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Trudge onward, rebuild, or something in between?

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The Kings don’t have a clear path moving forward. What path they choose will drastically shape this franchise for years to come.

Kimani Okearah

For the past few days I’ve been composing an article around the Kings tough choices ahead and it was going to be titled “Balancing on a Knife’s Edge”. Now, due to the devastating news of Rudy Gay’s season-ending injury, Sacramento is balancing on a knife’s edge that’s straddling a fence which is between a rock and a hard place. There are so many factors at play that make each potential choice almost impossible to execute correctly.

Things to Think About:

  1. The Kings have the opportunity to offer a longer, more lucrative contract extension to DeMarcus Cousins this summer. If the Kings trade Cousins, the receiving team does not gain those extension rights.
  2. Rudy Gay is likely to opt in to his contract due to the Achilles injury.
  3. The Kings will send their 2017 first round pick to Chicago if it falls outside of the top ten selections.
  4. Philadelphia has pick swap rights with the Kings for the 2017 pick, Joel Embiid looks like the real deal, and the Sixers are 7-2 in their last nine games after beating the Toronto Raptors.
  5. Philadelphia owns Sacramento’s unprotected 2019 pick.
  6. Darren Collison is an unrestricted free agent.
  7. Ty Lawson is an unrestricted free agent.
  8. Omri Casspi is an unrestricted free agent.
  9. Ben McLemore will likely be an unrestricted free agent (it’s hard to see the Kings giving him the qualifying offer that would make him a restricted Free Agent).
  10. Bogdan Bogdanovic is likely coming over next season and will be signed to a non-rookie contract.

Because some of these options promote a rebuild, while others encourage staying competitive, our management is left with three possibilities moving forward. First, the Kings can choose to try and press on in the hopes that guys will step up and the team makes the playoffs in a motivational Disney-esque end to the season. Vlade can also decide to trade the expiring contracts listed above, along with some other pieces, in the hopes of re-signing DeMarcus Cousins and competing next season. And of course, the final path for the future of this franchise is to unload DeMarcus Cousins, along with other veterans, to build toward the coming years.

While it may be easy to simply select one of those options and say that it’s best for the Kings and for the fans, the past mistakes of this organization condemn almost every choice unless the inexperienced management that leads this team carefully maneuvers through the minefield that they’ve set for themselves.

Option 1: The Dory Plan - Just Keep Swimming

First, let me say that Finding Nemo is one of the worst Pixar films ever made and Finding Dory was even an even less entertaining sequel. There, I said it.

As pretty much everyone has realized by this point, the moment Rudy Gay’s Achilles ruptured, the Kings’ season ended. Whatever slim hopes that relied more on league mediocrity than this roster’s talent to make the postseason were crushed last night.

The absolute worst thing this ownership team can decide to do is to keep pushing. At some point, Vivek and Vlade have to realize that they’ve been dealt a bad hand (some of it self-inflicted) and it’s time to fold the cards. Continuing to hopelessly pursue a foolish playoff dream and possibly trading young assets to do so, will only continue to derail the franchise. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be shocked if this is the path that was chosen, especially if Sacramento rallies for the next few games and plays decently during this eight game road trip.

Possible Outcomes:

Worst Case Scenario - The Kings miss the playoffs, lose their pick, and DeMarcus Cousins refuses the extension due to the lack of competitive players on the roster.

Best Case Scenario - The team rallies around their injured teammate and somehow slips into the playoffs due to Omri Casspi getting extended minutes and Malachi Richardson showing he can contribute.

Likely Scenario - Sacramento keeps their pick, but it’s somewhere in the 7-10 range, DeMarcus re-signs, but the Kings are unable to build much around him for the next several years due to the inability to improve through free agency and the 2019 pick being spoken for.

Option 2: The Balanced Approach

The front office can also choose to try and continue straddling the fence between rebuilding and competing. If DeMarcus Cousins is still committed to re-upping with the Kings, trading expiring contracts and other veterans for future starters and possible picks may be a viable option.

Contenders can always use a shooter and energy player like Omri Casspi, bench guards such as Ty Lawson and Darren Collison, or a perfectly capable backup center in Kosta Koufos. Sending out experienced players for other assets will allow playing time to open up for the rookies and Cauley-Stein while also allowing the Kings to keep their pick.

