Cap space has been the defining feature of the Sacramento Kings offseason. They entered free agency with about $20 million, and didn’t make a single move for weeks. The other teams with space showed more urgency, and to put it simply, the Kings are left with heaps of it and no one else has any.
Even after a couple of late signings last week, they are still the obvious destination for any free agents looking for a new home and a sizable paycheck. But with 16 players now on the roster, and most of their positional needs met, the Kings should consider shopping their remaining space in potential trades.
Based on their roster composition and future assets, there are two types of trade targets that should be in Sacramento’s cross hairs: First round draft picks in 2019, and starter level small forwards. Looking at teams that need to shed salary, I’ve mocked up some frameworks for trades that could work.
Acquiring a 2019 First Round Pick
WAS: Ian Mahinmi, 2019 1st round pick, 2022 2nd round pick, 2023 2nd round pick
SAC: Willie Cauley-Stein (waive Deyonta Davis)
Net Salary Absorbed: $11,247,279 in 2018-19, $15,450,051 in 2019-20
Resulting SAC salary: $101,609,047 ($259,953 under salary cap)
Resulting WAS salary: $123,615,424 ($117,576 under tax line)
Washington is a great trade partner for the Kings, and they have an obvious salary dump candidate. Mahinmi’s $16 million sticks out like a sore thumb on their cap sheet. With Washington’s “big three” on massive contracts, the front office should be very wary of hitting the repeater tax in the next few years. The chance to get under the line this year is easily worth their first rounder and some sweeteners.
The only potential obstacle for this trade would be parting with Willie. He’s still young, and led the Kings in minutes per game last year. But his inconsistencies and questionable decision making leave a lot of fans feeling pessimistic about his future. If the Kings front office feels the same, they should pull the trigger. Pairing him with their remaining cap space is sure to maximize his value.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS #1
POR: Meyers Leonard, Jake Layman, 2019 1st round pick
SAC: Skal Labissiere, Deyonta Davis
Net Salary Absorbed: $9,050,555 in 2018-2019, $11,286,515 in 2019-20
Resulting SAC salary: $99,927,307 ($1,941,693 under salary cap)
Resulting POR salary: $122,543,068 ($1,189,932 under tax line)
This is another straightforward salary dump, with a small positional afterthought of Skal for Layman. Leonard, like Mahinmi, would be lucky to get a minimum deal on the open market at this point. His $22 million in salary over the next two years is very near the standard rate for a first rounder. Portland can add some much needed depth at PF and C, while giving Sacramento a body at SF and a fluid asset with significant value. This is a very low-risk trade for both teams.
POR: Evan Turner, 2019 1st round pick
SAC: Kosta Koufos, 2019 2nd round pick, 2020 2nd round pick
Net Salary Absorbed: $9,129,352 in 2018-19, $18,606,557 in 2019-20
Resulting SAC salary: $100,006,104 ($1,862,896 under salary cap)
Resulting POR salary: $122,464,271 ($1,268,729 under luxury tax)
The other way to approach Portland in a salary dump would involve more useful players. While Turner and Koufos are on contracts that outweigh their talent, both could play valuable minutes. Turner will make $36 million over the next two seasons, but only half of that should really be considered excess salary. To put it in perspective, if Turner was signed by the Kings to a two-year deal for $18 million this summer, no one would have thought twice about it.
In fact, Turner could even start at SF for the Kings. So this trade could solve two of the team’s biggest problems. On the other side, Koufos is also payed about twice his open market value as well. The difference between their cap figures, plus a pair of second rounders (which are a true surplus for the Kings at this point) equates roughly to the value of a mid-to-late first.
