What's on my mind on a non-game day?
Being neither a buyer or seller in this year's trade marketplace The blurb about the Kings being potential buyers in this year's trade market in order to make a late push for the playoffs caught my eye. And within the context of a playoff push for 2013-14, it makes absolutely no sense to me. The numbers just don't crunch out.
The Kings have a 10-11 record in games where DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay are in the lineup (not including the game where Cousins and Gay went down to injury). In the theater of even smaller sample size, they had won five of their last ten prior to the injuries. The Kings are on a pace to finish 27-55 based on their current record, 32-50 if they finish at the .476 clip that they have posted with the "big three" in the lineup, and 33-49 if they play .500 ball the rest of the way. The Kings would have to play .735 ball the rest of the way to finish at .500...only Indiana and Oklahoma City are playing at a better clip this year. The Kings would need to go 31-3 to finish with a .573 winning percentage, which would put them on Dallas' current pace as the number eight seed. I just don't see this happening.
One would think that this would make the Kings sellers in this market. But as the old saying goes, you can't sell out of an empty wagon. The Kings would need to see substantial offers to even entertain moving Cousins, Gay or Thomas. Beyond that, there is not much to sell. It would be different if guys like Marcus Thornton or Jason Thompson were on the last year of their respective contracts. But under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are not likely to mortgage future dollars for complementary players like Thornton of Thompson.
Could there be interest in Ben McLemore? Sure, but I don't see this front office selling low. Could someone offer a second round pick for Jimmer Fredette? Absolutely, but that is not exactly being a seller in this market. That is just housekeeping.
If the Kings make a deal of any substance as the trade deadline approaches, it may be one of those "one man's trash is another man's treasure" deals. The Josh Smith for Thompson/Thornton trade that has been bandied about here would be one example. And while that trade is unlikely to happen (99.999% of all discussed trades never happen), it is that type of trade that the Kings could attempt to pull off. Not a Rajon Rondo deal, which would cost the Kings considerable assets, but a dumpster deal. This is not to say that I don't like Josh Smith. But he has been simply horrible as an offensive player this year, and that is the primary reason that his name is surfacing in trade rumors. If he was playing well, there is no trade conversation.
I believe that the Kings will attempt to be active participants as the trade deadline nears. But if they make any deals, it will not be because of the impact that the trade will have on the 2013-14 season. It will be for 2014-15 and beyond.
Getting a better point guard than Isaiah Thomas OK. One of the things that we have learned over the past couple of weeks is that Isaiah Thomas cannot carry a basketball team that loses its two best players, especially when the remainder of the roster lacks any viable NBA starting lineup talent. But are we jumping the shark when we determine that this recent exercise proves that Thomas lacks as a legitimate starting point guard?
The simplest way for me to answer that question is to determine which NBA point guards I would prefer to Thomas, and which NBA point guards I would be OK with instead of Thomas. In determining this list, I need to factor in contract and age. For example, I like Tony Parker more than Thomas in the here and now. But do I like him more when I factor in that he is under contract through only next year, and at that point he will be a 33 year old free agent? That's a much tougher call.
I'm going to blind guess that the Kings can sign Thomas to a 3-4 year contract next year in the $7-9m per year range. I'm going to use that number when comparing the contracts of other point guards. My list would look something like this: Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose (health notwithstanding), Rondo, Steph Curry, Mike Conley, John Wall, Ty Lawson, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague (I like Thomas better on the offensive end than Holiday or Teague, but I like Holiday and Teague more from baseline to baseline). Guys that I would be as happy with as Thomas include Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Kemba Walker. Notables absent from my list include Parker (for reasons stated), post-Jerry Sloan Deron Williams, Brandon Jennings, Jose Calderon, Jeremy Lin, George Hill and Ricky Rubio.
Thomas ranks in the 13-17 range on my point guard list, so it would seem that the Kings could do a bit better (try not to think about the fact that Rondo, Curry, Lawson, Holiday, Teague and Lillard were all available to the Kings via the draft), and they could do a whole lot worse (do the names Orien Greene and Luther Head ring a bell?).
