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The Nets/Nuggets salary dump was the deal that Sacramento should have made

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With a seeming inability to actually use their functional cap space this summer, this was the sort of deal Sacramento should have looked to pull off.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets took advantage of the Denver Nuggets’ oncoming luxury tax bill, and took on the contracts of Denver’s Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur to snag a protected 2019 first-round pick and a future second round pick, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski . As the functional cap space available around the league dwindled to three teams—Sacramento ($19.5, per spotrac.com), Atlanta ($22.5), and Chicago ($15.4 before they renounced the rights to David Nwaba on Thursday)—the Nets worked to clear cap space in order to secure the deal with the Nuggets. They traded Isaiah Whitehead to the Nuggets in the deal, and dumped Jeremy Lin’s contract into the Hawks’ empty capspace. They functionally swapped Whitehead and Lin for Faried and Arthur just to secure the protected 1st rounder.

With a seeming inability to actually use their functional cap space this summer, this was the sort of deal Sacramento should have tried to pull off. Taking advantage of Denver’s salary squeeze may have been Vlade Divac’s best chance to get back into the 2019 draft without trading any of the young core. And while the Kings ($19 million cap) couldn’t have taken the entirety of Farried and Arthur’s contracts ($21 million) without clearing additional space, it certainly would have been easier for Divac to make this deal than it was for the Nets. Using the stretch clause on Iman Shumpert or Zach Randolph, or even adding Skal Labissiere to the deal, could have made this possible for Sacramento.

For a team lacking their 2019 pick—which floats in the ether of pick-protections between Philadelphia and Boston, as part of the now infamous 2015 trade with the Sixers—swapping cap space for even a lottery protected first would have been a smart gamble for the Sacramento rebuild process.

The Nuggets 2019 1st rounder is protected for picks 1 through 12. It could end up a nothing trade for Brooklyn; the Nuggets were a game outside the 2018 playoffs, and with the Western Conference gauntlet getting tougher by the day, there’s a chance this Denver team is left in the lottery again. But Sean Marks, the Nets GM, has been shrewdly making these smart, low-risk gambles since he joined Brooklyn. Marks and the Nets have limited assets and picks, but he’s found a way to add talent without them.

The Kings struck out on Zach LaVine. They failed to secure Mario Hezonja. They reportedly aren’t rushing to fit in Jabari Parker, and aren’t interested in Marcus Smart. And while the Kings shouldn’t go rushing into the dog-days of free agency thinking their salary cap is going to burn a hole in their franchise’s pocket, their active salary mark of $77.7 million is comfortably below the NBA’s minimum salary cap of $91.6 million.

Failing to get a middling 2019 first rounder won’t set the franchise back any further, and there are certainly still players available—Parker, Smart, Clint Capela or maybe Nwaba—who could help this team more than a hypothetical draftee. But judging by the Kings inability to get any signings completed, a dump-for-pick chance like this would have been the right move. The front office hopefully has a plan for their cap space, but two weeks into free agency, they’re probably not going to get better value for the rebuilding effort than this missed opportunity.