Kings

Suffering from 'mental fatigue,' young and old Kings have hit a brick wall

Suffering from 'mental fatigue,' young and old Kings have hit a brick wall

SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings have hit a wall. Young players, veterans, it doesn’t matter. After a six-game road trip, followed by back-to-back losses at home, the Kings look winded.

“Mental fatigue,” is all head coach Dave Joerger could muster when asked about his team’s struggles.

The Dallas Mavericks used an 18-0 run in the late third quarter and early fourth to put away the Kings Saturday evening at Golden 1 Center. Like the 30-15 run by the Warriors on Friday night, it was a combination of missed shots and poor execution on the defensive end.

You don’t have to look any further than the official play-by-play rundown of the game to spot a trend during the Mavericks run.

Missed jump shot, missed jump shots, missed fadeaway shot, missed fadeaway shot, missed fadeaway shot, missed floater, missed jump shot, missed jump shot.

In the matter of a few minutes, the Kings turned a six-point lead into a 12-point deficit. They missed seven 3-point attempts during the stretch, many of them from well beyond the arc.

Missing from the run was a layup attempt, a dunk or a free throw. Dallas turned up the heat and the Kings settled for long perimeter shots.

“Just a slow start to the fourth,” rookie De’Aaron Fox said following the 106-99 loss. “They started making shots and it’s really hard to come back from something like that.”

After shooting 63.3 percent from the field through three quarter, the Kings appeared to run out of gas. They shot 22.7 percent in the final frame, including a 1-of-10 quarter from behind the arc.

When the shots stopped falling, most teams attack the rim and try to get to the foul line. On the night, Sacramento went to the free throw stripe just six times, which ties the franchise’s low for attempts in a game dating back to January of 1997.

“They’re a lot bigger and stronger than we are,” a clearly frustrated Joerger said in his post game comments. “They manhandled us physically, I thought, around the perimeter cuts and just played with a lot more force.”

The locker room was quiet following the game. Plenty of players had already cleared out by the time the media was let in. Losing isn’t fun. Neither is a brutal stretch in the schedule.

Joerger announced that the team would take Sunday off before returning for shootaround in preparation for the Chicago Bulls on Monday. Following the Bulls game, the Kings won’t play again until Friday, a day after the NBA’s trade deadline.

Where the Kings stand two weeks into free agency

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AP

Where the Kings stand two weeks into free agency

Slowly, but surely, the 2018 NBA free agent market is drying up. So far, the Sacramento Kings have dipped a toe in the waters, but never fully committed to the process. As one available player after another comes off the board, the Kings still have glaring needs and very few options.

With $19.5 million in cap space still in hand, the Kings appear content with an incomplete roster. They are the lone team in the NBA that has yet to add a single player via signing or trade as the second full week of free agency comes to a close.

There is still time to wheel and deal, but the price of substantive changes is starting to shift from free agents to more complex deals. There are still a few options, but the chance of landing a true impact player is all but gone. So might the ability to add either a starting level small forward or stretch four, the team’s two biggest needs. 

Restricted Free Agents

Delving into the world of restricted free agents is never fun. More often than not, a player is setting his value on the open market and is then retained by the team that holds his rights. There is danger in playing the fool in these situations and it’s unlikely that Sacramento will continue to dabble in this market after their first swing and miss. 

The Kings overpaid with their four-year, $78 million offer sheet to restricted free agent Zach LaVine and even that didn’t work. They stopped short of handing the 23-year-old guard a deal the Bulls wouldn’t match. With a starting salary of $19.5 million, which the Kings offered, they could have gone as high as $87 million over four years. They knew the moment they signed the offer sheet, the chance of landing LaVine was a 50-50 proposition, at best. 

According to reports Saturday morning, Jabari Parker is signing a 2-year, $40 million deal with the Chicago Bulls, his hometown team. With Parker off the board, the Kings missed out on one of the final young impact offensive players in this year’s free agent class. Milwaukee was up against the luxury cap and they’re also hard capped. Parker is one of the few restricted players that have changed uniforms this offseason. 

Rumors of Sacramento’s interest in Marcus Smart faded quickly. It’s possible the noise was nothing more than chatter in an attempt to increase interest in the 24-year-old defensive specialist. Boston is likely to match a reasonable offer for Smart, but if the numbers climb over the $14-15 million a year mark, they may balk at retaining the former sixth overall selection from the 2014 NBA Draft. With Parker signing with Chicago, does Smart become more of a target from Sacramento? 

Outside of Parker and Smart, Clint Capela and Rodney Hood are two of the few remaining options on the market. Capella appears locked into a return to Houston, but the two sides are still haggling over price. Hood is more of a shooting guard, but at 6-foot-8, he could easily steal minutes at the small forward position in the modern NBA.

Sacramento has shown interest in Hood, but there is concern that Cleveland is prepared to match a reasonable offer for the wing. Is he worth an offer of $14-16 million a year? That’s unlikely, but anything over $13 million for Hood this season pushes the Cavs into the luxury tax. 

Trying to balance value with production is never easy with restricted free agents. You often have to pay well over what a player is worth and even then, the team that owns his rights might match.

Unrestricted Free Agents

If the market for restricted free agents seems bare, the unrestricted free agent market is even worse. David Nwaba is a player that could draw interest from Sacramento after having his qualifying offer rescinded. The 25-year-old shooting guard is a big, strong, defender that showed marked improvement in his second season in the league. Nwaba averaged 7.9 points and 4.7 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game for Chicago and has the ability to steal minutes at small forward.

