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Could moving George Hill now allow the Kings to be big players in Free Agency?

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Freeing up cap space for this summer could be more important than we realize.

Kimani Okearah

When news first broke surrounding the Cavaliers initial interest in George Hill, the proposed trade thrown around by many people on both sides was Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, and the Cleveland 2018 first rounder in exchange for George Hill. Shortly thereafter, the hope of a first round pick coming back in the deal began to fade as reports emerged that only a future second rounder, likely in 2020 or 2021, was to be included.

Of course, that soured the potential trade in most of our minds. The low return of a second rounder several years from now, combined with the need to possibly dump a young player or cut Vince Carter to make the transaction legal under the CBA, didn’t make sense for a team going nowhere quickly. The majority agreed that additional incentive would be needed from Cleveland.

A Changing Landscape

Over the past couple of days, two interesting reports have emerged some of the most reliable people at ESPN: Bobby Marks, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Zach Lowe. Both Lowe and Wojnarowski have mentioned that the Kings-Cavs deal is still out there, and the basic structure of the trade is in place. Each team is likely waiting to see if anything more exciting emerges, but if not, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the swap completed just before the deadline on Thursday.

The second article, which pairs perfectly with Lowe’s trade reports, discusses the implications of the famous spending of the summer of 2016. I would recommend that you read it in full, but the main crux of the piece is the lack of money in the open market this summer. Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents won’t find the same deals that were available over the past couple of seasons and many players may be able to be had at a discount. Talented but flawed young players like Aaron Gordon, Jabari Paker, Julius Randle, Rodney Hood, and Marcus Smart may not receive the contracts they potentially deserve.

There’s also mention that many teams will be looking to shed previous bad spending in July and August. Due to the fact that relatively few organizations will have significant cap space, the cost for sending out overpaid, long contracts will by skyhigh. Twelve organizations are set to pay the luxury tax next season, and many of those don’t have a shot at competing with the Warriors. Big spenders without the hope of a championship ring will desperately want to get under that tax line.

All of that brings us back to the potential return of a Kings-Cavs swap. Initially, I was in full agreement with the majority that simply freeing up cap space wasn’t enough incentive to pull the trigger on the trade, especially if a young player had to go as well. However, the possibility of the Kings snagging a solid young player in restricted free agency for below value may end up being worth the short-term loss of an asset like Malachi Richardson or Georgios Papagiannis.

Here are the Kings current salary commitments headed into the summer of 2018. Using tools from basketball-reference, spotrac, and RealGM, I’ve added in the rookie-scale contracts for the number three overall pick, and included a contract similar to Frank Mason’s for their second round selection.

Current Commitments

Player 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21
Player 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21
George Hill $20,000,000 $19,000,000 $18,000,000
Zach Randolph $12,307,692 $11,692,308
Bogdan Bogdanovic $9,470,614 $9,000,000 $8,529,386
Kosta Koufos $8,393,000 $8,739,500
Vince Carter $8,000,000
Garrett Temple $8,000,000 $8,000,000
De'Aaron Fox $4,609,200 $5,407,920 $6,392,760 $8,099,627
Willie Cauley-Stein $3,704,160 $4,696,875
Buddy Hield $3,675,480 $3,833,760 $4,861,208
Justin Jackson $2,365,560 $2,807,880 $3,280,920 $5,029,650
Georgios Papagiannis $2,301,360 $2,400,480 $3,430,288
Harry Giles $1,859,400 $2,207,040 $2,578,800 $3,976,510
Malachi Richardson $1,504,560 $1,569,360 $2,581,597
Skal Labissiere $1,312,611 $1,544,951 $2,338,847
Frank Mason $1,184,385 $1,378,242 $1,618,520
JaKarr Sampson TBD
Jack Cooley TBD
Matt Barnes $2,133,542 $2,133,542 $2,133,541
Anthony Tolliver $2,000,000
Arron Afflalo $1,500,000
Caron Butler $517,220 $517,220
First Round Pick $5,420,500 $6,348,200 $6,650,600
Second Round Pick $1,184,385 $1,378,242 $1,618,520
Team Totals $94,838,784 $91,533,963 $63,472,309

The salary cap next season is projected to be $101 million. If the Kings stand pat at the deadline, they will have around $10 million in cap space this summer. That’s enough money to get you a middling player, but even with some clever structuring of contracts, they will likely be out of the running for any of the premier, young restricted free agents.

If Sacramento is able to execute the Hill transaction, as well as a cap-neutral 2-for-1 swap elsewhere, they will gain another $7 million in space. For the example below, the Kings traded Kosta Koufos and Malachi Richardson for Moe Harkless. There are probably a dozen similar trades that could have the same impact. The point isn’t the deal itself, but that the Kings opened up another roster spot to make the Hill transaction work, while keeping their money situation about the same.

