The Sacramento Kings aren’t expected to win many games this season according to predictions by ESPN, Las Vegas, and pretty much anyone else you ask. But in the eyes of the eternal optimists among us (bless you all) there’s hope to be found in the form of tanking opponents. The logic is that the Kings have no incentive to tank since they don’t own their first round pick, and that other teams will tank down the stretch leading to more wins for the Kings.
Sactown Royalty editor emeritus and all around
robot cat aficionado Walt Williams fan good guy Tom Ziller examined the lay of the tanking landscape for SB Nation today. First let’s take a look at Tom’s thoughts on the Kings:
The Kings are flat-out going to be atrocious, barring some miracle skill growth from the young players on the roster. But Sacramento owes its pick to the Celtics (unless it’s No. 1 overall) or the Sixers (if it’s No. 1 overall), so there’s no reason to lose.
Does that make the Kings’ decision to add veterans before the 2017-18 season — when Sacramento had its pick and a bad, young roster — all the more confusing? Yes! Does it make the Kings’ almost total absence from the first two weeks of 2018 free agency all the more confusing? Yes! Really, the Kings are going to be as bad as any tanking team. But they aren’t tanking. They are just wholly mismanaged.
TZ then examines the rest of the team that could end up tanking. But aside from the Atlanta Hawks there aren’t any teams that will open the season in tank mode. East teams, even the worst of them, have a shot at the playoffs this year. West teams are all geared towards improvement right now. The Phoenix Suns probably aren’t a playoff team, but moves like signing Trevor Ariza indicate they don’t plan on rolling over for another year.
Naturally we know the landscape can shift over the course of the season. Injuries might change a team’s strategy much like they changed the plans of the Memphis Grizzlies last year. But with multiple teams angling for playoff berths and a new lottery structure that no longer places such a heavy benefit on being the worst team, we appear primed to see very few tanking teams.
Last year we argued endlessly about whether or not the young Kings would benefit from wins over tanking teams. The Kings didn’t really tank, but ended up with 27 wins in part because of tanking opponents and in part because of some incredible clutch performances.
If you buy the argument that wins over tanking teams helps the Kings develop, then last season’s wins should have helped the Kings to the point they no longer need to rely on tanking opponents. If wins over tanking teams helps, you should expect the Kings to be better this season even if playing against teams at full strength. But for those who don’t believe those wins against tanking teams helped players grow, then you’re preparing to watch a team that shouldn’t have won 27 wins last year play against a tougher schedule.
I believe a young team needs to experience wins throughout a season. I think it’s important for team morale. I think it builds confidence for the next time a team is in a close game and the young players can have a little extra confidence that they’re capable of winning. I don’t believe beating a Houston Rockets team led by Gerald Green will make Buddy Hield or De’Aaron Fox or Justin Jackson a better NBA player in 2018. I think we’re in for a rough season as Kings fans even if our young core is better than last year.