Every year as the dust begins to settle on the NBA season, teams are forced to wrestle with their place in the NBA hierarchy. For many teams, that becomes a fun development. Some, like this year’s Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, or Milwaukee Bucks, realize a place in the league more lofty than in years past. Others, like the Houston Rockets or Washington Wizards, stave off the type of mediocrity which would force roster-reckoning moves.
For many teams, however, the process is not so rewarding. Consider cases like this year’s Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers, and, of course, the Sacramento Kings. These are examples of teams confronted with the reality that, while they have interesting pieces for the future, a lot has to happen for them to be real contenders. For these teams, often their fan-bases split into two camps: those who think the team should bottom out in the hopes of securing a higher Draft pick, and thus a better chance for future talent, or those that think the team should be playing for wins, and thus developing and instilling confidence in their current core.
Sometimes, the split isn’t so harsh. If you’re a fan of the Philadelphia 76ers, you’ve already been Stockholm Syndrome-d by Sam Hinkie into loving the sweet release that comes with losses and ping pong balls. If you’re a New York Knicks fan, you don’t need to be convinced to find more hope in Kristaps Porzingis’ development than in wins with Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, and Joakim Noah.
For these fans, though, the process of picking sides is a minor disturbance, a temporary camp-splitting that dissipates once success reunites the fan-base. For the Sacramento Kings, however, the process is practically an existential dilemma. Being in one camp over the other has basically defined your reaction to every move made over the past decade. If you, like me, were in the win-now camp up until the moment DeMarcus Cousins was traded, then you were probably really bummed that he was moved (especially for the return he was moved for). However, if you were in the bottom-out camp, then you probably saw value in him being moved for at least any future assets (again, the return sucked).
It turns out this existential dilemma hasn’t subsided now that Boogie is gone. As the very widely-loved, StR favorite Bradley Geiser has so eloquently said on Twitter, “cheering for your team to lose is dumb.” At the same time, there is of course a clear merit to hoping that the Kings end up with the highest possible pick in the upcoming Draft: while the Draft itself is probably a crap shoot, having a higher pick gives you the best position to address that crap shoot holistically. You should want the largest pool of players to, essentially, guess between.
At the same time, which players become core contributors by the time your team is successful is often as much of a crap shoot as the Draft. While the Milwaukee Bucks will have made the playoffs twice in the last three years, the only players on the 2016-2017 team who were on the roster in 2014-2015 are John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and Khris Middleton. This once again raises the question over whether the development and success of a team’s current players is more valuable than landing the best player possible in the Draft.
Are the Sacramento Kings better off developing their players, then, if by the time they are successful those players aren’t there? Moreover, are they better off developing their current players if the way they eventually become successful is through the drafting of some superior talent? The Bucks are again an interesting test case here, for the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo, taken with the 15th pick in 2013, has been far more central to their current success than the drafting of Jabari Parker with a higher pick in 2014, though nobody would argue they saw coming Antetokounmpo’s success or Parker’s injury issues. From the perspective of expected utility between the #2 and #15 picks in consecutive drafts, the Milwaukee Bucks have probably drafted at about an average clip.
I think the question about which is the proper way to “fan” is endlessly fascinating. I find myself both loving when members of the Kings’ core show discernible improvement while also hoping that things break in such a way that the team is able to add two top-end talents this upcoming June. Does this submit me to paradox? Am I justified in switching from the win-now camp to some variant of the bottom-out camp in light of a move as seismic as the Boogie trade? Should these questions regarding consistency in fandom matter at all?
I think oftentimes fans are talking past each other without clearly understanding what type of fan they, or some other person, is. I also like when fans are smart about their fandom, and I can’t take much more of Bradley Geiser versus the world on Twitter. So, Kings fans, I would love to hear your guys’ thoughts on this topic in the comments section. Let's get it all out here before the Kings do something stupid again.