Thank you once again for reading our 30Q preview series. The season’s almost upon us, so we answer one last question.
Richard: Honestly, I don’t care about wins and losses whatsoever. The Kings are not making the playoffs and they don’t own either of their draft picks in 2019. Fifteen wins or thirty-five wins, the result will be the same either way. I get that the standings are how some fans measure progress, but that is just too short-sighted for a rebuilding team.
The goal for the Kings this year is simple: Be exciting to watch. This team absolutely cannot be a slow-motion midrange jumper machine again this year. Shoot the triple, throw down nasty dunks, swat some shots into the stands, and run as much as physically possible. Let the kids be living highlight reels, even if it costs the team some games.
You want big name free agents to come to Sacramento? Become the NBA League Pass champions and they will. Let’s bring some clout and style back to Sac with exciting, uptempo play. The Kings can’t be a punchline any more. Be scrappy, be energetic, and get fired up. Lean into it and we could end up running teams off the floor. The Kings have invested heavily in young, athletic talent. Now it’s time to let it fly.
Bryant: I’ll leave this season optimistic about the squad if both of these are true; (1) a solid number of the youth gambles Vlade Divac and company have made in the past three years start really paying off, and (2) the team begins to develop an actual identity.
Growth from De’Aaron Fox (shooting consistency, shot selection, assist rate, defense), Buddy Hield (handling, defense), Bogdan Bogdanovic (sharply increased attempts per game) and Willie Cauley-Stein (consistency above all else) would go a long way towards stabilizing the Kings. Do three of those guys show the jumps we’re hoping for? Do two of them? Only one? At some point, these draft gambles have to pay off. On the other end, both Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles need to be approached with plenty of patience, but an early high-end return from one of them would provide a massive boost to both the squad and the front office’s resume.
But growth alone won’t solidify the Kings as an up-and-coming team. At the very least, this season needs to build the final framework for this rebuild’s identity. Will the Kings really play as fast as Dave Joerger is promising? And if so—if this team really ends up near the top of the pace charts—are we trusting Joerger’s design enough come April? We should expect that if the early returns show the Kings play at super-pace, they’ll also be playing at inconsistent efficiency. But at some point, the offense—however fast it ends up—needs to be consistent in its attack, and consistently efficient.
Growth from the youngsters, and a true identity for the franchise. That’s all we’ve been asking for for 12 years, right?...
Tony: Wins. I’ve lost track of the amount of seasons we’ve been told that it’s not about wins and losses, and I’m ready for it to be about wins and losses, particularly now that there isn’t a long-term benefit to losing because the Kings don’t own their 2019 1st round draft pick. Admittedly, wins is a cheap answer because in that answer, I’m inherently asking for a number of things to break right. I’m asking for Dave Joerger to utilize the talent of this team better than he has in his first two years as head coach. I’m asking for multiple players from this young core to take a significant leap. I’m asking for Vlade Divac to have been right in his draft selections over the last several years leading to said leap.
For the sake of giving a real answer, I want to see this team win at least 30 games. That wouldn’t be my prediction, but the question asks ‘how do we leave this season feeling good about the Kings?’ so we’re not talking about predictions here. Vegas has the Kings win total over under set at 25.5. I’m asking the Kings to finish at least 4.5 games ahead of where oddsmakers are predicting, and I’m asking them to improve on last seasons record by at least 3 wins. That seems fair to me. If this young core is going to make it with this head coach, and this front office, moving backwards from here should be unacceptable. It’s time to start improving. It’s time to start moving up in the standings. It’s time to start caring about wins and losses.
And if they don’t improve, it’s time to make significant changes regarding the leadership of this organization.
Robby: I’ll preface this by saying that, currently, I genuinely don’t feel bad about the Kings, or their direction. Which is not something I’ve said often in the last decade. As much as anyone I’ve been bit by the malcontent bug as relates to the decision making and direction of this franchise. As much as anyone, dare I say more than anyone that wasn’t Greg or Bryant or Tim or Omer or Akis or Tony or…okay, fuck it, never mind, this was shared despair, I was bereft by the Luka passing, and deadened by the “The Kings were given an unfuckupable situation and still fucked up” narrative subsequently. Perhaps the most underrated pain of being a fan of a shitty team, specifically a shitty NBA team, is the degree to which fans of other franchises clown and castigate as if your ongoing support implies complicity. Perhaps because of the high turnover margin of talent and personnel it is generally hard for an NBA team to be generationally bad. And I think a team needs to be generationally bad (the Browns, the Bills, the Cubs) before other fans empathize with your futility. The Clippers flirted with this. The Kings are pretty close to squarely there. For every “What the fuck is Vlade doing?” text I received last June there was a “Dude, I’m so sorry.” Even during the relocation saga the quotient of trolls to empathizers wasn’t that even.
