Sacramento Kings stand pat at trade deadline, bank on 2022-23 core

Feb 8, 2024, 1:28 PM | Updated: 3:09 pm

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

“One of the things we wanted to do was be protective of this group, and so ultimately, we explored a bunch of things, but none at that threshold.”

That was a quote from Sacramento Kings general manager Monte McNair on February 10, 2023, one day after last season’s NBA trade deadline.

At the time of last year’s deadline, the Kings were the NBA’s feel-good story and a surprise team that was on its way to a playoff berth for the first time in 17 years.

Instead of doubling down and adding to a core that included new faces like Keegan Murray, Malik Monk, Kevin Huerter, and Domantas Sabonis, who was in the midst of his first full season with Sacramento, McNair took a protective approach to the deadline.

The Kings’ lone deadline move in 2023 was a quiet one, the acquisition of young forward Kessler Edwards in return for the rights to international prospect David Michineau and a trade exception.

For a team that was in the midst of its first postseason run, it made sense to let the chemistry grow and see what a group led by De’Aaron Fox and Sabonis was capable of in a wide-open Western Conference.

One year later, McNair and Sacramento have taken an even more protective approach to the deadline.

The Kings’ lone transaction at the 2024 NBA trade deadline was acquiring veteran center Robin Lopez and cash considerations from the Milwaukee Bucks. Sacramento will waive Lopez in the coming days, and the big man will enter the free-agent market.

For the second straight year, McNair and the Kings’ front office have settled on riding it out with this core, a core that remains largely intact from last season’s first-round playoff appearance.

Sacramento’s current one-through-eight in its rotation is identical to last year’s team:

De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, Harrison Barnes, Domantas Sabonis, Malik Monk, Trey Lyles, and Davion Mitchell.

The Kings’ lone new members to the rotation, Sasha Vezenkov and center JaVale McGee, have experienced inconsistent playing time, leaving Sacramento with essentially the same personnel it had in 2022-23.

At 29-21, the Kings are in a solid position to make the postseason for consecutive seasons, but that’s not the lone goal for this group.

The tone surrounding this team has changed. Making the playoffs isn’t the goal anymore, going past the first round and competing for the ultimate goal of an NBA championship is what this group desires.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JANUARY 16: Head coach Mike Brown of the Sacramento Kings reacts alongside De'Aaron Fox #5 during the second half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center on January 16, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Kings 119-117. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Sacramento’s core might be nearly identical to last year, but the teams around them have improved, especially in the Western Conference.

The Kings’ record-setting offense from one year ago has fallen to 14th in offensive rating, while a horrific defense has shown signs of improvement (25th in defensive rating to 17th).

Unlike last year’s team, the 2023-24 edition of the ‘Beam Team’ has had a knack for falling short to some of the worst teams in the league, with Wednesday’s loss to the shorthanded, six-win Detroit Pistons possibly being the worst loss of the season.

Sacramento has lost to three of the bottom five teams in the NBA standings so far this season — Detroit, Charlotte, and Portland — while sprinkling several late-game meltdowns. At times, the Kings carry themselves like a team that knows they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as NBA Finals contenders, but the on-court results say otherwise.

“We just got to respect each opponent no matter who’s on the court and fight for your team,” Kings center Domantas Sabonis said of his team’s effort during Wednesday’s loss to the Pistons. “We got to play to a certain standard that we believe we are.”

Like Sabonis, Brown, Fox, and many other members of the organization have said this season, Sacramento has high expectations for itself. The chemistry has always been there, without question. Any shortcomings on the Kings’ end have nothing to do with what goes in behind closed doors in practice, in the locker room, or on the road–a complete turnaround from previous seasons during the dark times of Sacramento basketball.

This group is close. This group has been together since July of 2022 — the last time McNair and the Kings brought in a notable piece to help shape the front end of the rotation by signing Malik Monk to a two-year deal.

Since last season’s trade deadline, Sacramento has leaned on internal growth. Unfortunately for the inaugural ‘Beam Team,’ it didn’t come, as the Golden State Warriors exposed the Kings’ flaws in crucial moments during a hard-fought seven-game series.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 25: Harrison Barnes #40 of the Sacramento Kings shoots over Kevon Looney #5 of the Golden State Warriors in the first half at Chase Center on January 25, 2024 in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Banking on Internal Improvements

One year later, Sacramento will again have to hope that internal improvements can lift them to an NBA Playoff berth, and hopefully, the franchise’s first Playoff series victory since 2004.

The quest for internal improvements has already begun, and players like Harrison Barnes and Kevin Huerter — two players who were mentioned in trade rumors for most of this season — will be under a microscope over the next two months.

