Two weeks ago I was all in on the idea of giving Nikola Vucevic the max. The Sacramento Kings could use an upgrade of Kosta Koufos and Willie Cauley-Stein, and Vucevic checks all the boxes. Great rebounding rate, check. Ability to shoot and stretch the floor, check. Ability to contribute in a variety of ways, check. But as I’ve looked and listened, it’s become clear that I was wrong.
The Kings shouldn’t give Vucevic the max. Not just that, the Kings shouldn’t give big money to any center.
The shift in my thinking began with an episode of The Lowe Post. Kevin Arnovitz was discussing the center role in the modern NBA. Arnovitz said around the 35 minute mark:
Center is a mercenary position. I was talking about this with someone, with an executive the other day over a meal, and it’s this. I think teams are going to come to the conclusion, many teams already have, that center is not where you spend your money. You can go and you can always find something in someone, especially in a league where there is a high probability that guy will not be on the floor for the five most crucial possessions of your season.
And to prove Arnovitz’s point, look at the centers who will be available this summer:
Aron Baynes (Player option)
Khem Birch (RFA)
Thomas Bryant (RFA)
Willie Cauley-Stein (RFA)
Marc Gasol (player option)
Al Horford (player option)
Nerlens Noel (player option)
Ivica Zubac (RFA)
Not all of those centers are going to be targets for the Kings (Boogie isn’t coming back, guys). Some of those could be targets but wouldn’t be interested in the Kings. Some of those centers are better than others, obviously. Not all of those player options are going to end up opting out. But none of that changes the fact that the center market is absolutely saturated. There will be bargains to be found for teams that remain patient, just as the Bucks found Brook Lopez for a measly $3.3 million. The Kings may not find a bargain of that caliber, Lopez has been great for Milwaukee this year. But back to Arnovitz’s point, he was great for them all season and couldn't be used heavily when it came to the playoffs.
Aside from the fact that there are going to be centers available in free agency, the Kings can’t afford to stifle the development of Marvin Bagley III and, to a lesser extent, Harry Giles. The Kings young bigs appear ready for bigger roles, especially Bagley. The Kings don’t need to spend big money on a high usage player, they need to find players whose skills fill in the gaps.
On top of all this, the Kings are on the verge of opening the checkbook for their young players. Clogging the cap sheet with an overpaid center who you hope gets outplayed by Bagley and Giles simply doesn’t make sense.
The Kings can still spend to improve the team. Find a mercenary center, but spend the majority the team’s cap space on added wing depth and improving the backup point guard spot. Using the cap space on a big man is a mistake the Kings can’t afford to make.