Barring a trade before then, the dominant storyline going into 2013 free agency for the Sacramento Kings will be Tyreke Evans. Because the Kings aren't offering an extension this offseason, he'll be a restricted free agent on July 1, 2013. The Kings will retain the option of matching any contract offer sheet that he signs, but as we've seen this summer, teams are all too willing to extend max offers to borderline players (Roy Hibbert, Eric Gordon) and make things as difficult as possible (Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin).
As has been trumpeted from the hilltops, the Kings have committed more to salary for the 2012-13 season than at any point since 2008-09. Hooray? It's a small victory, considering that Sacramento is just now up against the cap.
Next offseason, that won't necessarily change, even though Evans' next contract figures to become the team's largest. Take a look at the team's salary cap outlook below the jump.
Between John Salmons, Jason Thompson, Chuck Hayes, Marcus Thornton, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmer Fredette, Tyler Honeycutt, Thomas Robinson, Travis Outlaw and Isaiah Thomas, the Kings have just under $43 million locked in for 10 roster players (including possibly four starters). Aaron Brooks has a $3.3 million player option. Let's assume he picks it up. That's about $46 million in salary locked.
James Johnson will be a restricted free agent. Francisco Garcia has a team option for 2013-14 that the Kings would be insane to pick up.
The salary cap should be $60 million, so the max contract for Evans would start at $15 million. Adding that to the Kings' prior commitments puts the team salary at $61 million, just barely over the cap. It'd give the Kings 11 roster players, not including any draft picks. Depending on his performance this season, Johnson would be the team's only other free agent of note.
Evans isn't likely getting a max deal from the Kings, though. If he gets $12 million, based on his first three seasons, I'll be surprised. That puts the Kings under the cap by $2 million before accounting for picks and Johnson. If the contract starts at $10 million, the Kings would have $4 million of cap space.
The only way to have the space for a big free agent splash or lopsided trade next offseason: let Evans walk (a horrible idea) or amnesty John Salmons, the last contender remaining (as described this morning). Amnestying Salmons and re-signing Evans to a deal starting at $12 million would give the Kings $10 million in cap space before accounting for draft picks or Johnson. That space could be used to nab a small forward or, if needed, point guard. Remember, Brooks could also decide to opt out, freeing up another $3.3 million but also opening up another hole in the rotation.
But that poses problems for 2014-15, when DeMarcus Cousins' extension kicks in. (That is projected to be a max deal.) Salmons and Garcia are the last whale contracts expiring before extensions to Evans and Cousins kick in. Using the space created by their expiration for non-current Kings involves going well over the cap or not retaining Evans or Cousins. Given what we know about the Maloofs, that is not feasible.
So here's my prediction of what will happen: the Kings will make Evans the team's highest-paid player early in restricted free agency in July 2013. But the team will not use amnesty on Salmons, and will either keep Johnson on a lower-than-Thompson deal or find another new small forward paid only a few million. The team will then sign Cousins to a max early extension and call the offseason a raging success full of committed money galore all while the team continues to sit far below its competitors in terms of payroll.