The Worst Team In California

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Sacramento Kings are a longshot to make the playoffs. Ho-hum. They didn’t make the bubble playoffs last year. Or, the year before the pandemic bubble. They didn’t make the playoffs five years ago. They didn’t make the playoffs ten years ago. On the last day of the season in 2016 when Kobe Bryant dropped 60 on the Utah Jazz, the Sacramento Kings were playing Houston that night and lost by 35 points. It was their 49th loss of the year.  Ten years earlier, in 2006, unbeknown to the organization, it would be the last playoff game for the Sacramento Kings. Their misery would begin after a loss to San Antonio, a 22-point beat down. Mike Bibby, Bonzi Wells, Metta World Peace, and Kevin Martin would score in double figures but to no avail. It ended the way things usually end for the Kings.

The former owners of the Kings who were part of the glory years of 1999-2006, Gavin and Joe Maloof were beloved figures. Fans had their cellphone numbers. They were the same kind of figures as Mark Cuban: young, white, likeable, wealthy and oozed the cool factor.

In 2003, ESPN rated the Kings as the third-best ownership out of 121 professional sports owners. The ranking was based on “honesty and loyalty to core players and the local community.” It took just nine years for the Kings ownership to fall from grace and be ranked dead last. 122 out of 122. So much for building a legacy.

When these kinds of comments are written about you the dream has crashed. By Marcos Breton of the Sac Bee:

“They’re like some of the slumlords Sacramento has known: They cash their checks and look the other way; they smile with their mouths, not their eyes, and  you can’t find them to save your life.”

We love the idea of the Billionaire Boys Club. But sometimes it’s just an idea, a drunken fantasy. The Maloofs made their money like most young men do- because their parents invested in something. It was a beer distributorship that led to the ownership of the Houston Rockets. The portfolio was expanded to include Wells Fargo stocks and The Palms hotel in Vegas. But when Vegas went belly up in the 2008 recession the Maloofs were in the eye of the storm. Everything fell apart.

When the team was sold there was the same kind of false hope that drives suckers to buy lottery tickets. The new owner knew squat about professional basketball. Because he coached his daughter’s team, Vivek Randive thought he was competent to create a strategy. The boat took on holes and the sinking had begun.

First man up? Coach Eric Musselman.  33 wins because of terrible defense. Enter Reggie Theus coaching for the team he played for. He lasted 106 games. Kenny Natt followed Theus but he was just a placeholder. In 2009-10 the late Paul Westphal was tireless and dedicated but the team was led by Tyreke Evans who won Rookie of the Year. The problem was Evans never improved with experience.  It left the Kings between a rock and a hard place. In 2011, the Paul Westphal experiment ended and Keith Smart took over, miserably. He lasted two seasons. Mike Malone filled Smart’s seat and was fired because that’s what the Kings do. (Malone’s next job was with the Nuggets who he has led to a rebirth and more playoff appearances than Sac has had in 16 years.) I’ll skip Ty Corbin and go straight to George Karl who was a disaster because Boogie Cousins and Rondo are a lethal mix.

Karl lasted longer than he should have and was bitter about how it ended. Dave Joerger who followed Karl couldn’t get along with Buddy Hield and fought with management, but he owns the record for the longest Sac coaching stint during this hellish purgatory: 3 years.  Luke Walton continues the I’m-drowning-in-icy-water theme.

The first round of the draft was supposed to help the Kings.

Winners.

Tyreke Evans. 10 years. 594 games. 15.7 ppg.  5 seasons with Kings. 271 games. 17.2 ppg.

DeMarcus Cousins. 10 years. 590 games. 20.8 ppg. 7 seasons with Kings. 448 games. 21.1 ppg.

De’Aaron Fox. 4 years. 239 games. 17.1 ppg. Current Kings point guard.

Tyrese Haliburton. Rookie. 30 games. 13.2 ppg. Current Kings point guard.

Willie Cauley-Stein. 6 years. 380 games. 9.3 ppg. 4 seasons with Kings. 295 games. 10.1 ppg.

Marvin Bagley III. 3 years. 108 games. 14.6 ppg. Current Kings center.

 

Forgettable.

Spencer Hawes. 10 years. 684 games. 8.7 ppg. 3 seasons with Kings. 220 games. 8.8 ppg.

