A couple of things over the weekend got me to thinking about Carlos Boozer playing in Sacramento. First was this piece from the Salt Lake Tribune that mentioned the Kings as a possible destination for Carlos Boozer. Then I saw this comment from a reader named Mo:

Any chance Kings can make a trade for Boozer? The Jazz need to clear space if they want to resign Millsap and they were most likely gonna let Boozer walk had he opted out. If Kings can put together a trade, either around Nocioni or Thomas’ expiring contract, we can get a solid post player for a season. This way we fill seats, and have a chance at competing with the rest of the west. At the end of the 2010 season, we can let Boozer walk and use the money to go after a big time 2010 free agent. What do you think?

So I started thinking about a trade of Kenny Thomas (and his expiring contract) to the Jazz for Carloz Boozer. The deal would save them roughly $3-4 million this season because of the difference in salaries and it would be an expiring contract so there are no long-term implications to the cap (unless the Jazz want to sign K9 to a max extension). Perhaps the Kings could even get C.J. Miles thrown into the deal to add some depth to the backcourt but since we’re speculating, let’s just assume the Kings do a straight up trade of Thomas for Boozer.

A week or two or three ago, Tom Ziller discussed the ideas and analysis of trading Kenny Thomas’ expiring contract to the Utah Jazz for impending free agent and bigger expiring contract, Carlos Boozer. It’s idea that Kings fans have tossed around and tussled with to maximize the growth of this franchise and possibly put them into the playoffs much sooner than the current progression would yield. Before we get into the idea of what Carlos Boozer could mean to the team, we should look at the landscape of the Western Conference to see if there is actually room enough in the top eight teams to legitimize a push towards playing basketball into late April/early May.

Last year’s standings in the Western Conference were:

1. Lakers
2. Nuggets 11 GB
3. Spurs 11 GB
4. Blazers 11 GB
5. Rockets 12 GB
6. Mavericks 15 GB
7. Hornets 16 GB
8. Jazz 17 GB
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9. Suns 19 GB
10. Warriors 36 GB
11. Wolves 41 GB
12. Grizzlies 41 GB
13. Thunder 42 GB
14. Clippers 46 GB
15. Kings 48 GB

Making up 31 games is quite the task to take up for this coming season, considering the Kings won just 17 contests last season. But there have been some major changes in the Western Conference so far this off-season that could potentially open the door. Let’s take it team by team starting off with the five teams that didn’t make a run at the playoffs (not including the Kings):

Clippers: Traded away personality albatross Zach Randolph in exchange for a five-year reunion with Quentin Richardson. Thus, the door was opened for Blake Griffin to get regular minutes and lessen the logjam in the paint. However, Mike Dunleavy is still the coach and will guarantee that this team will be improved but not playoff good.

Thunder: The Thunder are scary because they will go as far as their young developing talent takes them. Durant looks to be on the cusp of being the leader/go-to guy on a winning team. Westbrook is a defensive stalwart and Jeff Green has the goods to be a mismatch all over the place. But they didn’t make any significant splashes yet with their cap flexibility and probably aren’t quite there for making a 30-game leap.

Grizzlies: They drafted Hasheem Thabeet and traded for Zach Randolph. I’m going to go out on a limb and say they haven’t improved enough.

Wolves: They are compiling a roster of nothing but power forwards and point guards. Not a threat to make the playoffs.

Warriors: Is Monta Ellis capable of being a real point guard? Is Andris Biedrins a stat-gatherer that actually translates to wins? Can a team win with 10 shooting guards on the roster? Warriors still a player or two away from being there again.

Lakers: Just won the NBA title and basically traded Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest. Sure, they’re a little crazier but does anyone think this team didn’t actually get better? They’re in.

Nuggets: So far this off-season they settled their backup point guard spot by trading a future pick for Ty Lawson. Chris Andersen probably returns and Carmelo Anthony looks to be on the upswing. They’re in.

Spurs: Traded deadweight for Richard Jefferson and look to be adding Glen Davis and others via free agency. Tim Duncan could play with my rec league team and make the NBA playoffs as an 8-seed.

Blazers: They’re getting good already, looking to add a significant player this summer with some money and now have Greg Oden looking like a monster in his training this summer. If he stays healthy, this is easily a top three team. They’re in.

Rockets: This is the first hiccup in the playoff teams looking to get back to the post-season. Yao Ming is probably out for the entire year if not more, barring some lab engineering to get him a bionic foot (don’t rule it out). Trevor Ariza is replacing Ron Artest, which is a big downgrade no matter what type of hype you want to give to Ariza. And Tracy McGrady will probably last half a season at best coming off of a significant knee injury. Are the role players good enough to keep them in?

Mavericks: Another year with the same players and they’re all getting older instead of better. They’re still good enough to sneak into the playoffs.

Hornets: Imagine how good this team could be if Chris Paul was playing with competent players. He’s good enough to keep them in.

Jazz: Could be completely dependent upon health and what happens with Carlos Boozer.

Suns: Are they blowing this thing up? Is Amar’e Stoudemire going to be there? Are they good enough to get back in after just missing last year?

So that’s the landscape in the West. Six teams are definitely in, barring major injuries. The Rockets should be falling out unless Rick Adelman can perform a miracle with reviving that roster. The Clippers and Thunder are threats to improve significantly but are they actually good enough (or in the Clippers case do they like their coach enough) to play their way into the playoffs? I don’t think they’re there yet.

