30Q asks the important questions about the Kings all through September.
Andres Nocioni was the only player acquired by the Kings in 2008-09 with a long-term contract. In the deal which sent Brad Miller and John Salmons to Chicago, Sacramento basically received cap space ... and Nocioni. Because of his contract, the Kings actually take on additional salary in comparison with the Salmons/Miller package in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. The move cut costs in 2009-10, primarily, and freed up the center position for Spencer Hawes full-time. That's it.
Unless, of course, the team also saw something valuable in Nocioni, which they apparently did. Reportedly, the Kings rejected a deadline deal which would have sent Nocioni to Boston for expiring contracts. Assuming the rumor was true (it was never debunked by anyone), that implies the Kings wanted Nocioni despite his contract (which is nearly universally seen as a bit cumbersome). Clearly, Nocioni is talented and has a place in the league. But on a young, developing team? At age 29 (he turns 30 at the end of November)?
I think what the franchise was after was some heart, some spirit. In my opinion, no team should be paying $21 million over three years for heart and spirit, but I digress. That's what the Kings desperately felt they desperately needed, so they acquired and kept Nocioni. The question that exists now is whether heart and spirit (and the aforementioned talent) is still a need to the degree it was, and if not whether Nocioni's $21 million heart and spirit (and talent) makes enough of a difference to hold onto him beyond the trade deadline, assuming there are suitors?
Three weeks ago, I would have said the readiness of Donte Greene and Omri Casspi matter in any Nocioni's proceedings, but I'm just not convinced of that any longer. This is for these reasons:
- I'm more convinced every day that Francisco Garcia will start at small forward, just due to the roster balance (or imbalance, actually). In order to play Tyreke Evans, Beno Udrih and Sergio Rodriguez while giving Garcia plenty of minutes, someone needs to play small forward. Garcia's the best option for that right now.
- I wouldn't doubt Kevin Martin being plugged into the SF slot at times. That possibility degrades the importance of Casspi and Greene.
- I have a feeling Paul Westphal will give the kids a bit of trial by fire. And I honestly think at least one of them will produce.
The question I'm more concerned with is when Nocioni becomes expendable from a team chemistry standpoint. Is that today? I mean, Nocioni was brought over as the designated hombre ... and the team drafted Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi and Jon Brockman -- three hombres. Further, outside of Nocioni, Martin is the veteran leader. At age 26. Nocioni was meant to fix the problem created jointly by Miller (quiet, standoffish), Salmons (quiet, standoffish), Kenny Natt (standoffish, at least) and Martin (quiet, at least). But in his very acquisition, and the subsequent obvious firing of Natt, the problem was basically fixed. The team leaders will be Martin (by example), Garcia (by example/Celine Dion crooning) and ... whoever else steps up. Miller (old) and Salmons (everyday starter/veteran) were automatic "team leaders." No more. Thompson can step in. Hawes. Evans.
This is not meant to be twee, though I understand it probably reads that way. The gist, if I can edit myself in real-time here, is that the 2008-09 Kings severely lacked spirit and toughness. The 2009-10 Kings, even if Nocioni were traded for Debbie Downer, would not likely suffer from such afflictions. The team got tougher through the draft. Problem solved.
Now, is an expiring contract enough incentive to trade Nocioni? Moving him for $0 in 2010-11 salary would give the Kings $18-22 million in cap space next summer. (Enough to sign LeBron!) But given the likelihood of the Kings actually spending $18-22 million next summer, perhaps trading for talent or draft picks with salary relief as a minor concern could be in order. That's a story for another post (sometime in January).