Sacramento: Why?

The Sacramento Kings actually added four wins to their total from last season but still fell well short of a playoff spot.  Their 33-49 record put them in 10th place in the West and 8 games behind Houston for the final postseason berth.

The Kings scored the 3rd most points in the conference but it hasn’t been enough when factoring in pace of play and their miserable defense.  For instance, Sacramento was a middling 14th in offensive efficiency and a poor 23rd in defensive efficiency.  The fact that their opponents had so many possessions led to them allowing the most points in the league at 109.1 per game.  The quick offensive pace also makes the offensive point totals look less impressive as indicated by the efficiency rank.  It may not be fair to put all of this at the feet of veteran coach George Karl, but it’s not surprising that he was dismissed on April 14.  Then again, this team hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since their eight-year postseason streak ended in 2006.

The situation in the Sacramento front office has been chaotic for some time.  For instance, in 2013 owner Vivek Ranadivé hired head coach Michael Malone and General Manager Pete D’Alessandro.  The two never got along, and both were let go following the 2014-15 season.  After Karl was hired, current GM Vlade Divac didn’t support him.  Karl himself expected to be fired in February, but minority owners refused to sign off on replacing him with assistant Corliss Williamson.  Instead, Divac got rid of Vance Walberg who was a favorite assistant of Karl’s.  Divac believes in the talent on his roster, but it’s clear that he needs to be a part of the next head coach selection process.

As Divac told the Sacramento Bee, “We need a coach who can be on the same page with the front office and the players and make sure we are doing the same thing.”

Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly desirable job given that nine men have coached in Sacramento during the last decade alone.  What’s more, the organization has pinched pennies to the extent that coaches are barred from eating food made for players at the team’s North Sacramento practice complex.

There’s little doubt that DeMarcus Cousins was the team MVP, and he contributes in various ways when he is on the court.  In addition to 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists, he averaged 1.4 blocks as well as 1.6 steals.  Unfortunately for fans in California’s capital, the Kings went 4-13 without their star.   Frankly, the team needed a full season from him to have any chance of reaching the playoffs.

Cousins has had to fight through nagging Achilles, back, and ankle injuries.  Late in the season, the coaching staff were forced to rest him during road games.  In addition, he was suspended in March not only by the organization for detrimental conduct but also by the league after accumulating excessive technical fouls.  As a result, there are persistent rumors that the man known as Boogie could be on his way out of town despite his obvious talent.

The final game at Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena on April 9 demonstrated how the Kings score enough to win on some nights.

Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant helped open the door to an upset by shooting 11-29, and point guard Darren Collison stepped up with 27 points to lead Sacramento.  Cousins was a dismal 7-24 from the field, but forward Rudy Gay poured in 24 points and guard Seth Curry had another good night off the bench with 20 more.  After all, who says there’s only room for one sharpshooting Curry in Northern California?

After a foul on Serge Ibaka with a second remaining, Gay sank two free throws to give the Kings a 114-112 victory in front of a surprisingly vocal crowd.

However, Sacramento was rarely able to win with defense.  The Kings have won only twice all season while also holding their opponent under 90 points.  By contrast, the Spurs had 20 such victories before January even started.

Darren Collison proved to be a useful guard off the bench and scored 14 points per game, but he was a detriment on the defensive end.  Opposing players shot 2.9% when he guarded them, including a whopping 16% higher within six feet of the hoop.  Curry enjoyed his 40 games with Sacramento and became a double-digit scorer down the stretch, but he also struggled to guard his man especially on the perimeter.

The Kings as a team gave up the most threes per contest in the league at 10.2.  Omri Casspi had the opposite problem, guarding opposing forwards well behind the arc but giving up lots of baskets in the paint.  As a team, Sacramento ranked in the bottom third with a field goal percentage allowed of 46.2%.

It’s not inconceivable that the Kings could return to the playoffs, but they need more two-way players who can both make shots and get key stops.  Curry has a player option and will likely opt out in search of a bigger paycheck.  Forward Quincy Acy and guard James Anderson are in similar positions, while Rajon Rondo is an unrestricted free agent.  That leaves the team mostly intact including depth players like big man Kosta Koufos, sharpshooter Marco Belinelli, and backup guard Ben McLemore.

Sacramento has around $65 million committed in 2016-17, so the Kings will try to use their cap room and new arena to land impact free agents.  The question is whether premier players will entertain playing for such an unstable management group.

 

photo via llananba