The Sacramento Kings raised eyebrows when they lured Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli on Friday. Little did we know their posh shopping spree would last through the holiday weekend.
Sacramento’s uncharacteristic summer of free agency spoils was made possible by the July 1 trade which sent Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Nik Stauskas, a protected first rounder and the option to swap picks to the 76ers for essentially $16 million in cap savings. The financial flexibility allowed the Kings to chase higher-tier targets like Monta Ellis and Wesley Matthews, which led to no purchases. Undiscouraged, front office decision maker Vlade Divac quickly shifted gears to plan B.
On Saturday the Kings came to terms with Kosta Koufos, who was one of the hottest big men left on the market. On Sunday the team retained one of their own, Omri Casspi, a player whose presence would aid any team.
After adding Rondo and Belinelli, the Kings were left with roughly $10 million to spend before next season. Divac used most of this budget to lure Koufos away from clubs like the Lakers who could offer starting jobs, and devoted the rest to the loyal Casspi.
Thanks to the cap-clearing trade, the Kings and owner Vivek Ranadive’s deep pockets were able to plug solutions for glaring weaknesses. Click here to read about Rondo and Belinelli’s fit with the team.
Kosta Koufos – 4 years/$33 million
Value: Proven competitor and an ideal backup for the frontcourt.
In Koufos, the Kings have their best reserve big man since Brad Miller came off the bench at the tail end of the 2003-04 season. Divac’s pursuit of Koufos was perhaps motivated in part to recognizing the value of Miller, his former teammate.
Similar to Miller, Koufos is a determined rebounder and offensively gifted. He’s hauled in 11 rebounds per 36 minutes during his seven-year career, and his rate of 3.9 offensive boards per 36 is better than DeMarcus Cousins’ 3.7. The import should only help a squad that ranked ninth in total rebounds this year dominate the glass.
Koufos is athletic enough to sprint the floor, which is crucial for head coach George Karl’s offense. Of course Karl is aware, since they worked together in Denver for two and a half seasons. Koufos’ knack for put-backs and finding the ball for assisted dump-offs is exactly what the dribble drive motion offense asks from its big, so you’ll hear no complaints about his role.
For the last two years in Memphis, Koufos was regularly used in the pick and roll, which speaks to his versatility. The center is also a reliable mid-range shooter, yet he’s rarely looking for points outside the paint which is another reason Karl loves him.
Thankfully for the Kings, Divac wasn’t foolish enough to invest $33 million in a player who can’t defend. Koufos isn’t the most laterally quick 7-foot athlete out there, but he takes pride in slowing down others. The 26-year-old can leap a bit, as his career 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes implies. With Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento has two very capable rim protectors.
More importantly, Koufos’ presence affords the Kings competitive lineup variations. Cousins and he can pair up for an assault inside, and Koufos’ scoring alone means he can share the floor with the defensive-minded Cauley-Stein. Quality minutes at center will be especially important to keep Cousins fresh through the season.
Simply put, Koufos is fairly well rounded. It’s easy to criticize handing $33 million to a backup pivot, but it doesn’t make the importance of his job any less. The Magic in 2009 encountered a similar situation when they matched a restricted offer sheet for reserve Marcin Gortat at the price of five years and $34 million. Orlando traded Gortat a year later due to financial constraints, which shouldn’t be a problem for the Kings amidst skyrocketing league revenue.
So until then, Sacramento has a luxury on its hands.
Omri Casspi – 2 years/$6 million
Value: A bargain for a swingman who’s more than just hustle.
With boatloads of cash being tossed about the market, Casspi’s contract seems like a steal. He didn’t do himself any favors by proclaiming his intent to re-sign in April, but riches and negotiating leverage weren’t the top of his concerns.
As far as his fit moving ahead, forget the inefficient player from early in his career. The version of Casspi we saw last season is what the Kings can expect heading into 2015-16.
The new, improved Casspi seemed like a fan of analytics based from his adjustments on offense. The forward drastically cut down on his jump shot attempts, instead maximizing his looks in the paint. The result was a career-high 74 percent of total field goal attempts taken within 10 feet of the hoop, smashing his previous best of 48.5 percent with the 2011-12 Cavaliers.
Despite his reluctance to take jumpers, Casspi eventually reintroduced his 3-pointer. Following a 22.7 percent success rate from downtown on 0.6 attempts per game before the All-Star break, he connected on 46.2 percent of his 2.2 tries a game over the final 29 contests. Combined with his inside offensive focus, Casspi made a career-best 48.9 percent of his shots from the floor this year.
Obviously Sacramento will be hoping for a repeat performance of such efficiency, as well as his commitment to pass the ball when slashing to the rim in halfcourt sets or on the break. Casspi dished a career-high 2.6 assists per 36 minutes, and when you consider his penchant for taking care of the ball and his ability to make open looks, he is a good fit for the Kings’ dribble drive offense.
If Rudy Gay shifts to power forward next season, Casspi will be given a chance to start at the three. However Sacramento is stocked with scorers on the wing, including recent signees Belinelli and James Anderson, so what may very well determine Casspi’s playing time is his defense. The 6-foot-9, 225-pounder went from an outstanding perimeter stopper with Houston in 2013-14 (he held assignments 9.7 percent below their usual accuracy from 15 feet out) to a below-average defender in the blink of an eye. Casspi produced career-lows in steals and blocks per 36 last season, making his backside effort even less relevant.
In less than a week, the Kings remolded their roster. Not with the intention to tank, but to win immediately and the results on paper are promising.
Koufos is the type of piece that separates the haves from the have nots. For once, the Kings can run a big next to or behind Cousins who can consistently hold his own on both sides of the floor.
Due to an intervention or some other cause, Casspi has become a criminally underrated offensive tool with room to improve defensively. Plus he’s a valuable personality to have in the locker room.
It’s hard to picture the Kings feeling buyer’s remorse with these pickups. Koufos has enjoyed success on multiple clubs, and Casspi recently established his niche in Sacramento. Fans have a right to be optimistic with these two decisions.