The last time the Sacramento Kings were above .500 in February, George W. Bush was still president. The iPhone was more than a year away from being released, and Twitter wouldn’t be launched for another six months.
Fueled by their promising young backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, the Kings are currently in the midst of their best season in more than a decade. With 29 regular-season games to go, they’ve already surpassed their win total from 2017-18. And the Los Angeles Clippers’ decision to trade Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers opens the door for the Kings’ first playoff berth since 2005-06.
As a result, Sacramento is positioned to be a buyer at the trade deadline for the first time in years.
The Kings are one of only two teams with available salary-cap space at the moment, and their $11 million far outpaces the Dallas Mavericks’ $3.5 million. They also have a slew of expiring contracts, from Zach Randolph ($11.7 million) and Iman Shumpert ($11.0 million) to Kosta Koufos ($8.7 million) and Ben McLemore ($5.5 million). For teams looking to clear out cap space as they gear up for high-priced free agents this summer, Sacramento could provide such relief.
Fox, Hield, and No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III likely aren’t going anywhere—barring a blockbuster deal that nets an All-Star-caliber player in return—but the Kings are also teeming with young, somewhat underutilized talent that they could consider shopping. Skal Labissiere and Frank Mason each have one year remaining on their respective rookie contracts, while Justin Jackson and Harry Giles are both locked up through 2020-21. If a trade suitor wanted a combination of salary-cap relief and promising prospects, the Kings could deliver that, too.
The Kings owe their 2019 first-rounder to either the Philadelphia 76ers or Boston Celtics depending on where it lands, which further incentivizes them to make a playoff push this season. After all, there’s no sense in tanking if you won’t be the one to benefit from the improved draft pick. Beyond that, they have three second-rounders to dangle in each of the next three drafts, which could further grease the wheels on any prospective deal.
Since the Kings appear to be set in the backcourt with Hield and Fox and have Bagley in the frontcourt, a wing is the most logical trade target.
In late November, Jason Jones of The Athletic reported the Kings were “closely monitoring the Washington Wizards with an eye on making a play for forward Otto Porter Jr.” While Wizards team owner Ted Leonsis swore off tanking a few weeks ago and proclaimed his team wouldn’t be trading Porter, John Wall, or Bradley Beal ahead of the trade deadline, Wall’s recent Achilles injury may force him to reconsider those plans.
According to Jones, the Kings “have liked Porter for some time. A contingent from the front office traveled to the East Coast to meet with Porter when he was a restricted free agent in 2017,” although he wound up signing a four-year, $106 million max offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets instead.
The Wizards, who are nearly $6 million above the luxury-tax threshold this season, may view the Kings as an opportunity to escape from the tax while recouping prospects and/or picks for Porter. In mid-January, ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported the Wizards had “shown little appetite for dealing Otto Porter anywhere for a return heavy on future assets and cap flexibility,” but Wall’s latest setback could change their thinking in that regard.
If not, the Kings could have other wing options from which to choose.
In mid-January, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on The Hoop Collective podcast (via RealGM) that the Kings “would love” to add Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes, who has a $25.1 million player option for 2019-20. Whether the Mavs are willing to part ways with Barnes in the wake of the Kristaps Porzingis trade is anyone’s guess, but such a move would make sense for the Kings.
On a recent episode of the Lowe Post podcast, ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz explained the rationale for Sacramento (via James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area).
“You can have all the cap space in the world in Sacramento in any given year, you’re not going to get those guys voluntarily,” Arnovitz said. “But you can [through trade]. You’ve got a better culture, you’ve got a team that’s interesting, great young players. Bring in a guy who’s of that ilk. You’ve got the money and just acquire it that way.”
The Kings are projected to have upward of $60 million in cap space this summer, but they’ll join a long list of teams with sizable room. Competing against the likes of the Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, and New York Knicks for star free agents won’t be easy, so they may be forced to overpay role players as a result.
Therefore, snagging a young, starting-caliber forward via trade may be more prudent than opening the checkbook for a Jeremy Lamb, Rudy Gay, Terrence Ross or Danny Green, each of whom would have to weigh how much to prioritize short-term contention over finances.
If the Clippers are intent on carving out enough cap space for two max contracts this summer, keep an eye on Danilo Gallinari as another target for Sacramento. He’s missed the past 10 games with a back injury and is owed $22.6 million next season. If he’s all that stands in the way of the Clippers perhaps luring Kawhi Leonard and another star free agent this summer, they may be inclined to move him by the deadline without expecting much of value in return.
The Kings are also sniffing around backup point guards, according to Jones. Marc Stein of the New York Times named one such target in mid-January.
The Kings, meanwhile, would appear to be a natural destination for Lin, given Sacramento's push to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and the expiring contracts it has available to swap in Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) January 15, 2019
With the Atlanta Hawks on a one-way trip to the lottery dais, picking up any future assets for Lin’s expiring $12.5 million contract would be better than nothing. The Kings should have enough lottery-ticket prospects and draft picks to pique Atlanta’s interest.
No matter who the Kings pursue, they shouldn’t be reluctant to take on salary beyond this season, as Fox and Bagley are still two and three years away, respectively, from being finished with their rookie contracts. Adding a starting-caliber player with one or two years remaining on his deal could behoove the Kings as they attempt to stave off LeBron James and the Lakers in the race for the West’s No. 8 seed.
It’s been more than a decade since the Kings were this relevant in February. If they stay the course with their young core and round out their rotation with a trade-deadline acquisition or two, they could prove to have more staying power than anyone expected heading into the season.