Welcome back to our ongoing series, in which we reminisce on 31 summers of Kings basketball. The failures that comprised parts one and two were followed by a much more uplifting part three. In part four we will have a Dickens of a ride – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
2000: Fresh off of the first two winning seasons in Sacramento Kings history, the fans were eagerly adjusting to their new off-season regimens. No longer was it about lottery draft parties. Nope, now it was about what changes our suddenly brilliant front office would make to further fortify our up and coming team. That said, the genuine excitement that surrounded the drafting of Hedo Turkoglu vividly told the story of how far the organization had come in the fans’ eyes. It was barely four years ago that the fans recoiled over the drafting of Peja Stojakovic, and now the fans were lauding the brilliance of Geoff Petrie, in spite of the vast majority of the fan base having never seen Hedo play. The Kings also selected Jabari Smith, in the 2nd round.
The next two moves of the front office were seen as rather minor at the time. The Kings signed free agent Bobby Jackson to a five year deal that would average out to about $2.7m per season. It seemed like quite a commitment for a guy that had been playing spot minutes in Minnesota, but hey, maybe he could beat out Darrick Martin for the minutes behind Jason Williams, right? The Kings also traded Corliss Williamson, who was getting squeezed out by both Stojakovic and Chris Webber. In return the Kings received Doug Christie from Toronto, a seemingly middling shooting guard that might give Nick Anderson or Jon Barry a run for their minutes.
All in all, these moves looked like minor tweaks to a roster that still needed to get a bit better, but the stability of the overall roster and coaching staff might pay dividends. 50 wins was the general consensus target for the fans, as well as a trip to at least the 2nd round of the playoffs.
Final record: 55-27 regular season, 2nd in the Pacific Division. The Kings wound up with the 3rd best record in the West, which exceeded even the boldest of pre-season expectations. The Kings handled the Suns 3-1 in the 1st round of the playoffs, before being swept by the Lakers in round two. Optimism ruled the day – certainly we’d figure out a way to eventually beat those guys!
2001: Give the front office its due for not standing pat, and I’m not talking about the drafting of Gerald Wallace. The Kings rocked the fan base when it traded Jason Williams and Nick Anderson for Mike Bibby and Brent Price. There was a real mixed reaction to this trade. The Kings had gained national recognition via the Sports Illustrated cover and story as the “Greatest Show on Court.” While some saw the trade as the necessary next step, others saw it as a risk not worth taking. The Kings followed up that deal be dealing Jon Barry and a 2003 1st round draft pick to the Detroit Pistons for Mateen Cleaves, in retrospect what may have been the front office’s worst trade during this renaissance era of Kings basketball. The fans eagerly awaited the impending season, wondering if enough had been done to get the Kings over the hump.
Final record: 61-21, winning the Pacific Division and the #1 seed in the West playoffs. The Kings mowed through Utah and Dallas in the first two rounds in a combined 7-2 fashion, but could not overcome being Samaki Walker’d, Robert Horry’d, Dick Bavetta’d, and can’t-make-a-goddamned-game-seven-free-throw-to-save your-life! in the Western Conference Finals. Bibby’s game five jumper remains the imprint of all that was good at that point in time, but the Kings fell in seven games to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. But it represented a huge step forward, and next year would be the year that we held a big ol’ parade in Sacramento.
2002: No 1st round pick for the Kings (Dan Dickau was drafted and traded to satisfy a prior trade). But the Kings then did some solid bench patching by signing Keon Clark and Damon Jones, and they came to an agreement with Jim Jackson early after the season started.
Folks, this was the team. Two fewer wins than the previous season, but still #1 in the West. The #3 seed in the West overall, but nine games better than the hated Lakers. The Kings handled the aging Utah Jazz easily in the 1st round, and headed to a 2nd round meeting with the Dallas Mavericks. The Kings secured home court advantage with a game one win in Dallas. And then Webber’s knee exploded in game two, and the Kings ultimately fell in seven games. Did you watch any of the conference or NBA finals that year? I did not. There was collective pit in the stomach of the fan base. Had our time come and gone?
2003: The Kings started their summer by trading a couple of 2nd round draft picks for Darius Songaila, a pretty apparent patch while Webber (hopefully) recuperated. The Kings then made a trade that did not initially go over well with the fans, dealing favorites Hedo Turkoglu and Scot Pollard for Brad Miller via a sign and trade. The Kings later dealt Keon Clark for 2nd round picks, and Anthony Peeler was the biggest free agent acquisition.
The roster looked weird. Could Divac and Miller play together? How did Peeler work into the mix with Bibby, Christie and Jackson? Who would step up in Webber’s absence, and what would happen if/when he came back?
The season was weird, too. The general consensus of the fans (yours truly included) seemed to be that the Kings needed a pseudo-healthy Chris Webber to truly compete for the championship. But Peja Stojakovic was producing an MVP-level season and the Kings won 43 of 58 before Webber returned. They proceeded to go 12-12 down the stretch, 11-12 with Webber playing.
Final record: 55-27, 2nd in the Pacific. Avenged themselves with a 4-1 1st round win over the Mavs, but fell in seven games to the Timberwolves in the semis. And in a blink of an eye, Vlade Divac’s six year contract was up, and he was 36 years old. And things would never be the same again.
2004: The Kings “led off” the summer by losing Gerald Wallace in the expansion draft. There is a lot of revisionist history that revolves around this, but the bottom line is that Wallace was a non-core rotation player on a team that could ill-afford to lose core talent. Knowing now what we didn’t know then, Chris Webber and his former knee / current bloated contract should have been laid out there. But the jury was still out on Webber’s ultimate health, and the fan base really shed few tears over the departure of Wallace. The Kings turned around and drafted Kevin Martin with the 26th pick of the draft a couple of days later – I remember being much more excited about Ricky Minard at #48.
The Kings then entered the free agent market and capably filled the shoes of Vlade Divac by signing Greg Ostertag! October 1st became the day that would represent what future free agent “big days” would be for the Kings when they signed Maurice Evans, Matt Barnes and Erik Daniels (I liked the Barnes signing at the time…Del Campo and UCLA kid!).
The team just didn’t click like the teams of the recent past, and in January Doug Christie was dealt for Cuttino Mobley. A little over a month later, Webber (along with Barnes and Michael Bradley) were sent to Philadelphia for Brian Skinner, Kenny Thomas and Corliss Williamson. Final record: 50-32, and unceremoniously dumped in the 1st round of the playoffs by Jerome James and the Seattle Supersonics. The bloom was off the rose, and the fans wondered how this team, led by front office genius Geoff Petrie, would get it headed back in the right direction.
Next up: 2005-2009. No new arena for you, and no more Rick Adelman, and no more playoffs. But the lottery becomes a conversation topic again, and we get coaches…lots and lots of coaches!