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Buddy Hield #24 of the Sacramento Kings celebrates with Cory Joseph #9 and Harrison Barnes #40 during a time out in the second half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Golden 1 Center on December 26, 2019
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Monte’s Plan Is Clear (ish)

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Today the Kings announced that Glenn Robinson III has been waived, clearing a roster spot and saving some money.

Glenn was nothing but a class act in Sacramento, and will certainly catch on with another team.

But in the middle of an 8-game losing streak, decisions are about to me made, some clearer than others. 

Just because Kings GM Monte Mcnair cut his teeth in Houston with Daryl Morey and Sam Hinkie, doesn’t mean he’s going to duplicate their processes (pun intended).

However, it would be foolish not to look at that background and try and surmise what’s coming up in the future. For a while there, with the Kings enjoying some modicum of success, it looked like things were a bit cloudy.

Do you swing for the fences now, and try to end a 14 year playoff drought?

Or do you do the disciplined thing, and build for many years worth of playoff runs?  

This losing streak has effectively ended the conversation.

Let’s take a look at the Kings assets, and see if we can try to figure out what the chess board looks like in Monte’s office.

And let’s please also remember that when you’re a bad team with 14 years of bad staring you in the face, NOBODY is untradeable. I feel like I’ve heard that before. 

Anyways….

THE CORE 

De’Aaron Fox
Yeah. No one is untradeable, but this is about as close as it gets for the Kings.

Not only has Fox improved every season in the league, but he seems to genuinely like Sacramento, and isn’t impressed with endorsements and the limelight. This is exceedingly rare these days. The quarterback of the team, he just signed a max extension. Ain’t happening. 

Tyrese Haliburton

If Fox is untradeable, Haliburton is right there in the same territory.

There are some experts around the league who would rate Sub Zero even MORE of an asset than Fox, especially due to the rookie scale contract he’s on. Either way, he makes up half of the backcourt that Sacramento hopes can help lead them to the promised land.

Are Fox and Haliburton Lillard/McCollum 2.0?

Who knows. But they’re the best young backcourt Sacramento has seen since Mike Bibby and Doug Christie, and they have a chance to be even better. 

Marvin Bagley
Questions remain, oh do questions remain. But the fact of the matter is Bagley has thus far remained fairly healthy, and continues to show flashes of progress.

His scoring is a tick down from his yearly averages, but he’s showing signs of developing a shot from behind the arc, averaging exactly one per game (on a respectable 37.5% mark). Most observers believe the offense will come, in the form of a 20-10 guy. The question is the defense, and also whether he’s better suited at the 4 or the 5. Either way, the Kings are “pot committed” with Bagley, and are excited about his potential. Not as untouchable as Fox or Haliburton, but don’t count on him going anywhere. 

THE QUESTION

Richaun Holmes This is a tough one. Not only is Holmes having a career year, but much like Fox and Haliburton, he fits in Sacramento.

His family have become fan favorites, and Holmes is one of the leftovers of Vlade Divac’s “character counts” group. Beyond him being a good human being, the Push Shot King fits very well with what Sacramento is trying to do. This represents Mcnair’s toughest roster decision, with Holmes in the last year of his contract at a bargain rate of 5 million a season.

Is he willing to give Sacramento a discount?

He’s not going to get Joel Embiid money, but he’s likely in the Turner/Dieng/Capela/Zeller range (15-18 per). Is Sacramento willing to pony up 3 years, 45-50 million? 

Bottom line: This is a tough call, but Mcnair has to have an idea at this point what he and his agent are looking for. If the numbers aren’t palatable (and if the long term plan is Bagley at center), then he HAS to trade him by the deadline. Dangling an expiring with Holmes’ talent with a 5 mil (2.5) price tag should fetch something decent, whether its draft help or young rotation pieces.

Either way, McNair was already burned by Bogdan Bogdanovic leaving for nothing (imagine Donte Divincenzo on this team). He won’t let that happen again. Prediction? Holmes is either gone at the deadline or back next season with a new deal.

GOING GOING………

Harrison Barnes 

This one is also tough, but it really shouldn’t be. No disrespect to his game, but if Barnes wasn’t the amazing human that he is, the fanbase wouldn’t be doing the hand-wringing we see.

And it’s not all nice guy with Barnes either, he’s having a fantastic year, ranking 7th among small forwards in PER. But when you’re only averaging 16 points a game at small forward, you need to have 3 and D capabilities. Yes, Barnes can hit the three, but you’re not getting a ton of volume from outside, at least not enough to fully adjust defenses.

And he’s sitting at exactly 0.0 Defensive Win Shares (same as Buddy Hield), and his Defensive Box Plus Minus is a paltry -1.5.

On this team, stats mean less defensively because they’re so terrible as a group. But with 2 more years and just under 40 million left on his deal (and 29 in May), it just doesn’t shake out.

I’m sure the Kings would love to keep him, but the fact is he’s very attractive to a contending team that can put him in the right system and with the right personnel. He can be a contributor on a title contending team, just not one of THE contributors. If Monte can pull anything either now or in a future first round draft, you have to pull the trigger.

My guess is that Barnes is gone by either the deadline or over the summer. 

Buddy Hield

Sure, this may seem like the easiest one, but it’s actually the most complicated.

Yes, the Kings would almost certainly like to move off of Hield and the 60+ million over 3 more years due to him, but other GM’s get paid as well. Mcnair’s task is to find a willing GM that sees Hield as a great complement on a contending team with one or two more established stars, so that Hield’s defensive inefficiencies and lack of consistent ball-handling skills can be hidden better.

