[Editor's note: This was written before today's Darren Collison news, but there's still a lot of valid points being made.]
Rajon Rondo. Kevin Love. Josh Smith.
These are just a few of the names that will probably never put on a Sacramento Kings uniform. Let's just say for a minute that one of those guys does get traded here. Is the short term gain worth the long term loss? It is funny to say for a 28- win team, but if there is one thing the Kings aren't lacking, it's talent. Instead, we seem to have many talented players that just need to "get it". Looking at a lot of rosters of teams that are in our basic win window, I would reckon that we have more talent than most of them, including many that have 6-7 wins on us. Many of these guys were thrown around roles as the Kings made moves all of last season. Many never had an off-season and a training camp to get properly acquainted with the system. Many of these guys had to adapt into three different overhauls of our roster. Sure, gambling on Kevin Love may help us out long term, but what if it doesn't? What if we trade all of our young talent and have one great season followed by a new rebuilding project? If that is the case, I would much rather grow what we have.
For the first time in probably 8 years, the Kings seem to have a real game plan of what they want to do. Gone are the days where we skate down toward the minimum salary cap, and do a bevy of money saving trades. If anything, we have done the opposite. When was the last time we thought we might lose someone because we legitimately could not afford him? This Isaiah Thomas situation is the first time it has even been an issue in probably a decade. The last real fan favorite I remember leaving via free agency was Bonzi Wells, and that was due to his misdoings, not ours. Before that, it would probably be an aging Vlade Divac. Since then, we have constantly traded our players for a bunch of smaller contracts, stayed at the minumum, and repeated that process. Not too many of those helped in the long run. For the first time in years, we have a core that we can actually see a future with. Why sacrifice that for one or two years?
On paper, if you look at our possible depth chart, we actually look like a good basketball team. If we can keep Isaiah, this rings especially true...
PG: Isaiah Thomas (?), Ray McCallum, Jason Terry, Darren Collison
SG: Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, MarShon Brooks (?)
SF: Rudy Gay, Derrick Williams, Travis Outlaw
PF: Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Reggie Evans, Quincy Acy
C: DeMarcus Cousins
(Note: I am aware there are 14 names here. The guys at the end of the bench are being written about for when they play. Not under the assumption they are playing every game)
The first thing that sticks out on that depth chart is the logjam at the 4. We can attempt to fix this in a variety of different ways. The first way, should he choose to accept it is moving JT to the backup center role. I admit, even to me, this is not the best option. Talent wise, he should be able to do it, but I do not see him accepting the role, as he has been known to slip into a coma when he comes off the bench. To me, the better option is to attempt to unload that deal for ANYTHING, be it a pick, cash, a trip to the Bahamas, whatever. This empties a roster spot to try to get a young up and comer (like fan favorite Cole Aldrich, or maybe even Sim Bhullar), who will cost a fraction of the money, and embrace the role as a backup big man. While those are not exactly marquee names, a starting caliber big man is hard enough to come by, let alone a backup. This method also frees up the log jam at the 4.
Reggie Evans actually performed quite well when he got to start next to Cuz. He will tip and grab rebounds practically in his sleep, and can actually play some decent defense. Sure, a legit lock down guy is ideal, but there are about 25-27 teams that need one of those. Carl Landry has proven to be a great 6th man to have when healthy. I think some fans were too quick to throw him under the bus after this last season. He literally did not play a healthy game with us last year, and probably should have sat the whole year out. This does not mean it is going to be a bad deal, though. Landry came off a great season with the Warriors, and actually was sought after by many other teams. The guy will give his all when he comes off the bench, and can provide an excellent spark down low. Rebounding and defense are an issue (which is a sentence that could be posted on about 90% of our players), but off the bench, it can work.
This leaves Acy. While Acy is undersized, the guy has proven to be able to hit the occasional shot outside (actually hit one or two corner threes even), has some very underrated athleticism, and a motor that every player in the league should have. I think in 2-3 years he is going to start making waves. Reggie Evans, whom we often compared him to before he got here, is probably the perfect guy for Acy to work under in the lineup. With the (easier said than done) dumping of JT, the crowded 4 spot is suddenly much easier to deal with.
Obviously we have Rudy Gay for at least another year, hopefully many more after it. He is easily the best SF we have had since the artist formerly known as Ron Artest, (not that that is anything to brag about). He is obviously our starting 3 for the immediate future, should he choose to stay here.
Behind him, in my opinion, is the biggest piece of the puzzle for my idea; Derrick Williams. We saw a few different faces of Derrick Williams. One that could take over games, one that could provide a spark, and one that was non existent. I do not blame him for his inconsistencies, however. Throughout his first three years, he has struggled to find a consistent role. Talent has never been his issue. The guy can leap out of the building, get to the line, and even hit the occasional jumper. To me, Derrick Williams biggest weakness is in his confidence. This year, if he can come into the season knowing that he is one of the first 2 guys off the bench, and accept that role, it would be huge for the team. It could be the first year that he has known exactly what his role will be night in, night out. And with the others on the court, he can be free to become a huge piece off the bench if he can accept the role, and adapt his game accordingly.