However there are nice pieces on this team. Pieces that, with exceptions, coagulate cohesively. The curse of this franchise, rather the curse of the roster, as there have been myriad franchise curses, is that too often the whole has never equaled the sum of the parts. Such is the hole dug by anarchic drafting and directionless decision making. Such is the hole dug by chronically reshuffling personnel. Stability, however temporary, is a franchise’s most valuable commodity. It is no coincidence the Kings’ last gasp of relevance was the Adelman era. It has been a crockpot of Musselmans and Theuses and D’Alessandros and George Karls since. Passing on Luka felt like this at its most materially exacerbating. Directionless. Clueless. Cutting the nose to spite the face. But passing on Luka, particularly passing on Luka for Marvin Bagley, was a tacit commitment to Fox. A commitment to a style of basketball this team, at its most entertaining, showed flashes of last season. Some aspiring variation of Lob City or Seven Seconds or Less. The players are in place to make it work. And while it may not exactly be the current direction of the league, and while it is a gross oversimplification and idealization given the current state of roster talent, there are worse styles of play to at least aspire to.
So what would make me feel good? Playing your young players. Playing your young players in a way that emphasizes their abilities as opposed to a strident commitment to a style of basketball that may have won you games in the past but isn’t currently reflective of the players you’re coaching or the league you’re coaching in (Joerger ain’t exactly known for his up tempo preferences presently). Those players evolving as a consequence. I hate to channel Belicheck-ian banalities, but everyone doing their job once those expectations are identified. The team doesn’t need to identify its best player yet I don’t think. I would much rather have all players more or less progress in a reasonable way than have, say, Fox make a colossal leap while a Buddy or Bogdan plateau or regress. And I think, if this team commits consistently to a style of play, to Rich’s aforementioned ball movement and fluidity, that’s not a far-fetched or unreasonable expectation. Honestly if this doesn’t happen I think it’s the asses of every current personnel person. If you pass on Luka for the sake of Bagley and Fox and don’t play fast and fluid you deserve to be fired and rehired so that you can be fired again.
Specifically, perfect universe, I’d like the style of play to be such I’m only intermittently pained by Luka highlights. I’d like individual breakout games to come in concert with, not in spite of, the rest of the talent on the team. I’d like the pressure on Giles and Bagley to be limited. I like that the current expectation for Bagley is as sort of instant offense and not much else. I like not trying to justify in year one why he was the pick. I’d like to be able to keep reminding myself of that. I’d like the pressure on Fox/Buddy/Bogdan/WCS to be appropriate. WCS’s expectation should be higher but they won’t be because he’s WCS. I’d like Boston or Philly to not be drafting in the top seven with our pick. Can that coexist with otherwise (necessarily) muted expectations? I’m not sure. This team is capable. Of what exactly, given it’s almost entirely nascent and as such currently middle tier talent, I’m not sure. But it’s capable.
Mostly I just want a team. It’s been a long time since we had one. A team not in the Here We Stay macro sense of team. For far too long the fan base, myself included, has used the victories off the court to excuse the shit vomit on it. But an assemblage of talent that syncopates and resonates and gives us some sense of hope going forward. That would make me feel good. Also a draft pick.
Kimani: It’s one thing to have vision - it’s another to execute it. If the Kings are moving in a crystal clear direction of positivity at the end of the season, I’ll consider it a success. I’d also like to see a player have a world-class breakout season because, frankly, Kings fans deserve that. I would also like to see that player be Willie Cauley-Stein for the potential popcorn theater in the comments on this site.
Akis: When I first discovered Sactown Royalty back in 2008, I was in awe. Here was a website where I could talk about my favorite team with other people just as passionate as me, and where we could witness the rise of the franchise back to prominence. I was a bright-eyed young kid who wrote Fanposts extolling the virtues of our future core: Jason Thompson, Donté Greene and Spencer Hawes. Sure, the team was bad now, but one day they’d be great and it’d all be worth it.
Here we are a decade later and in that time we’re on our third true rebuild, saw the Kings draft one of the best players in the NBA and fail to build a team around him, pass up on future hall of famers for guys like Thomas Robinson and Jimmer Fredette, almost relocate twice, give up an All-Star point guard because he was too short, and there’s no end in sight to our losing ways.
Yes, the Kings have their youngest and perhaps most talented crew yet. This front office has amassed picks and young players in a way that we had hoped the team would do years ago. In De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles and Buddy Hield, the Kings have pieces that could one day become future stars. But right now the operative word is could. We don’t know. And I want to. I want to come out of this year feeling certain about some of these guys. With no draft pick to worry about next year, this year has to be about developing and identifying who is going to be around long term so that next summer the team can build around those guys and start winning on the court. This team needs to learn what it’s good at, what it needs to get better at, and have a real plan for doing so.
Most of all I want to get excited again. I’ve lost some of the thrill after years of covering this teams mistakes day after day and vouching for them again and again only to be disappointed each time. Some of the most fun I’ve had watching the team was in one of their worst years ever, when Tyreke Evans was a rookie. I was convinced, along with the rest of Sacramento and even the NBA, that Tyreke was going to lead us back to the promised land. Even that was fool’s gold. I’m hoping for more substance this year (and less Zach Randolph).