The question is, are any of the guys on this list even remotely available, and are they more available than the soon-to-be restricted free agent Thomas?
You have to figure that Paul, Curry, Wall and Lillard are flat off the market, at least for what the Kings have to offer. Rondo, Lawson and Irving would cost assets that the Kings likely do not possess. Westbrook and Rose only become available if they are damaged. The Pelicans liked Holiday enough to trade a couple of first round picks for him, and the Hawks just signed Teague to a 4/$32m deal, so he wouldn't be pried away from Atlanta easily. Conley has gotten better each and every year and he will make under $10m in 2014-15 and 2015-16, so don't figure on Memphis letting him go. Dragic is a relative bargain at $7.5m next year (he has player option the following year), so Phoenix is not going to just give him away. Walker will earn $3.3m next year, so you're not getting him without giving up something substantial in return.
Lowry is a free agent next year. Bledsoe is a restricted free agent. That's really the list. Thomas, Bledsoe or Lowry, with the Suns being able to match on Bledsoe, and Lowry potentially getting the biggest payday as the number one unrestricted free agent point guard on the market.
The funny thing is that Thomas has really had an incredible metamorphosis within this season. He began the year as a super sixth man charged with providing scoring punch off the bench, which he did at an elite level. But since becoming a starter, he has increased his assists per minute while decreasing his turnovers per minute. He's averaging 16.6 shots per game as a starter, but that number adjusts to 15.3 in games where Cousins and Gay are both playing. 15.3 shots per game is fewer shots than taken by Irving, Curry, Westbrook, Rose, Wall, Walker, Lillard, Jennings and Michael Carter-Williams. It is higher than Conley, Paul, Teague, Lawson, Holiday, Bledose, Dragic and Lowry.
Offensively, Isaiah Thomas is performing at a level on line with the NBA's upper tier point guards. The quibbling over whether he does the right thing on this offensive possession or that offensive possession is picking the fly excrement out of the pepper, in my humble opinion. He, like every other player currently rocking Kings purple, lacks woefully on the defensive end of the court. Thomas is not perfect - not by a long shot. But he's the best that we have, the best that we've had in a long time, and likely the best that we can have moving forward.
FreCallum On the other hand, here's a list of non-starting point guards that I perceive as being better than Jimmer Fredette or Ray McCallum. My criteria here is simply the ability to run a basketball team while you are inhabiting the point guard position: Shelvin Mack (Atl), Shaun Livingston (Bkn) (note - Livingston has actually started more than half the games this year for the Nets), Ramon Sessions (Cha), D.J. Augustin (Chi), Jarrett Jack (Cle) (barely, he's been a disappointment so far this season), Devin Harris (Dal) (SSSI approved, as he just recently came off the injury list), Andre Miller (Den) (before suspension), Will Bynum (Det) (barely), Patrick Beverly or Jeremy Lin (Hou) (pick one), Darren Collison (LAC), Kendall Marshall or Steve Blake or Jordan Farmar (LAL) (pick two), Nate Wolters (Mil), J.J. Barea (Min), Tyreke Evans (NO), Beno Udrih (NY) (barely, a la Jarrett Jack), Reggie Jackson (OKC) (when Westbrook was starting), Mo Williams (Por) (barley, a la Jack and Udrih), Mills (SA), and Vasquez (Tor).
That's about 20 guys, or roughly 2/3 of the league. If you're wondering why Coach Michael Malone is riding Isaiah Thomas like a rented mule, wonder no longer. Malone has evidently determined that Thomas at 90% (or even 80%) is better than the rookie McCallum or the turnover-prone Fredette (as a point guard). When looking at minor trade deadline deals, a true backup point guard would seem to be near or at the top of the Kings list of wants and needs.
StR III Just a quick thanks to HumboldtCPA, his folks, and the staff at O'Mally's for making Sactown Royalty Night III a great, great evening. I give the Irish tacos five stars, while Mrs.214 gave a slight edge to the corn beef sliders. Thanks again, Brad, and give your dad our best.