DeMar DeRozan trade grades: Spurs win big as Kings swing and miss on All-Star addition

Written by on July 7, 2024

The Sacramento Kings aren’t exactly known for drawing big-name veteran stars, but late Saturday night, they pulled the trigger on one of the most accomplished players the team has ever acquired. In a three-team sign-and-trade, the Kings landed six-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan from the Chicago Bulls. They sent Harrison Barnes and an unprotected 2031 first-round pick swap to the Spurs. The Bulls receive Chris Duarte and two second-round picks for cooperating in the deal.

The Kings obviously acquired the most famous player in the trade, but does that mean they won it? Well, not exactly. Let’s grade all three sides of these trades and figure out who truly walks away from this deal as the victor.

Sacramento Kings: D-

Let’s start with the positives here before we get into the low grade. DeMar DeRozan is remarkably durable, and by virtue of rarely shooting 3’s, remarkably consistent on a night-to-night basis. He has not missed more than 11 games in a season since 2012. Last season, he was held below 15 points only six times. He’s always on the court. He never really has “bad” games. That means quite a bit for the Kings, specifically, whose offense just cratered after late-season injuries to Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter. De’Aaron Fox tends to miss between 10 and 20 games per year. DeRozan raises your floor offensively in those games. He still gets to the line at an elite level. He was just the Clutch Player of the Year runner-up; Fox won the award in 2023. The Kings are going to be able to find better shots late in games than most teams. They still control most of their own future draft capital, so it’s not as though they’re locked out of making big moves down the line. DeRozan is still a valuable player in the right context.

It’s just that the 2024-25 Sacramento Kings aren’t remotely that context. The Kings already had plenty of ball-handling. Fox and Monk are both high-usage players. The Kings run a lot of offense through Domantas Sabonis. They’ve developed a system that emphasizes movement, both out of the ball and their players. DeRozan is a bit of a ball-stopper. While he is a solid play-maker when he has the ball, he holds it, on average, for 4.73 seconds per touch, according to tracking data. Fox isn’t far behind at 4.68 seconds per touch. Both are near the top of the league. Neither of them are suited to watching the other dribble. DeRozan is both a low-volume and low-percentage 3-point shooter. Fox has improved his volume substantially under Mike Brown, but the 36.9% of his 3’s he made last season represented a career high, and that’s barely above league-average.

Defense is the greater concern here. DeRozan has historically been bad on that end of the floor. So is Monk, though he can’t help it given his size issues. Fox is a bit more of a mixed bag. Keon Ellis emerged as a stellar defender down the stretch last season, but unless there is another trade coming, likely involving Kevin Huerter, he’s not going to get enough minutes to hold together Sacramento’s perimeter defense. Remember, the Kings don’t have a high-end rim-protector to clean things up for their guards.  Sabonis is, emphatically, an offense-first player. They managed to reach No. 14 in defense last season due to some great coaching from Brown, the late emergence of Ellis and, frankly, late-season injuries to some of their defensive minuses (Monk and Huerter). Having Harrison Barnes, a competent veteran at the league’s scarcest position, didn’t hurt either.

In a perfect world, the Kings are envisioning a combination of their 2022-23 offense, which, to that point, was the most efficient in NBA history, and their 2023-24 defense, which was average. Historic offense and average defense is a contending formula. But one of the most important factors in their historic 2023 offense was health. All five of their starters played at least 73 games. That’s not replicable. The Kings ranked sixth in 3-point volume and ninth in 3-point percentage during the 2022-23 season. DeRozan’s last six offenses have ranked in the bottom-10 of the NBA in 3-point attempts per game. Four of them finished dead last. Last year was a bit of an anomaly, but generally speaking, the teams that rank near the top of the league in offensive rating are the ones that attempt and/or make the most 3’s. The Kings are making sacrifices in the math game to accommodate DeRozan, and it’s not even clear that they needed to.

