For the eighth straight season, the Sacramento Kings are playing for the future. The young guys are playing to prove themselves worthy of future minutes. The younger vets are playing to maintain their established relevancy (and maybe possibly win some ball games?).
Obviously there's real value in what's done now. Michael Malone and Vivek Ranadive, in their opening presser back in June, both affirmed that the goal of this season is to establish a culture of winning habits. The goal wasn't to win (ya, we know) and while the Kings made some very aggressive personnel moves, the goal never really changed.
If the Kings were to win out from this point on, they'd go 46-36. The 8th seeded Dallas Mavericks would have to go 12-13 to reach the point we would make if we went on a 2012-2013 Miami Heat-ian winning streak. So, basically, the only reason Kings fans should be writing the word "playoffs" is if they're asking what "playoffs" are.
What this means then is that as the season winds down, the lens with which we view Kings games becomes one more centered on those winning habits:
- Against the Boston Celtics, Ben McLemore had 11 points on 4-9 shooting and looked more aggressive in attacking the basket and handling the ball up the court.
- Rudy Gay had 22 points on 8-18 shooting and looked more like the Rudy Gay of immediately after the trade in terms of maximizing his efficiency.
- Carl Landry had 10 points on 4-6 shooting and 6 rebounds while looking like classic Carl Landry. Despite his lack of length and how it hampers his ability to affect shots, it's still extremely fun to watch him bruise other bigs down low.
- Isaiah Thomas matched a career high in assists, with 12 (which was accomplished in just the first three quarters), while accruing 21 points on 50% shooting, all marks that would send the "Isaiah Thomas can't be a starting point guard" army back over the hill to lick their wounds and regroup.
- DeMarcus Cousins finished with a double-double, piling up 13 points to go along with the 10 times he wanted to kill Kris Humphries as inconspicuously as possible. He also had 7 rebounds.
The latter half of these sentences (save for DeMarcus'), will be the more paramount detail for each of the Kings' players the rest of the season. Yes, they're getting their stats. But how are they getting them?
If Ben McLemore has 20 points on inefficient shooting or on unsustainable means, I'd care, because that would just be fun in the short term. But I also don't care at all, because that's not what Kings' seasons are for yet.
I'm not saying that we as fans aren't allowed to derive any happiness from things outside of that "winning habits" or "can I see this being important to develop for a potential playoff series?" constriction. I'm just saying that anything outside of that is ultimately going to be meaningless (ducks out of the way).
If Rudy Gay drops 40 points on a series of pull-up threes or fade-away 20 footers, we can rejoice and bask in the glory of that much needed relief. In a season like this, as we all know so well, those breaks from the norm are necessary. But believe that Isaiah Thomas' potential for 15 assists or Ben McLemore maybe going 4-5 from three or Ray McCallum looking like a competent backup point guard (which he did last night) will always be the more important takeaway.
For the Sacramento Kings' brass, to get to this point was the always the expectation. As fans, we inherently believe in the allure of the postseason. We think we've been let down because of the Kings' apparent failures. But as the season comes to a close our expectations should be reconfigured.
No longer will I be holding on to your sweet nothings, Rudy Gay. No longer will I fall for the charm of a Jimmer Fredette three in transition.
For the Sacramento Kings, it's no longer "What have you done for me lately?", as much as it's "What will you do for me later?"