Welcome back to the Royal Mailbag! Will was finally released from the breakfast dungeon and rejoins me this week to answer a myriad of wonderful questions. Let’s dive right in!
(Editorial Note: These answers were compiled before the blockbuster trade between Dallas and New York)
From Kings and Country via the comments: With the Kings looking unlikely to make the playoffs this season, would you prefer Vlade try to acquire picks or a small forward at the trade deadline? It seems like our cap space and expiring contracts can only get us one of those things so which would prefer Vlade to aggressively pursue?
Tim: It’s my firm belief that the vast majority of the Kings’ on court struggles are due to the lack of a quality small forward on the roster. We have rebounding problems. Yes, Cauley-Stein is inconsistent, but you know what would help him on nights in which he can’t clean the glass? Not starting a poor-rebounding shooting guard at the small forward slot. The Kings struggle to defend the perimeter. A defensive-minded small forward would solve most of those issues. A late first round pick is unlikely to provide those services, unless that asset is combined with others to acquire a small forward. GET A SMALL FORWARD, VLADE.
Will: Mr. Maxwell is going to caps-lock this out into the world, and the front office is going to give him Tim Hardaway’s 6’6 Kobe impression hoping it appeases the screeching. I generally agree that most of our problems would be solved with an above competent level small forward, but I fear that anything that would move the needle in a positive direction for the Kings might end up costing them an asset that I’d rather have. As much as we’d all like for it to happen, Otto Porter Jr. isn’t walking through that door for Willie Cauley-Stein. Even if the logic IS sound on the trade, Ernie Grunfeld and everything about the Washington Wizards management is illogical. I honestly think that the best way for the Kings to find that diamond in the rough is to go out and draft one. Yes, the Kings have said they don’t need more young guys. Yes, Dave Joerger struggles to play his #2 pick the minutes we want him to play, so a random draft pick in the lower end of the 1st round or beginning of the second round would be absolutely gasping for minutes. But at this point, finding, drafting and developing the next Trevor Ariza seems just as difficult as trading for the current Trevor Ariza. Take a couple swings at the small forward spot, Vlade. GO GET A PICK.
From betweentheeyes via the comments: Where do you place the Kings?
A) Worst of the worst/Cellar Dweller/Just Plain Bad
B) Light of Day emerging (Maybe they got something going/ maybe they are crashing)
C) Mediocre(from not bad to pretty good)
D) Playoff Contender
E) Top 10
F) Championship Contender
Bottom 10, Middle 10, Top 10
(oh, and can you mention Luka, Otto Porter, Jr., show yet another picture of Coach Joerger and put a Vlademoji in your answer?)
Tim: Can I mark them as a C ½? They’re exactly .500 as I’m typing out this answer, so I’m not certain if a team can really be more mediocre than that. However, they could very quickly jump into the level of playoff contender or that of light of day emerging with just a few game swing. My prediction would be the 10th seed for the Kings this year, followed by a playoff appearance next season.
Will: I think that they are firmly a C and in the middle ten of the league. They’ve got a puncher’s chance at the playoffs but with the tempo at which they’re playing seemingly catching up with them, I’d expect the Kings to fall off a bit in the second half of the season. Buddy Hield running at his league leading pace is eventually going to catch up with him, and cold streaks are bound to crop up as it does. Fox is already banged up a bit, and sucking wind and I think we’ll see a focus on development towards next season after the All-Star break. More Bagley and Giles, less Bjelica meaning less spacing mean less... on and on. If I’m predicting, I think the Kings end up at 11th this season in the West. Taking into effect that next year’s team will probably look vastly different (Bagley starting, Willie off to greener cash-tures) I’d say 9th next season and the playoffs the year after.
From Ars Legendi via the comments: If the playoff dream fades (which seems increasingly likely), does Joerger continue starting Bagley to develop him? If he does, would it get spun as part of the “drama” with Brandon Williams and Coach Dad?
Tim: Hey! I just published an article about this! Dave Joerger will do exactly what he feels is best for his young players. If that means bringing Bagley off of the bench, that’s what he’ll do. If that means starting Bagley, that’s what he’ll do. If the front office doesn’t like it, I have no doubt he’ll walk away and find another coaching gig. I don’t think Brandon Williams will get any credit for any changes made in the rotation. If his power play had worked (and it wasn’t his first power play by any means), we would see Coach Joerger unemployed.
Will: Totally with Tim here. Williams would have gotten credit if Joerger had backed down immediately and started Bagley for the rest of the season. The fact that Bags is still coming off the pine shows that Joerger is continuing to run the team his way. Joerger answers to Vlade and Vlade alone, and Brandon Williams found that out in a costly manner. As for MB Jr.; I doubt he has any bearing on anything.
Sacto_J via the comments: Assuming no major trade takes place involving Kings core rotational players, what kind of adjustments can we except from Joerger and the team moving forward?
Tim: To the frustration of some, Joerger seems a little slow to make adjustments to his rotation. He likes to ensure everyone knows exactly what their role is and where they stand with him. That method is probably very appreciated by those going through mini struggles, but it drives the fan base a little crazy.
I would expect Marvin Bagley to enter the starting lineup in February at the latest, Harry Giles to continue to gain momentum as a bench big, and Bogdan Bogdanovic or Justin Jackson join the starters ahead of Iman Shumpert, although that may not be permanent. Those decisions also somewhat depend on the team’s performance. If the Kings continue to slip, I expect changes rather soon, but if we catch a second wind, those will likely be delayed.
