The Sacramento Kings have long been maligned for their inability to evaluate and draft NBA-caliber talent. Over the past decade, they’ve drafted players such as Jimmer Fredette, Thomas Robinson, Quincy Douby, and Tyreke Evans over NBA stars like Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Kyle Lowry, and Kawhi Leonard. The most recent Kings blunder came in 2018 when they decided to draft Duke star Marvin Bagley III over current all-stars Luka Doncic and Trae Young. The caveat in this story is that Bagley is not a bad player at all. He is not, and most likely never will be, on the level of Doncic or Young but he’s a solid player averaging 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and about a block per game on 25 minutes in his career. Those stats aren’t getting any all-star nods, but they’re solid enough to be a starter or solid bench piece on most teams in the NBA. So why has he been scratched from the already below-average Kings’ rotation?
The Kings have made no statement as to why they have buried Bagley on the bench even though he could likely be a solid starter for the team. The most logical theory is the underlying malice between the Bagley family and the Kings’ organization. During a Kings game on January 2 2021, Bagley’s father Marvin Bagley Jr. tweeted out “@SacramentoKings PLEASE trade Marvin Bagley III ASAP! Love – Coach Bagley” from an account called Team Bagley. Bagley refused to comment on his father’s tweet and only offered comment on his trade rumors in September saying “I’m right where God wants me to be”.
The situation has come to a head with Bagley’s omission from the team’s opening game rotation. This is surprising and seems like poor management from the Kings. Bagley is in the last year of his rookie contract with the team. A rookie contract is the initial player contract between an NBA team and their first-round pick and is a binding contract and therefore legally enforceable. Rookie contract stipulations are generally simple with the concept being that the player must show up to practices, meetings, and games and the team provides a salary and the means to play professionally. The contract length is 2 years with a team option for the 3rd and 4th years. Team options grant the team the right to keep the player for another year if they choose to exercise the option, meaning Bagley has had no opportunity to enter free agency. Unfortunately for Bagley, the team had and continues to have complete control over him for the first 4 years of his career since they have picked up his team option in both the 3rd and 4th years and have shown no interest in trading or releasing him.
The Kings are running out of time to figure this out. They are on their last year of team control and can only offer an extension, a qualifying offer, or let Bagley test free agency. A qualifying offer is a one-year contract and if it’s rejected, Bagley enters restricted free agency where any team can offer him a contract which the Kings can match and re-sign him if they want. ESPN’s Bobby Marks mentioned a clause in Bagley’s contract that states if Bagley does not start 41 games or play 2000 minutes, his qualifying offer drops from 14.8M to 7.3M. If the Kings are restricting his minutes to lower a potential qualifying offer, that seems immaterial because all indications point toward Bagley declining any offer from the Kings.
Unfortunately for Bagley, he has no legal avenue to void the contract. By signing the rookie contract in 2018, he essentially committed to the team for 4 years regardless of how the Kings utilize him. Bagley’s agent is understandably upset, but ultimately powerless to resolve the issue until the season ends unless his client decides to retire (unlikely) or sacrifice his salary and hold out with the hopes of forcing a trade.
The Kings’ handling of the situation is perplexing, to say the least. There seems to be no mutual interest between the team and Bagley, so after this year it’s likely Bagley looks elsewhere to continue his career. At this point, his trade value will only diminish as he remains on the bench. It is possible in the upcoming CBA agreement that certain rookie contract clauses will be implemented to provide players with more power to be moved if they are being underutilized. However, the balance of power between player and team is delicate and likely not to be disturbed. Regardless of the Kings’ decision, their mismanagement of the situation must inspire skepticism of any players considering Sac-town in free agency and the Kings’ crown will continue to get heavier until they clean up the handling of their young talent.
Evan Mattel is a 1L at Hofstra Law and a 1L Representative of the Sports and Entertainment Law Society. He can be found at @Evan_Mattel21 on Twitter.
 Staff, CBS13. “Father of Kings' Fox Chimes in after Bagley's Dad Deletes Trade Request.” CBS Sacramento. CBS Sacramento, January 3, 2021.  Anderson , Jason. “Kings’ Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III ... - Sacbee.com.” SacBee.com , September 28, 2021.  “NBA Contract Types.” CBA Breakdown. Accessed October 20, 2021.  Schuhmann, John. “2021 Free Agency: Options and Qualifying Offers.” NBA.com. NBA.com, August 2, 2021.  Id.  Sara, Arlos. “Marvin Bagley in Danger of Losing $7,500,000 after Kings' 'Baffling' Decision.”