The Next Step — Free Agency

The NBA Draft is a lot like a game of checkers. There isn’t a ton of strategy involved. You basically take what is given to you and just try to jump everybody on the board. You hope that the end result is you as the victor and screaming, “King me!” throughout the game.

But now that the draft is over and the checkers pieces are put away in a thin cardboard box, it’s time to bust out the chess pieces for the next 11 months and get back to battling wits with all of the smart GMs and coaches in the league and Mike Dunleavy, Sr. Free agency is the next calendar item on the agenda of this NBA off-season and with that comes big decisions for how this Kings team will be shaped. Geoff Petrie has come out and told everybody that the Kings want to get bigger and more physical. They showed a lot of that in this draft by grabbing the biggest point guard prospect, a big small forward who draws comparisons of Matt Harpring, and a strong power forward that is a good rebounder in spite of his 6’7” frame.

But do the Kings really need to go big? Tom Ziller just made a case that the Kings don’t really need another center. And he makes good points. The Kings have a versatile frontcourt that plays multiple positions and can be long or strong enough to grab boards and challenge shots. But what the Kings don’t have is a depth of shooters and wing positions. Let’s take a look at the depth chart:

PG: Tyreke Evans – Sergio Rodriguez – Beno Udrih
SG: Kevin Martin
SF: Francisco Garcia – Andres Nocioni – Omri Casspi
PF: Jason Thompson — Donte Greene – Jon Brockman
C: Spencer Hawes – Kenny Thomas

Okay, really the Kings have a dearth of shooters from the outside and a depth in the frontcourt. Technically, you could say that Francisco Garcia is the backup shooting guard and Andres Nocioni should be starting. And Kenny Thomas is too short to play power forward so why put him in the center slot? Well, K9 probably still isn’t going to play and it just looks more even to put him there for aesthetical reasons. The point guard position is stacked with two bright young prospects (Tyreke and Sergio) plus whatever Beno does for the team. Sacramento has 12 players under contract for next year (once the rookies get signed) and will probably only add two small contract filler types to the roster to round out their squad for next season.

So where do the Kings need to add depth and help?

Well, let’s assume that Petrie will want to do three things: 1) keep the 15th spot on the roster open so he can remain flexible with any moves and/or trades that may come his way in the future, 2) add the big man to fill the need for size that he believes the Kings’ roster needs, and 3) add a guard to the rotation so the Kings can remain flexible with where they play guys like Evans, Martin, and Garcia. So what are the options? Let’s look at them in descending order from “Unlikely” to “Getable” (Ike Diogu not include):

Unlikely

Big Men Guards
Zaza Pachulia Eddie House
Rasho Nesterovic Keith Bogans
Chris Andersen Steve Novak

This is the group of players that will probably command more money than the Kings are willing to spend. The Kings want to remain cap flexible in filling out their roster so when the time is right, they can go after a top or second tier free agent and try to woo him with plenty of cap cash.

The most intriguing option to me in this big man group is someone like Zaza Pachulia. Zaza is only 25 years old (turns 26 during next season) and has enough size and strength to be the prototypical backup center. He’s competent around the basket and is a pretty good rebounder for his Per 36-Minute numbers and rebounding rate. He’s also in line to inherit around $100 million in assets from a family member as long as he gets married in the near future. So you don’t only get a family trust-toting perfect backup center who could be relatively cheap and allow you to maintain your cap flexibility but you also get all of the Chris O’Donnell comparison jokes with it.

The problem with trying to sign Pachulia is that he’s likely to either re-sign in Atlanta or find more of a contender to play with. The Kings are not a contender yet and will have to live with free agents passing them by for more winning pastures.

As for the guards, the perfect fit for this team would be someone like Eddie House to stretch the defense and keep help defenders honest. He’s not a guy that needs a lot of attention. He just needs a few open looks per game to get himself and the crowd going. Unfortunately, he’s had a taste of championship basketball and would much rather matter on a grander NBA scene than what Sacramento is right now.

And the only reason I have Steve Novak on the guards list is because he doesn’t do anything forward like and shoots the three better than most. Plus I wanted to even out the lists.

Risky Picks

Big Men Guards
Sean May Von Wafer
Chris Mihm Gerald Green
Stromile Swift Fred Jones

This is quite the interesting collection of players right here. Signing guys like Fred Jones, Stromile Swift, and Chris Mihm is enough to cause a fan revolt against your owners and personnel department. But at the same time, SOMEONE has to fill out the roster and these guys are just good enough to get a crack at the regular rotation.

