I'm not sure what it says about Tom Ziller that he was the perfect person to guide this fanbase during what was legitimately, on and off the court, the worst era in the history of Kings' basketball. That's not entirely true. If I didn't know what it said about Tom Ziller I wouldn't be writing. Actually maybe I would be, just to attempt to win this bet that I can write with more frequency than he can, a bet I'm destined to lose, unless half-drunk fanposts like "We need to trade Brian Skinzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz" count. I'd note that even that proposed fanpost is probably still more lucid than about 70% of what Pookey writes. Only kidding Pookey, but not really.
It is a near impossibility at this point to discuss the last decade of Kings' basketball without the focus, appropriately, being placed on the off-court events of the last 3 years. Partially because traumatic events are good to relive when the outcome transcends the trauma. Partially because no matter how traumatic these off-court events were they were still a hell of a lot more entertaining than what was happening on the court. And partially because, you know, it's nice to win something, however tenuous that victory is. But for a moment let's forget about the relocation saga; let's reflect exclusively on the state of basketball in Sacramento this last decade, painful though that is. It has been awful, horrible in every sense. Not just the play but the personnel. Granted play is a product of personnel. This is a team that was coached by Reggie Theus. Reggie Theus. His coaching resume included a fictional high school. That fired him. I mean I'm assuming they fired him. Everyone else has. He was preceded by Eric Musselman. A man so forgettable I can't even think of anything pithy to say about him. That's a lie, but Aykis gave me a word/vulgarity limit for this piece. Until the Malone hire Paul Westphal was the most competent Kings' coach of the post-Adelman Ziller STR era. That's a fact that doubles as a punch line.
And what about the players? Think of the number of guys we've attempted, in spite of ourselves, to talk ourselves into this last 10 years. Bonzi Wells. Orien Greene. Quincy Douby. John Salmons. Twice. These are players who had multiple Ziller posts written about them. Because who the Hell else was he supposed to write about? I saw a headline on Real GM the other day that read "Beno Udrih Demands Trade from the Knicks" and I laughed at its insignificance until I reminded myself that there was a time, not all that long ago, that such a demand from that player would have felt catastrophic to this team. For the better part of a decade the most exciting player Ziller had to write about was Kevin Martin. Now I know Ziller loves Kevin Martin, I'm waiting for a farewell fanpost from him, and I love Kevin Martin. But Kevin Martin is like the 10th most interesting guy on this year's Timberwolves team.
And yet I never paid attention to Sacramento basketball more than I did the Kings in that era of morass. Even the early 2000's team never quite captured my attention comparably. The reason? That I'm a lonely drunk? Sure. Mikki Moore fandom? Yes. But the real reason? The real reason was Ziller. In that era I cared more about Sactown Royalty than I did about the Kings. That's not to say that care isn't still similarly ranked, it's simply to say that at a time when caring wasn't exactly a given, at a time when I wasn't so sure I owed it to the Kings to care, at a time when many fans had stopped caring themselves, Sactown Royalty made me care. Tom Ziller made me care. Tom Ziller is the smartest basketball guy in any room. We just happened to have the good fortune that that room was ours. You know you can't compare with his awareness and touch, his ability to transfer his knowledge into something legible, accessible, digestible, you just simply want to write in his presence in a way that doesn't embarrass you, and by extension him.
It was Ziller's insight, his tendency to look at basketball in ways qualitatively and quantitatively few others were, that set him apart. That he was doing this while covering a team that regressed in every way Ziller documented the sport progressing made that accomplishment all the more amazing. Sort of the inverse of Joe Morgan interviewing Billy Bean. He was the first person, outside of maybe David Thorpe, who had skin in the game, to disprove those who were inclined to dismiss Kevin Martin as a chucker. He, and only he, chronicled the internal dysfunction between Petrie and Jason Levien. A dysfunction that underscored both a dated management group and approach and, long term, underscored a crumbling ownership. In the good old days the Bee had upwards of 4 columnists, not beat guys, columnists, covering the Kings. And each had an agenda. Kreidler was close to Adelman. Marty Mac, Webber. Voisin, first Divac and Peja and then the Maloofs. Breton just talked shit about everyone. Then they were largely gone. Leaving only Voisin, a great writer, but a writer reluctant, given her own biases, to condemn the Maloofs as quickly as they deserved. Ziller was the voice in the wilderness. A voice that, by the time the relocation saga really materialized, had earned ear-time. Earned is key. It's easy to look at STR now, with its infrastructure and deep bench, and think it's always been like this. But Ziller made this. Made this with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets.
I will not belabor the last three years. They've been documented enough. I would just reiterate what I've said on several occasions. It was convenient to paint Sacramento's plight as provincial. To paint Sacramento and its fanbase as provincial. Changing that narrative took work. A lot of work from a lot of people in a lot of places. But the extent to which having a voice as well regarded as Ziller's troubadouring you all's efforts nationally cannot be understated.
And this says nothing of Ziller's national presence. The mutual respect he shares with some of the sharpest, coolest, freest thinking people in the sport. Ziller was both an early proponent of PER and an early skeptic that maybe Hollinger wasn't going far enough. He invented the idea of Good Chad Ford and Bad Chad Ford. A duality Ford himself has referenced more than once. Ziller is a published author. In a Free Darko book. He's friends with Bethlehem Shoals. Will Leitch recruited him to scrutinize the lockout because Ziller was one of the few people to, wisely, place the bulk of blame on ownership while the bulk of media tried to paint it is as mutually assured destruction at best, player greed at worst. I realize we aren't losing Ziller the national presence in the same way we are losing Ziller the local presence, but when you think that he did all of the aforementioned while daily documenting John Salmons' "performance"? Someone buy this man a drink. He likes gin. Aviation.
Ziller of course would never acknowledge any of this. If there's any one quality more enviable in Tom than all others, besides his love for cats, it's his ability to be so graceful and deferential about his talent. There's a colloquial quality to Tom underneath all the high mindedness. Not just that he's a Sacramentan's Sacramentan, but that he's a definite product of the mid-to-late 90's hoops culture. He doesn't take himself or the sport too seriously. You can tell he used to subscribe to Slam. He's as much Scoop Jackson as he is David Halberstram, though I like his writing better than I do either of those guys.
Last week in an email chain I wondered if you could congratulate a person on inevitability. That's how I feel about Akis' promotion. And next time I'm inclined to write something it will probably be in the wake of another inevitable promotion for him. But Ziller needed a eulogy and the least I could do was eulogize. Somewhere CoolCatReport is turning over in his grave. I realize he's not dead. It's a Charles Barkley joke. See some of you in two weeks. Tom we love you.