Do the Sacramento Kings have a Nemanja Bjelica problem?
The veteran forward has sat out the last six games as a healthy scratch. According to Luke Walton, Bjelica still is part of the team's plan, but he’s dealing with a personal issue, which has played a role in his absence from the rotation.
"There is some personal stuff and I'm just going to leave it at that,” Walton said earlier in the week when asked about Bjelica. “We have been in communication and we are very confident in the player he is still."
The Sacramento Bee reported this week that “the Kings reduced Bjelica’s role as part of general manager Monte McNair’s plan to rebuild around De’Aaron Fox.” The Bee also stated that according to their source, “there is no personal issue” and that Bjelica was "benched two weeks ago after some discussion about his playing time."
While the team is focused long term on building around Fox and the team’s young core, including Tyrese Haliburton and Marvin Bagley, a league source confirmed to NBC Sports California that Bjelica does have a personal issue that is playing a role in his absence from the court, although the exact nature of the issue is unknown at this time.
Per team policy, they do not discuss personal issues, unless the player himself decides to make a statement. Bjelica hasn't spoken to the media in weeks.
Following practice on Sunday, Walton addressed the situation one more time.
“Like I said before, it’s personal, I’m not going to get into somebody else’s personal business,” Walton said. “I’ve continued to say that I love coaching Bjelly. He’s a very good player and I look forward to having back on the court again.”
Walton is trying to balance the development of young players with trying to keep veterans on the squad engaged. But he also has relied heavily on players like Cory Joseph, Glenn Robinson III, Harrison Barnes and even Hassan Whiteside, when healthy.
The team hasn’t thrown in the towel and gone 100 percent to a youth movement 16 games into the season. If they had, players like Kyle Guy, Justin James and Robert Woodard would be getting rotational minutes instead of Joseph and Robinson III and Barnes likely wouldn’t be averaging a team-high 35 minutes per game.
What does the future hold for Bjelica in Sacramento? It’s really not that complicated.
The Kings picked up the final year of Bjelica’s contract during the offseason, which pays him $7.2 million this season. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer and at 32 years old (33 in May), it’s unlikely that he’s part of the plan going forward, especially with Bagley developing and playing major minutes at the power forward position.
With Sacramento currently sitting at 6-10 on the season, there is a very good possibility that the team will be active between now and the trade deadline. Players like Bjelica, Robinson III, Joseph, Whiteside and Jabari Parker all are in the final year of their contracts.
If the Kings can acquire assets for some of these players, they will listen. An important date to look forward to is Feb. 6, when players that were signed as free agents in the 2020 offseason are eligible to be traded.
While Bjelica’s value may be limited, he is a reliable veteran on an expiring contract that has an elite skill. During his last two seasons in Sacramento, the Serbian-born stretch four has shot an impressive 41.1 percent from 3-point range. He’s averaged 10.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 25.5 minutes per game.
There has been interest around the league in Bjelica during each of the last two seasons, but the Kings were reluctant to move on from the veteran, who started 137 games for the team.
Sacramento might not be currently shopping Bjelica, but expect McNair and his staff to be active in the coming weeks. They are trying to revamp the roster on the fly and with the team struggling on the court, very few players are off limits.