Kings

Taking inventory of Kings' roster entering 2017 offseason

Taking inventory of Kings' roster entering 2017 offseason

The Sacramento Kings have a lot of work to do before the start of the 2017-18 season. The roster is filled with question marks and there are obviously holes to fill as they forge into the post DeMarcus Cousins era.

With the focus shifting to a youth movement, roster spots are at a premium. Who stays and who goes from the current club is a complex mess that requires plenty of conversation.

THE YOUNG CORE

Willie Cauley-Stein showed incredible progress in the second half of the season under head coach Dave Joerger. The 23-year-old big man posted 12.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 30.9 minutes per game after the All-Star break. He can play both the four and the five going forward and is under team control for at least two more seasons.

Skal Labissiere toiled in Reno through much of the first half of the season, barely sniffing the court until after Cousins was shipped to New Orleans. The rookie power forward has plenty to work on this summer, including adding weight and developing his handles, but this was the steal of the 2016 NBA Draft. Vlade Divac and his team may have landed a star level player with the 28th overall selection. Labissiere, 21, dropped in 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in 22.4 minutes in the final 25 games of the season.

Buddy Hield joined the Kings as part of the big trade with the Pelicans and stepped right into a lead scoring role with Sacramento. The 23-year-old shooting guard shot 48 percent from the field and 42.8 percent from 3-point range on his way to 15.1 points a night in a Kings uniform. His 25 game audition for Sacramento likely earned him strong consideration for a starting job when camp opens in September.

Georgios Papagiannis was a head scratcher on draft night, but the rookie big showed some life in the final month of the season. Blessed with a huge frame to go with his 7-foot-1 height, the 19-year-old needs to continue to reinvent his body over the summer if he hopes to play major minutes for the Kings next season. He dropped in 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in 18.7 minutes per game over his last 18 contests, but the Kings have plenty of depth at the center spot moving forward.

Malachi Richardson was the first of the Kings rookies to find a spot in the rotation, but a hamstring tear the game before the break cost the 21-year-old wing the remainder of the season. Richardson can really shoot the rock, but like the other rookies, he needs a lot of work over the summer. The Kings like his size, strength and shooting ability and the 22nd overall selection has plenty of time to grow into a role with the team. Like Labissiere, Hield and Papagiannis, Richardson is under team control for the next three-plus seasons.

THE VETERANS UNDER CONTRACT

The list is short under this heading. Sacramento has just two veterans on guaranteed contracts for next season and then a whole lot of question marks.

Kosta Koufos will enter year three of a four-year $33 million contract he signed in the summer of 2015. The 28-year-old center does all the little things, including rebound, defend and set screens. The Kings have youth at the position, so teams will come calling for Koufos, but he is a quality veteran presence in the locker room and an effective player either in a starting role or off the bench.

Garrett Temple has two more seasons at $8 million per year remaining on his contract. Signed for his versatility and locker room presence, Temple has quickly become one of the leaders on the Kings’ squad. He’s in the mix at the shooting guard and small forward spot next season and might even slide over and play some point in a pinch. This is the Kings’ best perimeter defensive player and the type of high character veteran the Kings will hunt for again this offseason.

VETERANS WITH OPTIONS

Anthony Tolliver did exactly what the Kings thought he would do when they signed him to a two-year, $17 million deal last summer. The 31-year-old stretch four shot 39.1 percent in 22.7 minutes per game as both a starter and a reserve. Sacramento has a team option for the 2017-18 season, with a $2 million buyout. The Kings need this type of leader and the club has plenty of cap space. Tolliver might be back for season two, but it depends on how the Kings assess the forward situation in free agency.

Like Tolliver, Arron Afflalo took a two-year deal with Sacramento last summer with a team option for the second season. In 61 games, including 45 starts, the 31-year-old guard averaged 8.4 points a night on 41.1 percent shooting. The team is loaded with potential wings and Afflalo is owed $12.5 million for next season with a team buyout of $1.5 million. Chances of a second season in Sacramento for Afflalo are slim, but according to BasketballInsiders.com, the team has until the day after the NBA Draft to make a decision.

