becomes 25 million dollars over 4 years. This amount may not be much higher than the market value for a backup big man (look at Omer Asik), but the Kings could have waited for another team to sign Thompson to an offer sheet. I have difficulty envisioning Thompson getting a more lucrative deal than the one he signed. Moreover, any contract Thompson signs with other teams would have been for 4 years at most, giving the Kings more flexibility in the future. Another problem I have with the Thompson signing is his role on the team. He plays a similar game to Robinson. Both rely on their athleticism around the basket and a not-too-reliable mid-range jumper to score. Both do not block shots, and are average defenders. Ryan Anderson, a Sacramento native willing to play for the Kings, would have been a much better fit. He may be a worse defender than Thompson, but his shooting would have been a great asset for the Kings to spread the floor for Cousins and Tyreke Evans. Although Anderson demands a higher salary, he is a more proven player and provides much-needed spacing for the Kings who ranked second-to-last in the league in terms of 3-point shooting last season. The Thompson contract may not be a significant overpay, but it is one. Given the alternative the Kings have in Ryan Anderson, the team would have been wise to let Thompson walk, or at least gauge the other teams’ interest in him.
After re-signing Jason Thompson, the Kings appeared to be content with the team and unlikely to make any major move other than re-signing Terrence Williams. Then, yesterday came. First, the Kings traded a future second round pick for James Johnson from Toronto Raptors. James Johnson may not be the starting-caliber small forward the Kings need, but this is a low-risk move. A second round pick barely means anything, evident from the Kings’ selling of their second round pick in the strong 2012 draft. On the other hand, James Johnson has only one year left on his rookie contract, and will become a restricted free agent next summer. If Johnson performs well, the Kings may like to bring him back. If he doesn’t, his restricted free agent status may bring the Kings some assets back in a sign-and-trade. On the court, he is the Kings’ best small forward at the moment. He does not have the range the Kings would like, nor much offensive polish. However, he easily becomes the best defender on the Kings’ roster full of one-dimensional players. He is a great shot blocker for his position, averaging 1.4 blocks a game last season. If he can improve on his 3-point shooting, the Kings’ biggest issue at small forward is resolved. Even if he plays at the level he played last season, he should be a serviceable player who plays about 20 minutes a game. Either way, the Kings clearly emerged the winner of this trade.
The other move the Kings made yesterday was the waiving of Hassan Whiteside and signing of Aaron Brooks. Hassan Whiteside was considered a steal in the second round of the draft two years ago, but he has only made cameo appearances for the Kings. He remains the project he was two years ago, as he lack any skills other than his shot-blocking. As his contract is the only one non-guaranteed, he was waived to clear cap space and a roster spot for Aaron Brooks. Aaron Brooks, the 2009-2010 most improved player, spent the last season in China and did not appear in a single game in NBA. He signed a contract of approximate 6.6 million dollars over 2 years, with the second year being a player option. This is good value for a player who is only two years removed from a season where he scored nearly 20 points per game. Brooks may never repeat his performance in the 2009-2010 season, but he is capable of serving as the primary backup point guard, or even challenging Isaiah Thomas for the starting job. Nevertheless, he simply does not fit well in the Kings filled with scorers just like him. Aaron Brooks is a scoring point guard, and he will play with the likes of Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, and Demarcus Cousins. All are noted for their unwillingness to share the basketball. Brooks is also a subpar defender due to his lack of height and he will add to the Kings’ terrible perimeter defense. The lone bright spot of Aaron Brooks’ game is his 3-point shooting. He shoots 36.3% from behind the arc in his career, providing the Kings with another deep threat. The signing of Aaron Brooks also signals less playing time for Jimmer Fredette and probably none as a point guard. Although it seems too early to give up on Fredette, his play last season was poor to say the very least. He is not suited to direct the team’s offense and his miserable defense of the pick-and-roll is just brutal to watch. Brooks at least provide an upgrade over Fredette on both ends of the floor. Based on the contract he signs, Aaron Brooks should be a steal. I am just not convinced how he can co-exist with Evans and Thornton.
The Kings spent more than the minimum salary for a team for the first time in 3 years. This is a positive sign for the fans as the Kings push for a spot in the playoff, though they will not make it this season. None of what the Kings did this offseason is a huge mistake, and this team is better than last season’s team. However, the big decision going forward is what to do with Tyreke Evans. Evans is still an exciting player who excels in driving to the basket, but he is clearly not the franchise cornerstone the Kings envision him to be following his rookie season. The Kings need to make a decision soon, as Evans is set to become a restricted free agent after this season and will likely command a salary close to 10 million dollars a year. If the Kings do not think Evans is part of the future of the team, they should trade him when he still has value, instead of allowing him to walk for nothing. This is the most important decision the Kings have to make in the upcoming season.