Welcome back to our ongoing series (like a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting…and knitting…and knitting…and knitting…) in which we reminisce on 31 summers of Kings basketball. When we last met, we waxed nostalgic over the years 1985-1989. Today we ponder the question: How many years can a team fail to win even 30 games (we were at four and counting entering the 1990 season)? Part 2: The longest drought (v1.0).
1990: This marks the first Kings summer of which I have vivid memories, as though it was yesterday (now, what did I have for breakfast yesterday? Erm…ah…I digress). Warning: This is going to take a while, so you might want to either get comfortable or scroll directly to 1991.
I was working for NAPA Auto Parts as a sales representative at the time, and I was scheduled to spend the week of June 25th in lovely Willows, CA. My room was booked at the lovely Best Western Golden Pheasant Inn, and I double-checked to make sure that I would be able to view Wednesday’s draft from the comfort of my room. Oh, and air conditioning, of course, as it can get a bit toasty in Willows in late June.
A quick note on the dissemination of news, 1990 style. We had no smart phones at the time – hell, we had just graduated from the bicep and tumor-enlarging Motorola “portable” phone. We did have cable, however, so while the news had to wait for you to get to a TV, news could be had within hours of it actually happening. Ah, the modern age!
After logging my first day of work at the store, I drove my company-issued, candy-apple red Chevrolet Corsica (with the fuel injected 2.8l V6!) over to the BWGPI and checked in. I flipped to ESPN and learned that the Kings had traded Pervis Ellison, and had received Bob Hansen, Erick Leckner, the #23 pick in Wednesday night’s draft and three 2nd round picks (a ’90 and two ’91s). My little pea-head did the quick math: six players for Pervis Ellison – what a haul!!! What was going to be a Burger King night turned into a trip to the Iron Skillet in Corning, as it was time to celebrate!
Tuesday arrived with the draft just a day away and the Kings owning the #7, #23, #40 and #49 picks. I breezed through my day, got back to my room and learned that the Kings had traded Rodney McCray, the #49 pick and one of the ’91 2nd round picks to the Mavs for Bill Wennington and the #14 and #18 picks in the draft? Wha??? Was anyone in the NBA front office paying attention? We were robbing the league! We now owned the #7, #14, #18, #23 and #40 picks in Wednesday’s draft, we added a new murderer’s row of Hansen/Leckner/Wennington, and all it cost us was Pervis Ellison and Rodney McCray. Things were going to start happening now. With that I headed for a celebratory dinner within the friendly confines of the Golden Pheasant Inn - the steak was so tender I would have sworn that it was scooped right off of I-5.
WEDNESDAY! Draft day is here!!! Work was a blur that day. I got there at 6:30 AM so that I could blow out of there early and get back to my bunker at the BWGPI. I stopped at KFC for three pieces of extra crispy, mashed potatoes and biscuit and a Coke (and of course, a pudding dessert) and bolted for my room. AC on, stripped down to my boxers, a quick pose in front of the full-length mirror, dinner spread out picnic-style at the end of the bed..it’s showtime!
I remember really liking Derrick Coleman, Gary Payton and Kendall Gill heading into that draft, but they were all gone by the Kings first pick at #7. Of the remaining players, I probably liked Willie Burton the best, but the Kings selected Lionel Simmons out of La Salle. Was I upset? No way. After the brilliance of the front office these past two days, who was I to question? Welcome to Sacramento, Lionel Simmons.
Dinner was consumed and off the bed by the time the #14 pick rolled around (sorry about the pudding stain on the bedspread, BWGPI). Alaa Abdelnaby or Trevor Wilson (hey section, your UCLA bias is showing) were interesting candidates, I thought. The Kings selected Travis Mays out of Texas. We got our Isiah Thomas, I said in a muted, wistful tone. And hey, Abdelnaby or Wilson could still be on the board at #18.
Duane Causwell out of Temple at #18? Never heard of him. Seems like a project. Oh well, we have big Bill Wennington to hold down the middle until Causwell is ready. I guess the Abdelnaby must have a trick knee or something.
OK, #23. I was singing “Trevor Wilson” to the beat of the UCLA fight song. And…Anthony Bonner? Wasn’t he on my rec. league team? Well, OK. I mean, the front office has to be smarter than me about these things, right? And we still have the #40 pick, though there is no way that Wilson is still on the board that late.
Wilson goes at #36 – RATFARTS! But we get Bimbo Coles at #40, who we then trade to Miami for Rory Sparrow. Hey a mentor for Mays – this front office is brilliant!
