Samuel Dalembert is a classic example of a free agent who drives general managers crazy. He is smart and talented and relatively durable. He plays one of the most important positions. He also stands almost 7 feet tall and is barely into his 30s.
But and there are plenty of buts ... his conditioning is an issue. His health is an issue. He wants more touches. He wants more minutes. He wants more love from his coach.
So what is his value to the Kings? Is it $7 million or $8 million a year? Is it closer to $10 million? It certainly isn't anything close to the $13.5 million he earned last season, right?
Amid the wild trade speculation and free-agent craziness with Tyson Chandler expected to sign a four-year, $58 million deal with the Knicks, Nene discussing a near-max accord with the Nuggets, Chris Paul perhaps swapped to the Lakers, Pau Gasol possibly dealt to the Rockets the market for Dalembert becomes murkier by the minute.
If the Rockets acquire Gasol or pursue Nene, that probably eliminates one of his most serious suitors. That could also entice another team into the discussion. At least two recent developments the lucrative projected earnings of Chandler and Nene, coupled with the fact the NBA minimum team payroll figure requires the Kings to spend approximately $13 million more in 2011-12 instead of the anticipated $15 million further reduces the odds of Dalembert returning.
This isn't to say the Kings don't want him. They just aren't willing to bust their budget, though an offer of $7 million to $8 million per year seems more than generous. They just can't do something stupid.
Small-market teams are still small-market teams. You break the bank only for a superstar. Though all the ramifications of the new labor agreement won't be apparent for some time, the Lakers are still the Lakers, the Knicks are still the Knicks and many teams are hoping the increased revenue sharing, shorter contracts and more punitive luxury-tax system eventually will provide a semblance of competitive balance.
But the bottom line in cities like Sacramento is that management has to be smarter and more disciplined and extremely opportunistic. There is little wiggle room for mistakes, for offering too many years and spending too much money on the wrong player.
Concerns about Dalembert's physical state are legitimate. In a belated attempt to get in shape before his first season with the Kings, he strained an inner thigh muscle and missed all of training camp. More troublesome is the trickle-down effect: Dalembert was never fully healthy, bothered much of the season by a swollen knee and sore hips.
The lithe, athletic center, a major contributor when the 76ers ran an up-tempo system, never quite made it to Sacramento. He was confused and unhappy with his role, though his dissatisfaction subsided when he returned to the lineup alongside DeMarcus Cousins.
"We started really working together, and I got a chance to be on the floor and do what I do best," Dalembert said Wednesday.
Assuming Marcus Thornton re-signs and he is the No. 1 priority the Kings will generate plenty of offense from some combination of Thornton, Cousins, John Salmons, Tyreke Evans, J.J. Hickson, Jason Thompson, Cisco Garcia and rookie Jimmer Fredette.
In an ideal world, the Kings would want Dalembert rebounding, blocking shots, defending the interior, running the floor and scoring on follow shots.
With or without Dalembert, coach Paul Westphal is planning changes.
"A lot of what we'll do will be based on our personnel," Westphal said, "but we're going to have a lot more automatic options. We think we have a lot of options when the ball goes into the post, and I also think we have some young legs and more ballhandlers and guys who really play an up-tempo game. When the smoke clears, I think we have the chance to be a very effective running team."
Dalembert always says he wants to run. But where and at what price? The craziness is just getting started, and Dalembert, waiting at his home in Florida, is still in the conversation.