Ironically, the 76ers and old pal Daryl Morey are the perfect trading partner, with the outside struggles of Ben Simmons and all. And Philly will likely be picking in the late twenties, so giving up a 1st round pick wouldn’t be an issue.

 The problem is salary. Any deal for Hield would almost certainly have to include some or all of Danny Green, Mike Scott, and perhaps either Matisse Thybulle or Tyrese Maxey.

I’m sure McNair would love to get his hands on Thybulle, but at only 2.7 million a year, he can only be a piece. Involving a third team may be the way to go here.

Either way, if Mcnair has anything to say about it (without giving him away for free), Buddy Hield’s days in a Kings uniform are likely numbered, if for no other reason that it puts Haliburton in the starting group. 

THE REST OF THE GUYS

Corey Joseph
Gone. Waiving him doesn’t seem likely, as he’s still owed 12.6 next season. But slapping him onto Richaun Holmes to take back an expiring (along with other assets) could be the play here. Its simply a matter of Mcnair making it work somehow. 

Hassan Whiteside
He’s been fun to watch at times, and has done his best off the bench. He’s also put up some decent numbers at times, and his defense stands out if only because no one else plays defense on this team. But he’s gone, and after today’s waiving of Robinson, he may very well be the next one sent packing. Look for a buyout if Mcnair can’t squeeze anything out, and he’ll likely end up with the Lakers or another contender needing help down low. 

Nemanja Bjelica/Jabari Parker
Gone. Bjelica has drawn minor interest around the league, he could be traded. Parker has not. It appears that injuries have sapped his athleticism for the most part, though you hope its just rust and a long layoff. Either way, neither fits into the plan long term.

DaQuan Jeffries
When healthy, Jeffries has been incredibly intriguing. Mcnair is an analytics believer, and though his numbers don’t jump off the page, Jeffries is top 6 on the team in VORP, BPM, and second in Defensive BPM. That counts for something. He may not be the long term answer as a starter, but he has potential to be a rotational player capable of 3 and D. The staff raves about his appetite to play both ends of the floor, and with a team option at just 1.7 million next year, I would imagine he’ll get every chance to be a long term member of this team. 

Justin James/Robert Woodard/Jahmi’us Ramsey/Chimezie Metu/Kyle Guy
Could one or more be thrown in on another deal?

Sure, but tough to say who. At this point, the perfect scenario for McNair would be to trade those he wants to trade, and play these guys enough minutes to try and see exactly what he has, and what he doesn’t have.

There’s no guarantee any of this group are long term NBA players, but there is definitely upside there. 

Coach Luke Walton
This all depends on the part of Mcnair we don’t see.

If he and Walton are in lockstep, and it’s understood that this year is all about development, he may return next year. But GMs have to worry long term, Coaches worry about tomorrow’s game. Truth be told, this team isn’t currently constructed to be a winning squad. They’re a mishmash. Walton knows he lacks savvy veteran leadership and “dogs”, as illustrated by the Chimezie Metu/Jonas Valenciunas incident last week. McNair certainly recognizes it as well. But GMs usually want their own stamp on things, and Walton was a Divac hire. Will he get one more shot next year, with a revamped squad, and be on the hottest of hot seats? Or will McNair cut bait and find his own guy, one he likely has already identified? Sometimes these decisions are made based partly on who is and isn’t currently on the coaching merry go round. If McNair doesn’t see the guy he wants, he might just stick it out and see what happens. 

My prediction:

Walton and the Kings part ways sometime this summer. 

In Closing: The Macro

Macro not Micro, it’s how a General Manager has to think.

McNair has said very little since his preseason media tour, and the lack of fans at games has made him an almost mythical figure. He just simply doesn’t want or need to do press unless he absolutely has to. And with a franchise that has seen previous GMs do more than their fair share of media, that’s fine by most fans. But you get the feeling that McNair is quietly observing, and is like a taut slingshot.

Eventually he’s going to start firing. 

One of the few things he signaled prior to the season is that he’s a huge believer in flexibility.

He brought up his former boss Daryl Morey’s constant ability to make trades no one else thought was possible, capitalizing on the swiftly tilting moods of NBA players and teams, ready to pounce when a disgruntled player/coach/owner was ready to cut bait. If we look to that part of the chess board, it drives home some of the above moves even further. 

The Kings are currently on the books for 104 million next season, removing Hield, Barnes, and Joseph brings that down to the 50 million dollar range, and that’s WITH Fox’s max kicking in at 28 mil.

They’ll likely take some salary back in trades, and perhaps re-signing Richaun Holmes is part of that too, but I would be mildly surprised if McNair didn’t maintain a good 30 plus million to use on a trade for a mid-range star level player. 

In addition to his tradeable assets, he also has all his own draft picks in the cupboard.

The fanbase understandably is looking to this year’s draft as yet another “reward” for a non-playoff year, but don’t think for a second that pick is definitely staying with the Kings. If he can  clear the space, and the right opportunity comes up, McNair would happily use his pick (and perhaps future picks) along with players not named Fox/Tyrese/Marvin to bring in an established star. 

In his mind, he has a 3 person core. Much like the Suns, who ending last year had Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton (and Mikal Bridges). When they added Chris Paul, it opened up a whole new world for the young core, and as of this writing they’re 20-10 and right in the thick of HOSTING a playoff game in the Slaughterhouse West. 

But it took 44 million this year, and another 44 million next season to secure Chris Paul. McNair will surely be eyeing a similar route if it presents itself. 

The options are limitless. The chess board is hazy. 

But if you squint, you can get an idea of where things are going.