A month or two ago it was probably unthinkable, but the Sacramento Kings, despite having won their last 4 of 6, have a problem at the backup 5.
Ahead of the season, it was sort of surprising that the Kings were going to keep Richaun Holmes after trading for Domantas Sabonis in February. However, all one could do is shrug and accept that the center position would just have to be deep.
Up until the Sabonis trade, Holmes was one of the better regarded players on the Kings. He was having a season riddled with eye injuries and, unbeknownst to the public for a while, off the court family matters, but he was a fan favorite and a bright spot for a team that seemed to be going nowhere.
Essentially being replaced by a two-time all-star in the starting lineup while early in his fresh $46.5 million deal seemed to suggest he would be moved. A starter-worthy center who provides energy, athleticism, and efficiency appeared to be the perfect trade chip for the Kings to liquidate his starter money into more depth or swap him for particular talent at another position.
But it became clear early in free agency that the center would not be going anywhere. As ABC10’s Matt George reported early in free agency, due to the lack of “interest in Richaun Holmes on the trade market” and the fact “Mike Brown is a big fan of the versatile big man,” the big man was anticipated to stay put.
Thus came the shrug. The Kings were just going to be deep at center, one was inclined to think.
Little interest in Holmes from other teams was odd, but because Brown had Holmes at his introductory presser and acknowledged his defensive skills, it seemed the new head coach did indeed feel he would have a wealth of skill to work with in his big men.
As George referenced, Holmes’ versatility could have been moulded into a fantastic defensive piece in the minutes that Sabonis rested. Hell, some (like us) couldn’t resist wondering whether Holmes could step into such a versatile big that there would be moments—against big teams, of course—where both centers could see the floor together.
That’s one hell of a laugher here in the present moment.
It seems like the rest of the league’s shortage of interest in him has proved prudent because Holmes has not been anything close to a versatile defender, much less an effective one at all. He’ been indecisive on help and contesting drivers.
Before getting two DNP’s in a row, he had a really ugly night on the defensive end against the Magic, he was doing all of that and not making any adjustments as Franz Wagner and others got what they wanted inside.
Offensively, he’s lost for the most part. He has had some spurts of energy, either with something like a transition alley-oop or some other dunk saturated in intensity. But this season, he’s looked lost for the most part.
Some have noted that his rapport with Tyrese Haliburton was a huge reason for his offensive engagement and production because of the young guard’s general facilitating ability, mainly connecting with Holmes on alley-oops. With Haliburton gone, it’s reasonable to take that into account.
But there is no shortage of ball-handlers to run the pick and roll with in order to get some lobs. Haliburton is good, but De’Aaron Fox, Davion Mitchell, Malik Monk, Kevin Huerter, and Terence Davis are all there, to name a few. In the preseason, Holmes had a few alley-oop connections, such as with Monk and even Keegan Murray, and the potential to build chemistry seemed likely then.
Any explanation why it hasn’t worked would verge into pure conjecture, but the fact is the Kings have a hole at the backup 5 after the center position was widely projected to be the team’s deepest position.
Alex Len was part of the reason for that general opinion, but it was because he is a serviceable and solid big who is perfect for the third center role. He is not and was never supposed to all of a sudden develop a versatile skillset to be a nightly backup 5. Len’s large and can bang with big centers, and he can even be useful in the pick and roll despite that size, but he cannot switch onto anybody. If he’s out there battling down low with Nikola Jokic or someone of that size and stature, it’s to guard Jokic or whoever the 5 is, not anybody else.
So Len is not a solution for the backup 5.
Chimezie Metu has honestly been the most impressive at serving that role ten games in, and that’s saying something. At 6’9″ and with nice athleticism, Metu is a good small 5 who is the best of the four at switching onto other positions; there was ample reason as to why he was so useful in both early season games against Golden State. Plus, he was pretty good against the Magic and solid again on Wednesday against the Cavaliers.
However, for Metu’s advantages, he can’t be expected to be a complete center to fill in this hole left by Holmes thus far. Maybe if he starts sinking three’s and can be a legitimate stretch 5, but while he’s had nice stints from beyond the arc here and there, he’d have to get real hot and stay that way. Realistically, though, that should not be relied on; he’s off to a 0 for 5 start from deep after shooting 30.6% last season.
While there’s a chance Holmes figures things out or that Metu can surprise observers or that it can be handled by committee, the backup 5 is easily the area most in need of improvement.
In thinking that would be the best positional grouping during the summer, the exit of Damian Jones sort of flew under the radar. Looking back at the end of last season, Jones would probably be the perfect remedy for Sacramento’s issue.
His mobility and switchability would be unquestionably valuable, and all the more so considering he’s often riding the Lakers’ bench. If Jones could have stayed put, he’d have the continuity of both being in Sac and playing with the post-Sabonis trade group.
Okay, so enough of the simple act of pointing to a problem, right? What are the solutions?
Well, they aren’t exactly abounding, but there are apparently options.
Of the four veteran names being thrown around, it’s important to cut to the chase and say that neither LaMarcus Aldridge, Derrick Favors, or Dwight Howard are it.
Kings fans’ old friend DeMarcus Cousins, however, could be. As crazy as such a reunion sounds, it’s evidently possible.
Some have noted that if Cousins was still a valuable piece, he’d be on a team right now. That’s not a bad consideration, but one should also remember what the big guy did for Denver’s second unit when he joined the Nuggets after being waived by the Bucks.
The Kings played Denver a handful of times late last season, and when listening to the Nuggets commentators, all they could do is commend Cousins for being such a positive presence with that reserve group.
Obviously, Cousins won’t be bringing to the table what he was bringing when he was the most dynamic big in the game, but he is a highly experienced guy who can rebound, pass, serve as a roll man, score down low in traffic, and sometimes flash moments where he gets to the rim on his own (ironically enough, a second example of that is with Damian Jones on him).
As a backup to Sabonis, he would stand out among Holmes, Len, and Metu. He’d be the best passer, the most aggressive and decisive, the most experienced, the most fiery, and the best all around option. Despite, shooting a smidge over 30% from three last year as a whole, he’d also probably be the best at that, too.
So he’d definitely improve the team and give Mike Brown a needed body.
To substantiate it’s possibility, considering his last three deals, Cousins would take a veteran minimum deal, giving space for maximum financial flexibility.
Again, Cousins won’t be a sixth man of the year candidate—Malik Monk appears busy on that front—but he would help fill in a pretty big hole. And considering it’s emergence has been an abrupt surprise, he’d be the best option for a quick fix.
Is it the ideal option? Maybe not through and through, but it’s not logical to merely hope the hole at the backup 5 resolves itself on its own.
Something—whatever it is—is surely bound to be done.
“We’re always going to be opportunistic and the NBA calendar never sleeps,” GM Monte McNair noted back in July.
It’s safe to say McNair is probably already on it.