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.