The Sacramento Kings experienced an odd feeling at this June’s NBA draft — the glow of positive press. After several seasons spent chasing a playoff berth that always seemed unlikely, the franchise’s front office continued the course set by February’s DeMarcus Cousins trade and appeared to commit to a full-on rebuild. First-round picks De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles represented a nice mix of high potential and the readily apparent skills necessary to fulfill it. There are no assurances that these prospects would pan out, but Sacramento finally seemed to have a coherent and sensible plan.
Perhaps that’s why Tuesday’s reports of two notable free agent signings were initially met with some consternation. As reported by The Vertical’s Shams Charania, the Kings have reached an agreement with top free agent point guard George Hill on a three-year, $57-million deal with a partial guarantee for the third season. Soon after that news broke, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Kings have also agreed to terms with big man Zach Randolph on a fully guaranteed two-year, $24-million deal. Those commitments mean the Kings no longer have the cap space to offer restricted free agent Otto Porter a previously discussed max contract, so the Washington Wizards wing will have to seek an offer sheet with another club.
In isolation, the Kings’ deals appear sensible. Hill is a steady, reliable veteran who looked like a solid bet to earn $20 million per season before the start of free agency. The fact that he did not receive such an offer says more about a crowded market for point guards than it does his talent. Hill instantly brought stability to the Utah Jazz in his lone season with the franchise and rates as one of the better spot-up shooters (40.3 percent from deep) and defenders at his position. He’s not flashy and has played fewer than 50 games twice in the past three seasons, but he’s is a good value for the money.
The soon-to-be 36-year-old Randolph is a risk on a two-year deal, but his earthbound game figures to continue to age well. He effectively transitioned into a bench role in David Fizdale’s first season as Memphis Grizzlies head coach and averaged 13.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg in only 24.5 mpg (his fewest minutes since the 2002-03 season). It’s not clear if Randolph will be asked to start given the Kings roster with plenty of centers and few true power forwards, but it’s likely that the team knows what it’s getting. Dave Joerger coached Z-Bo through some of the Grizzlies’ best seasons and is plenty familiar with his new big man. (On a separate note, RIP Grit ‘n’ Grind — you will live in our hearts forever.)
The reflexive worry in this scenario is that the Kings don’t understand they’re nowhere close to a playoff team and have added good players who will only help them into a worse draft spot. It’s possible that this is the case, but it’s also likely a product of overthinking past traumas. Sacramento’s past attempts to make the postseason were dependent on the presence of Cousins, an All-Star who could define an offense by himself. Unless Buddy Hield makes a leap that only owner Vivek Ranadive seems to think possible, the Kings will not have a player even close to that level. Their best bet for 2017-18 is to focus on building a culture and developing young players.
Hill and Randolph certainly help with the former and are not so good as to hinder the latter. Top pick Fox holds great potential, but he’s only 19 and lacks the polish necessary to run an NBA offense for 30 minutes per night. Hill can serve as an example to follow and shoots well enough to play off the ball in dual point guard lineups. Similarly, Randolph can help ease the burden of the Kings’ many young centers and adds mid-range spacing for a team lacking in quality shooters. There’s no reason the Kings can’t rebuild while ensuring that their young players don’t have to shoulder too many responsibilities.
These deals are only a problem if Ranadive and Vlade Divac have developed new delusions of grandeur, and even then they’re not so bad. Both contracts appear tradeable, or at worst absorbable for a team that doesn’t have to keep cap space open for top-level free agents. If Fox and other youngsters develop at a rapid rate, then the Kings can always figure out a way to push their vets to the periphery. This franchise has made enough mistakes in the past that an overreaction is understandable. But there’s no reason to panic just yet.
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More NBA free agency from Yahoo Sports:
• Shams Charania: George Hill gets $57 million deal from Kings
• How Durant’s deal further threatens NBA parity
• Michael Lee: A year later, Durant changes the game again
• Reports: Gordon Hayward will join Celtics, or maybe he won’t
• Dan Wetzel: Billups’ own Decision was all about LeBron