Just when it really looked like the Neemias Queta experiment was over, the Kings pulled him back in—at least for the moment—by signing him to a partially-guaranteed standard contract this week.
Ironically enough, it seemed the signing of Nerlens Noel indicated that Sacramento may move on from their 2021 second round selection, particularly with the 7-footer suffering from a stress reaction and sprain in his foot during Summer League, but the Kings nevertheless opted to bring him back.
That, however, does not necessarily mean he’s back for good. HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto reported Thursday that while the deal is a two-year, $4.2 million contract, the first year is only partially guaranteed while the second is not guaranteed at all.
When news broke a few days earlier, the details of the deal were not immediately disclosed, but it was known that Queta had been extended a qualifying offer that made him a restricted free agent at the start of the summer, which included just $75k in guaranteed money.
Thus, there is little surprise that Queta is seemingly guaranteed nothing more than a chance to join Alex Len and Noel as centers vying to be the primary backup to Domantas Sabonis at next month’s training camp.
Sizing the centers up, Queta is at the greatest odds as the rawest of the three, who is unique in that he’s never managed to tie things together at the NBA level. Furthermore, he still has plenty of areas that still require improvement, hence why his future has not felt remotely secure over the last month or so.
Given that, it seems probable that this an opportunity to merely compete in training camp. Sacramento will almost certainly be inviting other guys to camp by the time it starts late next month, therefore it’s not at all sure thing that Queta’s the 15th man when the season begins.
And worse for his chances is the fact that carrying four true centers would be peculiar and is something that, at this point, seems unlikely.
More likely is that Queta will end up like Sam Merrill—who, had he not been waived last year, would have had a $150k partial guarantee—or any other training camp invitee/final cut whose deal was not fully guaranteed.
Though, at the same time, Queta deserves some credit because it was beginning to look like his tenure with the organization was finished.
It could just be the equivalent of stoppage time in soccer that makes up for the missed evaluation time in Summer League, but the Kings—even after two years of firsthand evaluation—must still believe there are at least some glimmers of promise in the 24 year-old.
That feeling could be heightened because of Queta’s specific position. An adequate, well-sized backup to Sabonis was largely absent last season—that is, until Alex Len secured the job with 8 regular season games remaining—so an extra body that can potentially provide that and, at the very least, enhance the competition is not a bad thing.
And on the notion of development, perhaps there’s a rationale that Queta could benefit from learning among the NBA team. There’s less of a demand that he provide productive minutes with Len, Noel, and Trey Lyles—who should see a lot of time as a small-ball 5, especially with Sasha Vezenkov bolstering the depth at the 4—on the roster. So maybe they learning while he’s along for the ride at the highest level would aid him.
Remember that part of Queta’s allure is what he did in the G League this last season, which catapulted him up to being the runner-up to the MVP award. He was a central piece to the Stockton squad, averaging 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds.
As seen in his brief Summer League showing prior to his injury, when the big man did the little things—rebound, run the floor, exhibit focus on defense, and finish at the rim—he admittedly showed some promise. But while he had some highlight worthy finishes, blocks, and passes, most of the time when he had a more complex approach, he appeared unfit for the NBA level as he did in his minutes last season.
If for some reason they kept him on the NBA team, it could allow him to receive specific guidance on doing the little things. Bolstering the notion would be the firsthand experience of having to compete for minutes against proven talents, which would heighten the urgency to adjust to being that complimentary role player.
That’s a must for him. Hope is not all lost for Queta in terms of having a job in the NBA, but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll become anything more than a role player.
So maybe being the fourth center—or fifth if you account for Lyles on the depth chart—would narrow Queta’s scope in order to hone in on what’s most important for actually getting him on the floor. A full season as the starter in the G League may not be as useful in achieving the ultimate and practical goal.
However, shifting back into a realm more grounded in reality, that’s evidently a very unlikely outcome. Carrying more than three true centers while Lyles is at Mike Brown’s disposal would be an unnecessary personnel overload.
As it appears now, if Queta’s going to crack the roster, he’s going to have to show that he’s a better asset than one of either Alex Len or Nerlens Noel, the latter of whom’s contract is not fully guaranteed.
But how likely is it that Queta outperforms a vet?
One can never know for sure. To reiterate the initial point, the idea of the Neemias Queta experiment ending seemed a near certainty a few weeks ago—and it’s never to late to eat our words (see the video above from July 19)—so it’s evident that anything can happen.
It seems like a steep hill to climb for the Portuguese national, but the Kings have indicated that there’s a chance.