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Kings complicate rebuild with high-priced free agents

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The strength of Sacramento’s rebuild is volume. None of De'Aaron Fox, Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harry Giles, Malachi Richardson, Justin Jackson or Georgios Papagiannis are elite prospects individually. But between all of them, at least one likely emerges as a star.

So, what did the Kings do this summer?

Sign high-priced veterans who will impede younger players’ growth opportunities, make it less likely Sacramento acquires a high-end blue-chipper and still probably leave the team outside the playoffs.

But at least the Kings finally found players to take their money. After years of trying to overpay free agents and still getting rejected, Sacramento signed George Hill ($39 million over the next two years with just $1 million of $18 guaranteed in year three), Zach Randolph (two years, $24 million) and Vince Carter (one year, $8 million).

The good:

  • Hill is solid value and tradable for value if he stays healthy.
  • Both Hill and Randolph have declining salaries. The Kings are spending more now to leave their books cleaner down the road, when their cap space might be more valuable.

The bad:

  • These veterans will help the Kings immediately, hurting the team’s chances of securing a high lottery pick while still leaving the playoffs a longshot in the tough Western Conference. That’s particularly costly, because Sacramento owes its unprotected 2019 pick (to the 76ers or Celtics). So, this might be the Kings’ last shot to tank their way into an elite prospect before the young players already on the roster develop into reliable contributors. The newly signed veterans make that task harder.
  • Hill (Fox and No. 34 pick Frank Mason), Randolph (Cauley-Stein, Labissiere, Giles and Papagiannis) and Carter (Bogdanovic, Richardson and Jackson) will block playing time – i.e., development – for younger players.
  • Hill and Randolph – a 36-year-old whose contract looks especially lousy – will make it harder for the Kings to sign free agents on their timeline next season. Even Carter inhibits their ability to add assets in salary-dump trades this season.

Not only is the second list is longer, its points are more significant.

The Kings will tout the veteran leadership acquired, but I believe that concept is overrated. How many people are eager to train their replacements? Besides, Sacramento already had Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos in that department. Carter will set a professional tone, but I’m not sure Hill is the type of person to take young players under his wing. Randolph caught a felony marijuana charge since signing with the Kings.

We also keep hearing about the high character and strong work ethic of these young players. DeMarcus Cousins is gone. How much veteran leadership does this team need?

If Sacramento nailed the draft, free agency will matter far less. But just because they didn’t reach for another Papagiannis doesn’t mean the Kings have suddenly figured out the draft.

Fox was a perfectly reasonable pick at No. 5. Trading down from No. 10 to Nos. 15 and 20 would be helpful in a vacuum, though this year, that meant seeing Zach Collins, Malik Monk and Donovan Mitchell come of the board. At No. 15, Sacramento took Jackson, whom I’m not personally high on, but he’ll have a chance to prove me wrong. Giles went No. 20, a medical risk who presents high upside and a pick I liked much more. The Kings’ appetite for risk shrunk by pick No. 34, when they took Mason, who – at age 23 – was the oldest player selected to that point.

If Fox develops a jumper, if Jackson maintains his 3-point improvement as a senior at North Carolina, if Giles stays healthy… Sacramento’s draft will pay dividends. But there is an amount of uncertainty incommensurate with the praise heaped upon this draft.

The Kings had their best offseason in years. They also still showed the impatient tendencies that, paradoxically, make it more likely their playoff drought – 11 years and counting – continues even longer.

Offseason grade: C-

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.