There is less than 24 hours on the clock before the NBA trade deadline and the Kings have made one minor move. What if that is the extent of their activity between now and noon tomorrow?
Did Monte McNair fail? Did he let down the fanbase? Did he squander an opportunity?
Maybe he did all of these things and maybe he did something even more extreme -- he refused to make a bad deal.
The Kings are staring at a possible 15th consecutive season without the playoffs. They are looking at an incredible 2021 draft class, although they are in that uncomfortable zone between being bad and not being bad enough to guarantee one of the star-studded top five.
So if McNair does stand pat, the question will be why. Why didn’t he trade Harrison Barnes to the Boston Celtics for a pick or two and some young prospects? Why didn’t he give soon to be free agent Richaun Holmes away for a first round pick? Why is Marvin Bagley still on the roster? Buddy Hield? Nemanja Bjelica? Cory Joseph? Hassan Whiteside?
Each of these questions are more complex than they seem, but the real answer might be that McNair isn’t willing to take three steps back with the hopes of taking one or two steps forward.
The Kings don’t have to do anything. That might sound crazy, but it’s also true. Barnes is a very good basketball player entering his prime. At 28 years old, he is having the best season of his career and with the way he maintains his body, he could play at this level for another five seasons or more.
Sacramento has Barnes under a declining scale contract for each of the next two seasons, where you can write his name in pen in the starting lineup and plan on him playing 35 minutes per game at either forward position. The same can’t be said for any of what the Celtics have offered in trade.
Holmes has become a beast for the Kings. After bouncing around the league, he’s found a home in Sacramento and he fits perfectly with the young guard tandem of De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. As recently as five days ago, Holmes expressed his love for the fans and the city of Sacramento.
Yes, the Kings will have to pay Holmes and yes, it is a risk to not trade him now with his impending free agency this summer, but like Barnes, Holmes isn’t the problem with the Kings. In fact, he is another player the team could build around. He will get a tremendous pay increase this summer, but it very well could be with the Kings.
As for Bagley, he’ll be on the roster if the Kings haven’t found a taker for his $11 million contract for next season. While packed with potential, injuries have completely derailed the first three years of his career. Not only have they cost him games, but they’ve stymied his development.
Every time Bagley builds momentum, he has a setback and both he and the team start over at square one. The Kings shouldn’t give him away, but it’s clear that everyone involved needs a fresh start. If McNair can involve him in a larger deal or find a team offering up a first round pick, he should consider moving on from the former No. 2 overall pick.
Hield is owed a lot of money and despite his recent return to form, he’s shown enough of the bad to make moving him difficult. McNair would likely love to find a landing spot for one of the best shooters in the game, but at what cost?
If the Kings can find a deal that balances the roster, then they should consider it. But there is also a chance that Walton leaves Hield at the wing for the remainder of the season and gives the franchise a long look at a potential three-guard set. While he’s undersized for the position, he has bulked up and staying in front of small forwards might be easier in the long term.
As for the group of veterans, McNair is likely shopping them individually and in a massive package as expiring contracts. Can McNair find another Harrison Barnes-type situation like Vlade Divac did a few years ago where he trades expiring contracts for a player that fits the plan on a longer term deal?
If not, then the next question is where do the Kings stand in the standings by next week? There will come a point in this season when the Kings are either in the chase or a lame duck. The argument could be made that we already know that answer, but the standings say otherwise.
Contrary to what some fans believe, the Kings are not a better team with Kyle Guy, Robert Woodard, Justin James, Jahmi’us Ramsey and DaQuan Jeffries eating the minutes of veterans. If and when the Kings hit a tipping point and all hope of a postseason chase is lost, this group will get a look.
Until then, Walton will rely on serviceable veterans in his rotation, because he feels they are more prepared, especially in a condensed season with an abbreviated build up, no summer league and very little practice time.
When the clock strikes noon, the Kings could look very similar to how they look now. They could also have to suit up and play the Golden State Warriors on Thursday with a handful of players left on the roster.
The point is, there isn’t a gun to McNair’s head. He doesn’t have to make a deal just to make a deal and he needs to not only think of today, but next season and the year after that.
Barnes could finish his career in Sacramento. Holmes could be the Kings’ starting center for another five years. Hield might find a home at the three and Bagley might still develop into a player that helps the team, be it as a starter or off the bench. Veteran contracts can expire, which will leave the team with flexibility to bring back Holmes and perhaps fill out the roster with players that fit better.
If the worst thing that happens in the next 24 hours is nothing, that is okay. That’s a lot better than making a trade, just to make a trade and then regretting it later.
The Kings have long taken steps backwards to take steps forward. The win/loss record says that doesn't work. If a deal makes the team better now or next season, then pull the trigger. If not, giving away talent and hoping to somehow magically replace it down the road is a tired game in Sacramento.