Kings complicate rebuild with high-priced free agents

AP Photo/Steve Yeater
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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-