SACRAMENTO, Calif. –– It’s usually the players who have a hard time sleeping during NBA trade deadline week.
But when you’re a front office executive whose team has already shown signs of trouble, and then you see that squad looking like the worst version of itself approximately 15 hours before the deadline arrives, it’s sure to leave you tossing and turning all night.
Behold the Sacramento Kings experience from Wednesday night. Just a guess here, but it’s a safe bet that Kings general manager Monte McNair and assistant general manager Wes Wilcox had a hard time getting shut-eye after Wednesday’s debacle of a game.
It wasn’t just the Kings lost 133-120 at home to the lowly Detroit Pistons, who won for the seventh time in 50 tries. It’s that the game wasn’t particularly close. The Kings trailed by as many as 15 points when the boo-birds came out inside the Golden 1 Center midway through the third quarter, and when their late comeback fell short. By the time it was all over, the Pistons had scored more than 20 points above their season average (112.6 points per game), and the Kings (who are now 19th in defensive rating) showed yet again that they could use some serious help on that end of the floor.
And just like that, they’ve fallen back into Play-In Tournament territory (seventh in the West at 29-21). The pressure builds, in other words.
So will that compel them (even more) to make moves in these next couple of hours before the 3 p.m. ET deadline? Only if the price is right. And don’t expect any high-profile moves.
While the Kings are known to have interest in a number of players who remain available, from Brooklyn’s Dorian Finney-Smith and Royce O’Neale to the Wizards’ Delon Wright (a former King) and Miami’s Caleb Martin, those aren’t the kinds of players to likely inspire them to give up too much of the draft stock they would need for a bigger move down the line. But those kinds of players, team sources tell The Athletic, are still in play. As McNair made clear in our interview last summer, the Kings’ ability to upgrade in a major way if this current group wasn’t getting the job done is a major part of their plan.
And to set the record straight on a related front, I’m told the Kings don’t see Washington’s Kyle Kuzma as that sort of player.
Team sources say there have been no talks on the Kuzma front for months, and the Kings have no interest in losing any of the rotation players who would need to be sent out to match his salary ($25 million this season before declining to over the next three years). Even beyond Kuzma, all signs point to the Kings keeping their current core (and then some) intact while trying to add to it without losing any of their main rotation players.
Even with the history between the Kings and Kuzma, dating back to the late-July 2021 deal the Kings thought was done with the Lakers (before they pivoted to the Russell Westbrook experience) that would have brought Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell to town in exchange for Buddy Hield, it’s clear Sacramento’s calculus has changed. The Kings covet shooting above all else, with a continued plan to surround De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis with as many marksmen as possible. A quick glance at Kuzma’s numbers from deep (33.1 percent on 6.1 attempts per game) is enough to help you understand why he isn’t seen as a good fit.
Especially considering the cost. Washington’s asking price for Kuzma is known to be high –– in the two-first-round-picks territory –– and the Wizards don’t appear motivated to move him. And considering what our Mavericks’ beat writer, Tim Cato, reported about Dallas being out on Kuzma after landing Daniel Gafford from Washington, it seems likely Kuzma will stay put.