Finally we get to the Pacific Division and my own Sacramento Kings. I can’t tell you how happy I am to not be writing up a summer preview for the Seattle Supersonics (no offense to the city of Seattle and its great fans, though any of the vultures populating SonicsRising are welcome to take as much offense as they wish). For the time being I’ve also got a very happy cat not exactly in my lap but wedged in between my side and the recliner arm and while it doesn’t really look terribly comfortable, he seems not to mind my right arm resting on his chest to reach the laptop. I’ll be hard pressed to be mean to any of the teams I’m writing up as long as he keeps napping so sweetly. Lucky you, Warriors!
Golden State Warriors
Players under contract (years, t = team option/unguaranteed, p = player option):
Posts(4+2p+1t): Andrew Bogut (1), David Lee (3), Festus Ezeli (1+2t), Draymond Green (1+1t), Andris Biedrins (1p), Carl Landry (1p), Dwayne Jones (1t)
Wings(2+2p+1t): Harrison Barnes (1+2t), Klay Thompson (1+1t), Brandon Rush (1p), Richard Jefferson (1p), Kent Bazemore (1t)
Guards(1+1t): Stephen Curry (4), Scott Machado (1t)
Total players under contract next year: 7 + 3 Team Option + 4 Player Option
Major Free Agents: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry (p), Brandon Rush (p)
2013 Cap Situation: $69M assuming Landry opts out Cap Holds: Jack 8, Landry 8, Rush 5; Total cap holds of $21M. Both MLE and Bi-Annual exceptions available.
Amnesty Candidates: Already used (Charlie Bell)
2013 Draft Picks: None
our player options on the Golden State rosted is going to end up being two too many this offseason. Those two are Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins, who collectively are going to opt in to $20M worth of salary next season. That’s enough to put the Warriors over the salary cap, and all for a couple of benchwarmers. (Do you know why the bench is so warm? Because Jefferson and Biedrins are sitting at the end of it burning huge piles of cash.) Worst of all, the Warriors already
used wasted their amnesty on Charlie Bell two years ago clearing space in their unsuccessful attempt to pry DeAndre Jordan away from the Clippers. That amnesty really could have come in handy to get them some maneuvering room under the apron this offseason. The Warriors also have to wait on Carl Landry and Brandon Rush to consider their $4M options. Rush is coming off of an ACL tear, so I can’t imagine that he’ll want to test the waters before he can prove he’s healthy. but Landry is bound to find more than $4M on the open market, so he’ll opt out. That will leave the Warriors, who emerged this season to win a first-round playoff series, with a few holes to fill: a post scorer off of the bench, a rotation wing, and (with Jarrett Jack a free agent) a backup point guard. And they’ll have to do it completely through free agency and trades, because they don’t have any draft picks this year.
Point guard is the biggest hole, considering that the Warriors have absolutely nobody to back up the injury-prone Stephen Curry outside of a team option on a Scott Machado emergency contract (Machado signed for the late part of the season and didn’t play a minute). This year, things worked out pretty well with Jack playing minutes at both the 1 and the 2, and I suspect the Warriors would like to keep that chemistry going. Jack is liable to command most or all of his $8M cap hold, but I think the Warriors have to bring him back if they can, even though that will probably preclude them from spending money on the wing. Instead, they’ll rely on playing Jack and Curry together in the backcourt and hoping that Rush can effectively come back. Simply bringing Jack back is going to put the Warriors over the luxury tax, so I imagine that Carl Landry is going to be allowed to walk even though they don’t have an adequate offensive replacement in the post (Draymond Green was just a dreadful shooter this year). Fortunately, the Warriors have enough bench scoring elsewhere, so while Landry will be missed, the Warriors won’t fall out of the playoffs next year for not signing him.
Los Angeles Clippers
Posts(2): Blake Griffin (4+1p), DeAndre Jordan (2)
Wings(2+1t): Caron Butler (1), Jamal Crawford (1+2t), Grant Hill (1t)
Guards(1+1t): Eric Bledsoe (1), Willie Green (2t)
Total players under contract next year: 5 + 2 Team Option
Major Free Agents: Chris Paul, Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups, Matt Barnes, Ryan Hollins, Ronny Turiaf
2013 Cap Situation: $41M Cap Holds: Paul 18.5, Odom 12, Billups 7.5; Total cap holds of $42M. Only MLE exception available.
