With the playoff drought in the past and championship aspirations on the horizon, the Kings are turning the page on their storybook 2022-23 NBA season and are ready to open a new chapter.
In this new chapter, the Kings are hoping to introduce new characters to help them compete in the stacked Western Conference.
Kings general manager Monte McNair has a few holes to fill as free agency rolls in, but plenty of cap space to work with. Sacramento trading its solo first-round pick in last week’s draft cleared up significant cap space — close to about $35 million. But Harrison Barnes returning to Sacramento could slice that number to about $18 million.
There still is expected to be many changes over the next couple of days and weeks, but this is how Sacramento’s 2023-24 roster is shaping up:
Colby Jones, who the Kings selected No. 34 overall in last week’s draft, joins a solid group of guards who have at least one year of experience playing together.
Each guard brings something new to the table. Fox’s speed. Mitchell’s defense. Huerter’s sharpshooting. Monk’s grit.
Jones’ work ethic was repeatedly applauded by McNair after draft night and during the rookie’s introductory press conference Tuesday. While he isn’t expected to play lengthy minutes night in and night out, the Kings made it clear that they want to challenge him at the NBA level.
The 21-year-old revealed that both Fox and Monk texted him after the draft and said he had breakfast with Fox earlier this week.
It likely won’t take long for the young guard to get familiar with his teammates, and while each player has their own focus to improve on this offseason, they all can learn from one another.
This is where things get fun.
At the time I started writing this article, Harrison Barnes was an unrestricted free agent. The Kings reportedly were bracing for a big splash in free agency — assumingly to replace Barnes.
But ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday night, citing Barnes’ agent, that Barnes and the Kings have agreed to a new three-year, $54 million contract extension. It isn’t official, but The Athletic’s Anthony Slater reported that Barnes’ contract has a 10 percent trade kicker, meaning he will get that portion of his salary as a bonus if he’s traded.
Barnes has played a pivotal role in Sacramento’s newfound success, playing every game last season. He’s well respected in the locker room and serves as a veteran presence on a young team.
He sets an example for his teammates both on and off the court. Having that type of leader on a team is important, of course, especially with a flurry of young forwards like Keegan Murray and Kessler Edwards hoping to follow suit.
As a rookie, Murray proved he belonged in the NBA. Selected with the No. 4 overall pick in 2022, the 22-year-old forward quickly became a fan favorite in Sacramento, prompting “Murray!” chants to erupt inside Golden 1 Center.
He broke the rookie 3-point record and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. Coach Mike Brown gave him his flowers in his first season, but the expectations only will rise for the young forward.
The Kings on Wednesday picked up Kessler Edwards’ $1.9 million team option for the 2023-24 season, Wojnarowski reported, citing sources. Edwards, 22, was the only player the Kings traded for at the deadline last season, and he gave them some solid minutes and impressed in spurts.
Jalen Slawson was Sacramento’s final selection in the draft at No. 54. He touched down in Sacramento on Monday and told local reporters the next day that he’s ready to do what it takes to help the Kings win. He is confident that he will fit right in with the team’s fast-play style.
Barnes’ reported extension doesn’t mean the Kings will shy away from pursuing another player at the four spot. It just won’t be Kyle Kuzma, Draymond Green, Khris Middleton or Brook Lopez, as many had hoped.
On top of all the names above, the Kings also reportedly offered EuroLeauge star Sasha Vezenkov a contract worth part of the full mid-level exception. Vezenkov, 27, is under contract with Olympiacos through the 2024-25 season, but has a buyout clause believed to be worth approximately 1.5 million Euros (h/t Hoops Rumors).
The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 17.6 points on 54.6 percent shooting from the field and 39.8 percent from 3-point range, 7.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 33 games last season.
Coach Brown all last season worked endlessly to find a backup option for All-NBA center Domantas Sabonis. He experimented with Alex Len, Trey Lyles and Richaun Holmes at times, but couldn’t find a solid second option.
Sabonis, meanwhile, was steady as a rock for the Kings all season. Even injured, the three-time All-Star battled and lifted his team to the playoffs. Sabonis’ value isn’t a question, but will it be another season of the Kings searching for a backup five?
Lyles is one of the many Kings players set to hit free agency Friday, and it looks like his wish of staying in Sacramento could come true as the Kings expect to re-sign Lyles, Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday, citing sources.
The versatile 27-year-old shined under the bright lights of the 2023 playoffs, and his fit in Sacramento is nearly perfect.
With the Barnes’ extension, Sacramento has about $18 million of cap space to work with as free agency comes creeping in. They can use that to fill the void at any position, really.
But it’s free agency, expect the unexpected.