"There's always next year".
That's been the refrain of Sacramento Kings fans for almost the entirety of the team's existence in Sacramento, aside from one solid stretch in the early 2000s. Since that team fell apart, we've been waiting and waiting on a return to relevance and success that continues to stay out of reach.
Much of Sacramento's failures have been self-inflicted. Bad drafts, bad trades and plain old bad luck. This season has been more of the same. It was supposed to be different. A whole season with a Hall of Fame coach, a big free agent haul that included a sharpshooter and one of the best passers in NBA history. This was supposed to be the foundational year that sprung the Kings forward heading into a new downtown arena.
To make matters worse, the West has been kinder than usual this season. The 8th seed is currently 2 games below .500 despite being 60 games through the season. The Kings actually held onto that spot for a few days not too long ago. A few days would be all they'd get though, as the season devolved from there, seemingly spinning out of control all of a sudden. Suddenly the defense, which was already bad, became anemic. Growing animosity between the players and the head coach nearly resulted in Karl's firing (and probably will result in his firing after the season).
The Kings technically aren't out of reach of their stated goal of making the playoffs yet, and almost assuredly will finish with their best record in years, but it's hard to see this season as anything other than another failure. What did this team learn from this season? How did it grow? We haven't seen any of that development that signals a team on the rise. Look at teams like Utah and Portland. The Jazz have slowly but steadily improved, building upon a foundation of effort and defensive intensity. The Trail Blazers have been the surprise of the NBA this season, with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum leading the way under the steady hand of Terry Stotts.
What do the Kings have to hang their hat on aside from DeMarcus Cousins? They push the pace, but that's been a development that hasn't done much but produce high scoring games for both sides, with the added addition of wearing out the Kings on defense even more. They don't have all that much youth aside from Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore. They don't have much to build upon, which is frankly the most frustrating thing about this season.
After yet another disappointing game last night, Omri Casspi addressed reporters about the potential of making the playoffs this season:
"We're not worthy of it, we're not worthy of the playoffs right now, I think."
That's putting it mildly. Playoff teams don't suffer the kind of mental lapses the Kings do on a seemingly nightly basis. Playoff teams don't let one bad game turn into five bad games.
This team is a mess and has been for a long time. That bright future that seemed to be just over the top of the hill back in November turned out to be just the headlights of a big rig coming straight at us.