Amnesty Candidates: Already used (Ryan Gomes)
2013 Draft Picks: First round: #25; Second round: #56
rue story: The Clippers are now officially better than the Lakers. True story 2: If they don’t manage to resign Chris Paul this offseason, this reversal of fortune may be short-lived. Paul being a free agent is a bit problematic because the Clippers have a ton of players leaving in this offseason – not counting CP# there are almost 5500 minutes worth of players hitting free agency. Yet snapping up Paul (dreadfully obviously their #1 priority) will eat up basically all their cap space. Even signing Paul back, at the minimum they’re going to need two big men (to replace the Odom/Turiaf/Hollins tandem) and one wing (to replace Barnes) and they’ve got an MLE to do it. Fortunately, they’ve got Bird Rights on Odom, and while he won’t command the entirety (or probably even half) of his over $12M cap hold, the Clippers can pay whatever they need to pay (maybe $4M?) to bring him back and help fill out the bench without digging into their MLE, which they’ll need to use to replace (or resign) Barnes who (once again) would seem to have priced himself out of a minimum contract. It’s weird, because Barnes has reached the $2M mark in salary only once in his career (he got $3M from the Warriors in ’07-’08). Dude needs a new agent, because he easily deserves $4-5M and year after year he doesn’t get it. But this really isn’t the SacTown’s Finest Summer Preview, so back to the Clippers.
The point is that so long as they get Paul back, the main pieces (Griffin, Jordan, Bledsoe, Butler, Crawford) are in place, they just need to spend money on the bench, and who exactly gets that (small amount of) money maybe doesn’t matter too much. The Clippers also have a first-round pick at #25 and a wing (project is fine) would probably be the best use of the selection as for the near future Griffin and Jordan are going to be the main guys in the post and presumably Paul at the point. Two kids who are making noise at the bottom of the first round are Allen Crabbe and Tim Hardaway Jr. I think either one would be a nice pick, so I’ll assume that the Clippers go with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope instead. Because NBA teams rarely agree with me on the value of players in the draft.
Los Angeles Lakers
Posts(2): Pau Gasol (1), Jordan Hill (1)
Wings(1+1p+1t): Kobe Bryant (1), Metta World Peace (1p), Jodie Meeks (1t)
Guards(2+1t): Steve Nash (2), Steve Blake (1), Chris Duhon (1t)
Total players under contract next year: 5 + 2 Team Option + 1 Player Option + 3 RFA
Major Free Agents: Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace (p), Devin Ebanks (RFA), Darius Morris (RFA), Robert Sacre (RFA)
2013 Cap Situation: $76M Cap Holds: Howard 20.5, lots of bookkeeping; Total cap holds of $42M. Only tMLE exception available
Amnesty Candidates: Kobe Bryant (1/$30.5M), Metta World Peace (1/$7.5M), Gasol is the only other eligible player.
2013 Draft Picks: Second round: # 48
oney is no object. No, seriously, it isn’t an object, it’s an abstract noun which is used to represent the value of goods and services. In the 2012-’13 season, the Lakers were 100K abstract nouns short of 100M abstract nouns in salary, and that number could go up next year if they keep Howard. Unfortunately, 30.5M of those abstract nouns are already promised to a 35-year-old who just tore his Achilles’ tendon. [Deep Breath] On top of that they’ve got 31M abstract nouns committed to three players who are 33/34 (Gasol/World Peace/Blake) and another 9.3M abstract nouns due to 39-year-old Steve Nash. We’re talking basically 71M abstract nouns that may not do a very good job of representing the value of services in the near future. This basically goes under the assumption that Metta World Peace (yet another abstract noun, though much less profitable) will not turn down a 7.7M abstract noun option. This puts the Lakers over the tax for six players, one of whom is badly injured.
Oh, and they have to worry about whether or not to sign their “next” franchise player (a 28-year old center) for, in the abstract, about $30M. Let me just say now that I’m confident the Lakers will bring back Howard because they simply cannot afford to be down when the Clippers are up, so “tanking” is not an option. (Despite the fact that with an expected-to-be killer draft class next year, tanking is exactly the right option for the Lakers. Right?)