That leaves the final two spots to the Rockets, Suns, and Jazz to battle it out. The magic number for making the playoffs looks to be around 45 to 48 wins for next season. The Jazz should be locks but are never healthy and may be jettisoning Carlos Boozer for some cap relief. And that’s where the Kings come into this. They have the best way for them to get cap relief immediately and also long term. But is it enough to get them into the playoffs? Is it too big of a risk? Is it someone who they’ll flip for another batch of pieces to add to the puzzle?

Is Carlos Boozer enough to get them into the playoffs? Is it too big of a risk?

How good is Carlos Boozer? Do we know how positively he impacts a franchise?

Warning: I’m not a statistician AT ALL (although I aced all of my math classes in school) and the following are my attempts to figure out the potential impact that Boozer could have on the Kings. These are not completely accurate findings, just educated guesses. Proceed with caution.

Throwing out Boozer’s rookie year in which he played on a purposefully tanking Cavaliers team in order to land LeBron James, Carlos Boozer has had six years in the NBA. Symmetrically, he’s had three healthy seasons and three unhealthy seasons. In the healthy seasons, he’s averaged 76 games played per season as opposed to the 40 games per season he’s averaged in the unhealthy years.

Based on averages from his healthy and unhealthy seasons and factoring in points per game, rebounds per game, shooting percentage, Player Efficiency Rating (PER), rebounding percentage, and win shares, you could expect the following numbers from Carlos in a relatively healthy year with the Kings:

19.2 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 54.5% FG, 22.2 PER, 19.0% rebounding, 9.8 win shares.

Those are actually some pretty spectacular numbers. A season like that would put him in the Top 15 in the NBA in PER making him a potential MVP candidate (depending on team improvement of course) and the rebounding rate would also be Top 15 with Carlos Boozer often in the Top 10 for that category. The win shares category is where we really start trying to figure out his impact for this team.

In an unhealthy year (average of 40 games played), this is a rough estimate of what to expect from Boozer:

16.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 51.8% FG, 19.2 PER, 17.3% rebounding, 3.4 win shares.

Now, the 40 games played average in three unhealthy seasons is alarming in and of itself. It’s one thing to question Kevin Martin’s injury status when he’s missing 20 to 30 games. It’s another thing to pay an eight-figure guy to miss half of an entire season. Boozer can still put up good stats in those years. Roughly 17 and 9 isn’t bad production to have coming from your power forward spot, especially one that still rebounds at a good enough rate and has an above average efficiency rating. But he is only adding a few wins to your team because of the time he’s missing. And that’s where you have to weigh the pros and cons of bringing him in to Sacramento.

Personally, I don’t think last year’s roster was a 17-win team. I think a much more realistic 25 to 28 wins despite the fact that Pythagorean win-loss record was 19-63. The Kings suffered a gutting trade and a big injury to Kevin Martin that really hindered their chances at winning most nights. Let’s just say that this team was probably more of a 25-win kind of team. Sacramento is now 20-23 wins away from that proposed magic number for making the playoffs.

If you get a healthy season from Booz, then you’re getting an assumed boost of 10 wins into team. The reason I say this is because you’re essentially giving up nothing to get him. Kenny Thomas wasn’t winning any games for you last year and to add someone of the caliber that a healthy Carlos Boozer gives you, I think it’s safe to say that he can really change the game and makeup of your team. Now our magic number is cut to 10-13 wins.

Now, do the addition of Tyreke Evans to the starting backcourt and the progression of Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson, and Kevin Martin make up for those final remaining games? Thompson’s progression/production would be more limited with him sitting behind an All-Star level Carlos Boozer. Thompson would backup both Hawes and Boozer but playing him alongside Carlos might not mesh as well as the complement that JT and Hawes are too each other.

And what if Donte Greene makes any kind of leap? What if Casspi, Sergio, and Cisco can give the Kings a new age type of Bench Mob? In a sort of perfect storm, you could definitely see the Kings improving that seemingly ridiculous amount of games and making a run at the playoffs. And at worst, it would inject some life into the fanbase that wasn’t showing last year when the Kings were in the cellar for attendance.

But it brings up the other question:

Can they flip this power forward?

Section 214 over at StR also brought up a great point in commenting on Ziller’s post about bringing in Carlos Boozer for Kenny Thomas. Boozer’s expiring contract would be much more valuable than Thomas’. You could fetch a good haul near the trade deadline for a playoff-hopeful team, desperate to add his bulk to their frontcourt.

What if the Rockets came knocking at the deadline to add Boozer in hopes of salvaging an in-limbo season? Could the Kings bring back Trevor Ariza in return at the mid-level exception plus one of their bench reserves? Ariza, Brent Barry (expiring contract) and someone like Chuck Hayes or Joey Dorsey could be a realistic haul for them. Would that be enough of a risk-reward type of move if the Kings weren’t in playoff position with a healthy Boozer and looking to move his deal for more assets and pieces? What about a deal of Boozer to the Bulls for Tyrus Thomas and Jerome James’ expiring contract? What about Boozer for Josh Howard from the Mavs? What about Tayshaun Prince and Aaron Afflalo from Detroit?

There could be plenty of more opportunities besides those as well. Those were just the ones off the top of my head. The point is that the Kings would once again be players in the trade deadline but this time in a big position of power. They would hold the potential key someone’s playoff success if their own weren’t coming to fruition.

Acquiring Carlos Boozer doesn’t seem like too much of a risk. You aren’t adding salary. You aren’t hurting your chances for growth this year. And at worst, you have either an expiring contract at the end of the season, in which you hold the key to him getting more money with a sign-and-trade or you trade him at the deadline and acquire assets from a desperate playoff team. Best-case scenario has you challenging for a playoff spot and giving your young prospects some invaluable playoff experience and grooming.

Win-win trades should always be made and the Kings might have one here.