Congratulations Kings fans! We have ourselves another new coach! Dave Joerger seems like the real deal. At best, he is a Mike Malone type coach that has better Xs and Os and hopefully a more developed offensive system. Coach seems to be the kind of guy that wants to win his players hearts so that when the time comes, he wins their heads as well. "Trust is built on the defensive end of the floor. Chemistry is built on the defensive end of the floor". I could see that quote coming out of Michael Malone's mouth just as soon as I could see it coming out of Dave Joerger's. This is the third in fourth coaches that has us really excited and gives us hope of turning the franchise around.
Unfortunately, I have some bad news as well. Dave Joerger can win the players hearts and minds, but that in and of itself will not translate to wins in the standings. Joerger needs some serious help on the roster end of things. This roster is not a playoff roster. Now, there's a possibility that the new staff can convince DMC to play hard 100% of the time on both ends of the floor, use Rudy Gay correctly, develop Ben McLemore's confidence, play Seth Curry real minutes, Marco finds his shot, Cauley-Stein takes another jump, and the pick turns out to be a homerun. Realistically, DeMarcus may or may not turn into an every possession player, Rudy will still be inconsistent, Ben won't be able to dribble, Seth may struggle with serious minutes, Marco's confidence may be shot, and Cauley-Stein may not develop on the offensive side of the floor. The truth is probably found somewhere in the middle, but the Kings can't afford to bet another year of DeMarcus Cousins' ultra-valuable contract on hopes and dreams and unicorns and rainbows. Year after year we pretend that a role player will turn into a starter and a bench warmer will turn into a role player and a rookie will turn into a star. Vlade needs to take a serious look at the roster and fill some gaping talent holes.
Looking into the past can often help set expectations for the future. For example, my wife's best friend is always late, and when I say always I mean always and when I say late I mean at least 30 minutes late. For years, my wife would be annoyed every time her friend showed up late to an event. Eventually, I was able to convince my wife that if you look into the past behavior (lateness) you will often find similar future results (more tardiness). Understandably, Kings fans (and all sports fans) think that this is the year that things click. This is the year that we surprise the media pundits. This is the year that our players come together and make an unexpected run. Every fan base wants their team to be the 2016 Blazers or 2014 Suns. Most likely, incomplete rosters are going to be the 2016 Kings or the 2016 Magic. There is almost a zero percent chance of making the playoffs if you don't have five NBA starters on your team. Let's take a look at Jason Thompson, the most tenured Kings player of all time.
As you can see, Jason Thompson is not an NBA starter. For seven years we started this guy. Now, I'm not trying to bash Thompson or throw him under the bus or argue that he's the cause of the Kings failure. For seven years we tried to convince ourselves that J.T. was a starting PF in the NBA. For seven years we acquired countless other PFs that couldn't unseat Thompson as the starting Power Forward . In any given year during that span he was a top three or four player on the team! It's easy to look back and see how poor the past rosters have been for our sad franchise, but this should also help us to wake up and avoid overrating our current players. Right now, we will not make the playoffs with the roster as it's currently assembled. We need major upgrades at two or three positions and minor upgrades in several more. Vlade improved the front office and the coaching staff and now it's time for him to turn his attention to the on-court product.
First, we will begin by comparing our projected started to their counterparts in the league. Having a player ranked in the top 20 of his position in the league is what I'll be using as "starter" material. I will only be rating players currently under contract (no Rondo, Curry, or Acy).
PG: Darren Collison: 17 - 20
There are clearly 16 better PGs in the league (Curry, Paul, Westbrook, Lillard, Irving, Wall, Conley, Dragic, Lowry, Bledsoe, Parker, Teague, Holliday, Rubio, Walker, and Rose) with another couple of guys that are right in his range (Reggie Jackson and Deron Williams). We can get by with Collison as our starter if we have really solid players in the other four starting positions. Unfortunately, Darren is currently our third best player.
SG: Ben McLemore, Marco Bellinelli: Embarrassing
These guys aren't NBA starters and frankly I'm not certain McLemore is an NBA player. I won't be terribly surprised if he's out of the league within three years. Marco certainly had a bad year and I expect him to improve to passable next year. That being said, the Kings don't have an starting NBA SG on the roster.
SF: Rudy Gay: Top Ten
Rudy is our second best player by a mile and one of only two guys in the top ten at his position. Lebron, Durant, Leonard, Hayward, Anthony, Parsons, Carroll, Crowder would all rank ahead of him with a couple others right in his range. If Joerger can get Rudy to really work hard on the defensive end of the floor as well as continuing to work on his efficiency, we can get by with Rudy at SF.
PF: Willie Cauley-Stein: Top 25ish
WCS is a tough one to rate as he's easy to rate on his potential vs his actual production. He's a possible future DPOY if he continues to grow, but could also turn into the next Biyombo. If he really takes a leap during the offseason he could be an NBA starter and he's a perfect fit next to DeMarcus.
