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Guard Replacement Therapy: What the Kings Are After, And What They Need

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First, and most importantly: the Kings have been after Aaron Brooks forever. Sacramento had a deal with the Spurs in 2007 to buy San Antonio's 28th pick in order to grab Brooks, but Houston took the University of Oregon product with the 26th pick. (It's unclear whether S.A. would have gone through with it given that Tiago Splitter ended up available at 28.)

So, again, the desire to add Brooks isn't sudden. It may be dubbed "new again" as management comes to terms with Tyreke Evans' game and this team's needs.

But the Kings and we as fans need to determine just what's wrong with team before getting excited about a point guard acquisition. Remember, this guard would replace Luther Head, one half (or thereabouts) of the Kings' sudden (and possible aborted) defensive resurgence. Remember, the Kings' offense was among the top half in the league when Beno Udrih was ahead of Head in the rotation.

It's a real quandary for Paul Westphal, and I don't envy him for it: you play Beno more, and the defense tanks; you play Head more, and the offense struggles. The only other thing I'd note is that Beno has played a lot more with Evans, and the defense has always been pretty bad. Head's just getting his first chance next to Evans. So, all other considerations constant, you'd like to see if a Head-Evans backcourt can round off the edges and put together some solid offensive nights. (Or even one solid offensive night. I'd take one.)

With Evans struggling so much -- please let it be his plantar fasciitis and not a general malaise or having been figured out by the entire NBA including Vinny Del Negro -- Beno's offense might be required. But in the longer term -- and you assume that's what Geoff Petrie is really concerned with, though even that can't be certain -- what works with a healthy Reke is what's important. If Evans is too bothered by his foot to give the Kings a clean look at what Head-Reke could be, then it's all for naught. But, again, given that Evans has suffered from the injury much longer than the last four games, and given that the Kings' offense was empirically better with Udrih starting, basic logic would say a team starring Tyreke Evans needs a better playmaker than Luther Head (a two-guard before this season) in the backcourt.

Brooks is certainly a better playmaker than Head ... but is positively Benoesque on defense. And, truth be told, he's not likely that much of a better playmaker than Udrih. (Their career assist rates are identical, meaning that each has a shoot-or-pass ratio roughly equal.) In fact, Brooks is only a nominally better shooter than Udrih. Basically, the Kings would be trading for "slightly better Beno who still is a problem on defense." That ain't getting it done, and I can't imagine why the Kings need that right now. (Brooks is cheaper than Beno now, but won't be when he reaches free agency -- restricted though it may be -- this summer.)


Jeff Teague has been the other guard target mentioned in media reports. Teague has the benefit of youth (he's four years younger than Brooks, and in just the second year of his rookie deal, with less than 1,000 minutes of NBA action). But at the same time, Teague is Brooks, Beno, Bibby: he's the cliché Petrie point guard -- a shoot-first, pass-later player. That's why Teague fell to Atlanta in the 2009 draft, because he was seen as a combo guard.

But, given that an Udrih-Evans double combo guard backcourt seems to work on offense, and whereas the problem with Udrih and Brooks would be defense, the question becomes whether Teague can defend like Head (or reasonably similar). I should note I'm unconcered with Teague's shooting percentages in the NBA -- he was such a good shooter in such a good conference in college that he'll find his range. This is not an Adam Morrisson situation. It's more J.J. Redick. It just takes some game minutes to adjust, and I think he's getting there.

So, defense. Teague? Who knows. He's smaller than Head.'s unadjusted plus-minus indicates the Hawks didn't lose anything on defense when Teague played last year; given that he played behind Mike Bibby, I'm not sure that's a positive, and either way it came in too-limited minutes.

But given that the Hawks declined Teague for Jason Thompson back in the offseason (according to Marc Stein), and given that the Kings can't really beef up that offer without making a dumb move, that's a dead end. Who else is there?

* Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey is a bad shooter right now, but should be a better a defender than Beno or Brooks. A Stuckey-Evans backcourt might put some dents into the ARCO Arena hardwood, but the playmaking would be improved over Head-Evans, and Stuckey is just 24 years old and approaching what should be a fairly cheap restricted free agency.

* Jose Calderon. Calderon has the same defensive problems that Beno has, and comes with the added problem that the Kings would have to send Udrih to Toronto to acquire Calderon, as well as one more negative: Jose is more expensive than Udrih. But the Spaniard is a great passer and a solid long-range shooter, and that's two of the three things (+ defense) the Kings need from Evans' backcourt mate. If Petrie wants to boost the offense at all costs, Calderon would help a bunch.

* Eric Maynor. How badly do the Thunder need size? Almost assuredly not badly enough to trade Maynor for Thompson. But it's a call you make. Maynor is a good shooter and has shown to be a good playmaker in the NBA. Hard to judge his defense, but I feel comfortable saying it's not as bad as that of Udrih or Brooks.

* Mo Williams. Read Calderon's entry again. Williams is a few million cheaper overall. If Cleveland wants help cleaning the books, Williams shouldn't cost an asset beyond cap relief and Milwaukee's second round pick. But again, you're sacrificing defense (and cap space going forward) for much-improved playmaking and (theoretically) shooting.

And finally, my dream scenario (other than that whole time-machine-fix-the-lottery-John-Wall-dance scheme):

* Chauncey Billups. Denver won't trade Billups until Carmelo Anthony is gone or about to be gone. And truth be told, I can't imagine Billups would be thrilled with a trade to Sacramento. But consider that Billups has been one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA, a great scorer and playmaker, a tough hombre and a pro's pro, and a fine defender for the last decade or so. His career is winding down, but he's not that old (34) and his game has never been predicated on athleticism or speed. The Kings would have the option of paying him $14 million next season, or taking a $3.7 million hit and waiving him, so he's not nearly the financial anchor Calderon or Williams would be.

That said, the biggest reason I'd love love LOVE for the Kings to grab Billups should the Nuggets make him available sometime soon: this Adrian Wojnarowski story.

Looking back, Chauncey Billups thinks about his immaturity, the seasons lost to foolishness, and it makes sense he’s here. He thinks of the loneliness, a lost soul drifting until Terrell Brandon reached down and lifted him with wisdom and guidance. Yes, he’s making up for lost time now, a thirtysomething determined to thrust himself into every championship circumstance left in his basketball career.

Mostly, he loves the mentoring. He talks to these Team USA kids in the buses, the hotels, moments of truth on the basketball court. He doesn’t lecture. This is a burden of responsibility that he goes out of his way to take upon himself.

This team needs a playmaker, a defender, a scorer, a leader. But most of all, this team and its star need a mentor like Billups. I honestly can't think of a better fit for the Kings than him right now.