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.

Kings Under Review: Marvin Bagley's breakout not enough in loss to Raptors

Kings Under Review: Marvin Bagley's breakout not enough in loss to Raptors

The final score doesn't quite tell the whole story. The Sacramento Kings were highly competitive for most of the game Tuesday evening against the Toronto Raptors. Playing shorthanded, they hung in tough against a very good Eastern Conference squad. 

A few mistakes here and there proved costly and for the second straight game, the Kings went home without a win. With the 120-105 loss to the Raptors, Sacramento is now 1-3 on their season-long six-game road trip. They'll have a few days to regroup and recover before taking on a struggling Grizzlies team Friday in Memphis.

The loss pushed the Kings back to the .500 mark at 24-24. Here are the positives and the negatives from the loss.

POSITIVE

Bagley Breakout

Marvin Bagley has been waiting patiently for his moment to start. The 19-year-old has been solid for most of the season, showing flashes of the athleticism and advanced offensive game that made him the No. 2 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft.

With Nemanja Bjelica sitting out his first game of the season to rest, Bagley finally got his chance and he didn't disappoint. Sacramento's prized rookie went to work against the Raptors front line, finishing with a career-high 22 points on 10-of-20 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and two blocks.

The double-double was the sixth of the season for the former Duke star in 34 games. Coach Dave Joerger has used Bjelica to space the floor and open running lanes for De'Aaron Fox, but Bagley is the future at the power forward position for the Kings. His performance against Toronto shows that the future might be now.

POSITIVE

Bogi at the Three

Bogdan Bogdanovic is the Kings' most versatile player. He can score from anywhere on the floor. He is their best pick-and-roll player on the squad and he can play three or four positions on the court. He's also a player that doesn't mind starting or coming off the bench.

Anytime Iman Shumpert misses a game, Bogdanovic steps into the starting lineup. He changes the look and feel of the opening group, giving Joerger the ability to run more sets in a half court offense.

Against the Raptors, Bogdanovic carried the bulk of the distributing duties, finishing the night with 16 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and three steals.

POSITIVE/NEGATIVE

Resting Players

When Joerger made the decision to sit three of his starters, he did so without the knowledge that Kawhi Leonard would also rest for the Raptors. The instant reaction from fans was that the Kings were throwing away the chance to beat a shorthanded Raptors team, ignoring the fact that Toronto came into the game 11-2 on the season without their star forward.

Could the Kings have beaten the Raptors if they went in at full strength? Maybe. Then again, Maybe not.

Fox, Bjelica and Shumpert have all struggled mightily in the month of January. The hope is that a three-day respite will help reboot and recharge the trio. It might not work, but running the group into the ground on the second night of a back-to-back is a recipe for disaster. 

NEGATIVE

Ben McLemore's Mental Lapses

When you're given an opportunity at the NBA level, no matter how long you've been in the league, it's a chance to show your coaching staff you are ready. That is not what McLemore did Tuesday in Toronto.

While McLemore hit a few shots, scoring 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting, including a pair of makes from long range, he also made a couple of inexcusable mistakes.

With the Kings trailing by eight at the end of the third quarter, McLemore fouled Delon Wright on a 60-foot buzzer beating attempt. The replay clearly showed McLemore running down the court with his hand on Wright's arm. When the Raptors guard went to shoot the ball with .2 of a second remaining, it was an easy call.

Wright hit two out of three to push Toronto's lead back to double-digits heading to the fourth. In the fourth, he gave a tough foul to Norman Powell as flew in for a fastbreak lay up.

McLemore hasn't played much this season, but he can't make rookie mistakes like this in his sixth season in the NBA.

Marvin Bagley makes case to join starting lineup despite Kings' loss

Marvin Bagley makes case to join starting lineup despite Kings' loss

At some point, Marvin Bagley III is going to force Dave Joerger’s hand with his play. Sacramento’s head coach has been reluctant to start his prized rookie, instead choosing to go with 30-year-old Nemanja Bjelica at the power forward position.

There are reasons you start a player like Bjelica over an unproven rookie, but those reasons are starting to fade. The veteran forward is a high IQ player that stretches the floor with his jumper. He’s seldom out of position and he can stuff the stat sheet.

But over the last few weeks, Bjelica has struggled mightily and Bagley is starting to build momentum to move into the starting lineup with his energetic play.

With Bjelica taking an evening off to rest and recover on Tuesday evening in Toronto, Bagley picked up his first NBA start. The 19-year-old didn’t disappoint.

“I think I played pretty good,” the former Duke star told reporters following the game. “I made a couple of mistakes here and there, but that’s the part of being out there and learning and growing as a player.”

Bagley dropped in a career-high 22 points on 10-of-20 shooting in the Kings’ 120-105 loss to the Raptors. It was first time a Kings player has scored 20 or more in his first NBA start since Omri Casspi achieved the feat in Dec. 16, 2009.

He also added a game-high 11 rebounds to go with a pair of blocks in 38 minutes of action. His double-double was the first 20-plus point, 10-plus rebound double-double in a first career start for the Kings since Nov. 29, 1972, when Mike Ratliff dropped in 20 points and 19 rebounds against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Bagley continues to say the right things when asked about whether he would prefer to start or come off the bench. But he made it pretty clear with his play that he’s open to bigger role.

“I love playing and being out there,” Bagley said. “I’ll do whatever I can to help the team win. We came up short tonight, but every game I try and come out and play like it’s my last game.”

Taken with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, Bagley is a walking double-double. He’s missed 14 games this season with two separate injuries, but his ability to act as a primary scorer in the post adds a new dimension to the Kings’ offense.

Where Bjelica helps spread the floor, Bagley has an advanced offensive game down low. He also has incredible potential as a rebounder and he continues to lead the team in blocks per game.

Joerger’s cautious approach to the development of the talented young big was the right move. Bjelica’s play helped the team get off to a shocking start and he is a valuable piece to what the Kings are trying to do.

But the time is coming when Bagley will step into the starting lineup on a regular basis. It might already be here.