The important decisions this offseason, then, revolve around Kobe Bryant. His injury basically guarantees that his temporary replacement Jodie Meeks (who played well, by the way) will have his team option picked up. That’s not the important question. The important question is whether the Lakers amnesty Kobe Bryant. It’s an amazingly hard question to even ask, and for the Lakers it’s even harder to admit that the correct answer might be “yes”. The Achilles injury seems likely to keep Kobe out for the entire season. Not if you ask Kobe, of course, who says he’ll be ready for the season opener. But if you ask reality, reality has a hard time believing he’ll be able to play at all next season and a very hard time believing that he’ll be close to the player he once was. Maybe never again given his age, but next season…? And of course, the amnesty period is in July, before the Lakers can really know about how Kobe’s recovery is coming. They’ll be deciding blind, and they’ll be basing that decision on whether or not they can cut $30M off of their cap number, which translates to – sit down. No, seriously, sit your butt down because your legs will come out from under you when you read this next bit. Because of the escalating tax rates in the current CBA (and assuming they have signed Dwight Howard to a $20M+ contract which would mean that all of Kobe’s salary would be above the tax level) the Lakers would save about $85M on their luxury tax bill if they amnesty an injured Kobe. I am not kidding. I am not exaggerating. That basically comes out to paying every other team in the league $3M – each – for the privilege of having Kobe sit behind your bench in a really expensive suit.
In other words, “amnesty” is no longer an abstract noun. It is very, very concrete. Kobe is gone. They absolutely have to amnesty him. $85M is more than most other teams will pay for their entire roster. You simply can’t commit yourself to that kind of expense to keep around an aging player who is probably not going to play. The fans may not like it. The media may not like it. But the only other options are to refuse to sign Dwight Howard or to find a way to trade Pau Gasol for nothing. And I don’t think either of those are options. It truly does look like the end of an era.
Posts(5+1t): Marcin Gortat (1), Luis Scola (2), Markieff Morris (1+1t), Marcus Morris (1+1t), Channing Frye (1+1p), Hamed Haddadi (1t)
Wings(2+1t): Michael Beasley (1+1t), Jared Dudley (1+1p), P.J. Tucker (1t)
Guards(2+1t): Goran Dragic (2+1p), Kendall Marshall (1+2t), Shannon Brown (1t)
Total players under contract next year: 9 + 3 Team Option + 1 RFA
Major Free Agents: Wesley Johnson, Diante Garrett (RFA)
2013 Cap Situation: $50M Cap Holds: Johnson 5; Total cap holds of $7M. Only room exception available.
Amnesty Candidates: Already used (Josh Childress)
2013 Draft Picks: First round: #4 Lotto slot, #30; Second round: #57
or a team as bad as the Suns were last year, the fact that at least nine players are coming back next year is not exactly comforting. And it’s not that the players that they have are terrible – Gortat/Scola/Dudley/Dragic are all solid, but there’s simply no star there. I don’t really know where the star is, but certainly Kendall Marshall was not so great his rookie year, the Morris twins would only be great if you could put both of them on the floor at the same time and have them only count as one player, free agent Wesley Johnson looks like he’s on his way to Europe, and Michael Beasley looks like he’s on his way to Burning Man. And for all that they’re going to pay $50M, leaving only about $10M for free agency. They’ll definitely bring P.J. Tucker and Shannon Brown back next year (Tucker being cheap, Brown being half-guaranteed so they may as well), while I can’t imagine Haddadi gets asked back. So that’s 11 players and not much value.
The Suns will start with the draft. They’ve got the #4 slot, so they’re unlikely to pick lower than 6 (Update: 5 it is!). I don’t think their roster really dictates a positional need – rather they’ve got to take the BPA, even if it is Trey Burke (sorry, Kendall!). They might be hoping for Ben McLemore above all. I’m not sure I believe in him, but if he is to be the second coming of Ray Allen, well, his offense would certainly help one of the lowest scoring and worst three-point shooting teams last year. Of course, to land McLemore, right now the common wisdom says you’ll have to have a top-2 pick, though depending on who lands above you, maybe he drops to 4 or even 5. I’d figure that the Suns would be making googly eyes at Otto Porter and Victor Oladipo as well.
