Can Sacramento Be Saved?

This is the 10th year of Sacramento Kings apathy. The Los Angeles Clippers were never this bad. They never missed the playoffs ten years in a row. The last time the Kings were in the playoffs, the U.S. President was named after a King- King George. The Bushes left D.C. in 2008 and have lived in quiet obscurity. Not so for the Sacramento Kings who have been terrible and loud and dysfunctional and awful and a boat without a captain and a clueless owner in love with the star player and an impotent G.M. to round out the cast of characters.

In 2005-06, the Kings best player was Mike Bibby and they won 44 games and lost in the playoffs to the San Antonio Spurs, who were the defending champions. Since then, they have had seasons of 33 wins, 38 wins, 17 wins, 25 wins, 24 wins, 22 wins…To keep counting their futility will only parameterize their failure. The Kings are like that little kid pressed up against the department store window at Christmas time staring at all the bright lights of NBA teams.

Since the Kings were last in the playoffs, LeBron James has been to five straight NBA Finals and possibly six if the Cavs make it there this year. The Warriors won 23 games in 2011-12 and four years later won 73 games. Since the Kings were last in the playoffs Kobe retired, Shaq retired, Allen Iverson retired, Steve Nash retired. Since the Kings were last in the playoffs, the Charlotte Hornets have been to the playoffs three times, the New Orleans Pelicans have been to the playoffs four times, the Memphis Grizzlies have been there six times, the Raptors have been there three times, the Magic were in the NBA Finals.

But the Kings have stayed very much the same ridiculously clueless organization that can’t seem to get it right while other teams, who have had their lower than low valleys, have climbed out the muck and taken advantage of trades, the draft and free agency.

This is what the Kings have done in a decade.

  • They drafted Spencer Hawes. He has been with five NBA teams. They drafted Jason Thompson, a lottery pick. He is on his third NBA team and has a career average of 8.9 points. They traded Mike Bibby to Atlanta for four players. Two of the players are noteworthy for what happened to them later, after the Kings eventually got rid of them. Lorenzen Wright was murdered. Ty Lue is coaching the Cavs.
  • They drafted Tyreke Evans who was Rookie of the Year and of course, he was traded. They drafted Omri Casspi at the bottom of the first round in 2009. He was a good pick, a solid player who had a very good year in 2015-16. They drafted Hassan Whiteside and let him go after funneling him in and out the D-league. He is the league’s best shot blocker and a free agent going to get paid.
  • They drafted DeMarcus Cousins, despite red flags about maturity. ┬áCousins is the Kings best player, a 20-10 force of nature who is the league’s best center and the league’s biggest headache. He has matured some. He still has a way to go and has yet to erase the label of coach killer.
  • They drafted Bismack Biyombo, a lottery pick, then traded him on draft night. He is currently in the semi-final round of the playoffs with Toronto. He has seen more playoff action than Cousins. They drafted Isaiah Thomas with the last pick in the 2011 draft. And they traded him. He became an All-Star.
  • They drafted lottery pick Thomas Robinson. He’s been with five NBA teams in four seasons. They drafted lottery pick Ben McLemore, a good but not great choice. They drafted Nik Stauskas in the lottery, a blah pick, and they traded him. They drafted Willie Cauley-Stein.
  • They fired Eric Musselman after one season of 33 wins. They fired Reggie Theus after a season of 38 wins and 6 wins the following year. His replacement, Kenneth Natt, won 11 games. They fired Paul Westphal after 51 wins over two seasons and one week. He hated Cousins. Keith Smart lasted the rest of the season and the next year, 48 wins total. They hired Mike Malone who lasted a season and a quarter, 39 wins. He was followed by 7 win Ty Corbin and George Karl. 11 wins for Karl in a truncated year and then 33 wins. So in a 10 year span there have been 9 head coaches. Nothing says stability like a coach damn near every year.

This week, the Kings are eyeing another head coach after firing George Karl. David Blatt and Patrick Ewing are the names that are floating around. David Blatt is the best teacher, that’s a given. But Ewing paid his dues as an assistant and is probably the best one to reel Cousins in and keep him mentally focused, that is if Cousins is not traded. The Kings have not ruled it out but it’s hard to imagine that moving in a new arena they would go without a star.

Mark Jackson, the master motivator would also be able to impact the Kings. He is scheduled to talk turkey with Divac and Ranadive. Jeff Hornacek is in the mix too. Hornacek is a lightweight for this bunch, these parts that don’t fit.

George Karl recently admitted what wasn’t exactly the elephant in the room. The front office bends over backwards to accommodate Cousins. He’s given a privilege he has not earned. It’s hard for any coach to survive that level of mixed messages. The coach has to have freedom to discipline without the front office jumping in. If Phil Jackson can skewer Shaq in the press and Kobe in a book, the Kings coach has to have the leeway to keep his star accountable.

The roster is a huge problem. Their offense is fine. Better than fine. The Kings finished third in scoring. The Kings and the Wizards were the only top-10 scoring team that didn’t make the playoffs and both had the same problem: defense.

Of the Kings players who averaged 30+ minutes this past season, their Defensive Real-Plus Minus Ranking(s), with the exception of Cousins, fit the profile of a team unable to crack the playoffs. Rajon Rondo ranked 34th among point guards. Darren Collison ranked 73rd among point guards. Rudy Gay ranked 27th among small forwards. DeMarcus Cousins ranked 10th among centers.

The front office has to do more than react to every Cousins whim. They need a strategy, a style of play. Then they need a coach that fits their vision and can incorporate defensive principles and open up communication lines while establishing accountability for everyone, even Cousins. The roster needs an upgrade in talent, or this time next year it will be the same familiar story, the Kings as the NBA’s worst franchise, out the playoffs again.

 

photo via llananba