After a season that required a lot of “searching” regarding a backup to Domantas Sabonis, the Kings are proving to be approaching the backup center role seriously.
In July, Sacramento re-signed Alex Len, who easily did the best job filling the role after he finally got a shot to hold it down with eight games remaining. And after being reportedly linked to him last season, they inked veteran Nerlens Noel to a partially-guaranteed deal. Then this month, they gave another partial guarantee to 2021 second round pick Neemias Queta, who is essentially receiving one last chance with the organization.
Now, they’re bringing back 2016 first round pick Skal Labissiere on a partially guaranteed agreement that was announced Monday.
Excluding their All-NBA starter, the Kings will now have three true centers to evaluate in camp.
Sabonis and Len will be on the roster and Trey Lyles will be there as the small 5 option. Since it’s unlikely that they’d need any more than one additional center, it appears there will be a competition between the other three for one last spot.
Upon signing Noel, it’s fair to say fans felt good about the transaction. His was a name floated around a lot last year and he appears as though he would compliment Len on the depth chart as another proven NBA player with a slightly different skillset.
In fact, the news of his signing almost felt like the final touch on next season’s roster.
There’s real depth at the center position.
But where have fans heard that before?
At this time last year, many could recognize the apparent advantage of having Richaun Holmes backing up Sabonis. The prospect that the Kings could utilize two starter-worthy centers seemed to paint an image adorned with optimistic hues.
However, as everyone knows—and as is laid out in the opening line above—Mike Brown nevertheless was forced to search for answers. He went away from Holmes fairly early and really tried to get Chimezie Metu to stick at the backup 5 before giving Queta a look and ultimately going back to Metu. Again, it was only until the final weeks of the season that Len provided any semblance of stability back there.
Is there a good chance either Queta or Labissiere beats out Noel for a spot? Probably not, but bringing them along shows that Monte McNair’s front office and coach Brown’s staff are all very serious about taking nothing for granted in terms of assessing this team on paper.
One can never have too many bodies competing for even the most benign roster spot. And making sure that depth is sturdy will help prepare for the kinds of things the Kings averted a season ago: injuries.
So utilizing real competition is a good method to make sure you’ve got the right depth piece.
It sets up for a dynamic that will force Noel to have to work for everything, and that may as well extend up to Len as well.
After all, hand-outs do not work, or at least not nearly as well.
Trey Lyles looked great late in the 2021-22 season. After getting traded to the Kings, he didn’t play much, but once he got a start in Oklahoma City, Alvin Gentry never had to look back. It did not take long to realize that Lyles was the second most impactful acquisition during that 2022 trade deadline.
So off of that, it seemed like his minutes as the backup behind Keegan Murray were secure. In fact, it felt like he’d get starting minutes if the rookie out of Iowa wasn’t getting them, even if only at first.
But that wasn’t the case. They went to KZ Okpala.
This forced Lyles to stay ready even as he racked up some DNP’s early in the season prior to him becoming a star in his role and one of the best role players on the team. There’s a good chance Lyles—who was going into a contract year—was going to bring some excellent play no matter what, especially with the shape he entered camp in, but the early-season challenge to both avoid feeling entitled to a rotational spot and to stay ready must have boosted his 2022-23 performance.
Nothing is a gimme and complacency achieves nothing.
There’s no need to belabor this point when there’s an actual physical law for this called the law of inertia, which essentially states that an object at rest will remain at rest while an object in motion will remain in motion, and both will remain that way unless acted upon by another force.
May as well keep everyone in motion.
Even if it seems like a no-brainer from the outside that Noel should beat out Queta and Labissiere, actually having to go out and prove it will be highly beneficial to Noel. And as noted, this extends up and across the entire depth chart.
Queta may still look raw, and it’s difficult to say what Labissiere will look like after his three-year absence from the league, but it’s assured that both are going to bust their tail. So while not being the most talented bodies to have in the competition, they’re at least going to grind like a true professional.
The key here is that there will be plenty of competition in training camp. Last year’s was highly competitive, but with the center situation and with actual depth at the wing, it is only going to be more hearty when things get underway at the end of next month.