With the Kings struggling out of the gate and playing just well enough to not be in the cellar but not well enough to be in the playoffs, many fans have grown more and more fed up with the current iteration of the team. It’s become a very common refrain amongst some fans that the team should start over and fully embrace a new rebuild, the thinking being that star center DeMarcus Cousins isn’t likely to stay in Sacramento beyond his current contract and the team doesn’t have the pieces around him to get good enough in a quick enough amount of time to convince him to stay.
But it’s not as simple as cutting bait with Cousins for as many assets as you can get. Thanks to Sacramento’s previous strategy of “mortgage the future” to try to become a playoff team, the cost could be high should they start tanking this year or the next.
The biggest culprit is the summer of 2015’s trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. That trade, which opened up the team’s cap space to sign Kosta Koufos, Marco Belinelli and Rajon Rondo cost the Kings a young prospect in Nik Stauskas (who is finally starting to show some promise in his third year), the right to swap picks in 2016 and 2017, and an unprotected 1st round pick in either 2018 or 2019. For those wondering why it’s 2018 or 2019, that’s because Sacramento currently owes a top-10 protected pick to Chicago as part of the 2011 trade that sent Omri Casspi to Cleveland for J.J. Hickson. The Kings have managed to suck for so long that they have a legitimate opportunity to fully extinguish the protections on that pick and not owe the Bulls anything, as long as they don’t finish 11th or better. Should they accomplish that, then they would owe Philadelphia their 2018 pick no matter what it is. (UPDATE: As has been pointed out to me in the comments, since the Kings didn’t convey their pick to the Bulls last year, the 76ers own the 2019 pick as picks can’t be traded in back to back years. So 2019, not 2018.)
While Sacramento has not proven very adept at building through the draft, having drafted a variety of busts over the recent years (this is perhaps the biggest reason the Kings are in their current predicament), it is still one of the surest ways for teams, particularly small market teams, to get stars and talent. Right now the Kings do not control an excess of picks, and the risk in rebuilding is losing a potential top-5 pick if the Kings fall off dramatically in the case of a DeMarcus Cousins trade.
The Kings, to be fair, do seem to understand the situation at least a little bit, as their draft night and Free Agency moves this summer showed real foresight. Vlade Divac and co. turned one lottery pick and Marco Belinelli into three first round picks and a coveted European player who will come over next year. The Kings also refrained from handing out too much long term money and did a good job of hedging some deals with unguaranteed money.
The next immediate step will be dealing with the trade deadline this year. Barring some incredible change of direction/mind, I do not see the Kings trading DeMarcus Cousins this season. But Rudy Gay on the other hand almost has to be traded by February, or the Kings will receive nothing. Darren Collison is another player the Kings will likely lose in Free Agency. The Kings have the opportunity to make up for some of their previous mistakes by going out and getting assets. We’ll see how they handle it. We’re only two months away from the deadline after all, and I expect it to be a very busy time for Sacramento’s front office.