Post-Hill Commitments

Player 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23
Player 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23
Iman Shumpert $10,337,079 $11,011,236
Zach Randolph $12,307,692 $11,692,308
Bogdan Bogdanovic $9,470,614 $9,000,000 $8,529,386
Moe Harkless $10,162,921 $10,837,079 $11,511,236
Vince Carter $8,000,000
Garrett Temple $8,000,000 $8,000,000
Channing Frye $7,420,912
De'Aaron Fox $4,609,200 $5,407,920 $6,392,760 $8,099,627
Willie Cauley-Stein $3,704,160 $4,696,875
Buddy Hield $3,675,480 $3,833,760 $4,861,208
Justin Jackson $2,365,560 $2,807,880 $3,280,920 $5,029,650
Georgios Papagiannis $2,301,360 $2,400,480 $3,430,288
Harry Giles $1,859,400 $2,207,040 $2,578,800 $3,976,510
Skal Labissiere $1,312,611 $1,544,951 $2,338,847
Frank Mason $1,184,385 $1,378,242 $1,618,520
Matt Barnes $2,133,542 $2,133,542 $2,133,541
Anthony Tolliver $2,000,000
Arron Afflalo $1,500,000
Caron Butler $517,220 $517,220
First Round Pick $5,420,500 $6,348,200 $6,650,600
Second Round Pick $1,184,385 $1,378,242 $1,618,520
Team Totals $92,862,136 $84,073,418 $54,401,948 $17,105,787

According to Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, the max deal for a player coming off of their rookie scale is 25% of the salary cap. Given a $101 million cap, that contract is 4 years/$108.6 million with a first year salary of $25.25 million. The Kings commitment dropping from $91 million to $84 million unlocks another $7 million in spending ability for Vlade Divac, but Sacramento would still be well short of that potential max contract.

Finding Wiggle Room

Two different scenarios could occur to allow the Front Office a shot at Gordon or Randle or Hood or Parker. The limited funds in the market and few teams with significant cap space could allow the Kings to snag a potential star for less than the maximum. Every single player listed above may struggle to demand a max contract. Aaron Gordon is the mostly likely to be granted that kind of money, but Randle, Hood, and Parker all have significant issues to overcome to justify a $25 million salary.

The Lakers and Jazz seem ready to let Randle and Hood walk away as free agents if they aren’t traded by Friday. The Kings getting an early meeting and having an offer signed by one of those two players, Randle being my preference, could allow them to make a steal in the market.

Meanwhile, the Bucks probably value Jabari Parker quite a bit more highly than the other two franchises with their players, but Milwaukee is soon going to run into cap issues of their own. If they re-sign Parker to a large deal, they will cross the line into luxury tax territory. Committing a huge amount of money to a player who has only played 154 of 310 (49%) possible career games may be a tough pill to swallow for a small market team. Of course, the Kings sending similar money to an oft-injured player bring up questions of its own. Just look at what happened with the Memphis Grizzlies and Chandler Parsons.

Another possibility for additional space can be generated from player options. If the Kings keep their current roster, Kosta Koufos and Garrett Temple have player options for $8.7 million and $8 million respectively. The new team outlined above would also have two players with options as well, Garrett Temple for $8 million and Iman Shumpert for $11 million. If just one player in either situation chose to enter free agency, another large chunk of money would open up.

If Iman Shumpert is traded to Sacramento, and he’s moved behind Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, and Garrett Temple on the depth chart, is he going to want to grab the money and sit, or try and find playing time elsewhere? Will Kosta Koufos and Garrett Temple really want to stick around for additional years of rebuilding or will they want to win as they exit their prime years? Those decisions could have a huge impact on the available money for our Front Office.

The Point of Pursuit

The hesitation that bubbles up when thinking about our Front Office throwing around major dollars is perfectly understandable. Vlade Divac hasn’t exactly killed it in past free agencies, and Sacramento has trended towards overpaying players past their prime in hopes that they turn back the clock.

Thankfully, that concern doesn’t replicate itself with the situation being proposed. The big contracts won’t be thrown at guys simply looking for a payday, but young players who both fit the timeline and increase the overall talent level of the team. There’s always inherent risk when handing out vast sums of money, but that some of that risk can be mitigated by offering those sums to still-developing players.

Even if the Kings strike out in restricted free agency, there’s another avenue they can take to justify opening up space. The difference between $10 million and $17 million or more in available room could allow Sacramento to absorb a bad contract and demand a high price for doing so. We’ve seen other asset-strapped organizations, most notably the Brooklyn Nets, execute similar moves in past seasons, and the Kings should take advantage of such opportunities as well.

There shouldn’t be a huge rush to trade George Hill. His contract will only increase in value over time, and there have been no reports of locker room issues stemming from his desire for a new home. On the other hand, the time for tanking is over after the 2018 draft and every reasonable effort must be made to become as competitive as possible, as quickly as possible. Kings fans have waited long enough. If the correct secondary deal can be facilitated to open enough roster spots for a Hill trade, turning the organization into a player in free agency this summer may be the right decision in the long term. The acquisition of a Jabari Parker or Julius Randle would certainly be worth the loss of a player who has fallen out of the rotation.