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The Royal Mailbag: Talking off-season risks, potential death lineups, Elvis, and Thanos

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You asked, we answered!

Laughing Elvis Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

Welcome back to the Royal Mailbag. Let’s dive right in!

From 1951 via the comments: What common NBA team building pitfalls must the Kings avoid this off-season in order to build upon the team development success from this year?

Tim: The Kings can’t get desperate; that’s the key. There are four major aspects to each team in the league: ownership, management, coaching, and players, and three of those four key areas have some questions headed into the deadline. Vlade Divac and Dave Joerger are entering the final year of their contracts, while the roster will have anywhere from 4 – 6 open slots to fill. As surprised as I am to say this, Vivek Ranadive needs to first focus on multi-year extensions for both Divac and Joerger. Although he watched the Warriors pivot from a playoff team to a perennial championship contender by swapping Mark Jackson for Steve Kerr, Vivek must avoid a similar risky move in the name of change. Destroying the team chemistry and direction on a big-name gamble would be foolish.

Free agency also lurks as its own very real danger, as the coming summer looks similar to July of 2016, in which too many mediocre and bad teams locked up too many mediocre and bad players to long-term deals. The 17-65 Los Angeles Lakers gave Loul Deng $72 million and Timofey Mozgov $64 million. The 32-50 New York Knicks dropped $72 million on Joakim Noah. The 35-47 Orlando Magic dished out $72 million to Bismack Biyombo. The 41-41 Washington Wizards gifted Ian Mahinmi $64 million. The 42-40 Memphis Grizzlies handed $94 million to an injured Chandler Parsons. A dozen other deals could be named as well.

All of those moves spoke of irresponsible cap planning, poor player evaluation, and stank of desperation. In the same vein, the Front Office’s 4-year, $80 million offer sheet to Zach LaVine last July could probably be pushed into the same category as those transactions above. The Kings have money, and there are plenty of targets to chase, but they must avoid the temptation of a massive overpay to a middling contributor. Doing so would not only eliminate much-needed flexibility for a core that’s going to need several serious paydays over the next few years, it would also create a potentially uncomfortable situation for Dave Joerger. A $20 million or $25 million player might feel slighted if he begins to lose minutes to someone performing on a rookie contract. Management needs to pursue star-level players to fill positions of need or moderately paid veterans to fill gaps in the roster and help the team transition to a playoff contender, not throw huge numbers at role players because they missed their number one guy.

To wrap up this extremely relevant question, here are some names I’m afraid of overpaying four months from now: DeAndre Jordan, Paul Millsap, Trevor Ariza, Terrence Ross, Kelly Oubre, Mario Hezonja, Corey Brewer, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Richaun Holmes. Those are all players of differing ages, skill sets, and positions, but they all represent potential albatross contracts if the Front Office begins to feel desperate, a la Zach LaVine.

Will: I think Tim slipped though in forgetting to mention someone sitting under his very nose that the Kings could very easily overpay this off-season: Willie Cauley-Stein. It’s easy to look down the road and see management throwing Trill a big contract: his speed is constantly keeping opposing bigs on their heels, every 10 games he’s inspired to prove himself and dominates an All-Star big man on the defensive end and he is a Harry Giles Freaky Friday attitude swap from being a top 5 big man in the NBA. If the front office thinks that Willie is just a year or two from turning the corner and overcoming his fear of making layups and blocking shots and a high rate... they could do the dumb thing and toss Willie a 17 mil a year contract.

From smoothsactown via the comments: I’ve noticed Bagley get hurt a couple of times now. Is he simply unlucky, injury prone, or does he have a style of play that places him at greater risk for these situations, a la Tyreke?

Tim: I’m not particularly concerned about Bagley’s injuries at this point in time. He played all 32 games in college without a hitch, and while that’s not a definitive indicator of durability, it doesn’t signal a constantly hurt producer, either. His three injuries have all come from different random events, and the scariest was the result of an illegal, possibly dirty screen. If Marvin misses a significant number of games next season, I’ll be a little more concerned. For now, I’ll put it down to bad luck.

