Kings

Kings positioned well at start of NBA trade season, but will they buy?

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AP

Kings positioned well at start of NBA trade season, but will they buy?

SACRAMENTO -– December 15 is a big day in the NBA. It’s the date that the league’s moratorium is lifted for trading players who were acquired during the previous offseason. It officially kicks off Stage 1 of trade season for the league.

The magic started early, with the Wizards, Suns and Grizzlies engaging in a potential three-way deal that would have sent veteran Trevor Ariza back to the Washington Wizards for a second tour of duty.

After some crazy finger pointing and misinformation, Memphis was removed from the transaction, and Ariza reportedly is on his way to Washington in exchange for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers.

This is the first of many deals that will go down between now and the Feb. 7 NBA trade deadline.  

The Kings have gone from a potential salary dump site to possible buyers in what should be an active market. Sacramento is the only team in the league with measurable salary-cap space, sitting roughly $11 million under the cap.

Vlade Divac and his group also have four expiring contracts in Iman Shumpert ($11 million), Zach Randolph ($11.7 million), Kosta Koufos ($8.7 million) and Ben McLemore ($5.5 million). That's nearly $37 million in moveable assets.

Of those four, Shumpert is the only player seeing regular minutes in the rotation. He has been a big part of the Kings' culture this season. According to sources, moving him would be on the bottom of the team’s priority list when it comes to expiring deals.

Koufos has played limited minutes for the Kings this season. He’s the team’s best post defender, but with a glut of bigs, he’s played in just 14 games this season and should have value around the league.

With so many other options at the power forward position, Randolph hasn’t stepped foot on the floor for Sacramento this season, and McLemore has totaled just 41 minutes through 28 games.

Sacramento has little interest in shopping its two free-agent acquisitions from this past offseason. Nemanja Bjelica is starting at power forward and playing major rotational minutes for coach Dave Joerger.

Yogi Ferrell was out of the Kings’ rotation for much of the season, but he’s found himself back in the mix over the last two games and is scheduled to get a 10-game look at the backup point guard spot. He is inexpensive, and the Kings have a team option on the 25-year-old for next season as well.

The list of players who now have become available for trade is lackluster. No one jumps off the page as a “must have” for Sacramento, but Dec. 15 usually starts the barrage of conversations.

According to reports, the Suns might look to find another home for Oubre. He is a restricted free agent following the season and a potential target for the Kings when they walk into the summer with an estimated $60 million in cap space.

[RELATED: Why KD can see Kings attracting big names in NBA free agency]

The Kings like the former Wizards forward and could make an early run at the 23-year-old, which would then give them the option to match any offer for him during the summer.

Sacramento also kicked the tires on James Ennis (Rockets) and Mario Hezonja (Knicks) during free agency last summer.

Ennis was starting until recently when a hamstring injury put him on the shelf. He’s played solid basketball for Houston and isn’t likely to be moved.

Hezonja has been a bust in New York, averaging 7.3 points on 37.6 percent shooting from the field and 29.1 percent from 3-point range.

Neither of these players present an upgrade over what the Kings currently have at small forward.

Sacramento could use a player or two to fortify its rotation. The Kings are off to a very good start to the season at 15-13. They don’t have a first-round draft pick to offer until 2021, but they have multiple second-round selections in each of the next three drafts to sweeten a deal.

Expect the Kings to come up in lots of rumors over the next two months. They’ve positioned themselves well with regards to the cap, and they look like buyers -- not sellers -- for the first time in a while.

How Kings' Cory Joseph stopped James Harden after quirky walk-through

How Kings' Cory Joseph stopped James Harden after quirky walk-through

The Texas two-step is turning into a nightmare for NBA opponents. Twenty-year-old phenom Luka Doncic is taking the NBA by storm, and he has transformed the Dallas Mavericks into one of the better teams in the Western Conference.

James Harden is averaging 38 points per game for the Houston Rockets and he has Russell Westbrook riding shotgun in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense.