Will: I’m in no way convinced that Dave Joerger believes he has a playoff team. He’s playing this season the exact same as last season and the half a season before that and his slow and steady pace of bringing the young guys along will feature prominently after the All-Star Break. I think a lot of the changes that we see will be towards the vets of the group. Less Shump and a lot more Justin Jackson or Bogi starting at 3. I’d assume pretty soon Koufos will be in a Z-Bo role on the bench and guys who are completely out of the rotation like Skal Labissiere will re-enter it, as a matter of showcasing what they’ve got and how they might fit on either this team or any other that might get them as trade filler this summer. We’ll probably see some bench lineups that feature the return of Troy Williams and Wenyen Gabriel. Overall, a shift to youth and assets the same way that Joerger sat Garrett Temple, Vince Carter and Company for 10 games at a time in the last quarter of the season last year.
From Rob Hessing via the comments: What would the temperature of the fan base be on this road trip had Hield not hit the game winner?
Tim: Slightly more heated, but not anything crazy. I think most folks are doing a good job of reacting in the moment to the disappointment of individual losses, while also keeping the bigger picture in mind. The Kings weren’t supposed to win more than 25 – 28 games on the year, so any win at this point is basically found money. I don’t believe the team will be able to remain right in the thick of the playoff race as the season continues to progress, but we’ll be celebrating the 37 – 42 wins come April.
Will: I think that Kings fans collectively lost their minds between the NBA Draft and the beginning of the season, and everything after has been extremely muted. For the most parts, the arguments and overreactions have been fairly tame and contained to the minutiae of having a decent team. So and so needs to play more or less, the team needs X player to make it over the hump. Had Buddy missed that game winner I think the general temperature wouldn’t have changed much. I think fans would have mostly accepted that the Kings would still be decent but in a slump due to being tired, StR guys might have called for trade ideas on Twitter with an extra degree of urgency and radio personalities would find a way to circle back to rookies on other teams as a way to start internet fights that get their articles on not fighting on Twitter a few extra views. The world would circle round and nary a thing would change.
From ArcThunder via the comments: If we were forced to give one player to the L*kers, would you rather give them Fox, Hield, Bogdanovic, or Bagley?
Tim: I’ll give them Bogdanovic and it’s not really close for me. He’s the most well-rounded of the bench, but I’ll take the shooting specialist over the jack-of-all-trades any day of the week. Fox and Bagley are untouchable.
Will: Bogdanovic would probably be my answer as well. Fox, Hield have elite NBA something-or-rathers and Bagley is supposedly the future of the franchise. Bogi is just the odd man out. (For reference, I asked my dear mother this question, and without hesitation she said ‘Fox!’... I wait till we get her writer’s permissions here, so she can explain this treason in her own words!)
From jj whit via the comments: I see a lot of people compare De’Aaron Fox to John Wall, but Wall’s peak was a 2nd round playoff exit under a shitty coach named Randy. Is this really the highest peak we will get out of Fox, or do you have higher hopes for him?
Tim: De’Aaron Fox’s jump from his rookie to sophomore year is almost unprecedented, especially for a point guard who joined the league as a teenager. He’s now playing at near-prime Wall levels and he’s 20 years old. Fox capping out at a John Wall ceiling wouldn’t necessarily be a disappointment, but I have a feeling he has one or two additional gears to achieve. Fox certainly seems destined for multiple All-Star appearances and Future Tim won’t be shocked to see him in the MVP race someday.
Will: Oh, I’d absolutely be thrilled is Fox had the same career numbers as John Wall has, though maybe a little less of the injury history. I blame a lot of Walls lack of playoff success on the management of the Wizards, who are low-key terrible. 19 points and 9 assists for more than his rookie contract would immediately cement Fox as the greatest point guard in the Sacramento era, even if it was on John Wall’s 43% career field goal percentage. Personally, I have higher hopes for the team built around De’Aaron Fox because his mentality as a player and a leader are just different than John Wall’s, but in terms of straight numbers, I’m good with what Wall brings to the table as a comparison for Swipa.
From Royal1 via the comments: There is a report that Kawhi Leonard just bought a $13 million home in So Cal. With that said, would you rather save the cap space and try for Tobias Harris or another player? Or should we still acquire someone like Harrison Barnes, Otto Porter, or TJ Warren?
Tim: I’m going to remove Harrison Barnes from the “acquire now” category and place him with the other free agent options. Barnes has a player option for $25 million in the 2019-2020 season, but July will be a month of massive contracts, and the veteran forward will likely want multi-year security over one large payday. That being said, if a starting caliber small forward is available, you make the deal right now. Even if Otto Porter or TJ Warren was acquired, the Kings could still afford to max another wing if they wanted to place one of those guys at the four-spot. For example, Tobias Harris and TJ Warren both trend toward power forwards, meaning the front office wouldn’t have wasted assets in acquiring one prior to the deadline. Sadly, I’m beginning to arrive at the conclusion that neither Otto Porter nor TJ Warren will be moved this season.
Will: I’m okay with saving my cap space until the off-season. I mentioned this above in another question but I’m really starting to think that the Kings still see this as a development year and any extra wins that come from it are just icing on the cake. They very obviously value chemistry and cohesion over ending the near record playoff drought, and so the chances of a great big move mid-season seem to become less and less likely. Acquiring a black hole like Barnes or a currently streaking Warren won’t do much but deplete the assets that the Kings have scrapped together, and with the GM and coaching situation quietly in the air for the next few seasons, I want the whole rest of this season to be dedicated to scouting out the next big move. For the record, I doubt it comes this off-season too. The Kings after this season won’t have the track record necessary to pull big names in for that risky homerun swing. Give it one more year, show that there’s legs to this streaking Sacramento squad, and then sell the SF you want on becoming championship contenders with their addition to The Scores.