After a big man-heavy 2016 draft and the legal fallout from Darren Collison's domestic abuse case, the Kings are in need of solid guards to help facilitate the offense and set up Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins. Rajon Rondo had a bit of a revival season in Sacramento, but no concrete news has come from either side about Rondo re-signing with the Kings.
After Seth Curry's opt-out and Collison's pending jail time, the only point guard under Kings control is recently drafted #59 pick Isaiah Cousins. Their shooting guard situation is not much better, with 2016 draftee Malachi Richardson and Ben McLemore as the only options at the off-guard. Sacramento will need to look to the free agent market to help them fill out their guard rotation. The Kings will be looking for defense and 3-point shooting in a market somewhat bereft of both, but here are three potential options that could help them both next year and in the future.
Courtney Lee has been admiring the Kings uniform for years.
One of the best options for the Kings in free agency is journeyman Courtney Lee. Although Lee has bounced around the league quite a bit during his career, with six stops in eight years, he has always been a valuable contributor who knows his role and plays within it effectively. Lee has been a 3-and-D player for years, even before the leauge began to value those types of players in the way they do now. He has shot 38.4% from behind the arc for his career, and shot a shade under 38% last year in stints with both Memphis and Charlotte. His stroke is pretty pure, and he has taken 33% of his career shots from behind the 3-point line. All teams in the NBA today could use additional marksmen to improve their overall offense, and Courtney Lee fits the bill there.
The other component of the 3-and-D player is good defense, and Courtney Lee is fantastic on that end of the floor. He has averaged one steal per game over the course of his career, a solid number for a player who spends most of his time guarding players off the ball. Furthermore, he forced opponents to shooting 2.1% worse than league average during his stint in Charlotte according to NBA.com's Player Tracking. Lee was a reliable option for the Grizzlies as well, and Dave Joerger was the first coach to give Courtney Lee a consistent starting job--which might be a factor in joining forces with Joerger in Sacramento.
Kings insider James Ham stated on a recent podcast that the Kings "are targeting Courtney Lee" and that they "love Courtney Lee." With his good 3-point shooting and great defense, Kings fans should hope that this love is mutual. Reports are that Lee is looking for a contract that will pay him $14 million per year; while this is definitely pricey for a Kings team that is low on cap space, Lee fits in well with pretty much every team. If Sacramento can sign him, he will be worth every dollar.
Another potential option for the Kings in this free agency period is Lee's former Charlotte teammate Jeremy Lin. While Lin has not been able to fully replicate the remarkable success of the Linsanity era, he is still a valuable player who has been a useful 6th man for the past few years, especially this past year in Charlotte. Lin's recent play is often unfairly compared to his Linsanity peak in New York, but he is a solid player who could capably fill the starting PG role for Sacramento.
Over the past few seasons, Lin has managed to address some of his weaknesses while still taking advantage of his strong suits. Lin had the second-highest top speed in the league in 2012-2013 behind only John Wall (according to SportVU trackers cited in an article on SLAM Online), and he uses his incredible speed to rocket into the lane for layups and collapse the defense around him for easy passes. However, Lin had serious turnover issues due to often using just his speed and losing his handle on the ball. Lin still converts at the rim, shooting a respectable 56.9% around the basket and taking about 34% of his shots in that area. More importantly, he has cut down on his turnovers, with just 1.9 per game this season--his lowest since his rookie year, when he played fewer than 10 minutes per game. Lin's 3-pointer grades out as slightly under league average and his passing is nowhere near that of Rajon Rondo, but his offensive arsenal would be a great complement to Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins in the frontcourt.
In addition to his contributions on offense, Lin is also a decent defensive presence. Defensive advanced stats seem to disagree about his defense, as Basketball-Reference shows that he had 2.3 Defensive Win Shares but a negative Defensive Box Plus/Minus. The easiest way to cut through that confusion is to look at the defensive field goal percentage he allowed, which supports him being a good defender. According to NBA.com's Player Tracking, opponents shot 1.6% worse than average on shots contested by Lin. While Lin will likely command a salary north of $10 million per year, he is likely to provide output closer to his monetary value than Rajon Rondo will on his next contract.
If Rajon Rondo leaves and the Kings are unable to find a replacement, they could always opt to promote from within and re-sign Seth Curry to be their next starting point guard. My colleague Anthony Cardenas wrote a great piece about his evolution towards the end of the season (which you can read here). Despite outsized expectations from his older brother, Seth showed down the stretch of the season that he has quite a bit of talent himself. He shot an absurd 45% from 3-point range overall, and his defense drew rave reviews from former coach George Karl.
Even though Karl would later throw Seth under the bus in quite a public manner (something Karl did far too often last year), Seth showed that he is more than worth an NBA roster spot. If the Kings use up most of their cap space signing Courtney Lee, they can hopefully sign Seth to a 3-year deal for around $15 million total, and hand him the keys to the team. While he probably would not be in the top half of starting point guards in the league, Seth showed this past year why it can be dangerous to doubt his abilities.
The Kings have a solid frontcourt at the moment with Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, and Willie Cauley-Stein likely starting. However, with Rajon Rondo's contract expiring and Darren Collison facing legal trouble, the Kings are somewhat shaky in the backcourt. Adding either Courtney Lee or Jeremy Lin would shore up their backcourt rotation, and whether those options fall through or not the Kings still hold Seth Curry's restricted free agent rights. If the Kings could bring either Lee or Lin over from Charlotte and hold on to the younger Curry, they will be able to turn a bereft backcourt into a solid unit to prop up their strong frontcourt.