In the NBA world, life comes at you fast. Kings general manager Monte McNair learned that lesson and then some in his first season in Sacramento.
After taking the Kings job on Sept. 17, 2020, it was a whirlwind of chaos for McNair building up to the 2020-21 season. He had just weeks to build a staff, come up with a draft strategy, assess the team’s roster and then head into free agency.
It’s hard to fully judge McNair’s performance under these circumstances, but there were some definite home runs and a few swings and misses during his wild first season in Sacramento.
Here is a look at the highs and lows of McNair’s first season on the job in Sacramento.
It’s supposed to be the good, the bad and the ugly, but every once in a while, something special happens that deserves an extra category. McNair’s drafting of Tyrese Haliburton is one of those moments.
Walking into his first draft as the front man for a NBA team, McNair set his sights on Haliburton coming into the week of the draft. There are rumors and innuendos that the Kings’ new GM worked in concert with Haliburton’s representation to orchestrate a draft night tumble for the Iowa State star, although most parties have tried to debunk the tale.
However it happened, the drafting of Haliburton not only changed the next five to 10 years of Kings basketball, but it had an immediate impact on the 2020-21 season. Rarely do you see a rookie get off a plane and instantly make an impact like Haliburton did. His upside still is off the charts and he’s a building block player for a team in desperate need of more talent.
Not everything went McNair’s way this season, but the sign of a good executive is in his ability to ride the waves and make savvy moves to improve the team when the opportunity arises.
The trade deadline additions of Delon Wright, Moe Harkless and Terence Davis addressed immediate needs, were cost efficient and allowed for major flexibility moving forward. For the cost of Cory Joseph, Nemanja Bjelica and three future second-round selections, McNair bolstered his bench both for the short term and in the case of Wright and Davis, for next season as well.
Maybe it was out of necessity or maybe out of design, but McNair showed that he was adaptable during the season as the team stayed competitive. He didn’t change the entire dynamic of the team by pulling off a blockbuster trade. He also didn’t gut the roster in pursuit of some ill-fated offseason search for a mega star in free agency.
In addition to adding solid veteran depth, McNair and his staff mined the league for under-utilized talent that fit their vision for the team. The additions of Chimezie Metu on a two-way contract and Damian Jones on a pair of 10-day deals were small, but impactful moves that made the Kings more competitive.
Signing both Metu and Jones to regular contracts at the end of the season rewarded the young bigs and showed that the Kings are making a commitment to building the right way. Agents will remember how the Kings handled this situation, even if it’s for the bottom third of the roster talent.
Hassan Whiteside is a 7-foot tall square peg for a round hole. Glenn Robinson III didn’t work out as many believed he would. Frank Kaminski didn’t even make the final roster out of camp. When that is the extent of your free-agent signings, there is an issue.
McNair chased players in free agency, but the fact that he didn’t get a single player to commit four days into the negotiating window is a concern. McNair clearly took a cautious approach to his first dip into free agency, which left his coach under fortified coming into the season.
Of the 15-man standard roster, the Kings had Justin James, Robert Woodard III, Jahmi’us Ramsey and DaQuan Jeffries all under standard contracts. That’s four players on the main roster that were second-round picks or undrafted in the previous two drafts.
In addition to this group, the Kings also walked into the year with Jabari Parker on the roster, who wasn’t part of the plan. That gave Walton a roster of 10 players to really work with, including Whiteside, who isn’t built for the Kings’ style of play, and Bjelica, who was buried on the depth chart.
The changes at the deadline were impressive, but beyond necessary. By the time the Kings got to the end of a condensed, chaotic season, the core of De’Aaron Fox, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes and Haliburton were completely out of gas. The depth has to be better moving forward.
Failed trades happen. In fact, more often than not, all the rumors building up to trade deadlines or the draft or the start of free agency fizzle. They don’t often fall apart like the Bogdan Bogdanovic trade to the Milwaukee Bucks did.
Whoever called or texted the media to inform them of a possible trade made an egregious mistake. Unfortunately, we’ll never know the full story, but it cost the Kings a very good young NBA player in Donte DiVincenzo. It also set the stage for Bogdanovic’s exit.
While the Kings missed the playoffs for a 15th consecutive season, Bogdanovic is putting on a show for the Atlanta Hawks in the postseason. He is a constant reminder of what could have or should have been.
McNair and his staff mulled over the decision on whether to match the Hawks' four-year, $72 million offer sheet all the way up to the moment the decision had to be in. They also turned down a trade overture from the Hawks before the offer sheet was signed.
If the Kings had Bogdanovic on the roster, the 2020-21 season could have been very different. The lack of depth was a huge issue from the jump. If nothing else, Bogdanovic is a quality NBA player. The Kings had an immediate decision to make, but they would have had plenty of time to sort out the roster at a later date. Instead, they lost a valuable asset for nothing.
In addition to the Bogdanovic decision, McNair also made the trade for Davis at the deadline. While Davis excelled on the court late in the season, his off the court issues from late last year should give everyone pause. He has cleared legal hurdles and the league didn’t take action, but that’s a big gamble as a first-year GM and it didn’t sit well with plenty of people in the fan base.
Overall Grade: B-
McNair found a starter with star potential at the No. 12 pick in the draft. He was aggressive and made smart additions at the deadline to give his team a shot at the play-in tournament.
The Kings’ GM also walked into the season with an incomplete roster and allowed a very good NBA player to walk away without compensation as a restricted free agent.
If McNair knew just how good Haliburton would be in Year 1, he might have done things differently, but hindsight is 20-20. While the roster improved dramatically as the season wore on, the team can’t walk into next year without real depth.
McNair gets an A+ for his draft night success. A failing grade for his first free agency period and a solid B for handling of the roster in season. Just eight months on the job, he’s left bread crumbs as to how he will build the roster.
The early returns are solid.