Still, of all the teams in the league, this one needs a lot of shake-up. They don’t have a huge number of assets to dangle in the trade market, but Luis Scola could certainly be one of them. I’d love to find a way to ship Scola off to the Thunder for their #12 pick – and there is a way, though it would have to be a delayed trade. The Thunder could select both their #12 and #29 picks for Phoenix, sign them to maximum rookie scale (120% of scale, which most players are signed to anyhow), and then trade both of them for Scola under the current trade rules. The Suns could net a Steven Adams or a Kelly Olynyk or maybe even a Cody Zeller at the #12 and then get both the #29 (Thunder) and #30 (already theirs) to play around with (on top of their lotto pick). Somehow they’re going to have to turn it around, and stocking up on picks, hoping some of them pan out, and looking forward to the 2014 draft may be the best route for the Suns right now.
Posts(4): DeMarcus Cousins (1), Jason Thompson (3+1t), Patrick Patterson (1), Chuck Hayes (2)
Wings(3): John Salmons (1+1t), Marcus Thornton (2), Travis Outlaw (2)
Guards(1+1t): Jimmer Fredette (1+1t), Isaiah Thomas (1t)
Total players under contract next year: 8 + 1 Team Option + 3 RFA
Major Free Agents: Cole Aldrich, Tyreke Evans (RFA), James Johnson (RFA), Toney Douglas (RFA)
2013 Cap Situation: $44M Cap Holds: Evans 13, Johnson 7, Douglas 5, Aldrich 3; Total cap holds of $29M. Both MLE and Bi-Annual exceptions available.
Amnesty Candidates: John Salmons (2/$14.5M), only other eligible player is DeMarcus Cousins.
2013 Draft Picks: First round: #6 Lotto slot; Second round: #36
hank you, Vivek Ranadivé! Thank you, David Stern! Our long regional nightmare is over and the Kings will be staying in Sacramento. Permanently. Our new ownership group inherits a fanbase that is incredibly rabid and will show up to root for any team, no matter how bad (witness two of the five longest sellout streaks in NBA history, one of those coming through mostly sub-.500 seasons – but don’t discount how years of Maloofery in gutting the team, torpedoing arena deal after arena deal, and nonstop attempts to move the team can depress turnout). Unfortunately, new ownership also inherits a team that isn’t that good. For instance, this is a team that in the last four drafts earned the #4, #5, #7, and #5 picks and now has only a 4% chance of getting worse than the #7 pick this year. While President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie did reasonably well with the first two of those picks (Evans won Rookie of the Year but has subsequently had his strengths curiously ignored in the offense; DeMarcus Cousins continually shows signs of being one of the best and most skilled big men in the league but can’t keep his head on straight), the next two have so far been pretty disastrous, with the #7 pick in 2011 traded down for the opportunity to draft Jimmer Fredette at #10 and take on the bad contract of John Salmons, and the #5 pick in 2012 used on Thomas Robinson, widely considered to be the most NBA-ready player at the top of the draft and thought by some to be the second-best player available only for Robinson to spend 2/3 of a season demonstrating no offensive skill, a complete inability to rebound, and hands somewhere between butterfingers and non-stick spray palms. Before the trade deadline the Kings gave up on Robinson, trading him to Houston for a package of players (Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas, Cole Aldrich) who at least gave them pretty consistent minutes.
Years ago (those would be the Rick Adelman years), Sacramento got a reputation as a place where troubled players went to get healthy. Nowadays it’s viewed as a place where talented players go to have their talents wasted. Part of this is due to a long string of ineffective head coaches (Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Paul Westphal, and incumbent Keith Smart), part of this is due to the Maloofs being reluctant to spend above the salary floor, and part is probably due to an imperfectly-constructed roster. This is the mess that Vivek Ranadivé, Mark Mastrov, the Jacobs family, and the other investors have inherited.
