The 2021 NBA Draft is over and now the real work begins. The Kings made a minor move leading up to free agency, but more are needed if the team is going to compete for a playoff spot.
Free agency begins Aug. 2 at 3 p.m. PST this season, although no one can officially sign until Aug. 6. The Kings don’t have much in the way of cap space to begin free agency, but they have options if they attack free agency the right way.
Landing a major free agent outside of possibly their own will be difficult, but there are plenty of players that can help this team improve.
The Kings need to be aggressive, nimble and a little lucky, but there is potential for a facelift for this squad. Unfortunately, one wrong move could send the team careening towards disaster.
Projected NBA Salary Cap: $112.4 million with luxury tax set at $136.6 million
Potential Exceptions: Mid-level Exception ($9.5 million starting salary), Bi-Annual Exception ($3.7 million starting salary), Trade Exceptions: $3.6 million (Cory Joseph trade), $2 million (Nemanja Bjelica trade)
Cap Space: $106.6 million with current guaranteed contracts, $3.8 million projection for first round pick Davion Mitchell, four minimum scale contracts (4 x $900,000 = $3.6 million) cap holds. Total does not include the non-guaranteed contracts of Damian Jones, Chimezie Metu, Justin James or the potential contract for second round pick Neemias Queta.
Current Roster (Guaranteed contracts): De’Aaron Fox ($28.1 million), Buddy Hield ($22.8 million), Harrison Barnes ($20.3 million), Marvin Bagley ($11.3 million), Tristan Thompson ($9.7 million), Tyrese Haliburton ($4.0 million), Robert Woodard III ($1.5 million), Jahmi’us Ramsey ($1.5 million)
Non-Guaranteed Contracts: Damian Jones ($1.9 million), Chimezie Metu ($1.8 million), Justin James ($1.8 million)
Free Agents: Richaun Holmes (UFA - $6.5 cap hold, Early Bird Rights), Moe Harkless (UFA - $4.3 million cap hold), Terence Davis (RFA - $1.9 million qualifying offer, $1.9 million cap hold), Hassan Whiteside (UFA - $1.7 million cap hold), Kyle Guy (UFA - $1.7 million cap hold)
Roster Space: Counting both Davion Mitchell and Neemias Queta, the Kings roster currently stands at 10, but that number could grow to 13 if they guarantee the contracts of Jones, Metu and James. That means the Kings have anywhere between 2-5 open roster spots, if Queta gets a full guaranteed contract and not a two-way deal.
Current Depth Chart:
PG: Fox, Mitchell
SG: Haliburton, Hield, Ramsey
SF: Barnes, James, Woodard III
PF: Bagley, Metu
C: Thompson, Jones, Queta
Needs: Starting level center, starting forward, shooters, overall depth
The Kings have a few trade assets to work with. Bagley is entering the final year of his rookie scale deal and still has value as a top tier prospect with potential, but a history of injury. Thompson just joined the team via trade, but he has an expiring contract that could be added to another transaction if need be. Hield’s name has been mentioned in multiple trade rumors and he has three-years, $62.5 million remaining on his contract.
In addition to players, the Kings also have all of their first round picks moving forward, as well as three likely second round selections in 2022, one second round pick in 2023 and 2024 and two second in 2025.
The Kings need a complete roster rebalance. They are guard heavy, with Fox, Haliburton, Mitchell, Davis and Ramsey all expected back and Hield as a complete unknown.
Hield has started 264 games over his last four and a half seasons with the Kings, but the expectation is that Haliburton will start at shooting guard moving forward. Hield is either an expensive bench scorer, playing out of position at small forward or on his way out of Sacramento, which almost happened earlier this week.
Thompson was added as an insurance policy in case Holmes can’t be retained in free agency. There is positive momentum for a return, but nothing is certain once a player hits the open market.
Trading Bagley is the easiest option to free up cap space, although not the only way to open enough room to re-sign Holmes. Bagley has struggled to stay healthy after being selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, playing just 118 out of a possible 226 games with the Kings.
The 22-year-old power forward still has plenty of potential, but a fresh start might be in order. HIs $11.3 million contract should be movable, but whether the Kings can make a trade without taking back salary is another question.
Playoffs are the objective this season in Sacramento after a fifteen year playoff drought. Coming into free agency, the Kings need to be aggressive, both to clear enough cap space to retain Holmes, but also to change the look and feel of the team.
McNair missed out on a golden opportunity to reshape the rotation when a potential trade fell through with the Lakers on Thursday, but that doesn’t change the course for this offseason. Multiple changes are needed. The clock is ticking.