Last summer, the Kings tried to make a splash in free agency.
They didn’t chase the biggest names. Instead, they attempted to overhaul the roster with multiple signings in a bid for at least the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But they won just 33 games and missed the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.
In his second offseason as general manager, Vlade Divac faces a familiar challenge.
“It’s a process,” he said. “ ... We know right now where we have to improve our positions at point guard, shooting guard and small forward, so we’ll work on it.”
The Kings tried to improve at those positions last offseason, but some free-agent additions didn’t meet Divac’s expectations. So he’ll try again starting Thursday at 9:01 p.m.
Last summer, Sacramento signed eight free agents – guards Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Seth Curry, forwards Omri Casspi, Caron Butler and Quincy Acy, swingman James Anderson and center Kosta Koufos – and received mixed results.
Rondo led the NBA in assists. But his defense was a liability, and some in the organization were disappointed with how he handled his suspension for using a gay slur toward referee Bill Kennedy. After signing a one-year contract, he’s a free agent again, and it’s uncertain if he will return to Sacramento.
Belinelli, signed to help at shooting guard, had a poor season at both ends of the court, and last week, the Kings agreed to trade him to the Charlotte Hornets for the 22nd pick in the NBA draft. Sacramento selected Syracuse shooting guard Malachi Richardson with that choice.
Curry played sparingly most of the season, but he showcased his shooting and passing while receiving significant minutes down the stretch.
Casspi was solid as a backup small forward, but Butler was seldom used by coach George Karl. Anderson was supposed to add depth, but he’s opting out of his contract and reportedly is seeking overseas opportunities.
Koufos was productive, but he’s probably on the trading block after the Kings drafted center Georgios Papagiannis of Greece and Kentucky forward-center Skal Labissiere. The addition of Papagiannis and Labissiere also makes it less likely Acy will return after he opted out of his contract.
Of those eight, only Casspi, Butler and Curry figure to return next season.
Casspi has one year left on his contract, and Butler exercised his player option to remain with the team. Curry opted out of his deal, but he is a restricted free agent, and the Kings have extended a qualifying offer, meaning they can match any offer sheet he might sign with another team.
The Kings are more than $32 million under the projected salary cap of $94 million, and their cap room will increase by $6.3 million when the Belinelli trade becomes official Friday.
The biggest name on the Kings’ wish list is Ryan Anderson, 28, an unrestricted free agent. The former Oak Ridge High School and Cal star is a power forward with three-point shooting ability, a skill set the team has sought for years.
Anderson, 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, played for the New Orleans Pelicans the last four years, averaged 17.0 points last season and is a career 37.7 percent shooter from three-point range. While the allure of playing in his hometown might be important to Anderson, he’ll probably get offers from playoff contenders.
The Kings also like guard Courtney Lee, 30, who would be an upgrade at shooting guard because of his defense. Lee, 6-5 and 200 pounds, is a career 38.4 percent three-point shooter.
Lee finished last season with Charlotte after being acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies. He averaged 8.9 points in 28 games with the Hornets.
10 free agents possibly on Kings’ radar
The Kings probably couldn’t sign the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant or some of the other big-name free agents, but these 10 players could be targeted given the team’s most pressing needs.
- Arron Afflalo, shooting guard, Knicks: He’s a veteran who could fill the Kings’ ever-present weakness at shooting guard.
- Ryan Anderson, power forward, Pelicans: The Oak Ridge High School graduate and former Cal standout would add a much-needed three-point threat.
- Matt Barnes, small forward, Grizzlies: The Kings need more players who have an edge to their game, and Barnes certainly has that.
- Kent Bazemore, guard-forward, Hawks: He would bring energy, hustle and defense.
- Chase Budinger, small forward, Suns: He has shown promise and might see joining the Kings as a chance to prove he’s healthy and can contribute.
- Eric Gordon, shooting guard, Pelicans: Like Rondo a year ago, Gordon could sign a one-year deal because he has a lot to prove after looking like an emerging star a few years ago.
- Courtney Lee, shooting guard, Hornets: He’s a solid defender who has contributed to winning teams and would be an immediate upgrade.
- Jeremy Lin, point guard, Hornets: He’s coming off a solid season in which he helped Charlotte reach the playoffs.
- Rajon Rondo, point guard, Kings: He led the NBA in assists with Sacramento, and another short-term deal (one or two years) could work well for both sides.
- Evan Turner, guard-forward, Celtics: Turner, the No. 2 overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2010, would provide much-needed versatility on the perimeter.