Jason Thompson. 8 years. 588 games. 8.9 ppg. 7 seasons with Kings. 541 games. 9.4 ppg.

Omri Casspi. 10 years. 588 games. 7.9 ppg. 5 seasons with Kings. 306 games. 9.4 ppg.

Bismack Biyombo. 10 years. 669 games. 5.2 ppg.  0 seasons with the Kings. Traded to Charlotte.

Ben McLemore. 8 years. 463 games. 8.9 ppg. 5 seasons with Kings. 312 games. 9.0 ppg.

 

Ugh Don’t Remind Me

Quincy Douby. 4 years. 143 games. 4.1 ppg. 3 seasons with Kings. 136 games. 4.1 ppg.

Thomas Robinson. 5 years. 313 games. 4.9 ppg. 1 season with Kings. 51 games. 4.8 ppg.

Nik Stauskas. 5 years 335 games. 6.8 ppg. 1 season with Kings. 73 games. 4.4 ppg.

Marquese Chriss. 5 years. 258 games. 8.0 ppg. 0 seasons with Kings. Traded to Phoenix.

Zach Collins. 3 years. 154 games. 5.7 ppg. 0 seasons with Kings. Traded to Portland.

 

Why can’t the Kings get to the playoffs?

  1. They overpay players with deficiencies. Those players are unable to live up to their contract, and worse they are unable to fulfill the nuts and bolts of what the coaching staff needs them to do. The salaries then reduce flexibility on the trade market. Management overreacts to their innate inability to attract free agents to the Sacramento market and as a default, they sign average players (Harrison Barnes) to bloated salaries ($22 million) they cannot move in the future. Mediocrity has them stuck.
  2. A 15-year playoff drought gives the league the perception that the Kings organizational malfeasance is ancestral. They are the definition of insanity.
  3. Inexperienced coaches are dedicated but the ability to instill selflessness, sacrifice, and unity is a challenge for coaches without a history. Like young players, young coaches have a steep learning curve. An added struggle is that NBA coaches need to win for job security. They feel the pressure coming from both sides.
  4. The Kings haven’t developed two-way players. De’Aaron Fox is a nice talent and Buddy Hield can score. Both have a defensive rating of 121. They cannot be the cornerstone of a franchise that wants to get to the playoffs if their only value is offense.
  5. The front office has been miserable.  In the draft, they passed on these future All-Stars. Rajon Rondo. Kyle Lowry. Serge Ibaka. Steph Curry. DeMar DeRozan. Jrue Holiday. Jeff Teague. Paul George. Eric Bledsoe. Klay Thompson. Kawhi Leonard. Jimmy Butler. Damian Lillard. C.J. McCollum. Giannis. Antetokounmpo. Dennis Schröder. Zach LaVine. Devin Booker. Domantis Sabonis. Pascal Siakam. Luka Dončić. Trae Young.
  6. The roster turnover creates a double-edged sword. Players come and go. Coaches come and go. The Kings aren’t building anything that lasts over time. They’ve entered into very few commitments. They lack cohesion and identity.

 

Playoff Kings vs. Lottery Kings Offensive

Rating

Defensive

Rating

Points Points Allowed 3-Point % Rebounds Losses by 10+ points
2005-06 106.7

11th

105.0

12th

98.9

10th

97.3

17th

35.1%

16th

40.5

18th

55%
2020-21 114.0

10th

119.7

30th

114.6

10th

120.3

30th

36.8%

13th

42.2

28th

52%

 

In the last ten years, California NBA teams not named the Kings (Lakers, Clippers, and Warriors) have won 144 playoff games and 4 titles. The Warriors are responsible for 60% of those wins by doing things the old-fashioned way. They drafted Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and in the second round drafted Draymond Green. They traded for Andrew Bogut who was instrumental in their first title and signed free agents Andre Igoudala and Shaun Livingston. Livingston was a gamble because of his injury history. The Warriors had a competent front office, developed players, had dynamic coaching, and they underpaid much of their roster. They understood at a core economic level the difference between value and worth.

The Warriors are only 82 miles from Sacramento. But objects in the mirror are farther away than they appear. The Kings in the playoffs are a riddle: What is full of holes but still holds water?

A sponge. And the Sacramento Kings.