Rudy Gay disappeared for much of the season after tearing his Achilles in January. The 30-year-old forward was a franchise cornerstone for the last few years alongside Cousins, but everything has changed in Sacramento. Gay has a $14.2 million player option for next season, but his injury will likely play a major role in his decision. He is ahead of schedule in his rehab now, making it a possibility that he will opt out. There’s a good chance Kings fans have seen the last of Gay in a Kings uniform.

Tossed in as part of the mega-deal for Cousins, Langston Galloway played well in his limited opportunities in Sacramento, shooting a robust 47.5 percent from 3-point range in 19 games with the Kings. Rumors around the team have the 25-year-old combo-guard opting in to his player option at $5.4 million for next season. He’s another high character guy that can fill a need at the point or shooting guard spot next season.

FREE AGENTS

The Kings have the ability to extend a $5.4 million qualifying offer to Ben McLemore, allowing the team to match any offer for the 24-year-old wing. But with Hield, Temple, Galloway and Richardson already on the roster at the two and the potential for Bogdan Bogdanovic to join the team from overseas, will they? The team has invested plenty in the high-flying wing, but the chances of a fifth season in Sacramento seems like a stretch. Sacramento has until June 29 to make a decision on McLemore, so plenty could change between now and then.

Darren Collison signed a three-year deal with the Kings in 2014 and has been a very nice contributor since. At 29-years-old, Collison needs to decide whether he is ready to embark on a rebuild with Sacramento, which will likely include a young understudy at the point guard position. If not, Collison will have no trouble finding a job on the open market as either a starter or super-sub in the backcourt.

Ty Lawson is in a similar boat as Collison. After making plenty of money as a young player, the veteran point guard had to take a one-year, league minimum deal with the Kings in the offseason. He played well and might be a quality stop gap point guard while Sacramento develops a young player, but his off the court issues continue to plague the 29-year-old. He has legal hurdles to get past in early May, but he wouldn’t mind a return to Sacramento if everything pans out.

Tyreke Evans was the Kings’ everything for one season. Still just 27-years-old, the former Rookie of the Year is an unrestricted free agent with a long list of lower leg injuries. He played well in limited opportunities after joining Sacramento in the Cousins deal. He’ll likely seek an opportunity on a playoff bound club while the Kings focus on a youth movement. His return for another go in Sacramento is doubtful.

Nemanja Bjelica's career night gives Kings much-needed win over Mavs

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USATSI

Nemanja Bjelica's career night gives Kings much-needed win over Mavs

Marvin Bagley is almost back. What that means for Nemanja Bjelica is a decision head coach Luke Walton will have to make over the next few games.

The veteran forward might have made life a little more difficult for his coach in the team’s 110-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday evening.

Since Bagley went down in the season opener, Bjelica has started the last 21 games at power forward. He’s had some ups and downs, but against Dallas, he was on his game.

“One of the best, here for sure,” Bjelica told Grant Napear and Doug Christie following the win. “I was feeling good, coach trusts me, I have a green light to shoot. That’s my advantage on offense. I need to get a little bit better on defense, but the important thing is we won the game.”

A former EuroLeague MVP, Bjelica is a very smart player. He might not have the athleticism that a few of his teammates possess, but he can impact a game in many ways.

Against Dallas, he came out firing early and never let up. When Bjelica is on, his range is limitless and he spaces the floor for the rest of his teammates. The Mavericks caught the Serbian sharpshooter in rare form.

The 31-year-old power forward knocked down a perfect 7-of-7 from the field in the first half, to help give his team a 20-point lead heading into the intermission. He continued to fire away during the second half, but he was much more than just a shooter, which Walton and his staff have been pushing for.

“He’s a heck of a ball player,” coach Luke Walton told media following the win. “We keep talking to him about how we view him as much more than just a space four-man. When he was younger in Europe, he played point guard for his club team. He’s got the skill, the passing ability and the shooting ability to really put the pressure on defenses.”

In addition to tying his career-high of 30 points, Bjelica added seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in 34 minutes of play. He knocked down 13-of-18 from the field and 4-of-7 from long range and failed to register a turnover.

