The Kings didn't land a big-name player this summer despite having the salary cap space to do so, but their subtle offseason moves put them on the right track toward building off last season's success.
While it might not look like much compared to what other NBA teams did via draft, trade or free agency, Kings general manager Monte McNair did far more than just kick his feet up all summer. Two rookie deals, a EuroLeague MVP and a pair of contract extensions later, the pieces are coming together at a promising time for Sacramento.
There still could be more action before the new season officially begins, as the Kings have one open roster spot and one two-way contract to fill. Here is how the Kings' roster is shaping up for 2023-24:
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Keon Ellis (two-way)
Jalen Slawson (two-way)
The starting lineup likely will be the same as last season's: Fox, Huerter, Barnes, Murray and Sabonis. But it will be interesting to see how coach Mike Brown and Co. play with the different rotations and lineups with a couple of new pieces. It's safe to assume Monk will have that sixth-man role secured after an impressive and enjoyable first season with the Kings.
Of course, no role is safe. It wouldn't come as a surprise if Brown tested the waters with the starting lineup after both Huerter and Barnes had underwhelming 2023 postseason showings. Before the start of the 2022-23 season, Brown had to make a choice on who to start at the off-guard position between Huerter and Monk. Ultimately, he went with Huerter, who averaged a career-high 15.2 points on an impressive 48.5-percent shooting from the field and 40.2 percent from 3-point range, along with 3.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.1 steals in 75 games. His shot went cold, however, in Sacramento's first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, averaging just 9.1 points on 34.7-percent shooting from the field and 20.5 percent from downtown.
Barnes, who is entering his 12th NBA season, signed a multi-year contract extension with the Kings in June. Having been in Sacramento since 2018, the 31-year-old was vital in Sacramento's newfound success last season, playing in every single game and providing a highly respected veteran presence in the locker room. But his 37.4 percent 3-point shooting in the regular season dwindled to a frustrating 24.0 percent in the playoffs.
The hope is that improvements were made in the offseason, though, and all players will come back recharged and ready. And for a team whose starting five played significantly more minutes together than any other starting five in the league last season, the unit proved to work and the Kings essentially running it back with that same core could be even more special in Year 2 together.
Sacramento has 14 players under standard NBA contracts, and Ellis and Kings rookie Slawson are on two-way contracts for next season, with one more two-way spot and one final spot to fill on its roster before the start of training camp next month. So, what are the Kings' options?
The Kings could re-sign restricted free agent Neemias Queta for the final two-way deal, or they could give that slot to homegrown guard Jordan Ford, who turned heads playing with the Kings during summer league. While it seems like Queta's Sacramento era is close to an end, especially after the signing of Noel, nothing ever is fully off the table in the NBA.
Ignoring what Sacramento hasn't figured out yet and focusing on what they have, it's important to raise this question: Did the Kings fulfill their biggest need(s) of the offseason?
Yes and no.
Sacramento couldn't secure a player like Kyle Kuzma or Khris Middleton in free agency, so the Kings re-signed someone they respected and trusted in Barnes. And in comparison to what those other contracts were worth, keeping Barnes in Sacramento seemed like the best option in the end. With Barnes and Murray presumably in the starting forward spots, they have perhaps the most depth behind them with a flurry of talented guys eager and ready to grab the baton when needed.
Brown struggled all last season to find a reliable backup behind Sabonis, experimenting with Len, Lyles, and former Kings big men Chimezie Metu and Richaun Holmes. Nothing stuck really until the playoffs when Len and Lyles were used more at the position when Sabonis needed a breather -- and both impressed in their own ways, earning new deals with the Kings this offseason. Plus, the rental of Noel is a low-risk, high-reward move. If the 6-foot-10 big man doesn't have a good camp, the Kings can cut ties with him and have another open roster spot. If he does impress and proves he can make a difference during the season, then the Kings can keep him.
And what's extra special about this Kings group is the positional versatility. There are threes who can play the four role at times (Barnes, Edwards) and fours who can take over at center (Lyles), for instance.
While the Kings' depth feels deeper than last year, an area of concern heading into the new season is the same as it was in 2022-23: defense. Sacramento struggled defensively, and there's really no other way to put it. Anyone not named Davion Mitchell has a lot to improve on defensively in the 2023-24 season. Sure, there were glimpses of defensive intensity from certain players at times, but the team as a whole needs to improve in that area if they have any shot at championship contention.
What should give Kings fans hope and something to look forward to, though, is that just about every player returning to the team appears primed to make some type of leap. Murray and Mitchell, in particular, are two young players who could make all the difference next season, of course in addition to the strides that the All-NBA duo of Fox and Sabonis continue to make.
No one knows what Vezenkov will bring to the NBA level, but there's confidence around the organization that the league has no idea what's in store with the EuroLeague MVP on their side.
Each player brings different components to the team, and together, the Kings can turn their Cinderella story into more than just a one-hit-wonder. It won't be easy, the Kings still have a lot to prove in what's expected to be a teetering Western Conference, but they've got the right pieces to fill the puzzle and reach the upper echelon of the conference once again.