Well, that was it for Willows, but the Kings were not done. By the time the season had started, the Kings had dealt Danny Ainge for Byron Irvin and a ’91 1st round pick (they would turn around and deal Irvin for Steve Colter that Fall). This team had all sorts of size up front (Tisdale, Carr, Wennington, Causwell, Leckner and maybe even Sampson), a combination of youth and leadership in the back court (Mays, Sparrow, Les, Hansen), and our top pick at small forward. And Dick Motta’s first full season working with the troops. It promised to be a fun season, and who knows, maybe we might even flirt with a .500 record. What could possibly go wrong? Final record: 25-57.
1991: This was really a strange off season. The Kings drafted Billy Owens with the 3rd pick in the draft (I liked Stacey Augmon), and added Pete Chilcutt with the pick obtained in the Danny Ainge trade of 1990, and Randy Brown was added in the 2nd round. This was quickly followed by a summer of Billy Owens discontent, as BO emphatically refused to sign with Sacramento. The Kings meandered through the summer, trading Travis Mays for Spud Webb and a future 2nd round pick, and also trading Antoine Carr for Dwayne Schintzius and a future 2nd round pick. Win some, lose some. The Kings also waived Ralph Sampson.
On opening night, the Kings agreed to trade the rights to Owens to Golden State for Les Jepsen and a future 2nd round pick. The Warriors also threw in Mitch Richmond. Richmond would miss the first two games of the season, including a 153-91 loss to the Warriors. Dick Motta was fired less than two months later, and the interim era of Rex Hughes was underway. Final record: 29-53.
1992: I remember this being an off season where the fans attempted to find a collected calm. We were now through six straight seasons of sub-30 wins, but we finally had a star in Richmond and a head coach that seemed both capable and likeable (Garry St. Jean). The back court of Richmond and Webb, a front line of Tisdale, Simmons and Causwell. The starting lineup seemed capable, but we needed some depth, versatility, and high, high socks. The Kings drafted Walt Williams out of Maryland, a pick that thrilled me more than any Kings pick up to that time. I looooved Walt Williams. The guy had all-star written all over him in my eyes. There was no way – no way! – that this team didn’t improve on the debacle of the previous season’s 29 wins. This was a team and season to get excited about! Final record: 25-57.
1993: The narrative coming from the Kings (or at least, Kings fans) is that last year was about getting St. Jean’s system in place and getting everyone on the same page. Things are going to be much, much different this year. The Kings kicked off the summer by drafting Bobby Hurley, a player that had earned Magic Johnson’s seal of approval based on his play during Olympic team exhibitions. The Kings added Evers Burns (yes, Evers Burns!), Alex Holcombe and Mike Peplowski in the 2nd round. And that was pretty much it, and we thought that it would be more than enough. In fact, we were certain that slowing the revolving door of players coming and going would be a real difference maker.
Hurley was involved in a near-fatal automobile accident two months into the season, his life saved by a passing-by Peplowski. The Kings traded Pete Chilcutt and a future 1st round pick (that became Cal Bowdler…who?) for Olden Polynice. Final record: 28-54, the eighth straight sub-30 win season. There simply were no answers.
1994: The front office added Geoff Petrie, who had previously been working in the Portland organization. Sure, I guess that some new blood in the front office can’t hurt, but a former player?
Petrie began his career by drafting Brian Grant, passing on the more popular Eric Montross, Eddie Jones, Khalid Reeves and Jalen Rose. Michael Smith and Lawrence Funderburke were selected in the 2nd round, though Funderburke would head off to Europe for three years.
Wayman Tisdale was waived about a month later, and Alaa Abdelnaby and Frank Brickowski represented the major free agent signings (Abdelnaby would be waived before the season was over).
But the season – oh that season! The team flirted with .500 for much of the season, with most of the momentum coming from a defense that was right around top 10 in the league. Richmond, Walt Williams, Olden Polynice, Spud Webb, Brian Grant and Michael (The Animal) Smith were the core six, with smaller contributions from the hobbled duo of Bobby Hurley and Lionel Simmons, as well as defensive hawk Randy Brown. For the first time in nearly a decade, fans were attending Kings games with an eye on winning. It was the most fun season in years. The team also had a bit of a blue collar approach to the game, which further endeared it to the fan base.
Final record: 39-43, 27-14 at home, missing the playoffs by two games.
Ten years in, and some of the novelty was beginning to rub off the Sacramento Kings experience. The fan base was ready for a winner and a return to ARCO Arena hosting a damned playoff game. The question was, how much longer would we have to wait?
Next time: 1995-1999. One step forward, two steps back, and a new era.