Heading into the trade deadline, it was unclear whether the Kings would be buyers or sellers. Sacramento’s momentum fluctuated wildly over the first part of the season, and at any given moment, the team was either firmly on the upswing or destined for the lottery yet again. As such, it was hard to predict what path forward the front office would pursue.
In his press conference after the deadline, general manager Monte McNair explained the team’s philosophy over the past week was to augment its core. Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes may not be as young as De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, but they’re young enough to be hitting their primes, and that meant that the Kings wanted to see what they could accomplish with this particular group.
“We certainly evaluate all our options, but I think our core has shown to be really productive this year, and like I said, one of our goals was to improve the depth around it,” McNair said Friday. “I think the guys we brought in will do that and I think also complement our core guys on both ends, right, and allow them to do what they do best.”
That pushed the Kings toward becoming buyers, but not necessarily mortgaging the farm in the process. They pursued a pathway of adding value when the opportunity presented itself, or what McNair chose to call “value buyers”.
“I think where we categorize ourselves was like value buyers, and we kind of explore all opportunities, and this is what kind of came to the forefront,” McNair said Friday. “These guys that we acquired have the ability to maybe help us this year, of course, but also be a part of our future, and just really allowed us also to maintain all that optionality going forward and set us up well. So I think we always try to be flexible as possible and not cut off any avenues to see what’s out there and do the best we can.”
That philosophy manifested itself in three of the trades the Kings made this week. They had a trade exception that was set to expire last Monday, so they used it to acquire Mfiondu Kabengele, a young big man prospect. Per McNair, they didn’t know what other moves would become available, but it was a use-it-or-lose-it situation with the trade exception, and they earned some good will with the Clippers in the process.
The Delon Wright trade came next, and this was a matter of Sacramento seeking out an upgrade. Although Cory Joseph was a good finisher at the rim and on corner threes, he wasn’t the dynamic point guard that the Kings needed in their second unit. He hasn’t been creating well for his teammates, and his turnover rate is also high, which makes him a poor lead ball handler. It wasn’t just that Joseph was asked to prop up bench lineups — when he was with the starters, the Sacramento offense was also below average.
Compared to Joseph, Wright can more easily fit next to the Fox and Haliburton without the Kings going dangerously small. The former Detroit guard is also a much better playmaker and offensive threat. Look how Wright actually pulls a defender away on Harrison Barnes’ game-winner against Cleveland. It’s hard to imagine Joseph having that gravity.
This is my favorite angle of Harrison Barnes’s buzzer-beater because it really shows how Delon Wright helps create the space for both the pass and shot. Wright empties the corner, but also draws Collin Sexton momentarily, allowing Barnes to get a cleaner catch and turnaround. pic.twitter.com/Hs4Zm9t1TK— Positive Residual (@presidual) March 28, 2021
Wright has a cheaper contract next year than Joseph, and it cost what should be a low second-rounder this year (from the Lakers) and one more pick in 2024. His deal is more expensive than simply waiving Joseph, but the Kings would probably have had to sign a backup point guard anyway, and Wright is a good option, especially since the team doesn’t seem to trust Kyle Guy for that role.
The Terence Davis deal theoretically fits the same template, but it’s hard to say if the Kings accomplished their goal on that one. Sacramento gave up what projects to be the 43rd pick in this year’s draft for a player who was shooting 48.9 percent on twos and 36.1 percent on threes in Toronto, and was on the outskirts of the rotation. If Davis perks up to his rookie year form, that’s a competent backup shooting guard. The Kings also could have found that player in the draft this year or it could even Jahmi’us Ramsey going forward. It’s a defensible gamble, but a weird one to take when when it meant waiving Kabengele.
That brings us to the Miami trade, which is probably the worst of the bunch, given that Nemanja Bjelica was easily the best player in the deal. However, if you approach it from the perspective that the Kings wanted to do right by Bjelica and get him to a place where he could compete and be happier in a larger role, then the return is of less consequence.
There is a hope that Moe Harkless could approximate what Kent Bazemore did for the Kings last season, as a rangy forward who can play good defense and is a hot shooting streak away from being a valuable player. There’s definitely room for that in Sacramento’s current rotation, and with the team eyeing the play-in, Harkless has a better bet of being that player now than Robert Woodard II.
A lot of these deadline moves come down to that goal: the play-in. McNair made it clear that the team wants to compete right now, so they didn’t make any moves with only an eye for the future. Maybe they lost out on the opportunity to cash in for Barnes and Holmes, though the market for Bjelica proved surprisingly dry, but their goal is to build a culture, and the front office has made the determination that habits will be easier to create in a winning environment.
“We felt like these moves not just can help us this year and continue to help us compete on a nightly basis and build that winning culture that I think the results will follow from that, but also, you know guys that give us the ability to build out the team in the future. Young guys, guys in their prime, who play the style of play that we want to play. Like I said we were value buyers, we thought we got great value, and that was really the driving force,” McNair said.
“I think we really came in with a systematic approach to continue to improve the team and set ups up for the future, I think we did that. We’re excited to see how it goes.”