The Sacramento Kings have been eliminated from playoff contention.
For twelve straight years we have been subjected to that harsh declaration of another wasted season coming to a close weeks before the final buzzer actually sounds.
4,330 days ago, the San Antonio Spurs eliminated the Sacramento Kings from the playoffs with a 105-83 victory in the first round. At that time, George W. Bush was President, the first Cars movie was released, and Daniel Powter’s one-hit wonder, Bad Day, was keeping all of our teenage hearts grounded. I was 15.
The dozen years since that 4-2 series loss to the Spurs have been a nightmare inducing merry-go-round of blown draft picks, irresponsible owners, franchise-crippling trades, unqualified coaches, relocation sagas, and our old friend, cash considerations. Long-term decisions have been continuously sacrificed upon the altar of the immediate, leading to one of the most embarrassing stretches in NBA history.
Twelve Damn Years
Ownership and the front office are now facing a very real battle against the clock. No, not the two year timeframe that Vlade Divac granted himself to right the ship or the countdown to our many rookie contracts evolving into expensive deals. They’re not even fighting to prevent the expiration of fans’ almost infinite patience. It’s a race against the most humiliating record for an NBA franchise: longest playoff drought in league history.
Twelve Damn Years
There are two organizations that have managed to outdo the Kings in losing prowess. Currently, the Minnesota Timberwolves are on their own journey in the history books, but that exhausting jaunt is likely to come to a close this season. Their core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Andrew Wiggins looks poised to jump into the playoffs and end the 13 year drought that has plagued the organization.
The other franchise, the record holder, the Piece De Resistance of on-court futility has been the Clippers. From 1976 to 1991 the Buffalo Braves to the San Diego Clippers to the Los Angeles Clippers managed to avoid the playoffs for fifteen consecutive years. Their best season was in 1978-1979, posting a winning record of 43-39 (.524), but still missing a postseason berth by two games. Meanwhile, Sacramento’s most successful season during their current slump was back in 2007-2008 in which the team had a losing record of 38-44 (.463).
Twelve Damn Years
How many of us have ever had a favorite restaurant slowly circle the drain? The interior starts to get a little rough, plate sizes get smaller, the service falters, and the food quality drops significantly. Attendance dwindles.
The restaurant continues to struggle and ownership eventually sells out. One day as we’re driving by, we see a sign being hoisted over our old favorite haunt: ‘Under New Ownership’.
Determined to bring the eatery back to life, the new proprietor has the interior and exterior professionally painted, the dingy chairs and tables replaced with snazzy, fashionable pieces, and a marketing firm is hired to create a new logo and color scheme for the restaurant. Flyers are mailed out, a new wait staff is hired, and the business looks primed to succeed. Excitement buzzes.
The Grand Opening is a packed house not seen in years. Folks are exuberant about the possibility of reclaiming their favorite neighborhood joint. As you walk into the revamped space the hostess smiles pleasantly. A glance around the room shows shiny silverware, fresh decor, and a score of other improvements. The hostess leads the way to your seats and explains the specials of the evening.
You open the menu and are surprised to see only minor changes from your last dining experience. Still excited, if a little wary, you order your favorite dish from times past. The food arrives quickly.
You sink your fork into your meal and take your first bite. Across the table your significant other peaks an eyebrow quizzically. You shake your head. It’s not good.
You finish your meal, quickly pay the bill, and drive home, crestfallen that a place holding such fond memories no longer appeals to you. The crisp new paint, modern logo, and refurbished, chic furniture can do nothing to help the fact that the core product isn’t satisfactory.
The food sucks.
Repeat visits are few and far between, typically due to obligation or proximity rather than by true desire. Each return is a sad reminder of what used to be and a reflection on how far things have fallen.
You grow weary of repeated failures and constant disappointment. Apathy rules. Disappointment reigns.
Twelve Damn Years
The Kings have revamped almost every part of our basketball experience. Fans have been drawn back with vague promises of a return to greatness, to the good old days, to the glory of Webber and Bibby and Divac. A shiny, beautiful, world-class arena has been built. A full rebrand has taken over the organization with new logos, new jerseys, and even player designed apparel. Crowdsourcing, bitcoin acceptance, robot security, and a thousand other large and small gimmicks have been introduced to the community.
The problem? The food still sucks.
The same flavorless slop of crappy basketball is crammed down the gullet of Kings fans with the expectation of patience and acceptance. False narratives, fake sell outs, and smooth catchphrases are slipped into the diet of basketball junkies in place of meaningful games.
The Kings are chasing history. Their current iteration of the team is on pace for just 25 wins, one of the worst records during the drought. We’re young and terrible. That’s certainly better than being old and terrible as in past years, but the latter adjective is so much more important to reverse rather than the former. Compliments can be doled out for moving the franchise in the right direction, but if you’ve been screaming toward historical futility for over a decade, and you’re partly to blame, does slightly altering your trajectory really deserve much praise?
This franchise has three years to right the ship and get back into the postseason if they want to avoid the longest drought of all time. Playoffs are almost certainly out of the equation next season, with a 20 game jump necessary for a chance at the 8th seed, leaving this group with two additional years to make significant progress. Free agent targets must be on point, draft selections cannot bust, and trades need to improve the organization both in the short and long term; a difficult ask of a management team which has struggled to accomplish any one of those three things, much less all of them.
For now, we wait.
Twelve Damn Years
While not all of the blame for this sad streak can be assigned to Vivek Ranadive, 100% of the responsibility for ending the misery, and ending it quickly, falls squarely on his shoulders. He took that mantle on when he purchased the team.
It is Vivek’s job to truly bring us back to the glory days, not by bringing former players into the organization, or by constantly playing highlights and celebrating the early 2000s teams, but by making the necessary moves to drive this derelict franchise back to the postseason.
Let us care again.
Enable the fanbase to forget the lottery, to stop calculating odds of a draft pick, to end the circular discussions of the morality of tanking, and to stop rooting for our team to lose for the last quarter of the season.
Allow us to track a race for the eighth seed after the All-Star break, not the race to the number one pick. Our hearts long to be broken in a playoff loss, rather than by another busted draft pick. We simply want to participate in real basketball again.
It’s been Twelve. Damn. Years.