Behind him we the one and only Travis Outlaw. As much guff as I have gotten for my sarcastic praise of this gentleman, I actually legitimately like this guy. Whether he is asked to start, or comes in with 2 minutes left, he will come in with the same mindset, and work his butt off the whole time he is out there. In this lineup, he will probably do much more of the coming in with 2 minutes left, but considering his role at the end of the bench, Outlaw is an ideal candidate.
Many were perplexed by the fact that we have drafted a shooting guard two years in a row now. That would be a valid argument if we had more than one shooting guard already. Ben McLemore will more than likely be our starting 2, barring a big deal, or an insane start from Stauskas. Hopefully, with a long off season to work on his game, McLemore can be the starting 2 that we know he can be. His mechanics were there all last year, but the shots could not drop. Going to a game live, it is not ridiculous to say that McLemore has a very Ray Allen like form on that shot. His next step is to get the Ray Allen like results, and while that is a tall order, if he can just become a reliable shooter, that opens up our offense in some major ways. If it doesn't then the next guy down the line should be able pick up where he leaves off.
Stauskas, despite many rumors to the contrary, is not Jimmer Fredette. Stauskas is a 6'6 shooting guard, who can shoot the lights out, take it inside, and create his own shot. He also has one more year of college experience on Ben McLemore, which could prove huge. While many think that these two can not coexist, I tend to disagree. They are both young players who happen to play the same spot. Having two great players in the same position does not have to be a bad thing. The Kings had Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson both running the point for a few years, and I remember they did a pretty good job doing it in the process. If we give these guys time to develop. We may be taking about a top shooting guard in Ben McLemore, and a 6th man candidate in Stauskas.
Outside of these two, there is a possibility of MarShon Brooks, whom I have to assume has a spot on the roster if he shows us anything. He has proven to be an NBA talent, but has never fully realized this talent, much like Derrick Williams. While is a good acquisition for us, I see him spending many games in street clothes, or riding the 12th man role. He could, however, prove to be a good pickup in the event of an injury at the 2.
This whole plan, obviously, is working under us getting Isaiah back. The jury is still out on how much is too much in the eyes of the management. In my opinion, unless we have a backup plan, which we may very well have, we aren't going to let Isaiah go unless we have a viable option in our back pocket. At the current rate guys are being paid, however, I see the Kings realizing that a year in the luxury tax may be a risk that is worth taking in the long run. Isaiah has proven that despite his size, he is more than capable of starting in the NBA. There is only one Chris Paul out there, so finding a good offensive point guard that can also play good D is much easier said than done. While he can get into a bad habit of playing hero ball at times, which is my biggest complaint with him, Isaiah has proven his place as a starter in the NBA.
Behind Isaiah, we have two possible backups (right now): Ray McCallum, and Jason Terry. These are two guys in complete opposite situations when it comes to their careers. Jason Terry is an aging veteran who is trying to end his career on a positive note, (which is why many think he may be bought by the time the season starts). Ray McCallum is a guy who spent much of last year riding the bench, but in his last few games, where he finally got to start, he proved that he has some NBA talent. I think either of these guys could fill the role behind Isaiah fine. having Jason Terry to look up to for a year or two may actually work in Ray's favor. I firmly believe that a veteran presence like a Jason Terry can be a big difference maker on a team like the Kings. I have said I wanted a veteran presence for years. Terry has been around the block a few times, and even got himself a ring in the process. There is knowledge to be had there. Most of these teams in the playoffs have that veteran that they can look up to in the locker room. They can often bridge that gap between players and coaches. While Terry is not what he used to be talent wise, his locker room presence alone could be big for this team.
If Terry does decide to spend his last couple years elsewhere, and I would not blame him, Ray McCallum will get a chance to prove his place in the NBA. Many guys have had better years than him, and faded into oblivion two- years later, but many guys have also had similar rookie years to him, and proven to be great NBA players in the long run. I could see, given the opportunity, Ray McCallum having a similar sophomore improvement as Kevin Martin had for us. Both spent much of their rookie year in suits, or on the bench, but both also proved they had talent when given a fair shot. It will be interesting to see, but I think Ray could be Petey D's first big steal as a GM when all is said and done.
With the Darren Collison news, I feel the need to adjust this plan accordingly. We now have two options in the context of my plan. Sign Isaiah, and make a solid 1, 2 punch at the point, or plan for the future. My theory for this signing is that the team knows they can use him with or without Isaiah. If Isaiah is offered a real high deal (which after the Jodie Meeks and Hayward offers seems likely), we have a solid PG still with this deal. If the offer is able to be matched, we now have depth at the PG. Terry is probably gone in this situation, but with Isaiah, Collison, and Ray, we have a chance to always have a true point on the court. It also gives us a little more time to develop Ray. In my opinion, bringing on Collison doesn't kill hopes for Isaiah, but if it turns out to be the end of his days here, at least we have a PG we can insert now, instead of being left with nothing.
Another reason I say a gamble with the tax line is worth it this year, in terms of keeping Isaiah, is that we can have some decent cap room to add the role players we need for future years. We are not going to get marquee free agents, but we can get 2-3 smaller names that could provide big boosts for us. Next summer, we should have the cap room to bring back who we want, as well as go after what we need.
This is not a rally against making any roster changes. We were a 28-win team last year. It would be stupid of me to rally against making any changes. This is simply one theory on how we can get better without having to gamble on our future. If we can get these superstars and get them to stay here, I am all for it, but if we do not, I think we can have a far better future than many give us credit for.