For the beat-up Kings, Sunday and Monday’s back-to-back against the Mavs and Rockets looked like a pair losses before they even hopped on the team bus. But that’s not the way it worked out.

Cory Joseph got away with a touch foul on Doncic in the final seconds and the Kings escaped Dallas with a 110-106 win. There was no time to celebrate. Sacramento boarded a flight for Houston to face Harden fewer than 24 hours later without even a shootaround to prepare for the league’s leading scorer.

In a stroke of genius, coach Luke Walton and his staff created a game plan and then used a roll of tape and the team’s hotel ballroom in Houston to walk through an idea.

“When you can’t get to a gym because you’re trying to get the guys more rest, we grabbed some tape, put a little key down on the floor and walked through sets that we need,” Walton told media following the 119-118 win over the Rockets.

Like the previous game against Doncic, Walton used Joseph, his best perimeter defender, on Harden and ran a box-and-one defense for much of the game. The plan worked to perfection.

Not only did Joseph help limit Harden to 8-of-19 shooting from the field and eight turnovers, but he also played defense without fouling.

Harden came into the night averaging 12.8 free throw makes on 14.8 attempts per game. If he continued at that pace, he would finish second all-time in free throw attempts per game.

Joseph didn’t bite on the up fakes or let Harden tangle him up when he sprawled out for 3-point attempts Monday. He didn’t reach and get his hand caught in the cookie jar and when he did make a play at the ball, he came away with two steals and just one personal foul in 38 minutes of action.

“It was a good win for us, back-to-back," Joseph said Monday. "It’s never easy, but we kept the mentality and we were strong. We turned it up mentality wise from the start to the finish of the game. We felt like these last two games, we competed at a high level and that’s what we’re going to need to do night in and night out to give ourselves a good chance.”

Sacramento paid Joseph handsomely in the offseason to back up De’Aaron Fox. An unlucky accident in practice has cost Fox major time, but Joseph has stepped in and kept the Kings afloat over the last 14 games as a starter.

Joseph isn’t the dynamic scorer that Fox is, but Walton has played to the strengths of his team without his starting point guard. He has taken the ball out of Joseph’s hands on most offensive possessions to save him for the defensive end and improve the flow.

Things will change when Fox returns, but like Nemanja Bjelica, Joseph has proven his worth to the team.

It should be noted that Joseph tweaked his lower back against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday and was questionable against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday and the Mavs on Sunday.

“You go into what Cory did, we had him on Luka last night, we had him on Harden tonight,” Walton said. “Three days ago he couldn’t even walk, we didn’t even think he was going to play. As we talk about culture and what we’re trying to build, the example that he sets with that type of effort every single night is pretty good for our group.”

Over the last three games, he has fought through the injury and averaged nearly 35 minutes per game against some of the best scorers the league has to offer.

At 10-13, the Kings continue to stick around the .500 mark in the standings despite their slow start to the season. Joseph is a big reason why.

[RELATED: Watch Westbrook say game over, then Kings hit game-winner]

The Kings flew home after the win, and they’ll face another tough guard in Chris Paul on Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.

There is a chance that Marvin Bagley will return to the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder after missing the last 22 games with a broken thumb. Fox stayed behind on the four-game road trip to rehab his ankle, and he is getting closer to a return as well.

Watch Russell Westbrook say 'game over' just before Kings' game-winner

Watch Russell Westbrook say 'game over' just before Kings' game-winner

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

That message might need to be relayed to Rockets guard Russell Westbrook, as he assumed he had just won his team the game after driving and finishing over Kings center Richaun Holmes with only one second remaining Monday night in Houston.

Buddy Hield had just hit a miraculous 3-pointer on the previous possession to tie the score, and Westbrook assumed there was nothing the Kings could do to win the game in one second after his layup.

Suffice it to say, the former NBA MVP was incorrect.

Nemanja Bjelica sent the Kings home with another road win, and stunned the Rockets with this DEEP buzzer-beater.

[RELATED: What we learned as Bjelica, Kings stun Westbrook, Rockets]

So much for Clutch City.