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Trading for the Future

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The Kings should be pursuing Brandon Knight.

Phoenix Suns v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

As of this moment, the Kings are sitting in the eighth seed in the Western Conference and Sacramento’s management seems hell-bent on gaining that last playoff spot. A DeMarcus Cousins trade isn’t coming this year and there aren’t any plans to completely tear down and rebuild the squad. Because of the burning desire to reach the post-season for the first time in more than a decade, almost every single player on the team has been embroiled in trade rumors at some point in the last nine months. Early in the off-season it was Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore, and Kosta Koufos and more recently the potential discussions have centered on guys like Kosta Koufos (again), Willie Cauley-Stein, and Arron Afflalo.

No matter who is moved, it’s obvious that changes are needed. Sacramento is light on playable guards and heavy on big men and wings. The roster is unbalanced both in positional depth and overall talent. Everyone expects Vlade Divac to make some moves on or before the February 23rd trade deadline and for a team looking to make the playoffs, there are some short-term upgrades that may be available. Individuals such as Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha, and Greg Monroe seem to be attainable and would significantly upgrade the overall skill level of this team.

However, because of the multitude of skilled players not returning next year, the front office cannot afford to exchange our expiring contracts and long-term assets for half-season rentals. Right now, the Kings have only five proven NBA players on the books for next year, one of whom is Matt “scheduled rest” Barnes. The other four are DeMarcus Cousins, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, and Garrett Temple as Arron Afflalo will almost assuredly be dealt at the deadline or let go when the season ends (unless he keeps playing like he has these last two games).

Roster Splits

Contributors PPG RPG APG
Contributors PPG RPG APG
Current Roster 101.8 41.3 21.5
Pending FA Contributions 62 17.8 14.6
Remaining Players 39.8 23.5 6.9
Remaining, excluding Cousins 10.8 13.2 3.2

As shown above, the Kings will be losing the majority of their individual contributors to free agency. Rudy Gay certainly isn’t coming back and guys like Omri Casspi and Darren Collison will probably depart as well. If Sacramento manages to slip into that last playoff spot, they will lose their second, fourth, fifth, and sixth best contributor as well as their only first round pick in the draft. That is a recipe for disaster in DeMarcus Cousins’ last contracted season.

Who’s In, Who’s Out?

Ranking Player Returning?
Ranking Player Returning?
1 DeMarcus Cousins Yes
2 Rudy Gay No
3 Garrett Temple Yes
4 Ty Lawson No
5 Darren Collison No
6 Omri Casspi No
7 Kosta Koufos Yes
8 Anthony Tolliver Yes
9 Arron Afflalo No
10 Ben McLemore No
11 Matt Barnes Yes
12 Willie Cauley-Stein Yes

Possible Solutions

Free Agency

Obtaining starting caliber players through the free agent market is a non-viable solution for this franchise. Sacramento is a bottom five destination for players who can pick where they want to play. According to SB Nation’s Top 117 NBA Free Agents of 2016 the Kings only managed to grab the 35th best option with Arron Afflalo and the 95th best available in Matt Barnes. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20 as Garrett Temple has outplayed many individuals on that list, but the point is clear that the front office has no hope of signing top tier or even second tier players this off-season.

Point guard and small forward will be the biggest needs going forward. After removing the top 30 or so free agents who will be available, the point guard options are guys like Brandon Jennings and Deron Williams. Another avenue would be to try and lure Milos Teodosic over to the NBA, but those choices aren’t very encouraging. The small forward pickings get even more slim for Vlade and Co. The Kings could throw a max contract at Otto Porter, but other teams will be waiting to do the same. Robert Covington could probably be had, but once again he’s not starting material. Suffice it to say, free agency isn’t the play for an organization like Sacramento.

Big Swings

There are a couple of bigger name players, who are locked up long-term that could be had for the right price. Goran Dragic and Ricky Rubio are both possible candidates for a deadline deal.

Goran Dragic

Goran Dragic is probably the best pairing for our superstar, DeMarcus Cousins. His outside shooting and passing ability would be an upgrade over Darren Collison and his overall scoring ability would unlock additional options for the offense. The potential trade would simply be a salary dump for Pat Riley. In February of 2015, the Heat sent two future first round picks for Dragic to complete their core, but since then have lost Chris Bosh to possible career-ending injury and Dwyane Wade to the Chicago Bulls. For the first time in recent history, the Heat appear headed toward a rebuild and an older point guard who is under contract until he is 32 doesn’t fit that mold.

Miami: Rudy Gay, Darren Collison

Sacramento: Goran Dragic, Luke Babbitt

Although this deal would be a win for the Kings, Pat Riley may be able to get more of a haul from another GM. Trading two first rounders for a player and simply cutting bait two years later would hurt from both an asset and pride standpoint for Heat management.

Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio presents an interesting dilemma for NBA fans around the world. It seems that half of all fanbases would love to have him on their team and the other half think he’s just a different version of Rajon Rondo. Rubio’s passing ability and defense are well documented, but his putrid shooting, 36% from the floor and 27% from 3 point range (for comparison DeMarcus Cousins shoots better from beyond the arc than Rubio does from the field), would need to be surrounded by excellent shooters which the Kings do not have. On top of that, it’s unknown if Thibs is ready to part with his point guard. The Kings would have to give up a lot to obtain him and they may not have the right veteran pieces.

Minnesota: Darren Collison, Rudy Gay

Sacramento: Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad

There are multiple version of this trade out there and they don’t tend to make a ton of sense for Minnesota. The only justification for this type of trade is that the market for Rubio is pretty small and Tom Thibodeau needs veteran players on his team. Rudy could start at power forward and the Wolves could move Dieng to the bench or Gay could become their sixth man. Kosta Koufos or Anthony Tolliver could also be of some interest to the Wolves as they would both provide an experienced presence on the court and in the locker room.

Knight Time

With the options above being less than likely, the Kings must move onto some other obtainable, long-term pieces. The most talented player available in that category is Brandon Knight. With the Suns having one of the oddest rosters in the NBA, a trade seems inevitable for Phoenix. Their habit of gathering point guards like the Maloofs gather debt has forced Knight to the bench and has caused his trade value to plummet. Phoenix acquired Knight in February of 2015 and have struggled to integrate him with Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker. No one can actually figure out if he is a shooting guard or point guard as he’s bounced between the two positions throughout his entire career.

The 2015-2016 season was the best statistical year of his young career. Starting 50 games for the Suns allowed him to flow freely in the offense and he put up some impressive offensive numbers.

Knight 2015-2016*

Season MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS PER USG% VORP
Season MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS PER USG% VORP
015-16 36 7.1 17.2 0.415 2.3 6.8 0.342 4.8 10.5 0.461 0.482 0.852 0.7 3.2 3.9 5.1 1.2 0.4 3.4 2.4 19.6 14.7 26.2 0.8

Heading up the second unit has negatively affected Knight in almost every category. His 22.6 minutes per game are the lowest of his career and his per game numbers have suffered accordingly.

Knight 2016-2017*

Season MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS PER USG% VORP
Season MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% eFG% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS PER USG% VORP
2016-17 22.6 4.3 10.8 0.396 1 2.8 0.357 3.3 8 0.409 0.442 0.844 0.5 2.1 2.6 2.7 0.6 0.1 1.9 1.7 12.5 13.6 26.5 -0.3

Although the raw stats show an individual who is on a downward trend, his Per 36 contributions are basically in line with last season.

Knight Per 36*

Season MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Season MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2015-16 1870 7.1 17.2 0.415 2.3 6.8 0.342 4.8 10.5 0.461 3 3.5 0.852 0.7 3.2 3.9 5.1 1.2 0.4 3.4 2.4 19.6
2016-17 791 6.8 17.2 0.396 1.6 4.5 0.357 5.2 12.8 0.409 4.7 5.6 0.844 0.8 3.3 4.1 4.2 1 0.1 3 2.7 19.9

Now, the question becomes: what will the acquisition of Brandon Knight cost the Kings in assets? With the cupboards as bare as they are, the front office can’t afford to give up much. Thankfully, Phoenix’s constant mishandling of point guards has Suns fans ready to move on from Knight.

Phoenix: Arron Afflalo, Willie Cauley-Stein

Sacramento: Brandon Knight, John Jenkins

This potential trade was proposed to the folks over at Bright Side of the Sun and there were no objections. Afflalo is essentially an expiring contract and Cauley-Stein gives Phoenix a young center to pair with Chriss and Bender. Another three way trade with Orlando, Sacramento, and Phoenix was also discussed with positivity. Rudy Gay and John Jenkins would head to Orlando, Brandon Knight and Jodie Meeks would come to Sacramento, and Hezonja and Cauley-Stein were sent to the Suns.

When first debating a Knight trade, I was entirely against the idea. His usage percentage is too high, his shooting numbers are that of a chucker, and his position is undefined. So what changed my mind? The Kings roster is so weak next season that Brandon Knight would be our second best player and it wouldn’t be close. Sacramento isn’t going to find a player better than Knight in free agency and with his cost being so potentially low and the Kings unwilling to move on from DeMarcus Cousins, it’s time to make a deal for the future.

*All statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com