In the waning moments of the NBA trade deadline in February, Kings General Manager Vlade Divac traded Zach Randolph and Justin Jackson to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Harrison Barnes. The veteran small forward represented a significant upgrade at the wing for Sacramento, but also came with a hefty price tag of over $24 million in the 2018-2019 season, as well as a player option in the amount of $25 million next year. If Barnes accepts his option, he will play out the season with the Kings and enter the summer of 2020 as an unrestricted free agent.
For those who believe Harrison represents a long-term solution at small forward, offering a multi-year contract extension at a slightly lower annual, something along the lines of 4-year, $80 million, is responsible roster management. Meanwhile, the group that views Barnes as a less than certain option at the wing would prefer to scout the veteran wing for an entire season before handing out an expensive, cap-reducing check. Representing the pro-extension crew will be Tim “the Lowe” Maxwell, while Greg “the furious” Wissinger prefers to take a wait-and-see approach with Barnes’ next contract. Let the Sactown Smackdown begin!
Why should/shouldn’t the Kings extend Barnes before free agency begins?
Tim: 3-and-D players are arguably the most sought-after commodity in today’s NBA, and Barnes played that role to near perfection last year. He knocked down 40.6% of his 4.6 three-point attempts and comfortably guarded the opposing team’s best wing on a nightly basis. Harrison also seemed to accept his role as a complementary player in Sacramento’s scheme, as his usage rate dropped from 23.7% with the Mavericks to 16.3% with the Kings, while his field goal attempts took a similar dive, from 14.6 to 11.1 per game.
The Kings should be set at point guard (Fox), shooting guard (Hield, Bogdanovic), power forward (Giles), and center (Bagley) for years to come. Locking up a veteran wing who’s still within his athletic prime, meshes with the roster better than Smash Mouth and Shrek, and can defend and play multiple positions of need for Sacramento is simply smart roster construction. There’s almost no chance the front office finds a better fitting small forward in the next couple of years, and it would be foolish to risk losing Barnes after just one full season of contribution.
Greg: My argument has nothing to do with his production or long-term fit with the Kings. I was absolutely happy with Barnes and I think he does fit with the long-term vision of the team. My argument is simply that the Kings shouldn’t negotiate against themselves. By extending Barnes this summer, the Kings are negotiating against $25 million. That’s the number they need to convince Barnes to give up, so the new contract has to lucrative enough to convince him to make that choice. If the Kings wait and work to extend Barnes next summer they would be negotiating against the market and what other teams are willing to pay.
This is, of course, a risk. If they don’t extend him now he becomes an unrestricted free agent and the Kings could be faced with negotiating against an offer from [insert bad GM here]. The question then becomes whether you think Barnes production next season will be good enough to earn him over $20 million per year on his next contract. I argue there’s not a lot to suggest that. Even a great season from Barnes seems unlikely to earn him that kind of deal next summer. So why give him that deal now?
Tim: I would much rather negotiate against the $25 million annual salary than other GM’s and Sacramento’s potential desperation in 2020. If the Kings lose Barnes to free agency next summer, their hopes of replacing his production are quite slim. They likely won’t find a starting caliber player in the second round of the draft this year and will hopefully make the playoffs and select in the high-teens in the 2020 draft. If that’s the case, the front office will be left to another wing in free agency. Here are the biggest and best names available next summer:
Andre Igoudala (36)
Chandler Parsons (31)
Danilo Gallinari (32)
Gordon Hayward (30)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (27)
Mo Harkless (27)
Cedi Osman (25, RFA)
Taurean Prince (26, RFA)
Brandon Ingram (23, RFA)
That’s not an encouraging list. Harrison Barnes is arguably a top-3 player in that group, and could be even higher depending on Brandon Ingram’s development and Gordon Hayward’s health. Someone like Mo Harkless or Taurean Prince would be a solid addition compared to past disasters like Arron Afflalo, Matt Barnes, and James Anderson, but they would still represent a downgrade in talent for the depth chart. Sacramento won’t just be competing with other teams for a solid contributor, they’ll be going after one of the most versatile wings on the market.
Theoretically, the Kings could try to find a stop-gap option (how many times have we heard that plan?) in July of 2020 and find a full-time forward in 2021, but by that time De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Harry Giles will have been granted extensions or matched contracts in free agency. Assuming Vlade keeps the core together, Sacramento’s cap sheet could be nearly or fully maxed out in two years:
De’Aaron Fox - $31,000,000
Buddy Hield - $26,000,000
Harry Giles - $18,000,000
Bogdan Bogdanovic - $15,000,000
Marvin Bagley - $11,000,000 (final year of rookie contract)
That adds up to $101,000,000 between those five players. They must also factor in the salary of the 2020 first round pick, the 2021 first round pick, and any other multi-year contracts the Kings have signed during that two year period. In addition to those figures, Marvin Bagley’s pending max extension the following summer will place even more strain on Sacramento’s cap situation. Realistically, the front office has cash to spend in free agency this July and next before their flexibility is severely restricted. Yes, $20,000,000 per year is an overpay for a solid starter, but Sacramento has always been forced to overpay every free agent acquisition due to their small market and lack of historical success. Between the potential talent downgrades next summer and the low likelihood of finding a high-quality wing through the draft or trades, it would behoove the Kings to lock up a guy they know can play as soon as possible.
Greg: You make a fair point, but the Kings have had to overpay to get guys to come to Sacramento. Once players have played here, they’re far more likely to stay. I’d also argue that next year the Kings should be a far more attractive destination to free agents based on an assumed level of improvement. But let’s assume the Kings don’t take another step forward. Let’s assume the Kings stay stagnant or get worse and wouldn’t be an attractive place to stay. In that scenario, are you that eager to be paying $20 million to the small forward for that team? And even if the Kings are taking a step forward, do you want a fifth of the team’s cap space locked up in a guy who is (hopefully) the fourth or fifth best player on the team?
I won’t be upset if the Kings end up locking in Barnes to a new deal. I think it would be better to wait, but at the end of the day I’m fine if the Kings can lock up a good player at a decent price for a long time. We both agree that we want Barnes here long term, the only question is when is the best time to negotiate the new deal.