Everyone has a different take on the NBA offseason. Each fan makes their own draft board and formulates a list of free agent targets. Trade ideas appear every now and then, but can sometimes get lost in the shuffle and put off until the season starts.
But sometimes the most obvious moves can come organically from a team’s current roster composition. The Sacramento Kings find themselves in that situation right now.
With the Summer League in full swing, their positional needs are apparent. First, they need a small forward – we knew that already. But the uneven play of Frank Mason III is arousing some anxiety around point guard depth as well.
So with the Kings requiring help at two positions, and with 13 roster spots filled, there may not be enough space to add both. At least not without making a trade. When looking for the best candidate for that type of a move, the log jammed frontcourt is an easy starting place.
The big men of this roster can be sorted into a few categories. Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles are the future of the Kings frontcourt. At 19 and 20 years old they may need to be brought along slowly, but should both see significant minutes right away. Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos are experienced vets with hefty salaries. Enough experience that they can’t be kept out of the rotation entirely, but too much contract baggage to be valuable in a trade.
That leaves two interesting inbetweeners: Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere. It makes sense that those are the two names that keep popping up in trade rumors. But it’s becoming more clear by the day which player would be best to put on the trade block.
The differences between Skal and Willie’s contracts make a huge difference. Willie will be paid $4.7 million this year, while Skal will earn only $1.5 million. That may not feel like a huge difference for the Kings, but it is massive to any trade partner that may be approaching the luxury tax.
Labissiere also has a one-year team option for 2019-20 at only $2.3 million. So his contract figures for the next couple years look similar to many league minimums. Cauley-Stein, on the other hand, is going to make more than many veterans with proven upside, including the recent deals for Brook Lopez, Ed Davis, Kyle O’Quinn. In fact, his remaining contract is similar to the price the Golden State Warriors just paid for DeMarcus Cousins.
The other major differentiating factor between these two is their respective roles on the roster. And, perhaps more significantly, the amount of playing time we project Coach Joerger to offer them.
Let’s just say, roughly speaking, that Bagley and Giles play about 24 minutes per game. And let’s guess that Randolph and Koufos play about 12 minutes per game. That leaves, at a maximum, 24 total minutes to divide between Willie and Skal. When we consider that Willie actually led all Kings in minutes per game last year (28.0), and accept that he has earned one more year to show if he deserves a new contract in 2019, it’s hard to envision Skal getting a real place in the rotation this season.
With the contract figures and rotational projections in mind, it seems we have our guy. So I’d like to offer three examples of trade types that would benefit both the Kings, and their potential trade partners.
Nuggets get: Skal Labissiere
Kings get: Kenneth Faried, DEN 2019 1st round pick (lottery protected)
The best way to use Skal would be to pair him with the Sacramento’s substantial cap space. That would provide two positives for a trade partner, which should be enough to get back into the first round of the 2019 draft. That has to be the top priority for a young team that’s still growing but needs more pieces.
Denver is a natural pairing for a trade like this. Their front office has a history of doing anything they can to avoid the luxury tax, and they are currently sitting $11.7 million over that line. Swapping Kenneth Faried for Labissiere would clear $12.2 million from their books. And adding that figure to Sacramento’s numbers would still leave about $6.5 million to address their positional needs. This scenario is truly win-win.
Need for Need
Hornets get: Skal Labissiere
Kings get: Dwayne Bacon
The straight up one-for-one player swap has become less common recently, but it could be appealing to the Kings. They don’t have great use for another 2019 or 2020 2nd rounder, already owning three in each year, but they do desperately need an extra body at SF. Dwayne Bacon is that, though admittedly not much more.
Both players are 22 years old, both have the potential to improve, and both are likely to get more playing time if they switched teams. The Hornets are heavy on wings and light on bigs. The Kings, as we know, are the opposite. Even though Bacon has not been exceptional, he could find an easier path into the Kings rotation than a player like Labissiere.
Mavericks get: Skal Labissiere
Kings get: DAL 2021 2nd round pick
This trade scenario is mostly addition by subtraction. Many fans like Skal’s game enough to be disappointed by the prospect of losing him for only a future 2nd rounder. But if he isn’t going to get time on the court this season, then it’s best to just free up his roster spot. And a coach like Rick Carlisle would love to get his hands on a raw but stretchy big that can shoot from outside. I have no doubt that the Mavericks would give up an asset to make him the final piece of their frontcourt rotation.
And for the Kings, targeting a 2021 draft pick has some serious upside to it. While nothing has been confirmed by the league, rumors have suggested that the 2021 NBA draft could be the first since 2005 to include players coming directly from high school. Termed the “Double Draft,” there’s a strong possibility that a pick in the 30’s or even 40’s that year could get land a player with legitimate 1st round talent.
Any one of these three trades would help the Kings this year and in the years to come. For a long time I held on to the hope that Skal would develop into a strong player, perhaps even a starter. The truth is that he still could be that, just not for the Kings. The emergence of Bagley and Giles has simply pushed Labissiere out of the picture. So my hope now is that he finds a new home and the Kings find a player with a better fit for this roster. Sacramento hasn’t made much noise in free agency, but moving Skal could be the spark that the front office needs.