Their first move will likely be to fire head coach Keith Smart, who has cruelly been selected by the outgoing Maloofs as the Kings’ representative at the draft lottery. If the Kings finally do have their lotto combo called (something which last happened 22 years ago against ridiculous odds), Keith Smart will be forced to act happy about an organization he will no longer be associated with landing a draft pick whom he will no longer be around to coach. It’s an unenviable task. There’s some buzz that the coaching search may begin and end with Jerry Sloan, who interestingly rejected the Bucks coaching job about a day after the Kings sale to the Ranadivé group became all but assured when the NBA Board of Governors rejected the Seattle relocation. Now, there’s plenty of speculation that Sloan wants to move to a winning roster, but Kings fans have been screaming for years that their roster is good enough to win if they only had a real coach.
Speaking of the roster, the real hole is at the SF, where the Kings have been playing guards John Salmons, Tyreke Evans, and even Marcus Thornton in order to avoid playing James Johnson and Travis Outlaw there. Point guard is also unsettled – the Kings dumped backup Aaron Brooks mid-season in favor of no-D Isaiah Thomas, with some minutes going to the former PG-apparent and potential RFA Tyreke Evans, some going to trade deadline acquisition and defensive stalwart Toney Douglas, and some going to the no-D, dribble-challenged Jimmer. The post is not a disaster, and while depth is not a problem (Jason Thompson, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, and FA Cole Aldrich) the only star power is the volatile Cousins.
With very little set in stone, the rebooted rebuild is going to start at the draft, where the Kings will likely pick at #6 or #7 (Update: 7. This makes it 22 years since the Kings have had their combo selected in the lottery, which has got to be a record given the number of times they’ve been in the lottery). While the Kings would like to find a franchise SF in this draft, without hitting the lottery it would seem unlikely that Otto Porter will be there for their pick. That leaves Shabazz Muhammad, who is pretty clearly a SG, and some lower-ranked international prospects like Sergey Karasev, Giannis Adetokoubo, and Dario Saric. It’s possible that one of these guys will sky in the workouts (and as tempting as Adetokoubo looks, Karasev’s outside shooting might look better on this roster) but more likely the Kings will have to look at several big men. Between Anthony Bennett, Alex Len, Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Mason Plumlee, Rudy Gobert, and Steven Adams, I figure probably 6 of those 7 will be available, if not all 7. (Update: Let’s say that Bennett and Len can’t BOTH be there at #7.) The Kings would probably prefer Len, who looks to have the best combination of offense and defense along with fantastic size, but he may be the most likely kid to go top-five in that group. Bennett is a tempting prospect but is a bit undersized at the 4 and certainly won’t help the Kings’ defensive problems. Zeller and Olynyk would slot in nicely as offensive PFs, but also don’t have the defensive cachet that would intrigue the Kings. Gobert can play D, but is skinny enough that there are worries about him being able to hold his own in the post. That leaves Mason Plumlee, whom I just simply don’t like, and Steven Adams, the Kiwi riser who measured out quite impressively at the draft and might actually be my second choice after Len. Still, there’s nobody there that makes you drool. Update: The other interesting possibility is that the way the draft shook out, there’s at least a chance that Trey Burke falls all the way to #7. If he does, I can’t imagine the Kings passing on him.
As far as free agency goes, the Kings have about $16M of space, but they’ll need to spend about $11-$12M of that to bring back Tyreke Evans, and they would be stupid not to bring him back. Regardless, Sacramento will obviously bring back Isaiah Thomas, on whom they hold a sub-$1M team option, and will obviously decline to make a QO to James Johnson. Toney Douglas’ QO is a tough call – I really like the defensive intensity he brought off the bench, but a $3M QO may be a bit steep for a team not really sure where their future lies and potentially looking for other free agents. In the end, I’m going to say that he does get the QO, because the Kings have other ways to clear salary space if they need to.
One obvious way to clear space is to amnesty John Salmons. That would cost them a little under $8.6M over the next two years, but would free up all but $1M of that this year. The other way is with their best trade asset, Marcus Thornton. Thornton’s salary is a bit high at $8M, but for a guy who can light it up for three, somebody will probably be willing to take that hit. Still, barring a miracle trade or a miracle signing, the Kings will likely struggle again next year as they try to build a contender. The one thing that Kings fans can now be happy about is that money no longer appears to be the limiting factor in that fight.