The Sacramento Kings will visit the Utah Jazz on Saturday, and there's one player I'll be keeping a close eye on in the home jerseys: Devin Harris. The eighth-year guard is one of the biggest disappointment on a stunningly solid Jazz team that is somehow 10-7 and in the thick of the Western playoff race. They are doing it despite Harris performing worse than ever before in his NBA career; even his rookie season featured better shooting.
Harris has started every game this season under Ty Corbin, but is playing just 26 minutes per game, a level he hasn't seen since his third season with the ultra-deep Dallas Mavericks. The veteran Earl Watson is playing 21 minutes a night for the Jazz, and it's no secret that Utah has been much better with him on the court. According to StatsCube, the team's usual starting lineup (which features Harris) has a -6.3 rating, which is bad. The Jazz are +2.8 with Watson on the court, and -0.8 with Harris on the court.
Harris' shot has been off. He's never been a good three-point shooter, but he's just getting nothing at the rim this season: he's averaging 1.7 attempts within three feet. His career low going back to 2007 was 3.8. He's still converting the opportunities he gets in there well, but with three fewer close attempts compared to last season as a 55 percent conversion rate -- that's 1.65 points per game left on the table. That's manifested in free throws, too: he's earning two fewer free throws per game, and as a career 80 percent shooter, that's another 1.6 points per game. So there are 3.2 points per game being left on the table due to less attacking the rim.
Is he out of shape and unable to attack? Unable to attack the rim with two legit post players in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap camped? It's worth noting that Harris' attempts at the rim and free throw levels remained high after the trade last season; this is a new problem this year.
If he can play like the Devin Harris of old, he looks like a good fit for a Kings club struggling in the backcourt: his career assist rate is 30.8 percent and though he attacks like Tyreke Evans, the extra passing could help open things up around the court. (For comparison's sake: Beno Udrih's career assist rate is 23 percent, and Tyreke's is 25 percent.)
But then there's the pricetag. Harris is due $9.3 million this season and $8.5 million next year. Without accounting for Jason Thompson, J.J. Hickson and Donte Greene, Harris would get the Kings to $52 million in salary for the 2012-13 season, which would soak up most of the club's salary cap space ... without addressing the team's most gaping hole: small forward.
... unless acquiring Harris leads Keith Smart to trying Tyreke at small forward with Marcus Thornton at two-guard and Jimmer Fredette off the bench. No one doubts that Tyreke would be an improvement over John Salmons at the three (right?) Harris would certainly be a more traditional point guard, if not a better one than Tyreke. It helps get the ball out of Thornton's hands and gives DeMarcus Cousins a more experienced pick-and-roll partner. (That the Kings can't rely on an Evans/Cousins P&R to get points in times of need remains a huge disappointment. Maybe Harris/Cousins can give that.)
It's a risk. You'd need to give up an asset to get Harris, and this team's tradeable assets (Thompson, Hickson) don't fit Utah's needs (guards, wings). It'd probably need to be a three-way deal to make the pieces work, and the Kings don't have a whole lot beyond Evans, Cousins and possibly Jimmer that other teams want.
But for a club no one likes in a non-glamour city, you need to draft or trade for talent. In trades, you almost always need to take damaged goods. Whether it's a player near free agency, one with a bloated contract, one playing poorly -- there's always a downside. Given this club's history in free agency, this GM's inability to draw high-end talent in recent years and the fact that the team has to improve and spend over the next year ... it's trades like this, if not this player acquisition specifically, that will need to be pursued.