What in the world is a “gap year”?
This new term in the NBA lexicon was established this season in Sacramento. According to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, the “gap year” concept describes the Kings’ approach to the abbreviated 2020-21 campaign where the franchise is set to take a long view of two to four years in rebuilding the roster instead of trying to load up for one season in an attempt to end the team’s 14-year playoff drought.
It’s a macro vs. micro approach. Without fans in the building, the Kings' plan according to Amick was to use much of this season to assess the squad, which is one of the reasons why McNair chose to value roster and financial flexibility in the 2020 offseason, instead of retaining Bogdan Bogdanovic or adding more long-term pieces.
During an interview with NBC Sports California, Kings general manager Monte McNair discussed the concept of a gap year and seemed slightly baffled by it.
“We’ve never used that term, so I’m not exactly sure where it originated,” McNair said. “When I came in, I think we all understand the history here. Obviously, the great teams of the late-90’s, early 2000’s ... but clearly frustration about not getting back to the playoffs.
"We sat down and really there is no one way to solve that.”
Basically, McNair was saying that there wasn’t a magic pill that would turn a 31-41 team into a contender overnight. More pieces were needed than the team could add during an abbreviated offseason.
For McNair, it starts with smart draft selections, like Tyrese Haliburton, who might have helped speed up the Kings’ process. But he also values flexibility so the team can strike if there is a franchise altering deal that comes available.
“I think there is a lot of talent on the roster, a lot of picks in the cupboard and we’re trying to figure out how we can continue to position ourselves to make the playoffs,” McNair said. “Whether that happens this year or next year or the year after or whenever it does, we hope obviously the sooner the better.”
The Kings are facing elimination from the play-in tournament. They currently trail the San Antonio Spurs by three games with four games remaining on the schedule. While it’s another unsuccessful season in Sacramento, there is a base to work with.
The team has big money invested in Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes, and De’Aaron Fox’s salary takes a major jump when his new contract kicks in next season. McNair’s hands were tied in his first offseason and he chose to not complicate matters further by adding more long-term salary.
With the Kings struggling with depth throughout the season, the argument could easily be made that even one player, like Bogdanovic, could have propelled them to a handful more wins.
But McNair didn’t have a guarantee that Fox would take another huge leap in production and they didn’t know that Haliburton would step on the court and look like a seasoned veteran.
“For us, it was about what do we have this year and how do we set ourselves up to continue to grow this thing,” McNair said. “That’s staying flexible for whatever move down the road.”
With the season almost in the can, McNair has a much better understanding about the roster and the assets he has moving forward. There are clear needs for this team, but it doesn’t appear this front office is going to make a move just to make a move unless they have a good idea what the long-term impact will be.
This is one season out of what McNair hopes will be many in Sacramento. There was a condensed offseason to make adjustments and he chose to have a long approach, even if he doesn’t prescribe to the gap year concept.
“We don’t view this year as different than any other in that we’re continuing to try to grow the talent base and make it fit together and certainly looking for big opportunities to land someone that can push that forward,” McNair said.
Could McNair have done more? Absolutely, but if the plan is to build a long-term, sustainable winner, then it will take more than a 72-game condensed season to judge the Kings’ new general manager.
His team is likely to miss the postseason once again, which won’t appease a fanbase hungry for playoff berth. But if standing pat for a season translates to something more down the road, then maybe it was worth it.