Barnes, who is no stranger to trade rumors, is now locked in to finish his sixth season in a Kings uniform. After signing a three-year extension before the offseason, Barnes opened the season looking like a fifth option. At times, fans called for the forward’s starting spot–and there was a valid argument at the time.

Through the first half of the season (41 games), the veteran averaged 10.6 points per game on 7.6 field goal attempts per game. Once the schedule turned to the second half, Barnes has been a different player:

19.4 PTS | 48% FG (14.7 field goal attempts per game) | 40% 3PT (7.7 attempts per game) | 9 games (6-3 record)

Barnes has become a threat on offense, while Kevin Huerter has also shaken off a rough start to the season to the tune of 15.5 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from three-point range over his past 12 games.

As far as internal improvements go, Barnes and Huerter are checking the boxes.

With All-Star snub Domantas Sabonis nearly averaging a triple-double on the season, all eyes point to De’Aaron Fox and Keegan Murray, two players who have struggled to follow in the footsteps of their fellow starters during Sacramento’s recent stretch.

Following an incredible start to the season, Fox has been inconsistent over the past ten games (23.2 points on 45/30/66 shooting splits). As well as Barnes has played, Murray has seen his field goal attempts shrink from 13.1 to 9.5 per game during Barnes’ impressive stretch.

If the Kings are to maximize the potential of this current group, they will need Fox and Murray to establish themselves in a lineup that has gotten solid play from three out of its five members over the past ten games.

We’ve seen what Sacramento looks like when Fox is at his best, Sabonis is doing… well, what he has done every night for over a year now, and when the trio of shooters in Huerter, Murray, and Barnes are dialed in.

Last year, it was a regular occurrence to see the Kings firing on all cylinders. If there is any reason for optimism, it is the fact that we have yet to truly see a consistent stretch of offensive dominance from this group this season.

Standing pat is a roll of the dice, but McNair and company — as well as the coaches and players in the locker room — clearly have faith that this roster is capable of making the necessary adjustments and getting back to the playoffs.

The Rest of the West

While the Kings might not have made any moves to alter the ceiling or floor of its roster directly, teams around them in the Western Conference standings scooped up players that Sacramento had been linked to over the past weeks and months.

The Dallas Mavericks were among the big winners of the trade deadline by acquiring shot-blocking center Daniel Gafford from Washington and gifted scoring forward PJ Washington from Charlotte.

Phoenix, who passed the Kings in the standings on Wednesday night (along with New Orleans), brought in defensive-minded wing Royce O’Neale — a player that Sacramento had been interested in for some time — and physical forward David Roddy in a three-team deal between the Suns, Brooklyn Nets, and Memphis Grizzlies.

Last but not least, the Oklahoma City Thunder bolstered its already impressive rotation by acquiring one-time All-Star forward Gordon Hayward–and that’s just today’s trade action.

Minnesota strengthened its bench unit by adding Monte Morris into their rotation, as nearly every team ahead or around the Kings in the standings made at least a marginal move to address some weak spots.

Of course, Sacramento will have a chance to see most of these new and improved teams in the coming weeks as they enter their roughest portion of the regular season schedule. Over their next nine games, the Kings will face…

  • Denver (3x)
  • Oklahoma City
  • Phoenix
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Minnesota

The true potential of this Sacramento roster will be tested in the coming weeks, and if not then, by April,we will know if McNair and the front office made the correct decision by standing pat at the trade deadline.

Sometimes, deals just aren’t there. You can’t make teams make trades with you–but the fact is that most of the teams near the Kings in the standings made upgrades.

Sacramento is banking on getting the most out of what they have, setting up an intriguing final stretch of a season with heightened expectations following a first-round exit one year ago.

If the Kings fall short of making the postseason or suffer a Play-In exit, it could be time for McNair to finally shake things up and create some roster turnover.

This version of the Sacramento Kings is officially on the clock.

More on the NBA trade deadline

2024 NBA Trade Deadline Tracker: The latest rumors & deals

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

Sacramento will begin a brutal portion of its regular season schedule on Friday night when they face the defending champion Denver Nuggets at Golden 1 Center.

The Kings will face Denver (three times), Oklahoma City, Phoenix, the Los Angeles Clippers, and Minnesota Timberwolves over their next ten games.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Nuggets coverage, beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from downtown Sacramento.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Friday, February 9th – Sacramento Kings vs. Denver Nuggets – 7:00 PM PST
  • Sunday, February 11th – Sacramento Kings @ Oklahoma City Thunder – 12:00 PM PST
  • Tuesday, February 13th – Sacramento Kings @ Phoenix Suns – 7:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, February 14th – Sacramento Kings @ Denver Nuggets – 6:00 PM PST
  • NBA All-Star break – February 15-21
  • Thursday, February 22nd – Sacramento Kings vs. San Antonio Spurs – 7:00 PM PST

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