Inheriting someone else’s mess is never fun, especially when you are the general manager for a professional sports franchise. It’s like being handed the keys to your dream car, but it has no tires. The transmission slips and you hate the paint job. You want so desperately to make major changes, but unfortunately, you don’t have the budget or the necessary pieces to trade for what you need.
Pete D’Alessandro understands what I am talking about. Sure, he is still in the honeymoon stage in his new job as the new GM of the Sacramento Kings and he will be for a while, but that doesn’t mean he can rest on his laurels.
He understands the high-pressure world of running an NBA team. The new season is less than two months away and the roster that will represent the new Kings ownership is anything but complete, but it is what he inherited.
We spoke earlier this week about some of the pressing decisions facing the Kings’ new GM, including the choice to either pick up the fourth year option on Jimmer Fredette or let the hugely popular guard go into next offseason as an unrestricted free agent.
We also mentioned the fact that DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas are all entering the final years of their rookie contracts. In fact, counting newly signed Trent Lockett and with a buy-out available for the final year of John Salmons‘ contract next season, the Kings potentially have seven players playing for a payday of some sort this season.
If what D’Alessandro wants is a complete reboot, then the option is staring at him in the face – let them all go and build a team that is distinctly your own.
Starting now, the Kings can extend, pick up an option or walk away from a huge percentage of their payroll for next season. They have around $39 million in dedicated salaries for the 2014-15 season and that number drops to just $16 million for the 2015-16 season.
A purge of the old regime could happen virtually overnight. There would be a few pieces remaining, but the foundation of Geoff Petrie’s final Kings team could be wiped out in an instant.
It makes since, but how fair is this to first year coach Michael Malone? He is coming into his rookie season with half of his projected rotation playing for something other than wins. They say that comfort builds complacency, but what does instability build?
In the NBA, it builds selfish play. If you have a group of players that are basically auditioning for 29 other squads, the concept of team is secondary. It’s human nature for a player to look to stand out and in this league in this situation, standing out means scoring more points.
So how does Malone balance this issue out? How does he sell the concept of sharing and team-play to a group that has no guarantee of a future together? How does he weigh the business of the NBA, while building a program? It’s a tall order for any coach, let alone a guy without a win/loss record.
Even as Malone shows progress, D’Alessandro may have no other choice but to gut this team. Change is inevitable, especially with a new regime.
While neither of these men will be judged on wins and losses alone this season, the team’s record will dictate the direction the franchise takes with regards to its players. You don’t greatly exceed the NBA salary cap for a 28-win team. And that is what it would financially take to keep this team intact past this season.
Cousins is looking for near max money. We are talking about $14-15 million per season. If Vasquez can match his stellar 2012-13 season, he looks like a $7-9 million player. Patterson is a hot commodity. If he wins the starting power forward position and improves on last season, he is going to earn mid-level exemption type money. And Thomas is a wild card. Do teams view him as a starter or a change of pace third guard? Either way, he is probably looking at $3-5 million per season.
D’Alessandro is known as a salary cap expert. There are no surprises in the numbers above. He mapped out this equation long ago and if the Tyreke Evans situation taught us any, there is a maximum dollar that D’Alessandro is willing to pay for each specific player.
Even the most conservative projections would put the Kings’ payroll at above $65 million for the 2014-15 season before paying for another draft pick, picking up Jimmer’s option year or signing a free agent. That number is not in line with another 50-loss team.
The Kings need to show that they were a better team than last season’s record indicated and then they need to improve on that number again. They need to show that there is still room to grow under their current ceiling as a team and that they can play together.
If they can be in the conversation for the final playoff spot, then maybe there is enough upside to gamble on keeping this team intact. That means they need a 10-12 game improvement over last season at a bear minimum.
If that type of jump in the standings isn’t in the cards, then expect D’Alessandro to be quick and decisive in his dismantling of this club. He will have no other choice.