Do you ever get the feeling that one NBA franchise is trying to speak a trade into existence? Welcome to the Boston Celtics’ chase for Kings forward Harrison Barnes.
Bill Simmons is all in on Barnes coming to Boston. So is Brian Scalabrine.
According to Sam Amick from The Athletic, executives around the league think a deal could be on the horizon.
“Yet because Boston is hard-capped at $138 million, it would need to send out approximately $9 million in salary to take back the full amount of the exception in salary," Amick writes. "Unless, of course, the Celtics go ahead and make this move for Sacramento small forward Harrison Barnes that so many front office folks around the league believe could be coming.”
The Kings might be sellers in the coming weeks leading up to the March 25 NBA trade deadline, but according to league sources, trading Barnes might not be all that high on their list of priorities.
Sacramento’s general manager Monte McNair has some tough decisions ahead of him, but trading away a solid veteran and team leader is more complex than it seems. How many steps backwards is McNair willing to take in his pursuit of a roster rebuild, and could Barnes still be a major part of the Kings’ future?
What is the reported deal with the Celtics entail?
Celtic receive: Harrison Barnes
Kings receive: Aaron Nesmith or Romeo Langford, Celtics 2021 1st round pick (currently No. 19) and cap filler
This would be a slightly complex trade due to the Celtic’s current cap situation, as noted by Amick. For Boston to avoid the hard cap, they would need to send out roughly $9 million in salary. Langford makes $3.6 million this season and Nesmith is on the books for roughly $3.5 million. That means that they would need to add somewhere around $5.5 million to avoid the hard cap.
Boston has veterans Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson that could balance the financials, but both are part of the starting lineup. Even if the Celtics gave up both Langford and Nesmith, they would still need to add in one of their other young players to make it work.
The Celtics have Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams, Robert Wiliams and Semi Ojeleye to use in the deal to stay under the hard cap and the Kings would have to clear at least one roster spot to make room for the deal.
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge isn’t likely offering a package that includes his first round pick, Nesmith, Langford and Pritchard. But it might take something like that to both acquire Barnes and stay under the hard cap.
Why the Kings should shop Barnes
Every once in a while a player takes a spike in his production. It usually happens as they are about to head into free agency and it’s gracefully called a “contract year.”
Barnes is having a contract year in the second season of a four-year deal. He’s having a career year, despite the Kings struggling in the standings, and it’s opened up possibilities for the Kings that may not have been there during the offseason.
This could be the pinnacle of Barnes’ production and if that is the case, then the Kings should consider selling high on the versatile forward.
Whether it’s Boston and the potential stack of young players and picks, or another team that comes calling, if the Kings believe that Barnes’ season isn’t repeatable for the next two and a half years, then they should look to get value now, even if it means they are taking a step backwards.
Sacramento has De’Aaron Fox’s rookie scale extension kicking in next season and the robust contract of Buddy Hield on the books for another three seasons. They also have holes all over their roster and very little wiggle room to work with.
The Kings have a 14-22 record heading into the second half of the season, and their chances of climbing back into the playoff race are small. Barnes is likely more moveable at this point in his career than Hield and he certainly will fetch more in return.
Why the Kings should keep Barnes
We can start with the easy answer -- Harrison Barnes is a very good NBA player and the Kings have no way to replace what he brings to the franchise.
Over the course of the last 15 seasons, the Kings have had very few players that can sustain anywhere near league average production for 35 minutes per game. It’s a skill to step onto an NBA court for 75-plus games every season and produce at a high level for major minutes.
Sacramento doesn’t have another player in the pipeline that can take Barnes’ minutes. They also are unlikely to receive another player like Barnes in return.
Any trade would likely bring back young players and draft picks. At a minimum, the Kings would take a dramatic step backwards in production at one of their core rotational spots.
Barnes’ ability to play either forward position is another tremendous asset for the Kings, both now and in the coming seasons. Barnes’ versatility not only gives coach Luke Walton options, but also the front office when they look to build out the roster.
In addition to the player Barnes is on the floor, he’s a gem off the court. The veteran is a voice of reason in the locker room and a someone who not only takes care of his body, but teaches young players the value of body maintenance as well.
He’s also a dream for the Kings in the community where he routinely gives to the Boys and Girls Club, social justice initiatives and many other causes. He’s not afraid to step in front of a camera and talk about issues that both he and the franchise are passionate about.
Who is Harrison Barnes? Is he the player that averaged 14.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists last season or is he the player that we currently see posting 16.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
That is the most important question the Kings must answer for themselves. If they believe that this season is an aberration and that Barnes will fall back to Earth over the final two years of his contract, then they should clearly sell high and move on.
If this is the new Harrison Barnes, then they should think twice about dealing the veteran, especially with the understanding that he is a player that has another five to six seasons of high-level basketball in front of him.
This could go down to the wire, but at least part of McNair’s decision has to be based on whether or not he feels he can replace what Barnes brings to the table, be it in free agency, through trades or in the draft.
Sacramento is not a hotbed for free agents, but it’s possible the Kings could find a player at a lower salary that could take up some of what Barnes brings. Finding a player via trade will be even more difficult because the Kings don’t have an abundance of assets. The draft could be their best bet, but even that is a gamble, and it will take multiple seasons for a player to reach the level that Barnes currently plays at.
This decision might not define McNair’s tenure in Sacramento, but it has the potential to damage the team’s ability to compete, not only this season, but in the coming years. Without a true replacement ready to take over and Boston’s offer being predicated on pure speculation of what young players and draft picks might yield down the road, this is a true gamble.
McNair doesn’t have to make a move just to make a move and he shouldn’t deal away Barnes unless he is getting true value in return. In its current reported form, the deal with Boston isn’t enough, unless Ainge is willing to part with a first round pick and the Kings’ choice of their young players not named Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown.