It’s hard to find a more dysfunctional organization than Sacramento. The Kings’ top talent, DeMarcus Cousins, was suspended indefinitely for arguing with head coach Keith Smart in the middle of a December road game against the Los Angeles Clippers, only for the suspension to be lifted 3 days later. (Cousins is also blamed, at least partially, for coach Paul Westphal’s firing in January 2012 after only 7 games.)
Before last week’s trade deadline, the Kings shipped Thomas Robinson to Houston for essentially Patrick Patterson. The move was widely panned in league circles, who saw Sacramento quickly throwing in the towel on Robinson, the 2012 Draft’s No. 5 overall pick who, still age 21, had only appeared in 51 games. Oh, and, by the way, the Kings are, in all likelihood, playing their last season in California’s capital, as a Seattle group, which has already reached an agreement to purchase the team, has filed for relocation with the league.
So Sacramento has bigger problems than its current roster, good enough for a 20-39 record that’s in a 3-way tie with Phoenix and New Orleans for the Western Conference’s cellar. (Interestingly, Sacramento’s 14-13 at home, despite a league-worst 13,473 fans a night and tickets selling for as low as $1 in secondary markets.) The Kings are, despite a 24-point win in Orlando on Wednesday, losing games by 6.7 points, on average, the NBA’s 2nd-worst margin.
Smart’s squad spots opponents a league-worst 104.9 points per game, 1.4 points more than 29th-ranked Houston, largely due to plain apathy that begins with Cousins. The Kings are 2nd-worst in opponent’s field goal percentage, 19th in opponent’s 3-point percentage and tied for 28th in rebound differential, -3.7. Sacramento’s D is also 2nd-worst in assists allowed, tied for 24th in blocks, and the Kings are tied for the league’s worst assist-to-turnover ratio.
Offensively, there’s teams much worse off than the Kings, who average a 15th-best 97.6 points per game and 5 double-figure scorers, beginning with Cousins’ 17.5 points and 10.1 rebounds. This would be the 2nd-consecutive season the former Kentucky product has averaged a double-double, and he’s doing so very, well, lackadaisically.
With maturity, you would love to see Cousins develop as more of an interior threat, as opposed to someone positioned more so on the elbows; he’s a 45.5% shooter from the field and averages 5.8 free throws in 31.9 minutes. But, at the same time, his versatility is a plus, especially for someone who, at 6’11” and 270, can handle the ball like a guard.
Then, there’s Sacramento’s 2 combo guards, Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas, who occasionally masquerade, albeit poorly, as 1-guards. Evans, a former Rookie of the Year, has seen his scoring, assists and minutes gradually fall in the 2.5 years since, to the point where Sacramento even declined to extend his deal before the October 31 deadline, meaning he’s a restricted free agent this offseason.
Thomas, the team’s leader at 3.5 assists per game, is an excellent scorer in his 5’9″ frame, with an ability to slash to the rim and connect from outside, albeit on a 33% basis. Evans, 15.5, and Thomas, 12.7, are the team’s 2nd- and 3rd-leading scorers, respectively.
Since 2007, the Kings have had lottery picks every year. Here’s a quick rundown, starting in 2012: Thomas Robinson (No. 5 overall), traded to Houston; Bismack Biyombo (7), traded to Charlotte for, among other pieces, Jimmer Fredette (10), still on the team; DeMarcus Cousins (5), still with team; Tyreke Evans (4), still with team but probably not in long-term plans; Jason Thompson (12), still with team; and Spencer Hawes (10), traded to Philadelphia.
All 6 players are still in the NBA, and probably are for the foreseeable future, but the only franchise guy, granted those are extremely difficult to find, is Cousins, but whether he ever reaches that potential with the Kings remains to be seen, mostly due to character concerns.
But back to the Kings’ current roster. Also in Sacramento’s loaded backcourt is Marcus Thornton, a volume scorer and one-time 21 points-a-night guy, who’s also the team’s most burdensome financial commitment, at about $8.2 million per season through 2014-15. With Thomas, Evans and Thornton, as well as veteran PG Aaron Brooks, it’s often hard for Fredette to find minutes; he’s averaging 7.2 points in 14.1 minutes, down 4.5 (minutes) from last year, despite being the team’s most consistent threat, 42.6%, from 3-land.
Personally, I’d like to see Smart play Fredette more over Brooks, 20.8, who’s got a $4 million player option for 2013-14, but after that, probably is not part of the team’s future plans. In all, Smart plays 7 guys at least 20 minutes a night, but Fredette and the recently departed Robinson, the team’s last 2 lottery investments, are not among them.
In the frontcourt, the acquisition of Patterson is accompanied by many questions, since Patrick, at 6’9″ and 235 (and, like Cousins, a Kentucky product), is undersized and more of a floor-spacer, which is why he worked so well in Houston’s up-tempo offense. Unless Smart commits to playing Cousins more on the block, I’m not sure I understand the trade; Patterson is a more seasoned, ‘ready’ NBA talent who can probably have more of an immediate impact than Robinson, but Sacramento is not really competing for anything any time soon.
At the 3, Salmons is a productive NBA player who’s started 48 games on the year, but he has a poor 11.1 player-efficiency rating, the worst among the Kings’ regular starters, and his 9.1 points per game is, excluding last year’s 7.5, his worst mark since 2006-07, when he played for Sacramento, 2 teams ago. At 41.3%, he’s also shooting more than 2 points below his career average. Oh, and at 33, he, like fellow rotation player Chuck Hayes, 29, is probably not on this roster after his contract expires.
From a financial perspective, Kings GM Geoff Petrie has decisions coming on Evans, a $6.9 million qualifying offer next season, and Cousins, a $6.5 million qualifying offer in 2014-15, both of whom have been rumored to be on the trading block this season. If the Kings were interested in keeping Evans long-term, I think they would have signed him to such a deal this fall, but if Tyreke decides to play out the qualifying offer and enter unrestricted free agency next summer, he could be an attractive trade asset 11 months from now. As for Cousins, with all the fireworks between he and the organization, I also doubt he sticks, leaving Petrie in search for a franchise guy, probably via trade, as the team presumably transitions to Seattle.
With qualifying offers on Evans, James Johnson ($4 million) and the newly acquired Toney Douglas ($3.1 million), as well as an $885,000 team option on Thomas, Sacramento’s already pushing next year’s cap, especially once you add another lottery salary to the group. In the summer of 2014, the Kings will see flexibility with Evans’ expiring and Salmons’ $7 million team option likely not being picked up, but Patterson, restricted, and Thomas, unrestricted, are in line for raises. Once 2015 hits, the only contracts on the books are Thompson’s affordable $6.43 million and Fredette’s $4.47 qualifying offer, assuming he’s still around.
Add in a likely relocation, the NBA’s first since an ugly 2008, and you’ve got a recipe for an interesting few years in Kings land, or whatever they’re called a year from now.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.