Taking inventory of Kings' roster entering 2017 offseason

Taking inventory of Kings' roster entering 2017 offseason

The Sacramento Kings have a lot of work to do before the start of the 2017-18 season. The roster is filled with question marks and there are obviously holes to fill as they forge into the post DeMarcus Cousins era.

With the focus shifting to a youth movement, roster spots are at a premium. Who stays and who goes from the current club is a complex mess that requires plenty of conversation.

THE YOUNG CORE

Willie Cauley-Stein showed incredible progress in the second half of the season under head coach Dave Joerger. The 23-year-old big man posted 12.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 30.9 minutes per game after the All-Star break. He can play both the four and the five going forward and is under team control for at least two more seasons.

Skal Labissiere toiled in Reno through much of the first half of the season, barely sniffing the court until after Cousins was shipped to New Orleans. The rookie power forward has plenty to work on this summer, including adding weight and developing his handles, but this was the steal of the 2016 NBA Draft. Vlade Divac and his team may have landed a star level player with the 28th overall selection. Labissiere, 21, dropped in 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in 22.4 minutes in the final 25 games of the season.

Buddy Hield joined the Kings as part of the big trade with the Pelicans and stepped right into a lead scoring role with Sacramento. The 23-year-old shooting guard shot 48 percent from the field and 42.8 percent from 3-point range on his way to 15.1 points a night in a Kings uniform. His 25 game audition for Sacramento likely earned him strong consideration for a starting job when camp opens in September.

Georgios Papagiannis was a head scratcher on draft night, but the rookie big showed some life in the final month of the season. Blessed with a huge frame to go with his 7-foot-1 height, the 19-year-old needs to continue to reinvent his body over the summer if he hopes to play major minutes for the Kings next season. He dropped in 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in 18.7 minutes per game over his last 18 contests, but the Kings have plenty of depth at the center spot moving forward.

Malachi Richardson was the first of the Kings rookies to find a spot in the rotation, but a hamstring tear the game before the break cost the 21-year-old wing the remainder of the season. Richardson can really shoot the rock, but like the other rookies, he needs a lot of work over the summer. The Kings like his size, strength and shooting ability and the 22nd overall selection has plenty of time to grow into a role with the team. Like Labissiere, Hield and Papagiannis, Richardson is under team control for the next three-plus seasons.

THE VETERANS UNDER CONTRACT

The list is short under this heading. Sacramento has just two veterans on guaranteed contracts for next season and then a whole lot of question marks.

Kosta Koufos will enter year three of a four-year $33 million contract he signed in the summer of 2015. The 28-year-old center does all the little things, including rebound, defend and set screens. The Kings have youth at the position, so teams will come calling for Koufos, but he is a quality veteran presence in the locker room and an effective player either in a starting role or off the bench.

Garrett Temple has two more seasons at $8 million per year remaining on his contract. Signed for his versatility and locker room presence, Temple has quickly become one of the leaders on the Kings’ squad. He’s in the mix at the shooting guard and small forward spot next season and might even slide over and play some point in a pinch. This is the Kings’ best perimeter defensive player and the type of high character veteran the Kings will hunt for again this offseason.

VETERANS WITH OPTIONS

Anthony Tolliver did exactly what the Kings thought he would do when they signed him to a two-year, $17 million deal last summer. The 31-year-old stretch four shot 39.1 percent in 22.7 minutes per game as both a starter and a reserve. Sacramento has a team option for the 2017-18 season, with a $2 million buyout. The Kings need this type of leader and the club has plenty of cap space. Tolliver might be back for season two, but it depends on how the Kings assess the forward situation in free agency.

Like Tolliver, Arron Afflalo took a two-year deal with Sacramento last summer with a team option for the second season. In 61 games, including 45 starts, the 31-year-old guard averaged 8.4 points a night on 41.1 percent shooting. The team is loaded with potential wings and Afflalo is owed $12.5 million for next season with a team buyout of $1.5 million. Chances of a second season in Sacramento for Afflalo are slim, but according to BasketballInsiders.com, the team has until the day after the NBA Draft to make a decision.

Rudy Gay disappeared for much of the season after tearing his Achilles in January. The 30-year-old forward was a franchise cornerstone for the last few years alongside Cousins, but everything has changed in Sacramento. Gay has a $14.2 million player option for next season, but his injury will likely play a major role in his decision. He is ahead of schedule in his rehab now, making it a possibility that he will opt out. There’s a good chance Kings fans have seen the last of Gay in a Kings uniform.

