As the Sacramento Kings season winds down, it's only natural to begin looking ahead to the offseason. The draft always holds promise, even if the Kings should inevitably wind up with a pick in the 7-9 range. But for a team with hopes of becoming a playoff challenger, the real key to a successful offseason is free agency. The Kings will have cap space, a new arena being built, a Hall Of Fame coach in George Karl, and DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay locked into long-term deals. These are great reasons for Sacramento to be an appealing free agency destination, but has the Kings organization poisoned that well?
The Kings front office has been in turmoil, often publicly, since Michael Malone was fired in December. The public sniping, the regular flow of leaks, various parties claiming credit or blame for each move along the way. It's nothing short of toxic. And that was all inspired by the firing of Michael Malone, a coach that had his team playing well, and that had earned the respect of players. Rudy Gay had just signed his extension, partially because he believed in the team under Malone.
When analysts saw the trade-deadline deals to unload Michael Carter-Williams and KJ McDaniels, they openly questioned how the Philadelphia 76ers expected their players to continue to play hard. Why would players play when every sign of progress was dismantled by the front office? But that roster believes in their coach, and has a clear identity as one of the better defensive teams in the NBA this season. The Kings, meanwhile, completely feel apart in the wake of Malone's firing.
The mistake of Malone's compounding was exacerbated by its aftermath. Sure the Kings eventually landed George Karl, but not before committing to Tyrone Corbin and then going back on their public proclamations. The Kings then negotiated publicly with Karl while Corbin was still coaching games. And during those public negotiations, they managed to drag their star players' name through the mud. This had the perk of pissing off Cousins, while also sending up a major red flag to players' agents.
The first year of new Kings ownership made great strides to erase the stench of the Maloofs. The arena was refurbished at great expense, even though the arena would only house the team for three more years. Players were acquired to help the team win, even if those players were expensive. Those are huge changes from what Kings fans had grown accustomed to, and those strides shouldn't be overlooked. But those moves made the situation better, they didn't make Sacramento desirable.
The multitude of problems with the Kings this season have already impacted the players on the floor. The effort still isn't as consistent as it was to start the year. The team is still completely inconsistent game to game. Players are checked out, and understandably so. It's difficult to expect the players to give maximum effort during what has been publicly declared a 30-game training camp.
On paper, the Kings should be a desirable destination for free agents this summer. Kings fans can only hope that free agents aren't scared away by the tragically public mistakes of the front office, and the depressing style of play that has so often resulted from these moves.