Possible Outcomes:

Worst Case Scenario - There isn’t much of a trade market for the expiring contracts. Cauley-Stein continues to struggle even though he’s allotted more minutes per game. Seeing the lack of direction, DeMarcus Cousins refuses to sign an extension and Sacramento is left to deal an expiring star player.

Best Case Scenario - The extended playing time revives Cauley-Stein’s aggressiveness, rebounding, and defensive presence. Malachi Richardson continues to show flashes of his future contributions and the traded players bring back at least one future starter and a decent pick.

Likely Scenario - DeMarcus Cousins re-signs with Sacramento. Rudy Gay returns on an expiring contract, but isn’t the same player. The rookies gain some game experience and are more ready to play next season, but the talent level will still be well below average.

Option 3: BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM

Blow it up. Send DeMarcus Cousins to a contender and get as many pieces as you can from him. While this sounds like the most obvious option, the Kings would have to walk this path extremely carefully or this could turn into an even worse situation than we are in now. The middle of the league is embroiled in average play and that’s resulted in one of the oddest playoff runs for both conferences. If the Kings trade Boogie to a current bottom ten team, the chances are likely that the addition of DeMarcus will propel that organization out of the lottery.

Draft Positioning Differential

Draft Position Games Behind Draft Position Games Behind Differential
Draft Position Games Behind Draft Position Games Behind Differential
2nd (Heat) 24 14th (Pistons) 17 7 games
2nd (Heat) 24 7th (76ers) 21 3 games
8th (Magic) 20 14th (Pistons) 17 3 games
9th (Kings) 19.5 14th (Pistons) 17 2.5 games
9th (Kings) 19.5 3rd (Heat) 22.5 3 games
9th (Kings) 19.5 7th (76ers) 21 1.5 games

For example, if the Kings dealt Cousins to the Phoenix Suns for their 2017 first rounder, a future Miami Heat pick, and a player or two, the Suns would most likely shoot up the standings and that pick would end up in the late lottery or as a mid-first rounder. Taking Cousins’ impact into account on any given team seriously reduces the value of most picks this year.

That leaves Vlade and Catanella with one option that’s almost guaranteed to be extremely valuable, Boston. The Nets have lost 11 games in a row and don’t look to be going anywhere fast. The Celtics improvement will have no affect on the value of the pick, so this is what the Kings must obtain if they are trading Boogie. If he is dealt, the Philadelphia swap may come into play as Sacramento will probably slide down the standings, but a 25% shot at the number one overall pick and a guaranteed top four selection is worth losing a position or two later in the lottery.

Possible Outcomes:

Worst Case Scenario - Management calls Danny Ainge to inquire about a DeMarcus Cousins trade. The Celtics front office, which is known for leaking advantageous information, spreads the word that the Kings are shopping D.M.C. Boston offers a pu pu platter of non-Nets picks and average players and we are forced to accept due to Cousins being unhappy with being dealt and his refusal to stay with Sacramento.

Best Case Scenario - Too many teams see themselves one piece away from a playoff run and a bidding war opens up for a player of Boogie’s talent. Boston realizes that they want to contend now and offer the 2017 BKN pick, a good young player, Amir Johnson as salary filler, and a future first rounder as well. For once, the Kings make the right selections in a stacked draft and quickly rebuild.

Likely Scenario - Boston includes the Brooklyn pick, a player like Terry Rozier, Amir Johnson and possibly another minor asset to acquire DeMarcus Cousins and Darren Collison or Omri Casspi. The Kings rebuild over time and develop talent like they should have been doing all season.

My thoughts

There are huge, possibly franchise shattering, consequences to each of these choices. Even making the most intelligent decision could end poorly for this organization. In the end, it comes down to trying to simplify all of those factors listed above into a few possible outcomes. Would you rather have the (potential) number one overall pick and number eight overall pick as well as a young asset, but lose out on the Kings best player in years who is in his prime? Do you trust the ability of this franchise to select the right talent and develop those young players or do you choose to keep Boogie, take the number eight overall pick, and try and build through free agency and smart trades?

If I had to make the decision right now, I would choose to deal DeMarcus Cousins. The return probably won’t be as fabulous as we hope, but I don’t see another window opening for this team with the few assets we have on board. Open up the trade discussions, look at the multiple offers that come your way, and make the best decision for the future.