Tossed in as part of the mega-deal for Cousins, Langston Galloway played well in his limited opportunities in Sacramento, shooting a robust 47.5 percent from 3-point range in 19 games with the Kings. Rumors around the team have the 25-year-old combo-guard opting in to his player option at $5.4 million for next season. He’s another high character guy that can fill a need at the point or shooting guard spot next season.

FREE AGENTS

The Kings have the ability to extend a $5.4 million qualifying offer to Ben McLemore, allowing the team to match any offer for the 24-year-old wing. But with Hield, Temple, Galloway and Richardson already on the roster at the two and the potential for Bogdan Bogdanovic to join the team from overseas, will they? The team has invested plenty in the high-flying wing, but the chances of a fifth season in Sacramento seems like a stretch. Sacramento has until June 29 to make a decision on McLemore, so plenty could change between now and then.

Darren Collison signed a three-year deal with the Kings in 2014 and has been a very nice contributor since. At 29-years-old, Collison needs to decide whether he is ready to embark on a rebuild with Sacramento, which will likely include a young understudy at the point guard position. If not, Collison will have no trouble finding a job on the open market as either a starter or super-sub in the backcourt.

Ty Lawson is in a similar boat as Collison. After making plenty of money as a young player, the veteran point guard had to take a one-year, league minimum deal with the Kings in the offseason. He played well and might be a quality stop gap point guard while Sacramento develops a young player, but his off the court issues continue to plague the 29-year-old. He has legal hurdles to get past in early May, but he wouldn’t mind a return to Sacramento if everything pans out.

Tyreke Evans was the Kings’ everything for one season. Still just 27-years-old, the former Rookie of the Year is an unrestricted free agent with a long list of lower leg injuries. He played well in limited opportunities after joining Sacramento in the Cousins deal. He’ll likely seek an opportunity on a playoff bound club while the Kings focus on a youth movement. His return for another go in Sacramento is doubtful.

With gaping holes to fill, 2017 NBA Draft offers Kings several options

With gaping holes to fill, 2017 NBA Draft offers Kings several options

The Sacramento Kings walk into the 2017 offseason with gaping holes in their roster. Free agency will play a role, but before they get to spending their $60-plus million in cap space, Vlade Divac, Scott Perry, Ken Catanella and the rest of the front office will try to fill some of their needs via the draft.

While the first batch of draft prospects rolled through Sacramento late last week, Vlade Divac, along with European scout Predrag Drobnjak spent the weekend in Istanbul, Turkey at the European Championships. Sharpshooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic led Fenerbahçe to its first title, further building the hype around one of Europe’s best young stars.

Divac acquired the rights to Bogdanovic in a draft day trade last summer when the 6-foot-6 Serbian was tossed in along with picks 13 and 28 for the 9th overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. Divac would love to entice the 24-year-old wing to play in the NBA next season.

Even if Bogdanovic buys in, the Kings need more.

Both Darren Collison and Ty Lawson are unrestricted free agents, leaving Langston Galloway as the only point guard on the roster. Rudy Gay has already informed the team that he intends to opt out of his $14.3 million player option for next season, opening a massive need at the small forward position.

The needs are clear. Sacramento has to find a point guard and small forward of the future. They also need a point guard and a small forward of the right now. If a player fits both now and in the future, so be it.

Lady luck shined brightly on the Kings during the draft lottery. A move from No. 8 to No. 3 would have guaranteed a point guard, but a pick swap to No. 5 still has Sacramento in the running to fill one of their biggest voids.

While plenty of mock drafts have a variety of players in the top five of the 2017 NBA Draft, there is a clear group that Sacramento will likely focus on. Barring a major trade, point guard Markelle Fultz out of the University of Washington is projected to go with the first overall selection, but then it’s wide open how the next four picks will unfold.

UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is projected to go to the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2 in most mocks, but nothing is a sure bet. Small forwards Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum are top five selections as well, while Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox is an early draft climber.

Sacramento would love nothing more than to see Fox sitting on the board when they select at five. He’s slight of build, but the 6-foot-3 speedster is a high character player with tons of potential. He would step in and instantly compete for a starting job with the Kings’ young core.

