The week leading up to the NBA trade deadline is always a fun and scary time for fans, and this year’s shenanigans have been no exception. Kristaps Porzingis is a Maverick, Anthony Davis wants to be a Laker, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are available, and Marquese Chriss thinks someone wants to give him NBA minutes. Adding to that heaping pile of chaos is the “anyone’s welcome” playoff race in the Eastern Conference and the “no vacancy here” post-season battle in the West. Multiple organizations teeter between buyer and seller, creating a wildly unpredictable market.
The Sacramento Kings are one of those unknown entities that could choose to stand pat, push for the eighth seed, or look to the future in draft picks and young players. Currently, the Kings sit in the 10th seed in the Western conference, just 1.5 games out of the final playoff spot, but the young superteam will probably fall short of their first post-season appearance in twelve years without a roster shakeup. Vlade Divac has several commodities available for use, but he must strike the proper balance in player development, organizational advancement, and distant prospects.
Cap Space and Expiring Contracts
The front office attempted to expend all of its cap space last July by sending a $78 million offer sheet Zach LaVine’s way, but the Chicago Bulls rescued the Kings from a foolish maneuver by matching the contract, and the Kings accidentally found themselves in an advantageous position. They are the only team in the league with available cap space, $11,024,575 to be exact. That room allows Sacramento to bypass the need to match salaries in transactions, making them the most attractive option to cash strapped teams.
In addition to that unique flexibility, the Kings also possess multiple expiring or non-guaranteed contracts, a powerful combination of tools that would allow Sacrameto to absorb colossal salaries in one-to-one player swaps:
Expirings + Cap Space
|Player||Expiring Salary||Contract Absorption|
|Player||Expiring Salary||Contract Absorption|
Several of the players listed above hold value not just as salary relief, but they can also contribute in their own right. Kosta Koufos and Iman Shumpert would add bench depth to playoff contenders: Kosta as a rim-protector and rebounder and Iman as a backup 3-and-D wing. Willie Cauley-Stein, Yogi Ferrell, and Frank Mason offer varying levels of production with a short-term financial commitment and long-term contractual control, while Zach Randolph and Ben McLemore offer no on-court incentives for interested teams.
These assets, while potent if used correctly, also have some serious flaws. The $11 million in extra room admits the Kings to an exclusive club of financial adaptability, but the value of that cap space immediately deflates the moment the trade deadline passes. 17 teams are projected to enter the offseason with cash to spend, 12 of whom will enjoy the ability to sling $20 million or more at free agents. Piled together, that equals nearly $600 million in total space, a number that renders the $11 million virtually useless in comparison to the current cash barren climate. The Kings have prided themselves on tripping their way into their extra capacity; now they must find a use for their unique resource.
The expiring contracts, while helpful, are also about as useful as a chocolate teapot on their own. 210 players are scheduled to begin the summer as either restricted or unrestricted free agents, while another 40 sport player or team options. Almost every front office has multiple one-year deals sitting in their arsenal; Sacramento isn’t special in that regard.
Either the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers own the Kings first round pick in 2019, and while the front office could theoretically trade their 2021 first rounder, the chances of that occurring are about as high as Zach Randolph’s vertical leap (You thought I was going a different direction with that analogy, didn’t you?) On the flip side, Vlade Divac has made it his personal mission to collect every possible second round pick, as he owns nine selections in the 31 – 60 range over the next three years:
Future Second Rounders
|2019||CLE/ORL/HOU||Second-most favorable||#36 (ORL)|
|2019||MIN/LAL||Most favorable||#42 (MIN)|
|2019||SAC/MIL||Less favorable||#60 (MIL)|
It’s highly unlikely that the Kings actually plan to select nine players in the next few drafts, meaning management will attempt to facilitate transaction using their plentiful magic beans. The value of these assets vary dramatically, as the Orlando pick will fall in the top-38 this year, granting the owner a decent shot at a rotational player, while the Milwaukee selection is near useless. It would only be utilized to satisfy the NBA’s rule that each team must receive something in a proposed trade. Expect Sacramento to broadcast the availability of these minor resources, especially in combination with their cap space and expiring contracts.
The most realistic scenario that would see the Kings lose any part of their young core of De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley III, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Harry Giles, would be Thanos gaining all six infinity stones and forcing fans to watch Harry Giles tell Vince Carter that he didn’t feel so good. Outside of that circumstance, fans can rest comfortably in the assumption that Vlade Divac won’t look to trade any crowd favorites; however, there are two rookie-scale players currently in the rotation who could be dealt under the right conditions.
Willie Cauley-Stein is probably being shopped for a multitude of reasons. The young center is putting up career-high numbers, but he will become a restricted free agent in July and should command a decent payday. That, combined with his positional redundancy to Marvin Bagley, makes him the most likely developing trade chip for Vlade Divac to spend.
Justin Jackson represents another prospect on the periphery. He’s not quite good enough to be considered untouchable, but he’s impactful enough to have earned a spot in the regular rotation. Jackson’s role as the only true small forward on the roster probably keeps him safe past February 7th, but if a team with quality, veteran wing is looking to get younger, J.J. could be moved. His recent uptick in defensive intensity and three-poitn accuracy may have slightly bolstered his trade value on the open market.
Yogi Ferrell, while he’s probably labeled a veteran by most of the fan base, is actually younger than Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic, and he has very few NBA minutes under his hood. The backup point guard is a reputable scorer off of the bench and owns one of the most team-friendly contracts in the NBA: $3 million this year and $3.1 million non-guaranteed in the 2019 season. Ferrell has been solid since entering the rotation, but reports of the Kings’ desire to acquire a veteran backup ball-handler could signal a potential deal.
Frank Mason was granted the roll of backup point guard to start the year, but the former Jayhawks shot has seemingly abandoned him (19% from deep on the year), and the second rounder has posted the worst net rating on the team at -15.2. Frank did show some flashes of competency as a rookie, and he has a non-guarantee deal in 2020, so a rival team could value him as a low-risk acquisition in a larger deal.
Skal Labissiere managed to bulk up over the summer, but his on-court struggles continue to reside in the mental aspect of the game rather than the physical portion. He’s on pace to play the fewest games and minutes of his career, and it’s clear that the former first round pick has no future with the Sacramento Kings. Labissiere could be viewed as a diamond in the rough by another General Manager, and similar to Frank Mason, the Haitian Sensation could be included in a more complex transaction or as a roster spot in a salary dump.
Vlade Divac is a man with difficult choices to make. He doesn’t possess the assets to make a home-run swing, meaning he’s left to prioritize the playoffs, the draft, or offseason flexibility. Whatever decision is made, the Kings must find a way to use their combination of cap space, expiring deals, and non-core youth to bolster their ability to win games, whether that is in the immediate or the future.