Sunday Musings: What is the right path forward for Sacramento Kings?

Breaking down the possibilities at No. 4

James Ham
June 05, 2022

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It’s complicated. Isn’t that always the way it is in Sacramento?

The Kings moved up to the No. 4 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, which is a blessing when it comes to asset collection. Despite the good fortune, it may confuse the path forward.

If we start with the premise that De’Aaron Fox (24) and Domantas Sabonis (26) are the foundation of the Kings’ build, then plotting a path forward isn’t all that difficult. These two need to be surrounded by long, athletic, defensive-minded players that can shoot from the perimeter at a high clip.

That seems simple enough. There are players around the league and even in the upcoming draft that fit this idea. Kings general manager Monte McNair might even have a few options already in mind.  

But when you are drafting at No. 4, you have the opportunity to potentially find a star. For a team like the Kings that does not have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot in their current design, you can’t draft for need this high in the draft.

Option 1: Move up

There are three players at the top end of the draft that not only fit the Kings’ biggest position of need, but are also close to NBA ready. The problem that Sacramento has is that Jabari Smith Jr., Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero are all slated to go in the top three. 

This order could change in the coming weeks leading up to the 2022 NBA Draft, but for now, it appears that the Kings will miss out on what could potentially be perfect fit players.

The option of moving up is a scary proposition. The cost of jumping two spots is likely a top 5 protected 2023 first round pick, which is what the Mavericks paid when they hopped from No. 5 to No. 3 in the 2018 NBA Draft. 

For a team like Sacramento, that has missed the playoffs for 16 consecutive seasons, giving up a future top five pick is difficult. When you factor in that a move up the board doesn’t guarantee a substantial jump in the standings and that this squad is more than just one player away from being competitive, that’s a tremendous risk.

Trading a top 5 protected pick also comes with another issue. Due to the NBA’s Stepien Rule, you can’t trade picks in back-to-back years. If the Kings swap to move up in 2022, they still have the ability to trade their 2023 pick, but protections will likely carry over at least until the 2024 season and perhaps longer. 

This means that if the Kings trade a 2023 top 5 protected pick and they roll protection to something like a top 10 protected pick in 2024 that becomes unprotected in 2025, then the Kings can’t trade a future first round selection until the 2027 NBA Draft. 

They could loosen some of the protections, but a team like the Kings would be crazy to risk an unprotected pick, at least for the near future. 

Where this becomes an issue is when you consider that a top 2 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft isn’t likely enough to move the needle in year one. McNair needs to add more to the mix if he hopes for his team to compete for a playoff spot next year and the Kings aren’t stocked with additional assets. 

There is a good chance that moving up in the draft hampers the Kings’ ability to make another substantial addition to the roster. You’re getting a player who is a great fit at a position of need, but one that likely won’t reach his potential for another few seasons.

Option 2: Move back

The quickest way to add talent to the current Kings roster might be to trade back a few spots in the draft. This too comes with its own set of risks. 

There are trades that might work to drop into the 5-9 range in this year’s draft that might yield a strong rotational player. When you add that player to the draft selection, it lessens the risk, but the question remains -- what if you add two rotational players, but passed on a star to accomplish the move?

Sacramento still lives under the dark cloud from when they passed on Luka Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft. Marvin Bagley is no longer part of the Kings’ franchise and Doncic is the man who just led the Dallas Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals.

There are mistakes that happen in the top four selections in almost every draft, but not selecting Doncic has set the Kings’ franchise back a minimum of five years and likely a decade. What if the Kings trade back in a “win now” move and give up a shot at a potential star?

Playing devil's advocate, there is always a chance that the Kings pick up a very good NBA veteran and the pick, even further down the draft board, could outplay his draft placement and become a special player. 

In the grand scheme of things, the Kings need more than just one player to turn this thing around. The question is whether you are willing to reduce your chance of finding a potential star to ensure that you at least get one rotational piece with the potential for two. 

Option 3: Trade out completely

In the NBA, you have to be patient. You never know what type of player will become available during the offseason. Sometimes a deal materializes like one did at the 2022 trade deadline when Sabonis became available at the last minute.

It will take a king's ransom to entice Sacramento to move completely out of the top end of the draft. We aren’t talking about a rotational player coming back to Sacramento. We might not even be talking about a plus-starter. 

McNair should be asking for a player with All-Star potential in the 24 to 26-year-old range that is under contract long term. Those are pretty specific parameters. The age range could go a little higher, but the contract status is non-negotiable.

Sacramento has additional assets to add to this. They have future first round picks and plenty of expiring contracts to match almost any salary range. 

League sources have confirmed that the Kings will listen to trade the pick for the right price. The cost will be steep, but that is expected when you are talking about a No. 4 overall pick.

Option 4: Stand pat

Fit be damned. Snapping the playoff streak be damned. The No. 4 pick can be a star and that star is under team control for a minimum of five years, but really it’s closer to eight or nine years. 

This might be the easiest choice to make, but it requires patience. Waiting for a 19 or 20-year-old to develop isn’t easy, but rarely does a team get a chance to select this high and there is potential for a franchise cornerstone.

If Smith or Holmgren fall to four, this is an easy decision, but neither player is likely on the board at No. 4. Banchero should work alongside Sabonis, but the fit isn’t nearly as good. Ivey is a wildcard on multiple levels and opens up even more questions.

If the draft goes according to the experts, Ivey is likely the choice at No. 4. There are other options, like Shaedon Sharpe, Keegan Murray, AJ Griffin and Bennedict Mathurin, but the consensus is that Ivey has the highest ceiling and is considered a tier above the next group.

The 20-year-old out of Purdue is an incredible athlete who can jump out of the gym and has a first step that rivals Fox’s. There are major concerns about how he would fit alongside Fox due to his lack of a consistent 3-point shot and his struggles on the defensive end, but the duo would be dynamic in the open court.

Should McNair consider Ivey’s potential fit with Fox? He didn’t when he selected Tyrese Haliburton in 2020 or Davion Mitchell in 2021. 

On paper, it’s an odd pairing, but sometimes you need to allow these things to play out, especially when you are considering a top tier talent. If Fox and Ivey can’t coexist, then you cross that bridge down the road. 

For those asking when this method has ever worked for the Kings, look no further than the deadline when Haliburton was the central piece in the trade that brought back Sabonis. The Kings will have options. 

The biggest advantage to staying put and making the pick at No. 4 is that the Kings would land a young star level talent, while retaining all of their assets for additional moves.  

Conclusion

Predicting what the Kings will do is very difficult at this point. They have options, but there are varying degrees of risk with all of them.

It’s not cut and dry what the best path forward is. If the goal is to make the playoffs now, then moving up and adding a perfect fit or down a few spots while adding another starting level player makes sense. 

The Kings should listen to deals to completely move out, but again, it has to be a can’t miss, home run swing that instantly delivers a star level player to compliment Fox and Sabonis. 

It may take longer to get there, but staying at No. 4 might deliver the sustainable success that the Kings are dreaming of. After 16 years of futility, a quick fix that delivers short term success shouldn’t be the goal. 

Somewhere in Sacramento there is a wall of ideas with layers of possibilities listed underneath each subheading. McNair will have multiple options. Each of them will have potential for success and failure. 

There is a lot of pressure to get this right, but there should also be an understanding that there is no clear path and there might not be one perfect answer. Roster construction is difficult and McNair has a lot of work in front of him this summer. 

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