In Sacramento Kings history, the biggest team improvements have almost always come about because of big trades. In 1991, the Kings traded for Mitch Richmond. In 1998 they traded Richmond for Webber. In 2006 the Kings sent Peja Stojakovic to Indiana for Ron Artest. And last year the Kings sent John Salmons, Chuck Hayes, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson to Toronto for Aaron Gray, Quincy Acy and Rudy Gay.
That last deal can't be considered anything but a success for the Kings. While the Kings didn't make huge improvements as a team, they increased their talent base and added another legitimate All-Star talent. The Kings were banking on Gay reverting back to his Memphis form and he ended up exceeding those expectations by averaging a career-high 20.1 points per game on a career-high 48.2% from the field to go with 5.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.2 steals. The Kings even managed an above .500 record with Cousins, Gay and Isaiah Thomas all played at least 30 minutes together.
Now with Thomas gone, Gay becomes even more important to the Kings, but in the deep west, more help is needed. During the draft we heard a lot about how active the Kings were in shopping their #8 pick for a proven player, but nothing came of it and the Kings opted to stay put and draft Nik Stauskas instead.
The two big names that consistently have come up in trade rumors for the Kings are Josh Smith and Rajon Rondo. Trade talks reportedly broke down with the Pistons regarding Smith after Stan Van Gundy (wisely) didn't want to trade Smith just to trade him. Unfortunately for fans hoping for another Rudy-like deal, that's an issue that's probably going to keep popping up. The Kings are not an asset heavy team, which is one of the reasons I was so opposed to the Kings not matching Isaiah Thomas' contract; Even if they didn't consider him part of their future plans, he still had a lot of value as a potential trade asset.
If we were to rank Sacramento's top trade assets it would probably look something like this:
1. DeMarcus Cousins (as close to untouchable as you're going to get on this team)
2. Rudy Gay (because of Gay's contract he could slide from 2 to 6 depending on the team)
3. Nik Stauskas
4. Ben McLemore
5. Ray McCallum
6. Darren Collison
7. Derrick Williams
If you're thinking about potential stars that may be available, there just isn't much there that Sacramento can offer. McLemore, McCallum and Stauskas are all about potential rather than production. Collison is a productive and affordable young veteran. Derrick Williams offers some potential but probably is more valuable because of his expiring contract at this point. The Kings also don't have any extra assets like future picks that are really valuable in making big trades, and they're still handicapped by the J.J. Hickson trade with a pick owed to Chicago.
If you were a team like Boston, would you want to trade Rajon Rondo for the package of players Sacramento would offer? Think back to the beginning of this summer when the Kings reportedly said they would have traded for Kevin Love even without an assurance that he'd re-sign. The Kings basically had the same assets then that they did now. Minnesota didn't even come close to biting, and the offer they did end up getting ended up being the last two #1 picks in the draft and a guy who would probably be the 3rd best player on the Kings in Thaddeus Young.
The Kings also don't have any space in which to make lopsided trades to take back more salary than they give, partly due to Gay's massive contract. Ironically, one of the more realistic ways I can think of the Kings making a big trade this year is by trading Gay, especially if he doesn't sign an extension and the Kings aren't sure he'll re-sign. It would be a tough move to do however because of Gay's contract, and the money coming back to Sacramento would be equally high and possibly longer term. I don't think that's a preferred scenario here.
One way the Kings can take advantage of their poor asset base is the same way they did last year: by taking a risk on a player that hasn't been performing to their usual standard. How many of those guys are out there? We know Smith is one and that's why he's been talked about so much. Ersan Ilyasova is another. But these are all guys with bad contracts that you have to really hope pan out because otherwise you're stuck in a worse situation than the one you started in.
The Kings might be better off playing it a little safe this year and seeing what they have in their young players and how Collison is handling the PG duties. The Kings will be in a much better position if any of Stauskas, McLemore and McCallum develop into good NBA players.
Any big move the Kings make will be fraught with risk, and fortunately last year's move paid off. They don't always do so however. I definitely don't envy Pete D'Alessandro his job.