The Sacramento Kings decided it was time to go in another direction when they parted ways with Vlade Divac last offseason. Owner Vivek Ranadivé conducted a thorough search to hire the team’s next general manager and ultimately decided on Monte McNair.
McNair spent 13 seasons with the Houston Rockets before taking the job with the Kings. He and former Rockets GM Daryl Morey worked together closely and used analytics often to build Houston into a championship contender.
At his introductory press conference, McNair shared what his approach will be to try to end the Kings’ playoff drought.
“I want to become a team that consistently competes in the playoffs and ultimately contends for championships.
“Our goal is going to be to compete hard, and start building these winning habits. We need to be more consistent and going forward we’re going to maintain our flexibility. Obviously, we want to compete for the playoffs, but we know we have some work to do. So my goal is to keep that flexibility and be aggressive whenever the time comes to improve the team.”
McNair hit a home run with his first major move at the helm. He selected Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton 12th overall at last year’s NBA Draft. Haliburton looks like he is the steal of the draft and gives Sacramento another bonafide playmaker alongside De’Aaron Fox.
But McNair followed that up with a head-scratching decision in free agency. The Kings had agreed to send restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic and Justin James to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for young guard Donte DiVincenzo, Ersan Ilyasova, and DJ Wilson.
Unfortunately, the trade fell through. Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer gave some insight into why the deal couldn’t be completed:
Just minutes after the agreement was struck, word reached the news media of Milwaukee and Sacramento’s intended sign-and-trade. And during the board of governors’ call on Tuesday, several league sources indicated that Bucks governor Marc Lasry stopped just short of bragging about Milwaukee’s impressive Monday evening of transactions. However, multiple league personnel participating on the call said they did not remember any Bucks official gloating or any noted behavior or conversation out of the ordinary.
Either way, at least one rival team filed a formal complaint to the league office Wednesday, sources said. And by that afternoon, the league informed both Milwaukee and Sacramento that it would open an investigation into an alleged sign-and-trade already being agreed to four days before free agency had begun.
Bogdanovic’s camp insisted they never discussed the particulars of an agreement with Bucks officials and that they were only made aware of the negotiations. Bogdanovic even phoned the Antetokounmpos and reiterated he had never agreed to any contract with Milwaukee.
No matter the intent, no matter the news of Milwaukee and Sacramento’s agreement, all indications are the league office would have investigated such a transaction.
Bogdanovic’s agents began negotiating with the Atlanta Hawks once the negotiating period began and started talking with Sacramento about a potential sign-and-trade. But according to Chris Kirschner and Seth Partnow of The Athletic, McNair elected not to pursue any assets for Bogdanovic.
After the botched Bucks trade, which cost Milwaukee its 2022 second-round draft pick, the Kings still had the opportunity to do a legal sign-and-trade with the Hawks. The Kings asked for some of Atlanta’s younger players, but the Hawks declined. Atlanta offered Sacramento the Oklahoma City 2022 lottery-protected first-round pick it owns (which likely will end up converting to two second-round picks) and Tony Snell. The Hawks wanted to be sure the Kings would not match their offer sheet. Instead of getting something for Bogdanovic in free agency, the Kings received nothing and declined the Hawks’ offer.
Because Snell will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, the Kings would have wiped his salary off the books. Plus, the future picks could have been used in another deal, but McNair chose to take nothing back for Bogi.
Sacramento also saw Alex Len, Kent Bazemore, and Harry Giles walk in free agency. McNair signed Hassan Whiteside, Chimezie Metu, Glenn Robinson III and Frank Kaminsky during free agency. Neither Robinson nor Kaminsky finished the season with the Kings.
But McNair did take care of his No. 1 priority before the season began, signing star point guard De’Aaron Fox to a five-year extension worth up to $163 million.
On the court, Sacramento had an up-and-down season. The defensive issues under head coach Luke Walton carried over from last season, but the team did show some progress on the offensive end.
Here are some Kings’ stats over the past two seasons under Walton:
PPG this season: 114.0
PPG last season: 110.1
Opponent PPG this season: 117.7
Opponent PPG last season: 112.1
PACE this season: 48.1
PACE last season: 47.9
Net rating this season: -3.8
Net rating last season: -1.9
Sacramento dealt with several injury issues and was hurt by the NBA’s health and safety protocols but managed to stay within striking distance of a play-in spot throughout the season.
McNair addressed the defensive issues with a trio of trades leading up to and on deadline day. He brought in Moe Harkless, Terence Davis, Delon Wright and Chris Silva while shipping out veteran Cory Joseph, Nemanja Bjelica and three second-round picks.
The moves helped the Kings. The team’s defensive rating improved by 3.7 points per 100 possessions after acquiring the four new players, per NBA.com.
Although the moves help Sacramento win some games, the team ultimately fell just short of a play-in spot. With Fox, Haliburton and Barnes out due to injury, the Kings finished two games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference.
The two nine-game losing streaks definitely hurt Sacramento’s chances, and they also symbolize the team’s consistency issues. The defense also contributed to another playoff-less season for the franchise. Under Walton, the Kings had the worst defensive rating out of any team in NBA history.
Still, McNair said he has no plans of replacing Walton. McNair explained why he is choosing to bring the head coach back next season during his season-ending media availability.
“Luke [Walton] will continue to be our head coach. The team finished strong down the stretch, obviously did not ultimately reach our goal, but he has the support of our players,” McNair said. “We have a great working relationship, and we both acknowledge that we have to become better in many areas.”
McNair heads into a pivotal offseason. Sacramento has the ninth-best odds to get the No. 1 overall pick and could certainly use some lottery luck. If the Kings don’t move up the draft board, finding another gem like Haliburton will go a long way in setting up the franchise for long-term success.
There are a few other areas of business that need taking care of. Sacramento has roughly $82.5 million in salary committed to Fox, Barnes, Marvin Bagley III and Buddy Hield for the 2021-22 campaign.
Bagley seems like the most likely trade option given his age and above-average production when healthy, but the Kings would be selling low on the 2018 No. 2 overall pick.
Barnes and Hield will have some value to teams looking for veteran help, but neither would garner any can’t-miss prospects or high-end draft picks.
McNair’s first season is in the books. Although he didn’t make any huge moves during the season, we could see McNair change course over the summer.
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What moves would you like to see McNair make this offseason?