LAS VEGAS When the Kings' owners said during the season they would be aggressive and add salary to improve the roster, fans were skeptical.
The Kings have been in shed-salary mode since the 2008-09 season, when youth and rebuilding became the trademarks of the franchise.
While the Kings didn't spend lavishly on a superstar, they were active Monday. Sacramento reached agreement with free-agent guard Aaron Brooks just hours after acquiring forward James Johnson from Toronto for a 2014 second-round draft pick.
The Kings also waived center Hassan Whiteside, whose contract for the 2012-13 season was not guaranteed. The moves leave the team with 14 players, one below the league maximum.
The Kings believe they have improved the roster while not cutting into their salary cap room in the future when it's time to re-sign Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins.
"I think we've improved at every position," Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said. "We want to keep them together. We go as Tyreke goes, as DeMarcus Cousins goes, as Marcus Thornton goes. If those three guys get better, we're really going to get better."
Brooks' two-year deal will start around $3 million this season, and Johnson will make $2.8 million this season. That puts the Kings right below the NBA's $58.044 million salary cap.
"Fortunately, we've been able to commit more salary cap space to take a shot at situations as they came along," Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie said. "Really not being in play for some of the hot money stuff, I think we've made some good incremental improvements to our roster with younger players."
The Kings, who were below the league's minimum salary level during training camp last year but met it before the season started, will have their highest payroll since the 2008-09 season.
They have had their eyes on Brooks (6 feet, 161 pounds) since he entered the league as Houston's first-round draft pick (26th) in 2007 from Oregon.
Last season, Brooks played for the Guandong Southern Tigers of the China Basketball Association rather than wait for the NBA lockout to end.
Brooks averaged 22.3 points, 4.8 assists and 1.9 steals for the Southern Tigers, who reached the finals before losing to the Beijing Ducks, led by former NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury.
Don Casey, the former coach of the Los Angeles Clippers and New Jersey Nets, watched Brooks play in China while working as a consultant for the Chinese men's 18-and-under national team.
Casey said Brooks had a good season in China, playing "under control" and running the offense well.
"He has a good feel for the game," Casey said. "He knows how to get everyone involved. He has good presence. He's the kind of guy that will take a lot of pressure off everyone else."
Brooks' best season in the NBA was 2009-10, when he won the NBA's Most Improved Player award after career-high averages of 19.6 points and 5.3 assists. Brooks was injured for parts of the following season and traded to Phoenix on Feb. 24, 2011.
"He brings another element of speed and shooting," Petrie said. "He's a high-octane player."
Brooks has averaged 12.5 points, 3.6 assists and 1.9 rebounds in his four NBA seasons.
The Kings acquired Johnson (6-9, 248) to add depth at both forward positions. The Chicago Bulls drafted him 16th overall in 2009 out of Wake Forest.
"He already has the reputation of being a terrific defender and a potential defensive stopper, but his game is more than that," Petrie said. "He's a good athlete, he's got legitimate toughness to him, and he's mobile."
The Kings have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA in recent seasons, especially on the perimeter.
If Johnson can handle bigger small forwards, it would free Evans to spend more time defending guards, where his size is an advantage.
Johnson, entering his fourth season, averaged career highs of 9.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 25.2 minutes in 62 games for the Raptors last season. In his 40 starts, he averaged 10.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 26.9 minutes.
Whiteside, the Kings' second-round pick in 2010, played in only 19 games over two seasons because of knee and ankle injuries and a lack of experience.
A LOOK AT THE NEWEST KINGS
Position: Point guard
Height, weight: 6-0, 161
Years in NBA: 4
Notable: Averaged 19.8 points and 5.3 assists for the Rockets in 2009-10; traded to Phoenix the following season; played in China last season instead of waiting for the lockout to end.
Height, weight: 6-9, 248
Years in NBA: 3
Notable: Averaged 9.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in 25.2 minutes for Toronto last season; drafted 16th overall by Chicago in 2009; traded on Feb. 2, 2011, to Toronto for a 2011 first-round pick.