Three potential trades the Sacramento Kings could make in 2023-24

Dec 28, 2023, 6:03 PM | Updated: Dec 29, 2023, 8:52 am

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The Sacramento Kings are attempting to work their way toward championship contention. That’s not to say they are knocking on the doorstep with their 17-12 record, but a few moves could propel them closer.

While defense has been a weakness for years (currently 21st in defensive rating, 116.1), there have been reports that the team “appears to be on the value of (additional) shooting — and offense — above all else,” per Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Yet, it doesn’t have to be so black and white. There are many players throughout the association who could bolster Sacramento’s roster on both ends of the floor simultaneously. Despite recent reporting, it still would make sense for them to prioritize an impactful defender who can fill his role offensively.

Star-caliber names like Zach LaVine, Lauri Markannen, or even Kevin Durant are bound to make their way into hypothetical trade conversations. If the Kings take a swing for a player of that caliber, they better be sure it’s the right guy.

Taking on another large salary (and likely spending notable assets to acquire them) would leave the team in California’s capital with minimal core flexibility moving forward. Say general manager Monte McNair and the front office aren’t awed by any current options. Smaller moves could be explored to improve the roster in the short term and maintain flexibility down the line.

Looking at their current construction, some upgrades could be made within the starting lineup. Teams often fall into the trap of comparing themselves to the recent NBA champions, but with All-Star playmaking bigs and dynamic guards, the Kings have clear parallels to the Denver Nuggets.

Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic is notably better than Domantas Sabonis, but it feels safe to say De’Aaron Fox is widening the margin between himself and Jamal Murray. Then you have versatile, young forwards in Keegan Murray and Michael Porter Jr. to round out the trios.

After that is where the Nuggets hold a clear advantage. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is an experienced defender who still converts upwards of 40 percent of his attempts from beyond the three-point line.

Aaron Gordon has proven to be a consistently impactful defensive player and functional cutter within Denver’s Jokic-centered offense.

But, the Nuggets had to find and acquire those ideal complimentary pieces on the trade market. Before trading Gary Harris, rookie R.J. Hampton, and a future first-round pick for Gordon in 2021, they were starting Harris and a 35-year-old Paul Milsap.

Inserting Gordon led to Will Barton starting most of their remaining games in the 2020-21 season and 71 games in the following year. Denver finished the 2021-22 season ranked sixth in offensive rating (113.8) but 15th in defensive rating (111.5) while Murray was absent due to injury.

In exchange for Barton and Monte Morris, Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith were brought in via trade from the Washington Wizards. No surprise, their defense took a notable jump while continuing their offensive success.

With a trio including an MVP talent in Jokic, a second All-Star caliber performer with Murray, and young, upcoming forward Porter Jr., they elected to reshape the surrounding pieces rather than make drastic shakeups, even if that meant parting with future draft capital and rotational staples in Barton, Morris, and Harris.

The Sacramento Kings could potentially sell themselves on the same idea. De’Aaron Fox is flirting with MVP ballot conversations (although winning the award is a dramatically different story), Domantas Sabonis is their ideal complementary All-Star, and Keegan Murray is internally believed to have an exceptional ceiling on both ends of the floor.

That’s not to say that Kevin Huerter and Harrison Barnes don’t have their respective strengths and values leaguewide. Huerter is one of the league’s best shooters and is key to his team’s high-paced offense in the halfcourt and transition. Barnes keeps his mistakes minimal, provides immeasurable value to their locker room, and his 6’8 frame allows lineup flexibility.

But there are better potential fits — players who can more consistently positively impact both ends of the floor. So, who are some viable targets if the front office chooses to go in that direction? Here are three names to consider:

(Also, my understanding is that the Sacramento Kings feel they could easily remove the pick protections on their 2024 first-round in 2025, freeing up all of their future firsts for trade. Any of the Kings’ first-round picks involved in the mentioned deals are under that assumption.)

1. Dorian Finney-Smith

Sacramento Kings acquire: Dorian Finney-Smith

Brooklyn Nets acquire: Harrison Barnes, Davion Mitchell, SAC’s 2026 1st (top-four protected), and POR’s 2025 2nd

Dorian Finney-Smith (30) has three years remaining on his current contract, including a $15.4-million player option in 2025-26. The 6’7 forward is equipped with a nearly seven-foot wingspan and has shown the ability to excel on the defensive side of the floor for years.

Most importantly, he is one of the few players who can guard all five positions. His defensive versatility, alongside Murray’s newfound prowess, would allow Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Brown some needed flexibility on that end of the floor. Finney-Smith has even functioned as a small-ball center at times.

Barnes has taken steps back in that aspect, and Finney-Smith functioning as the primary defender on the likes of LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard would be a notable improvement — not to mention his team defense. He could be Sacramento’s equivalent of Gordon in Denver.

From Brooklyn’s perspective, they almost surely would ask for more in return. If including Sacramento’s 2025 first-rounder in a swap of their choice helps, that seems reasonable to consider.

But, Barnes would provide additional veteran leadership to their young squad and could be flipped down the road for additional assets. Mitchell, who has hardly seen the floor in December, could be allowed to play through his mistakes and continue developing in his third season.

