Kings general manager Monte McNair didn’t leave the Houston Rockets for a similar team. He left the comfort of an established winner for a team in desperate need of a reboot, rebuild or retool.
The work is daunting. Sacramento has missed the playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons and while the Kings have shown improvement over the last two seasons, the rest of the Western Conference is also making strides.
There is a laundry list of issues that McNair has to deal with and his evaluation process likely began long before he said yes to an interview or filled out an I-9 employment form with the Kings’ human resources team.
In no particular order, here is a list of the biggest decisions McNair is facing before he has time to get comfortable in his new office.
De’Aaron Fox has gone from intriguing young prospect to star in the making during his three seasons in the league. Like every other first-round pick heading into his fourth season, he is eligible for an extension on his rookie-scale deal. Fox has earned the right to ask for max money. During the interview process, Fox’s name had to be part of the conversation. He’s the face of the franchise and McNair will have to both pay the 22-year-old point guard and then continue to build the team around him.
Buddy Hield might be the biggest beneficiary of both the Vlade Divac era and the switch at the top. Hield signed the richest per season contract in Kings history last fall when he said yes to a four-year, $86 million contract that can go over $100 million with incentives. He struggled out of the gate and lost his job by midseason, although that didn’t stop him from averaging 19.0 points on 39.8 percent shooting from 3-point range. His 9.6 attempts per game from long distance were second only to the Rockets’ James Harden. McNair comes from a system in Houston where 3-point shooters are cherished and sought out. Is there a chance that he moves on from Hield? Of course, but there is also a chance that he sees value in one of the league’s best shooters, even if the salary is steep.
Like Hield, the Kings went all in on Harrison Barnes last summer. He landed a four-year, $84 million contract with the team that declines in value by eight percent per season. Barnes started all 72 games for the Kings last season and led the team in minutes played. He’s also versatile enough to start at either forward position and he shot 38.1 percent from 3-point range. Sacramento doesn’t have another player ready to step in and take Barnes’ minutes. But if you are McNair and looking at a salary cap where Barnes and Hield combine to make $47 million next season, that might be an issue, especially with Fox’s looming extension.
Before the shakeup at the top, the Kings were in line to match just about any offer for restricted free agent shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic. With Divac gone, is the thinking still the same? McNair might be aided by the salary cap uncertainty the league is facing. If he values Bogdanovic anywhere near where Divac did, then he returns for a second contract with the Kings. It should also be noted that the Rockets have employed a similar player in production in guard Eric Gordon for the last three seasons. Bogdanovic is versatile and played well in the bubble. Regardless of who is running the franchise, Sacramento can’t afford to lose talent.
The Question Mark
Divac and his group were still enamored with the potential of Marvin Bagley after taking the talented forward with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Does his standing with the Kings change with McNair at the helm? That’s a tough question. Bagley has missed more games than he has played in his first two seasons, making any assessment of him difficult. If McNair moves on from him, he’s selling low on what could be a tremendous player. Bagley’s due to make $9 million next season and is eligible for an extension next summer.
McNair has decisions to make on a stack of players. Some of those options are out of his hands, like unrestricted free agents Alex Len, Harry Giles and Kent Bazemore. The team has the choice whether or not to guarantee Nemanja Bjelica’s $7.2 million option for next season, while Cory Joseph, Jabari Parker and Richaun Holmes remain on short-term deals. Bazemore made a tremendous impact when he came over at the trade deadline and has said he wouldn’t mind coming back. Len and Giles likely are toss-ups to return at best. Bjelica, Joseph, Parker and Holmes are all movable pieces and functional players. Those four might be McNair’s best options for transforming his roster in year one, although three of them held major spots in the rotation last season.
Overhauling the Kings’ roster won’t be simple for McNair in year one, especially with the money owed to Hield and Barnes. He has a core to work with, but whether he decides to keep the group together, or take a step back to take a step forward, is unknown. Sacramento has the No. 12 overall pick and three second-rounders in the upcoming draft, which can be used to bolster the roster. Those selections also could be used in a variety of ways in trade scenarios.
We will learn a lot about McNair’s management style in how he attacks his first few months on the job. Is he a guy who blows it all up to remake the roster in his own image, or is he more subtle in his approach and makes tweaks to the roster? We’ll find out more during his opening press conference on Wednesday, but it should be a very interesting couple of months in Sacramento.