C: DeMarcus Cousins: Top Three
It's my belief that Cousins is the best Center in the NBA. That being said, I know other would disagree, so I'll rank him in the top three at his position. With the right internal discipline and external motivation Boogie could be a top 10 player in the league. I'm going to assume that Joerger will reach DeMarcus and will have the correct balance of outside, high post, and low post offensive positions.
Now that we've assessed the starters, let's take a look at what our general and specific needs are throughout the entire roster.
3 Point Shooting
Starting SG: This is by far the most obvious and the largest hole in the roster. We cannot afford to enter next season without a real shooting guard. I am not willing to bet on Seth Curry being a starter or for Ben to grow or for Marco to be better. We need help and we need it right now. I'll say this, if the Kings don't get an actual NBA quality shooting guard we will not have a winning record, we will not make the playoffs, and DeMarcus will be gone by the trade deadline. Just like we had to hit a homerun with the coaching hire, we have to hit a home run with the shooting guard position.
Starting/Backup PG: Depending on what happens with Rondo and Collison we will have to acquire another ball handler. Once again, Seth Curry is not the solution. I liked what I saw at the end of the season, but he's more of an undersized SG than a PG and neither of our other SGs or SFs can handle the ball with confidence.
Backup PF: Quincy Acy has opted out of his contract and we only have three real big men on the roster with Koufos, DMC, and WCS. A quality backup PF would do wonders for the bench production. We just need someone to come in and play defense, rebound, and an outside shot would be a bonus.
There are typically three ways teams can improve their rosters. They can make a trade, acquire a free agent, or build through the draft. I'll be looking at improvement through free agency and the draft and lightly discussing trades as well.
Sacramento is not a top tier free agent destination. We aren't a second tier free agent destination. We are a bottom of the barrel, need to overpay or get lucky free agent destination. Because of that, I'll be skipping over all of the best and most of the second best levels of available free agents.
Big Swing: Evan Fournier
Fournier would become the third or fourth best player on the roster and massively upgrade the shooting guard slot.
As you can see he is a great three point shooter at 40% and is a scorer at heart. Fournier can also play some small forward which would help with on court flexibility. He is not a great defender and only averaged 2.7 assists per game (although that was a career high). Fournier would become a great third option behind Rudy and Cousins and could stretch the floor when DMC is pounding down low. However, he is likely too expensive for the Kings unless they throw him a near max contract. In order to do that, we would have to renounce Rondo and would have little to no money left for any other signings.
Realistic: Allen Crabbe
Although Crabbe isn't a top 20 player at his position he would still be a welcome sight to Kings fans. Crabbe can play defense and can also hit the three ball at 39%. He's the definition of a 3-and-D player in the modern NBA. He also made a big jump this year in minutes per game (13 to 26) and PPG (3.3 to 10.3). He's going to make some money in free agency as a restricted free agent, but the Kings may be able to snag him with a slight overpay and an immediate offer. Other teams may be chasing DeMar DeRozan, Evan Fournier, Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes, Chandler Parsons, Nicolas Batum, Luol Deng, Jordan Clarkson, Evan Turner, Kent Bazemore, Jamal Crawford, and other wing players. If the Kings identify Crabbe as their guy, the need to immediately give him an offer sheet at midnight on free agency to try and capitalize on other teams trying to swing for the big names. Crabbe is probably the most realistic free agent upgrade for the Kings.
Other options: Jordan Clarkson, Courtney Lee, Eric Gordon, Gerald Henderson
Backup PG/Ball Handler:
If we re-sign Rondo, this need goes out the door, but for now I'm going to believe the Kings make the right call and let Rondo suffer with Phil Jackson in New York.
Big Swing: Mike Conley
The only reason Conley comes to SacTown is if he really loved Joerger that much and believes in his ability to convert DeMarcus into a Marco Gasol-esque player. In all reality, Conley is probably going to stay in Memphis or move over to San Antonio to take over for Tony Parker.
Realistic: Mario Chalmers
Sacramento could do a lot worse than a Collison/Chalmers point guard pairing. Chalmers has championship experience, has dealt with high strung star players previously, and can actually play basketball. He's not a starter, but would provide solid production as a backup PG.
Other Options: Matthew Dellavedova, Ray Felton, DJ Augustin
Big Swing: Derrick Williams (I'm kidding) Ryan Anderson
I'm honestly going to really hate it if the Kings sign Ryan Anderson this offseason. It's not that I think Anderson is a bad person or a bad player, but his cost will not fill the biggest need on the roster. We will have to overpay for an aging, injury prone backup PF that doesn't play much defense. If we spend money on Anderson we will have to hope to fill the other immediate holes through the draft or some fancy, one-side trades (imagine if Vlade was on the right side of one of those).
