I spent Sunday afternoon watching the Memphis Grizzlies drop 130 points in their victory over the Detroit Pistons. This is same Grizzlies team that lost to the Sacramento Kings on Friday. Well, not exactly the same. Memphis held out Marc Gasol for “rest” against the Kings. I’m sure having their All-Star caliber center wouldn’t have swung a two-point game. Definitely no tanking happening Memphis.
I know many Kings fans point the finger at Vivek or Vlade Divac or Dave Joerger for failing to tank properly. Others get mad at the NBA for failing to properly address tanking. Those are valid complaints.
The NBA should have figured this problem out a long time ago. Next season the lottery odds won’t favor the worst teams as heavily, but it’s too little too late.
I’m not counting on NBA karma to reward the Kings. The Warriors tanked in the 2011-2012 season to keep their top-7 protected pick. They lost 17 of their final 20 games, and ended up drafting Harrison Barnes. Not only does NBA karma not exist, it seems to openly root for tankers.
In case we need another example, the Philadelphia 76ers won 50 games this season as the culmination of The Process. The NBA so opposed the tanking in The Process that the league essentially forced Sam Hinkie out of a job and into a pariah state. And yet the Sixers will have a first round playoff series with home court advantage just two seasons after winning 10 games.
The Kings last bottomed out in 2008-2009, finished with a league-worst 17 wins. NBA Karma, in a rare instance of not rewarding an awful team, bestowed the Kings with the 4th pick, the worst they could have gotten. Since then, the Kings have finished with 22 to 33 wins in every season. That’s 9 straight years running on this treadmill of mediocrity.
The Kings started on the right path. A few veterans to teach the kids, but a roster almost entirely built with players on rookie contracts. And for most of the year I’ve supported what the Kings have done. I wouldn’t have wanted a 10-win season this year. If you do that, you pretty much need to scrap every player on that roster. Don’t believe me? The only player on the Sixers who was there two years ago is Robert Covington. Two years after the Warriors tanked, the only remaining players from the 11-12 campaign still on the roster were Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Tanking rewards the franchise, but ruins the culture.
The Kings couldn’t afford to take it that far. They have too many players they want to be part of their future. But they still could be doing more to protect their own lottery interests.
When this criticism has come up in the post game threads, I’ve often asked what else people would have the Kings do. I’m not in favor of pulling your core in close games. But why are games getting close at all? Why are the Kings playing Fox 25-30 minutes when he’s clearly hit the wall? Why is Bruno Caboclo only averaging 10 minutes a game? Why didn’t he play at all against the Grizzlies?
I don’t know if there’s a perfect way to balance development and tanking, but it’s clear the Kings have erred on the side of development, and I do mean erred. I’ve defended this team and it’s management and it’s coaching for most of the year. But staring down the end of the year and seeing where the Kings rank in the lottery, it’s clear that they’ve blown it.
The lottery may smile on the Kings and make this all moot, but we should care about the process more than the results. I’m sure the Kings will preach patience and player growth, and I buy into that to an extent. When I started this article it was going to be about how I was glad the Kings didn’t blatantly tank. About how I’d rather root for a team that won some games and went about things in the right way. But as I wrote, I couldn’t justify that position. The Kings needed to be high in the lottery this year, and with days remaining in the NBA season it appears they’ve failed.
Maybe the lotto gods will smile upon us. Or maybe the Kings will defy the odds and find a superstar with the 6th or 7th pick. But it’s more likely that they’ll find another fine player who isn’t enough to lift the franchise, we’ll win between 22 and 33 games next year, and we’ll send Philly the 6th or 7th pick to add a great role player to their playoff team.
I didn’t set out to write something this dark. I’ve enjoyed this season more than I have any season in the Vivek era. But that speaks to a low standard more than it speaks to progress.
May luck save the Kings, because they seem incapable of saving themselves.