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Retaining Holmes in free agency won't be easy for Kings

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Richaun Holmes biting jersey

Like the previous 14 years, the Kings bowed out of playoff contention before the end of the regular season. While so many franchises are still playing, Sacramento instantly shifted to the summer ahead and they have plenty of difficult decisions ahead.

General manager Monte McNair answered the most glaring question on the docket when he retained head coach Luke Walton for another year after back-to-back 31-41 seasons. Love it or hate it, the decision was made and the focus now shifts to the roster.

Priority No. 1 is to add talent to a group that struggled with depth all season long. Priority No. 1A is trying to retain starting center Richaun Holmes.

“We love Richaun,” McNair said earlier this week. “He had a career year. He's an integral part of the team.”

According to a league source, Holmes’ team is looking for a contract in the neighborhood of four-years and $80 million. That’s a steep price to pay, but Holmes will be coveted on the open market.

Whether he lands an offer in the $80 million range has yet to be seen. That figure seems above market value, but a player is worth what someone is willing to pay. If his agent gets that type of money for Holmes, then more power to him. 

With their current salary structure, Sacramento can’t pay that amount to retain the 27-year-old. They are under the projected $112 million cap, but most of their money is currently tied up in different types of cap holds.

 

Because he signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Kings in the summer of 2019, the team has “Early Bird” rights to Holmes, but those likely aren’t going to help. Early Bird rights give Sacramento the ability to sign him to an extension based on the league average salary projected at $11 million in Year 1, with eight percent raises each season. Basically, that equates to an estimated contract of four years just south of $50 million.

That contract is not going to cut it.

After a breakout season that saw the former Bowling Green star averaging 14.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.6 blocks per game for the Kings, Holmes has proven he is a starting caliber NBA center and should be paid accordingly.

Holmes has made a little under $15 million in his six years in the NBA. He is looking at this summer as his big pay day as he enters his prime and rightfully so. He’s always been clear about his feelings towards Sacramento and a potential return.

“We’re going to see what happens,” Holmes said during his Zoom session on Monday. “Definitely have a love for Sacramento, what we’re trying to build here, what we built this season. I definitely have an interest in trying to go beyond that.”

While he loves playing for the Kings, this is the contract that could set him and his family up for generations, if he plays it the right way. 

All of this puts the Kings in a difficult situation. Instead of cashing out on Holmes at the trade deadline and getting value for their starting center, they chose to hold onto him and try to keep him long-term. 

Now the Kings have approximately $3 million in functional cap space heading into the summer. That includes cap holds for items like the team’s first-round draft pick, salary holds for Terence Davis, Damian Jones and Chimezie Metu, as well as reserved minimum salaried players to get the team to the required 13 roster spots. 

If Holmes doesn’t take the early Bird offer, then it comes down to the team having to clear cap space to retain him and that might not be that simple.

The Kings can open up a couple of million by waiving their rights to Metu and Jones. They could then turn around and resign either or both to minimum scale contracts for their years of service in the league after retaining Holmes.

That still leaves a huge chunk of change that the Kings have to come up with and there aren’t exactly a lot of ways to do that without trading away one or two of the other major pieces on the roster.

If Holmes does in fact land a contract in the four-year, $80 million range, that is a starting salary of roughly $17.5 million with annual raises of eight percent. 

Delon Wright is scheduled to make $8.5 million this coming season, but the Kings added the veteran point guard in part because they like his fit going into next season. Even if they find a taker for Wright, that still puts the team $4 million or more away when added to the Jones and Metu savings.

 
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If the Kings swap out Wright’s one-year deal for the remaining $11.3 million owed to Marvin Bagley next season, that would get the Kings within striking distance, but that means that the team takes nothing back in return for this year that would count towards the cap.

Sacramento could shop one of their big money contracts in Buddy Hield ($22.8 million) or Harrison Barnes ($20.3 million) to open up the needed cap space, but again, they would need to find a team willing to absorb a good portion of the contract without sending back an equal salary.  

It’s too early to make a determination on how high the Kings are willing to pay to retain Holmes. They passed on a four-year, $72 million contract for Bogdan Bogdanovic last offseason, but this isn’t an organization that can continue to lose talent and get nothing in return. 

Teams like the Charlotte Hornets and Dallas Mavericks made overtures for his services in the past and there will likely be other teams that jump in the conversation as we get closer to free agency.  

Holmes is a perfect in the Kings system. He would like to stay. But this is a complex situation that will require time and a lot of maneuvering to work out, especially if he commands the type of offer that team Holmes is expecting.