Their general offensive concept still worked last season. The starting lineup from the 2022-23 season scored 119.9 points per 100 possessions last year. That was the fifth-best mark of any five-man unit to play at least 300 minutes last season, trailing only the best groups from the Nuggets, Suns, Bucks and Celtics. Their starters were more efficient offensively than either the Thunder’s or the Clippers‘. Both of them emphasized defense in their offseason moves. The Kings did get worse when bench lineups played, but, they just paid Monk $78 million to run their bench units. You don’t trade for a player of DeRozan’s stature to shore up your backup groups. This fundamentally disturbs a group of starters that was working.

And the cherry on top here? DeRozan turns 35 in August. He’s no spring chicken. Individual shot creation tends to decline more rapidly with age than, say, 3-point shooting. Maybe DeRozan holds off Father Time for another year, but this contract carries him through his age-37 season. It is overwhelmingly likely that DeRozan is a significantly worse player at that point than he is today. Think about the contract Chris Paul signed with the Suns in summer 2021 as a comparison. Paul was still an All-Star in his age-35 season, but struggled mightily in the playoffs. His age-36 season showed enough decline that he was traded in a package for Bradley Beal. In his age-37 season, he averaged 9.2 points per game off of Golden State’s bench. He’s still an effective player, but he was getting paid for who he was at 35 when he is obviously no longer that player. Both are mid-range heavy scorers. Paul brings several other things to the table that DeRozan does not.

If the Kings had just swapped out Barnes and Duarte for DeRozan, this is probably a “C” or “C-” move. The fit issues all would have persisted, but it’s a talent swing on a former All-Star. There is at least logic to that. But the Kings also included an unprotected 2031 pick swap. The words “unprotected” and “Kings” really don’t belong together. An unprotected Kings pick swap ultimately turned out to yield the pick that became Jayson Tatum. This is a franchise that has missed the playoffs in 17 of the past 18 seasons. History suggests that there is a good chance that swap yields a lottery pick. Perhaps a very valuable one. Fox and Sabonis might seem fairly young right now, but seven years is a lifetime in NBA terms. Seven years ago, at this time, Kyrie Irving was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Seven years from now, Sabonis will be 35 and Fox will be 33. Maybe they’ll still be Kings and maybe they won’t, but there’s a good chance they’re past their prime. Giving up control of that pick could prove to be absolutely enormous down the line.

This trade screams impatience from an organization that had no need to rush for the wrong fit. Fox and Sabonis are still relatively young. Keegan Murray has two years left on his rookie deal. They didn’t need to take on a high-risk contract for a 35-year-old that doesn’t really fill a need for them. But look back at the rumor mill of the last year or so. They’ve been linked to several players just like that. Zach LaVine. Bradley Beal, Brandon Ingram. Contract negotiations with 2023 Coach of the Year Mike Brown were contentious, with reports indicating that ownership expected the team to build on its 2023 success. But making a significant investment in an aging player that doesn’t fit the existing roster just for the sake of adding talent simply wasn’t a responsible roster-building decision. The likeliest outcome here is that the Kings are still worse than their 2023 counterparts. If they turn out to be better, their defense still presents a hard ceiling on their championship equity. This is the sort of move you make when you’re one DeMar DeRozan away from serious title contention. The Kings aren’t.

San Antonio Spurs: A+

How does San Antonio keep getting away with this? Last summer, it was Grant Williams. On draft night, it was Rob Dillingham. The Spurs just keep finding ways to extract valuable first-round pick swaps out of financially desperate teams several years down the line. At this moment, they control five swaps between 2026 and 2031:

  • Atlanta in 2026 (unprotected).
  • Boston in 2028 (top-1 protected).
  • Dallas in 2030 (unprotected).
  • Minnesota in 2030 (top-1 protected).
  • Sacramento in 2031 (unprotected).

There is a very clear plan in place here. The Spurs don’t really care about their present. They are not rushing their rebuild, unlike Sacramento. They have three years left on Victor Wembanyama’s rookie deal, and they intend to use those years to financially prepare for his entire career, not just the next brief stretch of it. So they use their cap space to take on players like Barnes and Reggie Bullock in the short-term in exchange for lottery tickets in the long-term. In all likelihood, the Spurs don’t even exercise their right to use all five of those swaps. Many of them could be duds. But at least one of them is going to give the Spurs a valuable pick, and that’s the entire point.

