April 15, 2012; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings center Jason Thompson (34) looks to pass the ball away from Portland Trail Blazers center Hasheem Thabeet (34) during the third quarter at Power Balance Pavilion. The Sacramento Kings defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 104-103. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
Last week, The Bee's Jason Jones reported that of the Sacramento Kings' three free agents, Jason Thompson is the one that the front office is most heavily invested in keeping. Thompson had a solid season, right on line with his previous work that seems to indicate he's a definite NBA rotation big man. A starter? With the right center and point guard, sure. A reserve? He'd certainly play decent minutes for just about every team in the league -- he's a solid, reliable contributor who does important things well enough to help.
But the idea that the Kings are truly invested in J.T. still seems odd given last offseason, when the Kings' only major free agent was a power forward that Geoff Petrie intended to make a focal point starter (Chuck Hayes), and when one of the Kings' trade acquisitions was a power forward (J.J. Hickson), and when the team tried (and failed) to keep Samuel Dalembert, another big man who had knocked Thompson out of the starting line-up the year prior. (Hayes and Dalembert may have been mutually exclusive; that remains unclear.)
Thompson had a solid season, showing some offensive and defensive growth. But did he have a good enough season to reverse all of that apparent desire to cut ties last year? I wouldn't have said so. J.T. ended up as a starter and our second best big man this season not because he made incredible improvement, but because Hayes and Hickson were so disappointing.
So where does that leave him, and the Kings' frontcourt?
Sacramento is, as always, hamstrung by the Maloofs' lack of green and the team's inability to pull free agents. So it's not a given that a better starting power forward would become a realistic proposition. Hayes was a special case -- he's always been underhyped because he's undersized and the bulk of his value derives from his defense. So the Kings and Wolves each offered mid-level money, and Sacramento nabbed him. And now it's not clear Hayes is better for the team than Thompson.
The trade game is an alluring one, but while the Kings have assets, you can't bet on an upgrade in that path. Luckily, Petrie can bang on that door before being forced to decide on Thompson: trade talks will begin in earnest once the conference finals end, and draft day should again be a high point of leaguewide activity. The Thompson salary situation doesn't need to be resolved until early July.
That's how I think this should be settled: assuming the Kings don't win the Anthony Davis Sweepstakes, the team should try to trade for an obviously better-than-JT big man, preferably one who can run the floor, even if it means taking on a bloated contract. Failing that, try to sign JT to a reasonable multi-year deal -- something less than what Hayes is making (as difficult as it will be to convince Thompson's agent why it's being offered). If even that fails, since Thompson can sign offer sheets with other teams, then you reboot the Hayes-Cousins pairing, spin the hell out of Hayes' awful season based on the lockout, weird training camp and shoulder injury and focus on the other major acquisition (which probably comes via the draft).