How new CBA rules can help Kings reload during important offseason

Updated CBA opens up new pathways to improvement

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What is the path to improvement? Over the next two months, Sacramento Kings general manager Monte McNair and his staff are taxed with taking a team that plateaued or maybe even regressed slightly, and making them into a perennial playoff contender. 

The Kings aren’t that far away from being a 50-win squad that competes for one of the top spots in the Western Conference, but this next step will take an aggressive approach and a little bit of luck. 

Priority number one is to retain star sixth man Malik Monk, but the team still needs length and athleticism at almost every position if they hope to compete with the teams around them in the standings. 

Sacramento isn’t a team with cap space, like last summer, but they have a few mechanisms in place to aid in the build and the NBA’s new CBA (collective bargaining agreement) added a few wrinkles that could come into play. Some of this is complicated and nuanced, but here is a look at some of the ways in which the Kings can improve their overall talent level this summer.

How does the new CBA help the Kings?

As a non-luxury tax paying team, the Kings have access to a full mid-level exception, set at $12.859 million. Since they did not use their bi-annual exception last season, they also have access to the BAE, which is $4.681 this summer. 

The league added a new wrinkle when it comes to these exceptions in the latest CBA that allows teams to not only sign free agents using these exceptions, but they can also use them in trade. It gets slightly complex, but the Kings can accept a player back via trade using either of these exceptions, as long as the contracts being acquired don’t exceed the dollar amount or years of the exception.

The MLE can be used to sign players for up to four seasons, so a team can acquire a player that is on a four-year contract or fewer. The BAE can only be used to sign a player for up to two seasons, so a player’s contract would have to fit into that window as well. 

To give an example of how this could work, the Los Angeles Lakers signed Jarred Vanderbuilt to a four-year, $48 million extension that kicks in next season. If the Lakers were looking to free up salary cap space and deemed Vanderbuilt expendable, they could trade him to a team that has a MLE and not take back any salary.

Again, this is just an example of a player who makes around what the MLE is set at. There are some rules to this as well. You can’t use the MLE or BAE and a player(s) in aggregate for a larger salary. So you aren’t allowed to package the MLE at $12.849 million and Chris Duarte’s $5.9 million salary for next season to acquire a $19-25 million player. 

In addition to the ability to trade exceptions, the new CBA also raises the amount you can acquire via trade. For players that make $7.525 million and less, a team can now take back up to 200 percent (up from 175 percent) of the value of their first year salary, with a buffer of $250,000. For players that make between $7.525 million and $30.1 million, you can acquire up to $7.755 million more than you are sending out, and for players that make over $30.1 million, the NBA uses 125 percent (up or down) as the buffer in trade.

To use Duarte’s $5.9 million as an example, the Kings could send him to another team and bring back twice his salary, plus $250K. This means that Duarte’s contract at $5.9 million could be used to acquire up to $12.05 million in salary. 

The Kings have three veteran players who fall into this range, including Duarte, Davion Mitchell ($6.5 million) and Sasha Vezenkov ($6.7 million). They also have a handful of players who fall into the next bracket, including Trey Lyles ($8 million), Keegan Murray ($8.8 million), Kevin Huerter ($16.8 million) and Harrison Barnes ($18 million). 

It should be noted that these contracts can be used in aggregate, so under the new CBA, a package that includes Duarte and Mitchell, for instance, would equal $12.4 million in outgoing salary, but could be used to acquire up to $25.3 million in salary. A trade that included Duarte and Huerter, could take close to $37 million.

McNair might not find a team that is interested in the player assets that the Kings currently have, but they might be interested in shaving millions of dollars off their salary cap, be it to save on luxury tax or to clear space to make a run at a different player. Salary flexibility is going to be important as the league institutes new rules regarding the first and second apron that include losing draft picks for repeat offenders. 

Draft capital

When the Kings failed to make the playoffs, their 2024 first round pick did not relay to the Atlanta Hawks as part of the Kevin Huerter trade, which means the team is one of the 14 squads hoping for some luck when lottery night rolls around on May 12. 

Sacramento won a coin flip with the Golden State Warriors, which gives them the 13th spot in the draft if neither team moves up. The Kings have just a .8 percent chance of moving to No. 1 overall and a slightly better than one percent chance of moving into the top four. Here is a graphic from that gives all the odds.

This isn’t considered a particularly good draft, especially at the top where there isn’t a true consensus top overall pick. That doesn’t mean that the Kings can’t find a good player at No. 13 or that teams won’t be interested in trading for their selection, but the value might not be as strong as in previous drafts. 

Due to the Stepien Rule, the Kings can’t trade their selection before draft night because they still owe Atlanta a future selection. The pick from the Huerter trade is top 12 protected next season and top 10 protected in 2026. If it doesn’t relay to the Hawks in 2026, the selection becomes a second round pick in both 2026 and 2027. 

McNair can select a player for another team at No. 13 and then trade the player after the new NBA calendar year begins on July 1, like they did last season when they picked Olivier-Maxence Prosper and then traded him, along with Richaun Holmes to the Dallas Mavericks for cap relief. 

The Kings can also trade down in the draft or even move the pick for a 2025 or 2026 first round selection, which could help them free up further picks down the road. Again, there is a lot of nuance here, but the Stepien Rule is meant to limit a team from trading back-to-back years future picks. If McNair acquired a 2026 pick, it would allow him to trade his 2027 selection without concerns for the Stepien Rule.

As of now, the Kings have access to trade their 2024 pick (as long as the trade is official after the new calendar year), as well as their 2028-2031 picks. They can also trade their 2027 pick, but it would come with a contingency that it would only convey if the Kings didn’t lose their 2026 selection.

Best case scenario, the Kings could offer up to four first round picks in a trade, including 2024, a 2027 pick with a contingency written in for what is owed the Hawks, as well as a 2029 and 2031 first. 

What does all of this mean?

McNair has options. He will need to find dance partners that want to work with him, but the motivations of the Kings are clear. They are looking to improve their roster now and they have mechanisms in place to accomplish that, even though the team is already over the salary cap for the 2024-25 season. 

The Kings will likely have multiple scenarios laid out on white boards or spreadsheets that include contingencies for Monk re-signing and Monk leaving. They will also have plans for who to select if they stay at No. 13 or move down or out completely of the draft. They will have free agents that fit into the MLE and also a list of players that they might be able to acquire using the MLE as a trade chip. They will have trade ideas that include some of their veterans packaged with varying degrees of draft capital. 

Sacramento fell behind some of the teams that they managed to finish ahead of last season and now it’s time to reload and try to continue their build. They aren’t stuck and the cupboards aren’t bare, but it will take some bold moves and potentially a larger investment from ownership in player salaries to take the program to the next level. It should be an interesting summer. 

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