MIA: Tyler Johnson, 2019 1st round pick
SAC: Zach Randolph, Deyonta Davis, 2019 2nd round pick
Net Salary Absorbed: $10,439,868 in 2018-19, $22,132,176 in 2019-20
Resulting SAC salary: $99,771,669 ($2,097,331 below salary cap)
Resulting MIA salary: $122,164,393 ($1,568,607 below tax line, 1 player left to sign)
Tyler Johnson’s contract situation is nearly identical to Evan Turner’s, just with an added 15% trade kicker. The value lines up the same way, but his position presents a slightly more complex issue. Johnson can’t slot in at the 3, which means someone in the guard rotation for the Kings is likely to lose minutes. The only way it could really work is if Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic both started, and Justin Jackson and Tyler Johnson came off the bench.
Throwing Deyonta Davis into this trade would actually help both sides. The Kings have 16 players with guaranteed contracts on their roster right now. They have to trade or waive at least one player. Throwing Davis in the deal solves that. Miami, on the other hand, needs to add two players. This deal would reduce that number to one, and leave them with enough room under the tax line to get a player with three years or less of NBA experience on a minimum deal.
It’s also worth noting that this trade could be done with Iman Shumpert going to Miami instead of Randolph. Their respective contracts are similar enough that it would not significantly affect cap positioning for either team.
The Small Forward Problem
After signing Yogi Ferrell and Nemanja Bjelica, it’s abundantly clear that the biggest remaining need for the Kings is at small forward. Naturally, Kings fans can’t help but look at their remaining cap space and wonder if it can’t help snag a starter. Two names that keep coming up are Andrew Wiggins and Maurice Harkless.
I’ve looked at both players and, quite frankly, don’t see a deal that would make sense from both sides. But what doesn’t make sense to me could be perfectly reasonable to others – even the GMs of these teams.
So again, I’ll put out a framework for a deal for each player. But this time, rather than explaining why I think they would be prudent deals, I’ll explain why I think they aren’t.
POR: Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless
SAC: Willie Cauley-Stein, Ben McLemore (waive Deyonta Davis)
Net Salary Absorbed: $10,245,743 in 2018-2019, $22,797,749 in 2019-20
Resulting SAC salary: $101,122,495 ($746,505 under salary cap)
Resulting POR salary: $120,317,913 ($3,415,087 under tax line)
This trade concept is essentially the Leonard dump again, just with Mo Harkless as the prize instead of Portland’s 2019 first rounder. Cauley-Stein and McLemore are the outgoing players instead of Skal and Davis as their higher salaries allow the money to work.
Harkless is a solid young player. He’s strong defensively and has shown a lot of improvement in his shot recently. If the Kings are looking for a starting SF, he could be the guy. The problem with this trade, or any trade for Mo that doesn’t involve a valuable piece going back to Portland, is that I don’t see it fitting into the Blazers plans.
They just got swept in the first round of the playoffs, despite finishing third in the Western Conference. I suspect they will either keep trying to get better or blow up their roster, perhaps with a CJ McCollum trade. Simply letting a young player with upside leave doesn’t add up to me. However, NBA teams make puzzling moves with surprising frequency, and it’s possible that the Kings could take advantage of that.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES #1
MIN: Andrew Wiggins
SAC: Zach Randolph, Ben McLemore
MIN: Andrew Wiggins
SAC: Iman Shumpert, Willie Cauley-Stein
I’ve chosen not to include the salary details for these trades, as Minnesota would end up so far below the tax line that the details are less important. Also, I really don’t feel like typing out exactly how much money Wiggins is owed in each year of his remaining contract. It hurts my brain.
5 years, $146.45 million. That’s his deal.
And that’s also why I would never condone a trade for him. Wiggins is so completely over paid that the Kings couldn’t possibly receive sufficient compensation for taking on his deal. Even if you think he’s a $20 million per year type of player, he’s still carrying about $50 million in excess salary.
Given the most generous evaluation of his talent, it would still take at least one first round pick (probably two) to make his contract worth absorbing. And I can’t imagine the Timberwolves agreeing to those terms. However, the two deals above would technically work. And Wiggins can technically play small forward. So if the Kings see Wiggins as a desirable target, they could make something happen.
For now, I’ll just pray it doesn’t.