Will: I’m not stressing this just yet either. Marvin’s size and activity level is going to make him a bit more prone to dings and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his incredible second jump earn him a sprained ankle or two as an opponent doesn’t react quick enough to pull their feet on his way down. Also, remember, the kid isn’t even old enough to buy the secret elixer that kept his NBA star comparison Amar’e Stoudemire healthy(-ish, very -ish) throughout his career!

From Patrick from Davis: What do we think is possible for the Kings young players to gain defensively by the start of next season or eventually? Whichever is more interesting?

Tim: I’ll break it down into ceilings by player. De’Aaron Fox could be a Chris Paul/Jrue Holiday type defender if he continues to focus on that area of the floor. We’ve seen him lock down opposing guards for long stretches when he wants to, and his rank of 9th most steals per game in the NBA speaks to a future problem for offensive players. Buddy Hield tries hard most of the time, but doesn’t have the height, length, or athleticism to develop into an above-average defender. At best, he becomes a solid performer. Bogdan Bogdanovic has actually impressed me when guarding small forwards this season. He’s giving up size on almost every night, but uses physicality and aggression to disrupt opponents. Similar to Buddy, he’ll never wow you on that end of the court, but the effort is certainly there.

Marvin Bagley will grow to be much more effective in man-on-man situations as he continues to put on weight in the offseason. He’s currently a solid help defender on the weakside with his shot-blocking and quick second jump, but is too often pushed around when facing post scorers and offensive rebounders. I expect him to mimic Chris Bosh’s underrated defensive acumen in the years to come.

While De’Aaron Fox projects to be an above-average defensive guard, Harry Giles is a potential defensive player of the year candidate, if he hits his ceiling; and that’s a big if. He quarterbacks the defense better than any player on the roster, shows otherworldly instincts in passing lanes, and displays a tenacity and edge that no other player on the team has shown. He may very well be the key to this core moving forward, playing a similar role as Draymond Green does with the Golden State Warriors.

Will: I’ll take the short term on this particular question: I think next year we see the Sacramento Kings in the top ten in defensive rating. The Kings have spoken time and time again about wanting positionless basketball, players that can play multiple positions on both ends of the court and think Kings management has given Dave Joerger the flexibility that he craves for his lineup adjustments on a night to night basis and the man is going to tinker with his new toys for the rest of this season. This team is going to see a lot of Giles-Bagley in the front court next year doing their best impression of The Mighty Ducks ‘Smash Brothers’ combination. I think this year has taught Giles what the refs will call and when they’ll call it and he’ll cut way back on his fouls per game. With Marvin, he’s blocked far more shots this year than I’d thought he’d would and there’s been a few dozen more times where he’s missed a swat by a fraction of a second. Bagley is going to adjust in the off-season and the NBA’s pace is going to continue to slow down for him and when it does those two bigs are going to be an intimidating young tandem. With two threats down low I think the Kings are going to send Fox hunting for steals even more next season and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the top two or three in the league in the category. (Buddy and Barnes and Bogi are now old enough to be considered regular ol’ players. They’ll just have to settle for being just part of the core)

From king4life via the comments: Objectively speaking, do you think the Kings make the playoffs next year?

Tim: Yes. I’m confident they will be in the playoff race, and while other organizations may make external upgrades (and some will), the Kings have the ability to make both internal and external upgrades. For example, Harrison Barnes will almost assuredly be back with the team next year, either by opting into his player option or signing long-term, and he’ll be much better acclimated with a full offseason under his belt. Add that to the improvement of a fourth-year Buddy Hield, third-year De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, and second-year Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley and you’ve got yourself a crew.

Adding to that will be the additions of the offseason. While I don’t necessarily agree with the idea, the rumblings of Vucevic interest from the front office continue to grow louder, and he would offer an instant talent upgrade like the Kings have never seen. And if Sacramento doesn’t capture the attention of a max player, there’s still somewhere from $37 - $45 million to spend on quality veteran additions. Other teams will fear the Kings next season.

