When the NBA season began, the Sacramento Kings seemed to be in a dire situation. No 2019 first-round pick with a roster largely made up of young players with plenty of room for development.
Now more than 40 games into the season, a team projected to win fewer than 30 games has already won 20 and finds itself within striking distance of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
Given Sacramento has no incentive to tank for this year’s draft, a new option emerges for California’s capital city team. For the first time in years, Sacramento’s front office can attack at the trade deadline with the intent of sneaking into this year’s playoffs.
De’Aaron Fox — an emerging All-Star guard — is the explosive facilitator in this fast-paced offense. Buddy Hield — a key piece in the DeMarcus Cousins trade — is in the midst of a breakout season as an outside shooter. Together, the Kings have a guard combo that is capable of helping guide this team far.
Meanwhile, Marvin Bagley is now healthy and the rookie showed all of the promise that made him the No. 2 overall pick. A young, explosive trio is emerging and flashes the promise of a core that could make this team a dangerous threat for years to come. However, in order for Sacramento to be considered a legitimate threat to compete for the No. 7 or 8 seed in the Western Conference this season, it needs a defensive wing.
The Kings need more than just a stop-gap veteran who can provide some defense, they need someone who fits the mold of their lineup, chemistry and pace. A young 3-and-D wing who can excel without the ball in his hands, shoot the three and match the team’s second-highest pace in the NBA.
Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. fits perfectly into this desired mold. The 25-year-old can keep up with Sacramento’s pace. More importantly, he’s a solid defender who would be a massive upgrade for a team with some of the worst defense against small forwards in the NBA.
While Porter has had an off year thus far, he has shown in recent years that he can be a reliable three-point shooter. He shot a career-high 44.1 percent from the three-point line in 2017-18 and 43.4 percent before that. Sacramento has averaged the sixth-most three-point attempts as a team in the NBA over the past 15 games and would have no issue giving Porter open looks.
Porter’s contract shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Sacramento either. It can send back Zach Randolph’s expiring salary along with additional expiring contracts to help approach the $26 million Porter is owed this season. Beyond this season, the Kings will have more than $50 million available in cap space for 2019 and beyond.
Given Washington lost John Wall for the season due to heel surgery and is far below a .500 record, it’s time for the front office to sell. Getting out from Porter’s team-high $26 million cap hit and picking up a few second-round picks and expiring contracts would be a win for the front office.
The Kings have faced one of the toughest schedules in the NBA this season and gone toe-to-toe with the Golden State Warriors in recent matchups. Sacramento’s pace and energy make them a tough matchup for many opponents, so adding a wing capable of defending would make them even tougher.
There’s also further room for improvement from within the roster. Given Willie Cauley-Stein’s inconsistent effort on the boards and complete lack of effort on defense, replacing him wit a healthy Bagley could further improve this team.
No one should think of this team as a serious competitor in the Western Conference, even if the Kings add Porter and greater depth at the trade deadline. However, this team would be capable of fighting for a final spot in the playoffs and giving the Warriors an entertaining fight.
It could also be the first spark of a rivalry between the Warriors and Kings that has been missing, all while making the NBA more entertaining. Sacramento has nothing to lose by being a little more aggressive at the NBA Trade Deadline because the right moves could snap a 12-year playoff drought.