Or are the Kings stockpiling big man depth for another reason?
The Sacramento Kings shored up the back end of their roster this week by ˚ç and Chimezie Metu to multi-year contracts. Jones is reportedly inked through the end of 2021-22 while Metu is on a three-year deal.
The structure of these contracts is unknown, and there are likely some non-guarantees in them, but the overarching point is that two bigs who were previously on a 10-day and a two-way, respectively, are now on full contracts with Sacramento.
Metu can toggle between power forward and center, but Jones is exclusively a center, so the Kings presumably have an idea of what their backup big man rotation will look like next year. Combined with Richaun Holmes, who has said he would like to return to Sacramento, and that’s a full center rotation even before the draft and free agency.
So where does that leave Marvin Bagley III?
There is still some debate as to whether Bagley is best suited to play 4 or 5, but the team’s latest moves would effectively block Bagley from playing center. That means either the Kings have closed the book on Bagley being a center at this point in his career, or they’ve prioritized other players in their future planning.
It’s worth noting that there’s no certainty of Jones or Metu returning to the team next year, especially with the assumption that their deals are non-guaranteed. The fact that Sacramento chose to sign each of them now, however, suggests an interest in keeping them around, while their public machinations surrounding Bagley don’t suggest the same level of affection for the former No. 2 pick.
Consider that the Sacramento shopped Bagley ahead of the trade deadline, and James Ham of NBC Sports reported that the team is likely to try again before the 2021 NBA Draft. Bagley also hasn’t been rehabbing with team during this latest injury absence; rather, he went to Arizona to be with his family. Maybe that’s an accommodation the Kings made specifically related to the pandemic, but it’s still odd for a player not be around for so long for an injury that isn’t season-ending.
Ham went on to say that Bagley suiting up for the Kings in 2021-22 would be “shocking”. Perhaps that’s why Sacramento recruited another stable of young bigs to help fill the role Bagley occupied when healthy.
There’s another reason why the Kings could theoretically want to move on from Bagley, and that is Holmes’ next contract. Since Sacramento signed Holmes to a two-year deal in the 2019 offseason, the Kings don’t have full bird rights and are thus limited in what they could offer him as a free agent. The maximum deal they could sign him to, considering they don’t currently have cap space, is about 4 years/$43 million. The first year would be 105 percent of the average player salary, which is a little over $10 million, and then five percent raises from there.
Holmes could probably get more than that in unrestricted free agency — Charlotte is one of a few teams who could definitely use a center of his skill set. Assuming Sacramento wants to keep Holmes, and let’s hope that’s the case considering he could have been moved at the trade deadline, the Kings might need to clear some cap room to give him a better offer. The best way to do that would be to get rid of Bagley’s contract, since the other high-salary earners on the Kings all contribute meaningfully.
It’s possible that Holmes is willing to settle for what the Kings can offer right now without clearing cap space, and it’s possible that the Kings want a frontcourt rotation with all four bigs, plus Harrison Barnes when he moves to power forward.
But it’s also hard not to think about the timing of all these deals. Bagley is apparently set to return from his injury within a week, yet the Kings chose to promote two other bigs before seeing what Bagley looks like after his latest absence. He’s also due for an extension this offseason, and the team has telegraphed its intentions to use its money elsewhere rather than on a longer-team deal for Bagley.
There are 10 games left in the regular season. How many do you think are left in Bagley’s Sacramento tenure?