I am bad enough at enough occupations that it’s often more efficient for me to list those things I’m actually good at. I am good at getting girls who were supposedly interested to ignore me. I am good at working while hung over (in fairness I work for the State). I am, as any number of readers of this blog can attest, very good at referencing quotes, titles and motifs I remember from college English courses. And I am, occasionally, able to accurately predict the outcome of a given sports’ franchise’s season. This last one in particular isn’t particularly a talent, particularly when the team whose performance you’re prognosticating is your team. I would guess of the percentage of people who had George Mason in their Final Four nationally, 99.9% of those people were either George Mason enrollees or alumni; the other .01% confused George Washington with George Mason or were lying.
The above is relevant, and admittedly its relevance is relative, only because a year ago I knew going into October that the Kings’ season was going to be a special kind of disaster. I would say the majority of Kings’ fans knew the year would be bad, but for a variety of reasons; the continued ascent of Kevin Martin, the departure of Ron Artest, the surprisingly competent job Reggie Theus had done, there was some general level of hope. Not playoff hopes, mind you, but "drafting in the late Lottery again isn’t so bad" kind of hope. My reservations at the time were simple. A team whose only identity was "let’s watch Artest dribble the ball for 22 seconds before he tosses up an off-balanced jumper" the season previous wasn’t suddenly going to develop a more sophisticated identity with subtler talent. Petrie is a master of drafting the subtly talented. Reggie Theus, who possesses all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, was never the right coach for that – or any other – roster. And so the first quarter of the season played out with the awkward inevitability of a contentious couple drunk at the wife’s sister’s wedding. And by December we’d already all convinced ourselves that the only thing that could save this franchise was a 17-year-old Iberian who once had three assists in an Olympic medal game.
Sacramento is a factory town. We tend to forget this because there isn’t actually a factory in town. But make no mistake; Sacramento is as dependent on its dying industry as Detroit is on theirs. That industry is bureaucracy. And while calling it dead is in deed overstatement, from furloughs to general fund layoffs to a flurry of calls for benefit reforms, it has been a particularly disquieting year for an employment class used to quiet consistency. Now I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for the state worker (I read the comments at SacBee, I know those individuals are few and far between), particularly not those that work (or worked) in Sacramento’s other cottage industries of commercial real estate, residential real estate and redevelopment. Contrarily I would say simply that we have all experienced a little over a year of mutual misery. And adding to, even exacerbating, that misery has been our NBA team. Ideally a diversion, from the Maloofs’ financial struggles, to the unending, seemingly unsolvable arena issue, to the perpetual threat of their abandonment, the Kings’ woes last season in many ways underscored our own. The draft lottery was the high point of these low lights.
I bring none of the above up to alternately gloat or make us all more miserable. I remind all of us of the situation we were in a year ago because I feel the situation we are in now, while objectively maybe worse, is subjectively so much better.
In finance in recent months there’s been a lot of talk about green shoots. Green shoots are the sprigs of growth that sprout from the apocalyptic landscapes of deserts and fire ravaged woods. They are signs of new life, of a tentative return to the new normal. Goldman Sachs’ lofty profits, investors willingness to buy debt other than U.S. Treasuries, the incremental rebound of the housing market, these are all green shoots. This is a season of green shoots for Sacramento. In fact they’ve already started sprouting, just not necessarily, as is often the case, where or how we thought they would. No the Kings didn’t end up with Kurt Rambis as coach, but if assistant coaching staffs are a reflection of the head coach’s basketball mentality we’re probably better off with Westphal. Petrie drafted Tyreke Evans, which, to say nothing of said guard’s talent, saved Sacramento from a role in Rubio’s off-season melodrama. The arena issue remains irresolvable, but at least we know the Maloofs aren’t moving the team.
This won’t be a good season. But it won’t be last season. This is a year of growth – for both team and town – however incremental, inconsistent and awkward. The Kings are still a fairly young team, but as any parent will tell you, the most rewarding steps are often those learning ones taken in infancy.