The NBA is a ruthless business. Young players find that out the hard way and it usually comes around the trade deadline. The Sacramento Kings are jam packed with players on rookie scale deals, many of which have never heard their name mentioned in a potential trade.
The names started to fly on Tuesday.
It's a jarring exercise. Rumors usually begin heating up a few weeks before the deadline. Most potential trades never happen, but it's not easy to see your name show up in a national publication as someone who might be on the move.
Malachi Richardson and Skal Labissiere made it into the George Hill rumor mill on Tuesday. The pair were taken with the 22nd and 28th overall selections in the 2016 NBA Draft and both showed up as potential pawns in a rumor.
Normally young players like these two would have more time to develop before a team would consider tossing them into a trade, but the Kings roster sits at the maximum of 15. If they want to deal Hill, they have to match roster spots or waive a player currently under contract.
That is where things get a little dicey. Outside of Hill, the Kings only have four other veterans. Kosta Koufos and Garrett Temple have player options for next season and Zach Randolph is under contract at just under $12 million per season.
Sacramento could waive 40-year-old Vince Carter instead of including a young player to make the roster spots work. Carter's being paid $8 million this season, which is a tough pill to swallow, but the Kings paid a lot more than that to have Matt Barnes walk out the door last February.
Richardson's inclusion into trade rumors makes sense. The 22-year-old wing has struggled to get an extended opportunity with the Kings in his second season. After earning his way into the rotation briefly in his rookie season before tearing a hamstring muscle, the Syracuse product has played in just 24 games this season for Sacramento.
It's not that the Kings dislike Richardson. He works hard and has completely reinvented his body. He's improved as a defender and his shooting stroke has been redefined behind the scenes. But Sacramento has a bevy of wing options, including young players like Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield and Justin Jackson. If Richardson is dealt, it's about a numbers game.
Labissiere's mention in rumors seems more far-fetched. Clearly the Kings consider the 21-year-old big more than a toss in on a deal. After a nice finish to the 2016-17 season, the Haitian-born power forward has been in and out of Dave Joerger's rotation, but he's shown major signs of improvement over the last month.
In the month of January, Labissiere has posted 10.9 points and 6.9 rebounds in 24 minutes per game. He's shown signs of improving his perimeter defense and he's been more aggressive around the rim on the defensive end.
Sacramento has Harry Giles scheduled to return to the court next season. Giles gives the Kings another young post option, but his history of knee issues and lack of experience make him more of a prospect with upside than a sure thing.
The rumors are only going to get more hot and heavy from here. The Kings would love to find a new home for Hill and his $19 million salary for next season, but at what cost?
Coming into the 2017-18 season, the goal was to develop young players and build a strong culture. Hill was supposed to be part of the group of veterans that were paid handsomely to mentor some of these young players.
After a rough first half of the season, the team has turned the reins over to players who will hopefully develop into the core of the team for the future. The Kings should be leery of including the wrong young pieces as filler into a deal to placate Hill or any other veteran.