Will: The Kings are going to (baring injury) win 50 games next season. Don’t ask me who falls out. I don’t know. But they Kings are going to go from a probable ninth seeded finish to a 5-7 seed and all it’s going to take is a regular sophomore level improvement from Marvin Bagley, another year of Harry Giles getting used to playing basketball at this level and for Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes to not fall off a cliff. If Bogdan Bogdanovic can take the summer to rest and fully recover from a knee that has never seemed to full heal this season, all the better. De’Aaron Fox has another level he can get to, but even if he stays at 17 with 7 assists, I’d be the Kings are closer to home court in the first round than they are to the lottery.

From ManilaBayCleanerCrew: What lineup does our team have that is equal to the Death Lineup of GSW?

Tim: The Kings don’t really have anything that can replicate the death lineup, but if I had to choose a group that is somewhat close, I would roll with Fox, Hield, Bogdanovic, Barnes, and Giles. That’s a defensive-minded group that can also knock down shots from beyond the arc, share the rock, and push the ball in transition. Yes, I had to leave Marvin Bagley on the bench.

Will: I’m taking Bogi out of that lineup and throwing Marvin in. The Kings playing their five best players, with scoring, passing and defense from inside, three point shooters and some beef on the wings and a literally bat out of hell manning the top of the unit. Bogi plays best as the counterpunch, and will be used accordingly.

From Klam via the comments: Out of the three best-selling music artists of all-time (The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson), how would you rank them from your favorite to least favorite?

Tim: I possess kind of a unique relationship with music, in that it’s not that important to me (insert horrified gasp here). I often go days without turning anything on in the car or at work or at home. The household I was raised up in did not allow any music outside of hymns that were written prior to about 1970, so my exposure was very small, and I simply didn’t listen to anything growing up until I got a car and could control the choices to a certain extent. By that point, I didn’t really have the emotional roots invested in certain songs, so my musical tastes have always been a bit odd. If you make a musical reference in conversation with me, I’ll probably act as if I understand it, but really have no idea what you’re talking about. I do adore Hamilton, though.

That being said: The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Elvis. (I can’t stand Elvis.)

Will: I was not Brendan Fraser in Blast from the Past, but I was raised by parents far older than the others kids at school, so I grew up listening to Elvis and was exposed to The Beatles through a History of Rock and Jazz class I took in college. We spent weeks on Elvis and The Beatles and I’ll remember till my final breath the first time I heard ‘Yesterday’ played on a system and in a setting meant for music. Michael Jackson only holds a grasp on me because of Weird Al Jankovic’s covers of his music. This one was easy.

1) Beatles 2) Elvis 100) Michael Jackson

From SMF-PDXConnection via the comments: Which Kings players do you think got dusted when Thanos snapped his fingers?

Tim: Obviously, the only way to determine this answer is to associate each of the major characters who perished in the snap with a current player:

Black Panther – De’Aaron Fox

Spider-Man: Harry Giles

Doctor Strange – Harrison Barnes

Bucky Barnes – Alec Burks

Falcon – Frank Mason

Scarlet Witch – Corey Brewer

Star Lord - Bogdan Bogdanovic

Groot – Marvin Bagley

Drax – Kosta Koufos

Mantis – Willie Cauley-Stein

The Kings are left with Buddy Hield, Caleb Swanigan, Nemanja Bjelica, Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams, and Wenyen Gabriel to finish the season.

Will: I don’t know if I’ve ever been more offended by a list than the one that Tim just presented. In terms of power level or personality type I mean just... WHAT?! Tim why?!

Iron Man - De’Aaron Fox

War Machine - Buddy Hield

Falcon - Harrison Barnes (It’s literally his nickname!)

Hulk - Marvin Bagley

Captain America - Bogdanovic

Dr. Strange - Harry Giles

Willie Cauley-Stein - Groot

Yogi Ferrell - Rocket

Jerry Reynolds - All of Stan Lee Character Cameos

Also, no one on the Kings team got dusted but I am sad to say that Grant Napear, any one who has ever held a job to talk on the radio about the Kings, and that really nice usher who got you to your seat that one time at G1C... they all got dusted. So did every dog that has ever been brought into a store for human beings, and Greta Gerwig.