Jones has been a bit of a mystery his entire career. He's always seemed about to break through, but can't quite get there. I think Terrence could be had for a bargain coming off of a down year on a dysfunctional Rockets team. He would provide spacing and solid play all around.
Other Options: Quincy Acy, Mirza Teletovic, Jordan Hill, Brandon Bass, David Lee
I don't believe the Kings will trade DeMarcus Cousins or Willie Cauley-Stein during the offseason. Although they would bring the biggest haul, I won't include them due to Vlade's belief in this rosters.
#8 overall pick: We can't straight up trade the pick unless we are receiving a first round pick this year or next in return. If we end up packaging the pick + player for a player(s) in return we will have to first select in the draft and then trade the selected player. Only rebuilding teams or franchises with a certain player in mind will be chasing a mid lottery pick. Brooklyn, New York, Philly, Chicago (depending on what ownership decides), Milwaukee, Orlando, Denver, Minnesota, Phoenix, and LAL could all show interest in the pick if the Kings put it on the market.
Value: Paired with the right asset, this could bring us back a starting player.
Rudy Gay: Rudy can bring back a good haul if we send him to the right team. Small Forward is not a really deep position in the league right now. A team like Chicago, Minnesota, Orlando, LAC, New Orleans, Washington, Houston, and LAL could all use a guy like Rudy. The question is what they can give in return. The Clippers aren't going to give Redick up, Houston, Chicago, Washington and New Orleans don't have pieces we are interested in to win now which leaves Minnesota, Washington, Orlando, and the Lakers as potential suitors.
Value: Rudy could bring us back a starting player as well, but that would leave us a hole at small forward. I don't think Omri Casspi is a starting small forward in the NBA. That being said, if Rudy + pick could get us a really good shooting guard - I would rather roll with a Collison, Oladipo (for example), Casspi, WCS, Boogie line than the one we currently have starting. Essentially, Casspi is a better starting SF than Marco, Seth, or Ben is a starting SG.
Darren Collison: Collison can either be a solid starting PG or a super bench player with potential for sixth man of the year awards. I believe a Collison trade would probably happen later in the summer once teams had fought for the free agent point guards. New York, Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Utah, and Dallas could have interest in Darren.
Value: Darren could get us a starter in return, but we would desperately need a PG at that point. For example, we could swing Collison for Alec Burks, but now we have a starting SG and no PGs (assuming we don't bring back Rondo).
That's pretty much the entirety of the Kings tradeable assets that will get us a good enough return to replace a starter. I could see Kosta Koufos (although less likely with Joerger here), Ben McLemore, and Marco Belinelli all being dealt, but none of those guys are going to bring us a return that will move the needle with the roster.
Conclusion: The Kings have a few assets and a few ways to improve the roster. The Kings first focus should be on finding a starting shooting guard. There are two realistic ways to really beef that position up. We can trade up in the draft to grab Hield or we can trade for a starter. I don't think we are going to find a big enough bump in free agency. Once we solve the shooting guard problem, we should look to use whatever methods are left to solve the remaining issues. For example, if we trade Rudy + pick for a starting SG than we need to use free agency money on a starting SF (Bazemore is my pipe dream) as well as a backup ball handler and backup power forward. This team is sorta kinda close to the playoffs if we can make two or three solid moves during the offseason. Lastly, I'll leave you with a couple of asinine trade proposals:
Rudy + Collison + #8 for Rubio + #5
Sacramento: Sacramento acquires a really skilled point guard that can also play some really solid defense. We also move up in the draft which may allow us to grab Buddy Hield to start alongside Rubio. I believe Hield is the real deal and could immediately step in and knock down shots. If you are going to have a non-shooter like Rubio as your point guard, you must pair him with a shooting guard that can actually shoot. Sacramento would need to then pursue a starting/backup SF in free agency as well as a backup ball handler. Rubio has had some injury concerns, so a solid backup is desperately needed.
Minn: This move only happens if the Timberwolves want to put all of their players in their correct positions. LaVine could step in as the starting point guard with Wiggins and Rudy taking the wing spots. Minnesota could also play a small ball lineup of Collison, LaVine, Wiggins, Gay, and KAT. Another lineup would be LaVine, Wiggins, Gay, Dieng, and KAT. The Wolves would still keep a lottery pick as well to grab another young talent.
Rudy + #8 for Bledsoe
Sacramento: The Kings get a starting shooting guard (Bledsoe is either an oversized PG or undersized SG) to round out their roster. In this case we would also need to acquire a starting/backup SF through free agency.
Phoenix: This gives Phoenix another high pick to use on a big man for the future while also ridding them of the awkward situation of Bledsoe. The Suns are set at starting guards with Knight and Booker which leaves Bledsoe on the outside looking in. It also gives them a solid starting SF to fill that gap as well.