As we’ve all heard by now, the Sacramento Kings made a change at point guard this offseason. Sacramento signed Darren Collison and subsequently made a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns, sending Isaiah Thomas in exchange for a $7 million trade exception and Alex Oriakhi,
If you want my analysis of each individual move, you can go to my Bleacher Report article breaking down all of Sacramento’s offseason moves. However, if you want my overall opinion on the ultimate outcome of this situation—Darren Collison in; Isaiah Thomas out—you’ve come to the right place.
With nothing else considered other than their current playing ability, the Kings got worse by swapping Thomas for Collison. But as far as an overarching philosophy is concerned, the move makes sense.
Isaiah Thomas is the better offensive player, posting averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists last season, along with a 20.5 player efficiency rating, a 57.4 true shooting percentage and a 51 percent effective field goal percentage. Collison averaged 11.4 points and 3.7 assists, in addition to a 16.2 PER, .575 TS% and a .518 eFG%. Thomas did get more playing time, but the point and assist numbers are still squarely in his corner on a per-36-minute basis.
It’s true, however, that Collison is a better defender, averaging 2.2 steals per 100 possessions and holding opposing point guards to a PER of 12.9, according to 82games.com. Thomas, meanwhile, posted 1.9 steals per 100 possessions and opposing point guards had a PER of 16.2 against him.
Even in light of Collison’s advantages on the defensive end, Thomas’ offensive contributions are enough to give him an overall edge over Collison. It’s probably closer than a lot of people realize, given that Collison’s overall efficiency in comparison to his opponent counterpart was better than Thomas’, via those previously linked pages, but even considering that, IT is better.
Their contracts also indicate as much. Thomas got four years and $28 million, while Collison got $16 million over three years.
Even with Thomas being better, the truth with both of them is that neither one is the Kings’ point guard of the future. That man isn’t on the roster. When viewed through that prism, the decision makes a lot more sense.
Some may argue that Thomas had earned that designation by virtue of his 2013-14 season, but I don’t buy it. The Kings were the only team in the league with three 20-point scorers, yet they finished with a record of 28-54. Obviously not all of that is on Isaiah Thomas; basketball is a team game. But as the point guard, and one of the five starters, Thomas isn’t absolved of all blame either.
He had good statistics, but like all of the Kings players, none of it translated to any real success on the court. That begs the question of which players you’re willing to reward and how much you’re willing to give them. Thomas’ play certainly deserved compensation, but not to the level he received, at least not as far as Sacramento should be concerned.
The Kings have already seen where a nucleus of DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas can get them. It wasn’t very far. Sure, the team should improve in Michael Malone’s second season as head coach. But the odds are stacked squarely against Sacramento jumping from 28-54 into the stacked Western Conference playoff picture based solely on improvement in grasping the coach’s system.
With that being the case, there was no point in investing $28 million into a player who isn’t part of the ultimate solution for success, especially when considering the Kings’ current salary-cap situation.
The type of money Thomas received goes either toward a starter or an elite reserve. Sacramento could have invested that money and then hoped to find a solution in future years. But it’s already got Carl Landry making super-sub money for the foreseeable future, let alone Jason Thompson and his contract. The Kings didn’t need to invest money into a similar player. None of them is getting the team anywhere as starters, and Sacramento isn’t in a position to invest heavily in elite reserves.
Signing Collison for less money and less years provides more flexibility, which is what the Kings ultimately need. His $5 million salary is closer in line with that of a solid reserve, and the contract allows the team more room to upgrade the roster and eventually the position.
Nothing is prohibitive with Collison’s contract. They aren’t signing him to a deal that will be difficult to move. But most importantly, they’re not investing big money into someone who’s not going to be a key piece on a playoff team. That’s really what this is all about.
There’s really only one player on the roster who’s currently good enough to be a No. 1 or No. 2 player on a playoff-caliber team in the Western Conference, which is DeMarcus Cousins. Rudy Gay is a very good player, but he’s not someone you look at as the anchor of your team. Therefore, it makes no sense to invest sizable cash in any player other than Cousins for the time being.
Maybe some players make drastic progressions, causing the Kings to improve. At that point, the story will have changed. At that point, investing substantial money in keeping those players around will make sense. But right now it doesn’t.
Are the Kings better off today without Isaiah Thomas? No, they’d be a better team this season with him. But are they any worse off in future seasons when they’re more likely to be competing for a spot in the playoffs? No, not really.
That’s what really matters.