For two seasons, Richaun Holmes has been a feel-good story for a Kings team that has struggled to maximize the value of their free-agent additions. The springy big man went from an NBA journeyman bouncing around the league to a starting center in Sacramento, although his days with the club might be numbered.
In 11 days, Holmes enters the free agent pool unrestricted and unencumbered. For the first time in his professional career, the 27-year-old is looking at a major payday and while he has been clear about his love for Sacramento, he is going to do what is best for himself and his family.
“I think the biggest piece of advice that I’ve received is really simple, but it actually resonated with me -- it’s just, do what’s best for you and your family,” Holmes told Shams Charania in a sit down with Stadium.
After averaging 14.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game for the Kings this season, this is Holmes’ big chance to cash in. He just finished a two-year, $10 million deal in Sacramento in which he solidified himself as a strong two-way starter.
This is a huge decision for Holmes that will have an impact on the lives of the people around him. Not only does he have a six-year-old son to consider, but also his parents and brothers, who all play a role in his career planning.
“It’s really a decision that’s not only affecting me, but affected everybody’s livelihood around me,” Holmes said. “So I’m making sure I don’t take any of those decisions or any of those people’s lives for granted. I’m really trying to make sure I make a decision that’s best not only for me, but for them as well.”
Holmes’ camp is looking for a contract in the neighborhood of four years and $80 million, a league source told NBC Sports California. Whether the market will dictate that value is unknown, but there are a few teams that both have cap space and who are in the market for a starting center, like the Dallas Mavericks, Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks.
The Kings currently are limited in what they can offer Holmes in free agency, although a league source has confirmed that Holmes still is a high priority for the team and they would love to have him return for another tour of duty,
Without making any other roster moves, general manager Monte McNair is limited to a four-year, $50 million contract offer to Holmes using what is known as Early Bird rights. Again, he is unrestricted, so the Kings do not have a right to match other offers, like they did last season with Bogdan Bogdanovic.
McNair has a difficult decision to make. He has players on short-term deals like Delon Wright (one-year, $8.5 million) and Marvin Bagley (one-year, $11.3 million), but both are valuable pieces to the Kings’ rotation. If McNair moves off of either player to clear space for Holmes, he would do so with the knowledge that not only would he be losing talent, but that he would be doing so without knowing if he can retain his starting center.
It’s a complex situation that will require plenty of analysis from the Kings’ front office. The one piece that Sacramento has going for them is that Holmes thrives in Luke Walton’s system and has been given his golden opportunity to shine by the Kings’ head coach.
In the end, it sounds like it will be a business decision for Holmes. If that is the case, the Kings need to assess their position quickly, gather as much intel from Holmes’ group as they can and then move forward with a multi-tiered game plan.
There isn’t a starting level center waiting for the Kings to select at No. 9 in the upcoming draft. If Sacramento loses Holmes, they will need to expend assets to replace him and it’s unlikely they will find a player that fits as well, at least in year one.
In addition, losing Holmes won’t help the team’s current cap situation. Sacramento has the mid-level exception with a starting salary of $9.5 million. But outside of that, they don't have the cap space to go out and find a replacement after player salaries and cap holds are considered.
McNair could offer Holmes the mid-level exception with a slightly lower starting salary than the early bird exception, but with a player option for the second season. If Holmes were to accept this and then opt out of the second season next summer, he would have three years of service with the Kings, which would give him full Larry Bird rights.
Under this scenario the Kings could offer Holmes a contract without many of the current salary cap constraints. This is a risky proposition for Holmes, but if he feels Sacramento is the best fit and wants to stay long term, it’s an option.
Sacramento already has been linked to free agent Nerlens Noel as a potential replacement if Holmes leaves, but he isn’t nearly the same two-way threat. Big man Steven Adams is rumored to be on the trade block with the New Orleans Pelicans, but again, that would cost assets that the Kings might not have to offer.
Adams isn’t built for the uptempo style the Kings hope to play, but he’s a bruiser that would instantly help the Kings’ on the defensive end and he’s under contract for another two seasons at $35 million.
Holmes will do what is best for himself and his family. The Kings should be doing something very similar. There is a possibility that the two sides meet in the middle, but it’s time to start formulating plan B and plan C and even a plan D if you are Monte McNair.