Did I mention that Finney-Smith is shooting 44.8 percent from three on 5.5 attempts per game? He’d be a defense-focused acquisition to a Sacramento team struggling to slow their opponents production.

Another intriguing, cheaper trade candidate on Brooklyn’s roster: Royce O’Neale

2. Alex Caruso

Sacramento Kings acquire: Alex Caruso, Terry Taylor

Chicago Bulls acquire: Kevin Huerter, Colby Jones, and SAC’s 2026 1st (top-ten protected)

These packages are going to look fairly similar. Barnes and Kevin Huerter are the two most likely matching salaries. From there, players such as Mitchell, Colby Jones, Chris Duarte, Kessler Edwards, Trey Lyles, or even Sasha Vezenkov could all add additional value. Of course, outgoing picks also factor into the equation, with protections being highly debatable.

Let’s start with what Alex Caruso (29) brings. There’s a reason he was voted onto the All-NBA First-Team last season. Standing at 6’6 with a wingspan one inch longer, his physical aspects aren’t particularly compelling, but his effort, intelligence, and impeccable timing allow him to excel.

There’s no simple way to put it, but he finds ways to consistently make winning plays while on the court.

The perimeter containment he would provide alongside Fox and Murray is compelling, and he’s proven to be a more than capable shooter — converting 44.9 percent of his 3.4 three-point attempts per game this season.

With their no-middle scheme, smaller players are often left as the last line of rim defense, and Caruso certainly is a better option to do so than Huerter or Malik Monk.

While the rookie Jones has had intriguing moments (whether in the Summer League, the G-League, or preseason) and was a first-round value in the eyes of many, he’s a young player still learning his way in the NBA. Who knows how Chicago would view Jones being added to a deal, if at all, but there are other options the Kings could also throw in.

Huerter would provide LaVaine (if he stays) and DeMar DeRozan with some much-needed spacing. They currently rank 19th in three-point attempts per game (33.0/g) and 17th in percentage on those looks (36.4 percent). They also sit at 22nd in offensive rating (112.5).

Maybe this doesn’t get it done from the Bulls’ perspective. If it doesn’t, the Sacramento Kings have all of their own future first and second-round picks, along with Portland’s 2025 second, to bargain with.

If they view Caruso as a fit on their roster and a significant upgrade over Huerter, acquiring his remaining two-year, $19.4-million deal could be of tremendous benefit.

Another intriguing, cheaper trade candidate on Chicago’s roster: Torrey Craig

3. PJ Washington

Sacramento Kings acquire: PJ Washington

Charlotte Hornets acquire: Sasha Vezenkov, Davion Mitchell, POR’s 2025 2nd, and SAC’s 2026 2nd,

PJ Washington is expected to be a cheaper option than Caruso or Finney-Smith. He’s underperformed expectations since signing a three-year, $46.5-million deal to remain with the Charlotte Hornets this offseason.

He began 2023-24 in their starting lineup but was moved to the bench upon the return of Miles Bridges. Through 25 games, the 6’7 fifth-year player is averaging 13.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game on 42.5/31.3/76.8 shooting splits.

Those numbers don’t jump off the page. Still, the Sacramento Kings could convince themselves that his play-finishing, connective ability, and intriguing finish tools lay out the formula for a better player than his production to date may lead one to believe.

Defensively, it’s a similar story for the 25-year-old. His tools cause intrigue regarding his upside, and he’s had flashes of production on that end. With Sacramento’s current culture, they could believe in Brown’s ability to optimize his role and performance.

From Charlotte’s perspective, they would have to be ready to move on from Washington for this deal to seem likely. Mitchell would get an opportunity to compete for their backup point-guard spot and provide often-needed defensive energy to their squad that owns the second-worst defensive rating (121.0) with only the Washington Wizards trailing them.

Vezenkov’s elite shooting ability would also be beneficial, considering they are bottom-six in both three-points attempts (31.1) and percentage (34.7 percent).

More second-rounders could be included, or maybe even a future first-round pick swap.

Keeping Barnes and Huerter in this hypothetical could lead to Washington beginning his Sacramento career as a reserve, with time to mold and explore his game as Barnes ages. Or, they could consider exploring a larger lineup with Murray, Barnes, and Washington in the initial five.

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

The road trip will continue on Friday evening as Sacramento will face the Atlanta Hawks for the first time this season.

Last year, Atlanta swept the two-game series to improve to 4-0 over their past four games against the Kings. The last time Sacramento defeated the Hawks in Atlanta was November 8, 2019.

Be sure to tune in to Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Hawks coverage, beginning at 3:00 PM PST on Game Night before a 4:00 PM PST tip-off from Atlanta, Georgia.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Friday, December 29th – Sacramento Kings @ Atlanta Hawks – 4:30 PM PST
  • Sunday, December 31st – Sacramento Kings @ Memphis Grizzlies – 5:00 PM PST
  • Tuesday, January 2nd – Sacramento Kings vs. Charlotte Hornets – 7:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, January 3rd – Sacramento Kings vs. Orlando Magic – 7:00 PM PST
  • Friday, January 5th – Sacramento Kings vs. Toronto Raptors – 7:00 PM PST

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