For adding size, Sean May could be the most intriguing. He’s like a fatter, taller, worse version of Marcus Fizer only fatter. But he does have quite a bit of basketball skill. He can knock down the outside jumper with some regularity and range out to a comfortable 18-feet. He actually has some pretty decent per game and Per 36-Minute numbers across the board. The problem is that he doesn’t have a good total of games player under his expanding belt. In three professional seasons, he has only played 82 games due to various injuries and conditioning issues. In the season he played his most games (35), he had averages of 11.9 points and 6.7 rebounds in just under 24 minutes per game.

Since they already have a number of interchangeable parts at the power forward and center positions that could make due playing multiple positions, Sean might be worth the risk. If he’s healthy, he will be a valuable weapon off the bench. And when he isn’t healthy, it isn’t a huge loss this season. Plus, with his history of missing games, he can probably be had for the veteran’s minimum.

As for the guards, outside of Jones the other two guys are questionable projects that risk giving you nothing but headaches and head scratches. Von Wafer is someone that fans will trick themselves into being happy about because they saw him dunk a few times in the playoffs. Gerald Green is someone who people still hold out on as being the next Tracy McGrady. But both guys have glaring holes in their games. Both guys are bad outside shooters. Both guys are probably a Vernon Maxwell jumper away from being tolerable. Both guys would probably end up being bad pickups and not worth the time or money.

Getable Guys

Big Men Guards
Chris Wilcox Luther Head
Melvin Ely Maurice Ager
Shelden Williams Morris Almond
Kareem Rush
Ricky Davis

NOW, we’re talking! This is the list of players at both positions that are not only likely signings if pursued but also fill the voids in the Kings rosters.

I know what some of you are thinking right off the bat – why is Ricky Davis on the list of possibilities? It’s simply to make sure you’re still awake and reading. He should never be a free agent option for any team.

For the big men, we know what a player like Shelden Williams can give the team. He’s a tough defender and a nice rebounder. He can clean up the offensive glass on occasion and you don’t have to call a single play for him. He’s pretty much the prototypical third or fourth big man in the rotation. But he isn’t a sexy pick by any means. Guys like Melvin Ely and Chris Wilcox are still perceived to have more upside despite the fact that they’ve reached their actual ceiling as players. Ely can be a decent enough scoring option in the post for about 15 minutes per game. He doesn’t kill you defensively and is big enough to bang with true centers (the four remaining ones we have). Wilcox is more athletic but less reliable from game to game. His rebounding is suspect and he isn’t a good or bad defender. He’s just a neutral defender.

The benefit from grabbing Wilcox with the bi-annual exception could be the fact that he’d be cheap and is versatile enough to run the floor for the Kings. The benefit from grabbing Ely is he’s a better big man and the fact that he looks exactly like Oprah Winfrey gives me great joy.

As for the guards, I think Luther Head or Morris Almond could end up being a steal for the Kings. Luther Head is able to play both positions and knock down outside shots. He’s a good ball-handler and makes good decisions with the ball. He doesn’t require you to play him for 25 minutes per game to be effective and will blend in perfectly with any attack. He’s got enough size to be competent anywhere on the floor. He’s basically the perfect backup combo guard. Almond is strictly a pure-shooter who can fill it up from the perimeter. He could fill a Kyle Korver-type of role for the Kings. He’d be a cheap, non-guaranteed contract who could split time between the Kings and the D-League affiliate.

The two other intriguing options are Maurice Ager and Kareem Rush. With Rush, you know exactly what you’re getting — a smooth perimeter player that really shouldn’t be on the court for more than 14 minutes per game. He fills a role as well as anyone without ever conjuring up feelings of should he be given more minutes? But Ager is potentially another Shannon Brown situation. He’s a powerful shooting guard living in a point guard’s body. He’s strong and aggressive. He’s tough and physical with the ball. He has a good-enough jumper. And he’d be cheap. There’s no guarantee that he can be an effective role player on a winning team in this league but he could be an instant fan favorite.

Question Mark
Hedo Turkgolu.

Or do you attempt a sign and trade to bring in someone like Hedo Turkoglu to take ball-handling pressure off of Tyreke Evans and attempt to make a run at the playoffs THIS year with a young roster and a playoff-tested veteran.

That’s probably a topic for another time…

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