The Sacramento Kings are good, and have been good for over a year now. They made the playoffs for the first time in 16 years last season, and spent the summer acquiring Sasha Vezenkov, last season’s Euroleague MVP instead of standing pat.
Exactly that level of activity is crucial for teams trying to level up, as any stagnation in roster construction can kill whatever momentum a franchise has built up.
As such, with Chicago’s Zach LaVine now on the market, it makes sense for the Kings to hold some internal meetings to ponder the possibility of bringing the high-scoring shooting guard to Sacramento.
Obviously, LaVine comes at a price, and while we don’t yet know what the Bulls seek in return for the two-time All-Star, it’s fair to expect they’ll have to relinquish something of quality. That’s how the trading game works, after all.
Furthermore, matching contracts won’t be straightforward due to LaVine’s salary of $40 million this season. While the Kings can get there, it’ll have to be through multiple contracts, which always makes any deal complicated.
Ironically, one the Sacramento’s most impressive accomplishments in recent years have been their salary cap execution. Their books are extremely clean, with everyone on large contracts playing crucial roles for the team in their winning ways.
You could argue that their “worst” contract is that of Trey Lyles, who’s earning $8 million this season and next to be a backup, but fact is that his compensation level is entirely reasonable.
This means the Kings would ultimately have to give up multiple rotation players just to match salary on LaVine, likely starting with Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes, and one final rotation piece.
Needless to say, the Kings would be willing to fork over Huerter in a LaVine trade – as they should – but losing Barnes would hurt, given his veteran leadership and locker room presence, which the Kings have long considered a stable.
However, with the signing of Vezenkov, they at least have a player ready to step into Barnes’ on-court role, if they were to give up the veteran in a deal.
As for the aforementioned piece that would follow Huerter and Barnes, let’s not pretend as if the Bulls wouldn’t ask for Keegan Murray.
This is where Sacramento’s front office will begin to have reservations, as Murray is viewed as a crucial player for their long-term plans. At 23, he’s a knock-down shooter with a high work ethic, an underappreciated basketball IQ, and has defensive upside. However you slice it, that’s not easy to give up.
But this is where the Kings could offer the Bulls options.
Murray and Lyles earn roughly the same, so either could be the third name in a LaVine trade.
The Kings could tell the Bulls that it’s either Murray, or it’s Lyles and a series of draft picks, as to balance value.
(And frankly, the Kings should even offer generous draft capital to nudge the Bulls towards that option, as the team with LaVine would be unlikely to find themselves in the lottery for years to come.)
As Sacramento owns a lottery protected pick to Atlanta in 2024, which has running protection until 2026, the Kings and Bulls would have to agree on a format, where the Bulls receive the first eligible first-round pick by the Kings, get the Kings’ first-round pick two years after, and with a pick swap option in-between.
The Bulls would then try to relocate Huerter, Lyles, and Barnes elsewhere, as to optimize the overall return for LaVine.
Of course, the Bulls could also offer an expanded deal, where both Lyles and Murray are included, and where Alex Caruso, one of the league’s best defenders, would be headed to Sacramento with LaVine.
In that scenario, the Kings would have to attach some draft capital with Murray, Lyles, Huerter, and Barnes, but would get two players who make them exponentially better right off the bat, and prime them for a deep playoff run.
With business out of the way, let’s look at why the Kings should take a long, hard look at LaVine.
The biggest argument for a De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, and Zach LaVine trio would be the fit.
Outside of 35 games alongside Lonzo Ball, LaVine has never played with a strong playmaker. Alongside Fox and Sabonis, he’d have two.
(Potentially, he’d have three as Malik Monk has taken major strides as a playmaker over last year, and this, averaging a career-high five assists this season.)
LaVine, who’s averaged 25.3 points over his past five seasons, flourishes in off-ball roles, having proven several times over to be one of the better catch-and-shoot players in the league, as well as one of the most effective cutters. That goes hand-in-hand with how Fox and Sabonis operates, theoretically raising LaVine’s already high scoring efficiency to even greater heights.
Furthermore, LaVine is an explosive athlete, who can join in on Sacramento’s fast-paced offense, without sacrificing half-court capabilities. You can have him leak out in transition, just as you can install him in half-court sets.
He’d feed off sharp backdoor passes from Sabonis, and would be a favorite target of Fox in transition, providing Sacramento with scorer who handle a large deal of the offensive responsibility, allowing both Fox and Sabonis to be more selective with their shots, and save their legs for the postseason.
LaVine has long been an efficiency darling due to his ability to not only shoot the three-point shot at high volume, but also by getting to the foul line a fair bit. In his seven seasons in Chicago, LaVine has taken 5.5 free throws per game, at 83.8% accuracy, and has converted on 69.2% of his shots within three feet of the basket, making his drive purposeful.
At 28, LaVine fits the timeline of Sabonis and Fox, and he isn’t a flight risk due to his contract, which takes up a lesser cap percentage as the years roll by.
LaVine is also from the west coast – specifically Seattle – and has made no secret that he’d love to return to the region, or close to it. LaVine even signed an offer sheet with the Kings in 2018, which the Bulls matched, and this july he bought a house in Southern California.
As for Caruso, if they wish to go that route as well, the Kings would immediately jump in the league’s defensive rankings, and have one of the most important positionless defenders in the NBA join the rotation, ready to take on any and every star in the playoffs.
Caruso also has California experience, as he started his career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The fit is clean, for both LaVine and Caruso, but it will come at a cost. The question becomes: Is it a price the Kings will be willing to pay? At the very least, it’s worth a genuine discussion.