The Kings have important basketball decisions to make in the coming weeks while carefully walking a precarious path with coach Luke Walton, who was accused of sexual assault in a civil lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles.
The Kings and the NBA announced Thursday they have launched a joint investigation into allegations that Walton sexually assaulted former sports reporter Kelli Tennant while he was an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors in 2014. Michael Robbins, one of the state’s leading workplace investigation experts, said the investigation could take months and the civil case against Walton could take four to five years to go to trial in Los Angeles.
The Kings appear to be moving forward cautiously with Walton, who signed a four-year contract with Sacramento after parting ways with the Los Angeles Lakers on April 12. Team officials said they are taking the allegations against Walton seriously, but the basketball operations staff still has essential work to do as a critical summer approaches.
Kings general manager Vlade Divac is working with Walton to assemble a coaching staff. Divac and his front-office team are projected to have nearly $38 million to spend in free agency and will have important personnel decisions to make regarding Harrison Barnes and Willie Cauley-Stein. They will also consider trade ideas, including the possibility of acquiring a first-round pick in the NBA draft.
The draft lottery and combine will be held May 14-19. The draft is scheduled for June 20. The Kings don’t have a first-round pick this year, but they have three second-round picks. They could use the 40th, 47th and 60th picks to add depth through the draft or package them in a trade for other assets.
The deadline for all team and player options is June 29. The Kings will be awaiting word from Barnes, a small forward acquired at the trade deadline in the deal that sent Justin Jackson and Zach Randolph to the Dallas Mavericks.
Barnes will be one of the team’s biggest priorities this summer. He could pick up his $25 million player option for next season, negotiate a long-term extension or become a free agent. Barnes and Divac have expressed a willingness to discuss a long-term future for Barnes in Sacramento, but it’s unknown if any fallout from the recent allegations against Walton will influence his decision.
The last day to sign extensions and the deadline for teams to make qualifying offers to restricted free agents is June 30. Cauley-Stein and Troy Williams are restricted free agents. Kosta Koufos, Corey Brewer and Alec Burks are unrestricted free agents.
The Kings face an important decision with Cauley-Stein, an athletic 7-foot center who averaged 11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals this season. Cauley-Stein started 81 games and was in some ways an ideal fit for the team’s run-and-gun offense, but he has been plagued by inconsistency.
Walton has vowed to maintain the team’s uptempo style, but he has not shared his views on Cauley-Stein. Walton and Divac have surely discussed that subject since Walton was introduced as the Kings’ coach last week.
Cauley-Stein will become a restricted free agent if the Kings make him a qualifying offer, which must amount to 125 percent of his salary. Under that scenario, Cauley-Stein could sign an offer sheet with another team, but the Kings would have 72 hours to match the offer. If the Kings don’t make a qualifying offer, Cauley-Stein will become an unrestricted free agent.
The free-agent moratorium begins July 1. Teams can reach verbal agreements with players, but deals cannot be finalized until the moratorium ends July 6. The Kings could be on the market for a center to replace Cauley-Stein and a point guard to back up De’Aaron Fox.
At that point, the Kings will already be involved in summer league action. The second California Classic will be held July 1-3 at Golden 1 Center. The Kings, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat will play a total of six games over three days. The Las Vegas summer league is scheduled for July 5-15.