Offseason In Review: Sacramento Kings

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Extensions

Trades

Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

  • Nik Stauskas (Round 1, eighth overall). Signed via rookie scale exception to rookie scale contract.

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

Three players averaged more than 20 points per game for the Kings last season, and while it seemed Sacramento didn’t mind losing one of them this summer, the team focused an inordinate amount of attention on keeping another. The Kings made a hard push and an elaborate presentation to Rudy Gay in hopes that he would opt in for this season, one in which he’s making more than $19.317MM. The team put an unusual amount of effort into ensuring that a player who’s talented but less than a superstar would be on the books for a salary usually reserved for the NBA’s truly elite. It was yet another sign of owner Vivek Ranadive’s faith in a player whom the analytics community had roundly criticized and who was playing some of the most inefficient ball of his career at the time of the trade that brought him from Toronto to Sacramento a year ago. Ranadive and GM Pete D’Alessandro made trading for Gay one of their first priorities when they took their respective posts during the 2013 offseason, and since they accomplished that, Gay has proven the Kings wise with increased efficiency and production in numbers both simple and arcane.

Rudy Gay (vertical)Gay picked up his player option, but Sacramento’s ultimate plan was to secure him for a longer period of time. Talks started and stopped over the summer, but the Octagon Sports client finally signed an extension in the season’s first month that will keep him under the control of the Kings through 2016/17, with a player option for 2017/18. The now 28-year-old small forward will make salaries more in line with his market value on the extension after his lucrative payday this year. Gay will see an average of more than $14.829MM over four years, taking both the opt-in and the extension into account and assuming he once more opts in with the Kings in 2017. That’s not cheap, by any means, but it slots him second behind DeMarcus Cousins in the team’s salary structure, mirroring the pecking order on the court. It also gives Sacramento the chance to enter 2016 with Cousins and Gay locked in and max-level cap flexibility to go with them, though there are plenty of variables the team will have to resolve between now and then.

One of those variables won’t involve Isaiah Thomas, whom the Kings removed from the equation when they saw him off to the Suns with a sign-and-trade deal. D’Alessandro and company seemingly ensured they wouldn’t be bringing Thomas back when they struck a deal with fellow point guard Darren Collison, as Thomas later said he felt like that move was a signal that the Kings were pushing him out the door. In any case, Thomas and the Suns did the Kings a favor, perhaps to ensure that Sacramento wouldn’t match Phoenix’s offer for the restricted free agent, when they agreed to make it a sign-and-trade rather than a straight signing. That allowed the Kings to come away with a trade exception worth nearly $7.239MM, one of the largest still-valid exceptions in the league. It’s far too valuable for the Kings to let it go unused, particularly given D’Alessandro’s propensity for trades, even if he’s holding off on any moves for the time being.

The Kings committed nearly their entire $5.305MM exception to Collison’s starting salary for this year, wisely leaving a sliver just large enough to tack a third year onto Eric Moreland‘s contract for the rookie minimum, thus giving Sacramento greater power to retain Moreland. The outlay for Collison, coupled with the Gay opt-in, nonetheless left the Kings in a salary crunch that would influence much of the rest of their offseason.

Collison had spent 2013/14 making just $1.9MM while rehabilitating his value with the Clippers. He started 56 of the 66 games the Pacers played during the lockout-shortened 2011/12 season, helping the team to a 42-24 mark, but he lost his job to George Hill for the playoffs, and Indiana traded Collison the following summer to the Mavs. The former 21st overall pick cratered in his year in Dallas, where he watched 37-year-old Mike James start ahead of him by season’s end. So it was off to the Clippers last year, and the BDA Sports Management client proved his worth as a backup and injury replacement for Chris Paul, just as Collison had done as a rookie when he and Paul were teammates in New Orleans. Collison has been stuck between starting and the bench for much of his career, so the Kings have to hope that as the 27-year-old enters his prime, they’ll benefit from his best work.

Ultimately, Collison is paid like an upper-tier backup on the mid-level deal, so the price is right, and just low enough for the Kings to avoid crossing the luxury tax threshold. Giving Thomas the same deal he received from the Suns would have put the Kings in tax territory, though backloading that Thomas contract rather than frontloading it would have allowed the Kings to have paid him the same money while just barely ducking the tax line. Still, Sacramento wouldn’t have had the space available beneath the tax for Omri Casspi, as the Kings were able to scrape together just enough for a one-year offer for the minimum salary. Casspi is playing 18.6 minutes a night for the Kings with a new offensive game that relies much less on three-point shooting and more on scoring in the paint. His PER to 16.9, 3.8 points better than his previous career high.

The Kings afforded themselves the chance at more slightly more breathing room beneath the tax when they pulled off a trade that sent Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw to the Knicks for Wayne Ellington and Jeremy Tyler. The exchange of salaries itself lessened Sacramento’s payroll by only about $196K, and Tyler’s non-guaranteed salary was $33K greater than Acy’s non-guaranteed pay, so the Kings gained slightly more flexibility in that regard, too. They also saved about $76K more when they used the stretch provision to waive Ellington instead of doing the same with Outlaw. Yet perhaps the most important benefit that the Knicks trade gave the Kings was the removal of the protection on the 2016 second-round pick that Sacramento later used to sweeten the pot in the trade that sent Jason Terry and his salary of more than $5.85MM to Houston. The Kings received only non-guaranteed salaries in that exchange and promptly waived them to pocket the savings.

D’Alessandro used some of that extra wiggle room beneath the tax line to ink Ramon Sessions and Ryan Hollins, strengthening the Kings’ bench. The addition of Sessions, to whom Sacramento committed its biannual exception, seems particularly key, since it gives the Kings a measure of insurance in case Collison fails to prove worthy of the starting job. Sessions, too, has floated between starting and reserve roles, but he played well down the stretch last season for the Bucks, and it wasn’t long ago that his 2012 trade deadline acquisition was to have given the Lakers the missing piece they lacked for another title run.

Still, the decision the Kings had to make with the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft was perhaps as important as any in front of the team this offseason, aside from what to do with Gay. Thus, it’s perplexing to have seen Sacramento use a lottery selection on a shooting guard for the second straight year. The Kings immediately pledged their support for Ben McLemore, last year’s pick, after seemingly drafting Nik Stauskas as his replacement this year and in spite of a draft-night report that indicated that Sacramento and the Celtics were in talks about a potential trade involving McLemore. The seventh overall pick from 2013 has proven the Kings wise to have hung onto him, as he’s shooting much better from just about every point on the floor than he did in his rookie season, according to Basketball-Reference. That appears to have come at the cost of playing time for Stauskas, who’s yet to find his shooting stroke amid just 13.1 minutes per night. Sacramento risks stunting his growth, lowering his trade value, or both if it can’t give him either more playing time or a new home.

The Kings are still a work in progress two offseasons into the Ranadive-D’Alessandro era. They secured Cousins, their superstar, last year on a long-term extension that’s already paying dividends as he continues to mature on and off the court. They acquired Gay, watched him become a top-flight complement to Cousins, and this year made sure that he, too, would be around for the long term. There are a few signs of hope elsewhere on the roster, one that nonetheless includes too many players who are either poor fits or not skilled enough to contribute significantly to a playoff-caliber team. Sacramento’s optimism appeared misplaced when the team entered the regular season with the intention of competing for a playoff spot in the rugged Western Conference, but more than a month in, the Kings are in the thick of the race for the eighth seed. There’s a long way to go in this season and an even longer road ahead in Sacramento’s journey to relevance in the title picture, but the Kings are making progress.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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