Yao Ming is reportedly on the block, with the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen writing that the Kings have talked to the Rockets about the injured center. The words "DeMarcus Cousins" are mentioned in Feigen's report, which draws panic or laughter, depending on one's disposition. Feigen, of course, shoots down any consideration Cousins could be involved, which .. duh. The Kings are not trading DeMarcus Cousins.
But don't be surprised if, as the trade season plods along, the Kings remain squarely in the Yao conversation.
Sacramento is 5-23, going nowhere fast. Another top-five -- and probably top-four, depending on Tyreke Evans' availability -- pick is on the way, and the primary, secondary and third-iary goal of the season should be to develop the young players while creating a team identity that is not simply "sucking." Trading for an impact veteran at this point is worthless unless that veteran can be effective and affordable for another two or three years. As has been noted, the Kings have few bad contracts (if Francisco Garcia's $17.4 million over three seasons is your worst contract, your cap sheet's in damn good shape) and plenty of cap space on the way.
So why trade for Yao? Well, because by doing so, the Kings could save tons of loot this season.
Half of Yao's $17.7 million contract for this season is insured against injury. Suppose the Kings acquire Yao at exactly midseason (in terms of how NBA contracts are paid out -- it will actually work out to about the 50-game mark, but that's just quibbling). The Kings would be on the hook for the rest of Yao's 2010-11 salary, about $8.8 million. But half is covered by insurance -- the Kings would actually only pay Yao $4.4 million.
Let's assume the Kings were to send Samuel Dalembert to Houston in the deal. Dalembert makes $13.1 million this season; if the trade happened around midseason, Sam would be owed $6.5 million for the rest of the year. So even though Yao makes $4.6 million more than Dalembert this season, the Kings would come up $2 million in the green while thinning out the frontline a bit.
Don't discount the impact of $2 million on the Maloofs' bottom line. Remember the 2008-09 season, when the Kings took 2-3 deals to make a couple hundred thousand dollars each? When they left Kenny Thomas at home on road trips to asave couple thousand here or there, and worked out a buy-out with Will Freaking Solomon? That was all to save relatively small amounts of money. A simple trade like this -- one you'd think the Rockets would jump on, given that they are damn near desperate at center and are chasing a playoff series -- would save $2 million, just like that.
Now consider that the Kings could save even more by sending other players out (including either Jason Thompson or Carl Landry) or could leverage Dalembert and an interest in Yao's contract into a larger trade to bring in a young point guard (like Aaron Brooks or D.J. Augustin). This is where the Kings' in-season cap space becomes a huge asset. The possibilities are endless.