Reports say that Sacramento kicked the tires on James Ennis before he signed with the Houston Rockets this week. Players like Michael Beasley and Corey Brewer are available as stop gaps for the Kings need at small forward, but they likely don’t represent much of an improvement over Garrett Temple and Iman Shumpert. 

This market is thoroughly picked through at this point. 

Make a Trade

Early in the free agency period, rumors had the Kings willing to take on bad contracts in exchange for a 2019 pick. If this is the case, Sacramento missed out on the right deal on Thursday when the Nuggets sent Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, a 2019 first (protected 1-12) and a future second round pick to Brooklyn for Isaiah Whitehead. The deal saved Denver more than $21 million in cap space and the Kings clearly had the room and assets to make this deal.

Maybe there is another deal out there similar to this one. Sacramento, Dallas and Atlanta are the only teams remaining on the market with any tangible cap space and the Mavs have already earmarked their money for retaining Dirk Nowitzki. The Hawks have less than $10 million to spend after taking on Jeremy Lin’s contract this week from the Nets, leaving the Kings as the lone team with major cap space.

Oklahoma is searching for a home for Carmelo Anthony to avoid a $100 million extra in luxury tax, but they lack the assets to attach to any deal. Both Portland and Washington are over the luxury tax threshold and have available players and picks that might make sense for the Kings.

Sacramento also has a log jam at the power forward and center positions. They could attempt to rebalance their roster through trade, although this market usually heats up after the initial free agent period has cooled. 

Stay the Course

The plan has always been to develop the young players. With nearly $40 million in expiring contracts and a ton of cap space, the Kings can stand pat and wait for the market to open up again near the trade deadline in February. At that time, teams around the league might be more willing to dangle a 2019 first rounder or a young player in a deal. 

This isn’t exactly the best look. The Kings have holes in their roster as of mid-July. Having a young team is one thing, but handing Dave Joerger and his staff a structurally flawed group isn’t a great business practice. 

Sacramento shouldn’t spend money just to spend. They should spend because they have needs to fill. If by the end of the season Sacramento fails to reach the NBA’s salary floor of roughly $91.6 million, they have to redistribute the difference amongst their rostered players. 

Isaiah Thomas has every reason to 'Stay Paranoid' after settling for a minimum deal in Denver

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AP

Isaiah Thomas has every reason to 'Stay Paranoid' after settling for a minimum deal in Denver

“Stay paranoid.” It’s one of the strangest taglines ever uttered by an NBA player. Perhaps Isaiah Thomas has reason to feel that way.

The pint-sized point guard signed a one-year, league minimum deal with the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. It’s a shocking fall from grace for a player who led the Boston Celtics to an Eastern Conference-best 53-29 record two seasons ago. 

Coming off a season in which he finished third in the NBA in scoring at 28.9 points per game and fifth in MVP voting, the two-time All-Star struggled with hip issues last year, limiting him to just 32 games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers.

Instead of “backing up the Brinks truck,” Thomas once again is starting at the bottom at just 29 years of age. He’ll join his former coach with the Sacramento Kings, Michael Malone, who always has raved about the 5-foot-9 guard. 

It’s a familiar place for the former University of Washington star. Taken with the 60th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, IT took half of his rookie season to steal the show and earn the starting point guard position in Sacramento. 

Thomas flourished under Malone, posting 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game in his final season in a Kings uniform. When healthy, the trio of Thomas, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins looked like building blocks for the struggling Kings franchise.

But in the summer of 2014, management decided early on that they weren’t going to retain the fan favorite. The Kings’ brass, led by Chris Mullin and Pete D’Alessandro, were convinced that Thomas was a reserve and not a starter at the NBA level.

The Kings talked about matching offers for Thomas up to the $5 million-per-season range. When he received a 3-year, $21 million offer from the Suns, D’Alessandro dealt Thomas for Alex Oriakhi and a trade exception. 

Neither Mullin nor D’Alessandro lasted long after that decision. The duo chose to sign Darren Collison instead and pushed the notion that Thomas never would have been happy with a reserve role with the Kings. 

Thomas struggled in a crowded backcourt in Phoenix and was shipped to Boston midway through his first season. With the Celtics, he quickly found a niche and became a star. 

Landing in Denver gives Thomas the opportunity to rebuild his value on what should be a very good Nuggets team. It also gives him a chance to play for a coach who long has been one of his biggest supporters. 

Thomas likely will come off the Nuggets' bench behind budding star Jamal Murray. He’s a dynamic scorer and adds another playmaker for a team ranked sixth in the league at 110 points per game last season.

After missing the big payday, Thomas will jump back into the free agent pool next summer when there will be plenty of teams with salary-cap space. Or maybe he’ll find a home with his former coach and decide to stick around in Denver.

In a strange twist, Thomas isn’t the only former King to find the free agent market tough this summer. Cousins, who like Thomas, looked primed for a huge contract, took a one-year, $5.3 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Gay, the oldest of the three, re-signed with the San Antonio Spurs for one year at $10 million. 

Who could have possibly imagined that Gay would make more than both Thomas and Cousins combined heading into the the 2018-19 season?

After Thomas averaged 18.9 points and 5.1 assists per game through his first seven seasons, there was no market for him. Injuries played a role in his reduced value, but it’s hard to imagine him not having a bounce-back year in Denver.

Don’t count out Thomas. He’s a fiery competitor, and he’ll play for a coach who understands how to maximize his potential. The chip on his shoulder just got bigger, and his “stay paranoid” mantra just became a little more real.