The Spurs understand the financial landscape that the new CBA has created. They, like the Thunder, have decided that the best way to navigate the second apron minefield will be to cycle in new, cheap young players as soon as their existing veterans become too expensive to retain. The idea will be to organically replenish the supporting cast around Wembanyama without ever having to make the sort of high-risk “here are multiple first-round picks for an expensive veteran” trades that most other contenders are making today. In a perfect world, the Spurs will never need to go all-in because they’ll constantly have the assets to add cheap youth around Wembanyama and whatever core they wind up putting around him in the coming years.

The Spurs grasp this model so well because, even if it was somewhat accidental, they’ve lived this reality before. In 2011, as a No. 1 seed, they were upset by the No. 8 seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the postseason. Tim Duncan was 35 at that point. Manu Ginobili was 34. It looked like their dynasty might be over. And then, they traded George Hill for the draft pick that became Kawhi Leonard and extended it another half-decade or so. They might still be contending today if Leonard hadn’t forced his way out. The Spurs know firsthand how transformative the right rookie can be when you already have an older, contending roster. They’re setting Wembanyama up to one day get his version of Kawhi Leonard.

And an extra shot at that kind of teammate didn’t even cost them anything! All they had to do was absorb Barnes’ contract. Barnes is still a reasonably valuable player, a well-liked veteran at a scarce position that shoots 3’s and defends at around an average level. This is another classic Thunder tactic: take on a good player from a team that just can’t afford to keep him anymore, rehabilitate his value, and then flip him for positive value a year later. The Thunder did this with Al Horford, for example, getting a first-round pick to take on his contract from Philadelphia in 2020 and then getting another first-rounder to flip him to Boston a year later. Even if the Spurs don’t flip Barnes, it doesn’t hurt them to have him around. He’s a useful player if the Spurs want to compete for a play-in spot this year, and he’ll be a good mentor for some of their younger players as well. Teams that trade with the Kings tend to do well and teams that trade with the Spurs tend not to. It looks like that trend is continuing in this deal.

Chicago Bulls: C

Chris Duarte fits in just fine next to Josh Giddey. He’s a young shooter who had a promising start in Indiana but hasn’t gotten back on track since. He’s definitely worth a flier like this. Chicago got him and two second-round picks just to help DeRozan get to Sacramento. That, in a vacuum, is good business. They weren’t keeping DeRozan anyway. Might as well turn him into a bit of value.

But the Bulls still get a “C” for “cheap” here, because there’s no reason the Spurs needed to be a part of this deal. The Bulls should have just taken on Barnes’ contract themselves and gotten that 2031 pick swap in the process. Of course, doing so, even with Duarte headed to a third team, would have taken the Bulls into the luxury tax, and paying the luxury tax is apparently untenable for this organization. A 2022 Forbes study showed that the Bulls had paid the 24th-most money in luxury taxes since 2001 despite playing in the league’s third-biggest market. The Bulls also could have found ways to duck the tax during the season, which likely would have started with a Jevon Carter trade, as he is not a core member of the team anyway.

The irony of all of this is that as we speak, the Bulls are reportedly still looking for someone to take on Zach LaVine’s contract in another trade. You know what might have helped them sweeten a possible LaVine deal? Another draft asset, like that 2031 swap with the Kings. There still might not have been a viable deal on the table, but having that swap couldn’t have hurt.

Barnes is owed $37 million over the next two years. It’s a fair price for a decent player. The Bulls could have benefitted from taking on that contract. Instead, the Spurs will. It’s disappointing, but the transaction itself still nets out nicely for a Bulls team that turned a player it no longer wanted into a couple of decent, lower-upside assets. Now Chicago can tank in peace without having to worry about the luxury tax. Not great asset management, but a decent enough outcome all the same.

The post DeMar DeRozan trade grades: Spurs win big as Kings swing and miss on All-Star addition first appeared on OKC Sports Radio.

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