There are concerns that Fox won’t make it to five and the Kings have a few options if they want to move up, but the real question is, should they?

If Fox is gone, Sacramento will still have a player on the board at a position of need. Be it Ball, Jackson or Tatum, the talent pool is rich. Finding a floor general is important, but finding a star should be the top priority. All five have potential to become more than just a starter in the league and all five fit one of the team’s two most glaring weaknesses on the current roster.

Drafting either Jackson or Tatum would instantly bump the talent level of the team. Both are considered top tier prospects and for Sacramento, likely starters on Day 1.

Jackson is a catalyst type player and personality that brings energy, as well as a tremendous skill set. He can pass, rebound, play defense at a high level and score above the rim. He’ll be an instant fan favorite wherever he lands.

Tatum has potential as a two-way player, but his offensive game should instantly translate to the NBA level. A polished scorer, Tatum would step in and give the Kings a scoring option to fill the shoes of Gay, who is on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The Top 10 has plenty of other high end prospects. Sacramento could chase a shooting big in Lauri Markkanen. The 7-footer out of Arizona would help to stretch the floor at the four, but their other needs are more obvious.

Fox’s backcourt mate at Kentucky, Malik Monk, is also an intriguing player, but with Buddy Hield, Garrett Temple, Malachi Richardson and the potential for Bogdanovic to join the team, the Kings are heavy at the shooting guard spot.

Point guard Dennis Smith has a high ceiling and would likely challenge for top five consideration if it wasn’t for a torn ACL in high school and some questions about his attitude.

If Sacramento selects a small forward with the fifth pick and Smith was still available when they choose again at No. 10, he becomes a lower risk proposition the Kings might have to consider.

Point guard Frank Ntilikina out of France would fit the bill as well in the right situation. If the Kings land Jackson or Tatum at five, they could come back with Ntilikina at 10. He’s young and inexperienced, but he also stands at 6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan. His defensive potential at the point is tremendous, but he is a project on the offensive end, not a polished player like the four point guards expected to go ahead of him in the draft.

Combo forward Jonathan Isaac is an appealing prospect, but he’ll need plenty of time to develop and he’s a better target if he somehow slips to 10. Like Smith and Ntilikina, this would be a nice addition if the Kings fill their other need with the fifth overall selection.

Regardless of how they got to No.’s 5 and 10, the Kings are in a good spot. They have options and plenty of players at positions of need and there is potential to land a future star. Once the draft rolls around on June 22, the focus will quickly shift to shoring up the remainder of the squad. With two high picks, the potential addition of Bogdanovic and plenty of cap space, the Kings are primed for a big time roster overhaul this summer.

Joerger: Rebuilding Kings hope to make the playoffs in...

Joerger: Rebuilding Kings hope to make the playoffs in...

The Kings' playoff drought is at 11 years and according to head coach Dave Joerger, it's going to last a few more years.

Speaking on Sirius XM NBA Radio on Tuesday, Joerger was asked about the differences between his coaching gigs with Sacramento and Memphis, and outlined the Kings' timeline for reaching the postseason.

"It's different. It's been a great learning experience for me. It's going to be an interesting process. You know, three years from now we hope to be in the playoffs. And so how do we do that? We were just talking about Memphis and it's the same thing. So if you're management, there's a couple times a year, two or three times that are really hot. Trade deadline, draft, free agency, boom, boom, boom. We're in Memphis sitting there getting 50 wins a year. Okay, maybe the trade deadline came and went, maybe we got a guy, maybe not, not too stressful. Get the 23rd, 24th pick in the draft," Joerger said.

"It's different now. In this situation, it's a higher pick, now free agency has a little bit more focus on it. So how we execute in free agency, how we execute our draft picks and how we execute at the trade deadline as this thing builds, you try to go too fast, you can make mistakes. But I think slow and steady wins the race," Joerger concluded.

So Kings fans can look forward to the 2019-20 season when the team returns to the playoffs.

Joerger is at the helm of a Kings team that is in full rebuild mode. The team traded center DeMarcus Cousins during the All-Star break and turned the team over to several first and second-year players. They posted a 32-50 record during the 2016-17 season, good for a third-place finish in the Pacific Division.

The Kings hold the No. 5, 10 and 34 picks in the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft and will add to their stable of young players.