June 6, 2018, 10:15 am
Despite consistently finishing at or near the bottom of the standings, the Sacramento Kings have never had a great opportunity to take advantage of extra cap space heading into free agency. Whether it was due to bad contracts taking up their cap space or a lack of interest in using the space that they had, the Kings never seemed to be able to take advantage of having the type of cap space that lottery teams tend to have.
Whoever the Kings end up with at No. 2 is going to take up a decent chunk of they’re available cap room, but as it stands today the team should have no problem creating space to add a player on a max deal. A few contracts will need to be moved around, but with expiring contracts that they can use, the team shouldn’t have to give up much value to make it work.
With that said, there are plenty of options available for Vlade Divac to consider. There appear to be a few young players that could be vulnerable as restricted free agents, and more than a few playoff teams will be looking to dump a bad contract or two without many teams capable of taking on much salary.
If the team chooses to chase a restricted free agent, Aaron Gordon figures to be one of their better options on the market. Gordon was able to make a name for himself early in his career with emphatic dunks and flashes of strong defense, but his offensive development in year four elevated his status in the NBA. Gordon finished the season averaging 17.6 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the field for the Magic after being handed a much larger role in the team’s offense.
Sacramento could certainly use a more consistent scoring option at power forward, and at just 22 years old Gordon may have more untapped potential on both sides of the ball. If Gordon can continue to take steps forward as a shooter and passer, he could end up as a steal in restricted free agency.
The issue is that Gordon still hasn’t shown that he’s capable of being a primary option. A hot start to the year for both him and his team and made him look like a future All-Star, but after January 1st Gordon shot below 40 percent from the field, and below 30 percent from behind the arc, according to NBA.com.
Beyond that, Gordon has yet to develop much as a playmaker, and hasn’t shown that he can defend the way that many had expected when he was selected fourth overall out of Arizona. Without a well-rounded game and questions surrounding his ability to score efficiently, Sacramento may not want to lock themselves into an agreement large enough to persuade the Magic to let him go.
Jabari Parker probably has more upside as a scorer and has a much better track record overall. After a slightly disappointing start to his career, Parker broke out in his third year, averaging 20.1 points per game on 49 percent shooting. Two major knee injuries leave him with plenty of question marks, but he’s shown that he’s an effective scorer when healthy and has the potential to defend when motivated.
Parker’s knee injuries should make him easier to sign than Gordon, but do the Kings want to take on that type of risk? Also, Parker may be looking to take a shorter deal to rebuild his value and hit the market again in a few seasons. In that case, some of the risk is mitigated but the potential reward is also much smaller.
If the Kings are looking to add a more proven player, Clint Capela is likely their best option. After finishing the year as the third best player on the team with the best record in the NBA, Capela figures to be an expensive option to pursue. Very few players can protect the rim and comfortably switch onto the perimeter in the NBA, and his playoff experience figures to be an asset. Capela also understands his limitations offensively and plays within himself well.
While Capela is likely the most accomplished of the players mentioned thus far, he doesn’t have the same type of upside. He doesn’t figure to become a very versatile offensive player, and while he can hold his own on the perimeter he doesn’t provide a ton of value defensively when he gets pulled away from the rim.
Sacramento could use a player in his mold next season, but he may not be worth the type of money that they would need to offer. Houston has a difficult cap situation to navigate this summer, but they figure to retain a piece as important as Capela if his price is somewhat reasonable. Sacramento may be able to force their hand, but it’s not a great sign if Houston is willing to let such a big contributor walk.
The final player that figures to be available at the right price is Julius Randle. Randle struggled to contribute consistently in his first three seasons with the Lakers, but he was able to put it all together in the second half of last season. Randle finished the season averaging 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting while filling various roles for the Lakers.
Randle’s efficient scoring was impressive, but his ability to fill up the box score is what makes him truly stand out. Randle averaged 28.4 points, 14.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists per-100 possessions last season according to NBA stats – Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins were the only other players able to match those numbers last year.
The Lakers are going to try to retain Randle this summer, but with other free agents to chase the team may not want to match a larger offer sheet.
All of this seems to imply that Randle would be an ideal target for the Kings, but he still represents a bit of a risk. Randle got himself into tremendous shape last summer, and there’s no guarantee that he’s willing to maintain that moving forward. The Lakers are also much more likely to match if they can’t add a big player through free agency.
The other option would be to use a majority of their cap flexibility taking on bad contracts. Sacramento may be able to get a great young player or draft pick in exchange for taking on two years of a bad contract.
That scenario doesn’t present the same type of immediate return that a restricted free agency signing would, but it’s a much less risky proposition with around the same amount of upside – all four players mentioned above have plenty of potential, but none of them are among the premier young players in the league. If they were, they wouldn’t be available.
The Kings also don’t really have any idea what they have at this point. De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic are all promising young players, but none of them are sure bets at this point. Without a clear player to build around, it may not be wise to take an unnecessary risk on another young player unless they come at a low price.
Even if the team considers one of the three players above to be a sure bet, it’s still unclear what they need to be surrounded by. How much does De’Aaron Fox develop as a shooter and a playmaker? What type of defender can he become? Can Buddy Hield take more steps forward as a passer? Can Bogdan Bogdanovic play as a full-time small forward?
The team is probably better served maintaining flexibility until they have a better idea of how their young talent is going to develop. Taking on a bad deal takes away some of their flexibility, but they’re probably a few years away from being truly competitive anyway.
If the Kings are sure about one of the young players available this summer, then making an aggressive offer may be in their best interest. All four players mentioned above have the potential to move the needle for the Kings, and it’s possible that the Kings could see something in one of them that other teams don’t. Outside of that type of certainty, a trade to acquire an asset and take on a bad deal seems to be a much better option for the Kings.