“We’re constantly encouraging him to be more aggressive and I thought tonight, he was aggressive and it helps when you’re knocking down those shots too,” Walton added.

After a tough overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, the Kings needed a team win. They almost let the game slip away, but Bjelica helped seal the deal in the waning seconds to come away with the first win of the road trip.

“We just need to play 48 minutes, we need to respect our opponents,” Bjelica added. “Everybody can play, everybody can score in this league.”

The peaks and valleys of this season has taken its toll on Kings. They’ve had to play without Bagley for nearly seven weeks and De’Aaron Fox has missed major time as well.

Players like Bjelica, Cory Joseph and Richaun Holmes have stepped up and kept the team competitive on most nights. 

“This team is growing, we have a bright future, but we’re here to win the games,” Bjelica said. “We had a bad start to the season, but now we just have to play harder.”

With the victory over the Mavs, the Kings now sit at 9-13 on the season. Bagley is expected back in the next few days, which should bolster the front line and give Bjelica a bit of a break. While his role might change, Bjelica has earned a spot in the rotation with his strong play, whether that’s with the starters or off the bench.

The Final Play

With 4.4 seconds remaining in the fourth, Holmes ripped down a rebound and was instantly fouled by the Mavericks. It was the first foul in the final two minutes, which allowed the Kings to inbounds the ball and potentially kill the clock.

Bjelica set a screen for Harrison Barnes who broke for the midcourt line. Bjelica then slipped to the hoop while his defender jumped out to help on Barnes.

Bogdan Bogdanovic faked to Barnes and then fired a bullet to a wide open Bjelica standing under the basket.

[RELATED: Bagley doesn't return vs. Luka, Mavs]

The Serbian connection worked. Bjelica went in for a two-handed jam to tie his career-high of 30 points. The bucket gave Sacramento a four-point lead with 3.4 seconds remaining and effectively ended the game.

If you’re going to have a career night, you might as well be the player who seals the win.

Kings takeaways: What we learned in scrappy 110-106 win over Mavericks

Kings takeaways: What we learned in scrappy 110-106 win over Mavericks

BOX SCORE

After a devastating overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday evening, the Sacramento Kings almost had a replay Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks. After leading by 20 at the half, the Kings melted down in the fourth quarter.

Luka Doncic missed a runner in the final seconds that would have tied the game and Richaun Holmes ripped down a rebound to help preserve the 110-106 win for Sacramento. 

Tim Hardaway Jr. knocked down nine 3-pointers to keep the Mavs in the game and Doncic dropped in a near triple-double performance, but it wasn’t enough to come away with the win. 

Here are three takeaways as the Kings surprised the Mavericks on their home floor to improve to 9-13 on the season.  

The other European

Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis and Bogdan Bogdanovic are three of the best European players in the NBA. On Sunday in Dallas, it was another Euro who stole the show early.

Bjelica couldn’t miss in the first half, scoring 17 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting. And he didn’t stop there.

The Kings’ starting power forward tied his career-high of 30 points on 13-for-18 from the field and 4-of-7 from long range. He also grabbed seven rebounds and dished out four assists to help propel the Kings to victory.

Good Buddy

Buddy Hield has been all over the place this season. He’s struggled with his shot selection, missed open looks and had a few mental lapses on defense as well. That was not the player that started against the Mavs.

After a tough outing against the Spurs, Hield lit up the Mavs for 26 points on 5-for-6 from 3-point range. 

Maybe more important than the shooting, Hield set up his teammates for five assists and grabbed four rebounds.

Value the ball

Despite playing at the slowest pace in the league, the Kings rank 19th in the league in turnovers at 15.7 per game. Against Dallas, they valued the ball and it made a tremendous impact on the outcome of the game.

Sacramento turned the ball over just four times through three quarters and then came undone late to all the Mavericks back in the game.

In the final 12 minutes, the Kings had a pair of 24-second shot clock violations. They made a few bad passes and they picked up two offensive fouls. In total, they turned the ball over seven times in the fourth to finish the game with 11.