Kings complicate rebuild with high-priced free agents

AP Photo/Steve Yeater
5 Comments

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-

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

Jae Crowder does salsa dance in Suns-Lakers Game 6
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

WhatsApp's "Naija Odyssey" New York Premiere
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
0 Comments

Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

Pregame of Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
0 Comments

Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

Orlando Magic v Charlotte Hornets
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
0 Comments

The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.