There’s something about missing 13-straight postseason berths that puts things into perspective.
The Kings are only five games into a season that almost everyone was looking forward to, but the team already looks lost, unaware, uninterested, unhinged, and unbelievably underwhelmed to be out on the basketball court.
Every year it’s a brand new scapegoat. It’s Eric Musselman’s fault, the Maloofs’ fault, and Geoff Petrie’s fault. It’s Ron Artest’s fault, Luther Head’s fault, and George Hill’s fault. The team is distracted by its relocation rumors and it’s once again distracted by the sequel. Everything will be better under new owners, but now it’s their fault as well. This team will turn around as soon as they get rid of the old guard and get their own identity. Now they have a young core, they just need time and coaching and stability and a coach whom they all want, and what do you know? It’s now the fault of coach, owners, and front office once again.
The story of the post-Adelman Kings is so long, drawn out, and unbelievably depressing that if you put it in leatherbound book and translated it into Russian it would be a surefire classic that nobody wants to read.
Everything has changed, our complaints as fans have evolved over time and found new target, yet all the royal tomfoolery that has made the Kings the Kings for a decade remains. It’s like a virus that changes form and takes on a new symptom, but the end result will always be the same. We’ll get our hopes up, lose that hope, naively gain some new hope, have that hope snatched away from us, then wait until the cycle begins again.
Good teams have a culture that surrounds it. The “Glory Year” Kings didn’t just love the fan support and winning, they legitimately loved being Kings. Many of them return here every year to uproarious applause and half those guys are currently in jobs with the team that they have no business holding. The Kings were not just a team they played for, they were a team they loved, they missed, and they wanted to be a part of. This was true in 2002, 2003, 2004, etc., but it was also true in 1999.
That team was fun because they were having fun. They built a culture and a style that took a pre-league pass NBA by storm and made them must-watch TV overnight. They didn’t operate as though the glory days would come, they made the glory days come to them, and when they did they fought to keep those days going for years. Good teams make players proud to be a part of their team. The players on the teams across the NBA who come through as a unit aren’t just bought into a crowd of screaming fans and their teammates, their bought into the team.
The Kings, from Maloof to Ranadive, Adelman to Walton, Salmons to Ariza, have never once operated as a team with any desire to build a team that players, coaches, training staff, concession workers, or ticket-takers want to be a part of.
When the Kings traded Doug Christie he reportedly was so distraught that his wife saw him watching old game tape with tears in his eyes. When the Kings traded Bobby Jackson he kept a home here, was traded for again, and has been in and out of the franchise ever since. Vlade, Peja, Chris, are all still inextricably linked with the Kings regardless of whatever pitfalls there have been along the way. They speak about this team with pride and spoke with about the team even before 90% of them got jobs here.
The Sacramento Kings are missing this. Who was the last player to leave this team and acknowledge any sort of connection with the franchise itself? Many have spoken about their love of fans and certain teammates, but who was the last player you saw leave and speak about the way the team made them feel wanted, welcome, and part of something bigger than themselves?
The end of the Maloof era was more than six years ago. This no longer is a team that’s fixing what this team built. The organization has spoken about building a culture here in Sacramento, but doesn’t appear interested in doing so past fan engagement and flashy hashtags. As far as the way they function as a franchise, the team has a problem with optics.
They speak in platitudes about Sacramento Proud and desires to have guys who want to fill their mold, but that mold changes its shape each time a new mistake is made.
They’ll bring Mike Malone to shape the future of the team, give him just enough time to let players buy into the culture he is building, then fire him and let the players who love him find out on Twitter while their best player is home with an illness.
They’ll bring in Rudy Gay, use Malone to get him to sign an extension days before that idiotic firing.
They’ll bring in George Karl after a social media campaign called for it, but ignore the players who do not want to play for him. They’ll bring in a respected coach like Nancy Lieberman, but let George Karl push her to the background cause he feels threatened by her.
They’ll bring in fan-favorite Vlade Divac to help sort out the team and force the GM who allowed those things to happen, but then allow for Divac gamble on their future for the cap space to sign Marco Belinelli and Rajon Rondo.
They’ll bring in guys like Caron Butler or Anthony Tolliver or Vince Carter or Iman Shumpert to be a locker room presence but they’ll let them go without regard for what they may have done inside the locker room.
I’ve probably missed some things and other wounds I chosen not to reopen. The fact of the matter is that this team has failed to create the culture they’ve continuously promised fans and players. They say they want guys who want to be here, but when those guys are here they either dump them unceremoniously without thinking of the optics that it leaves behind or do something to directly hurt the relationship.
From Isaiah Thomas to DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay to George Hill, players seem to leave this team in two ways. They speak about the mess the Kings have become, or they move on without so much as a peep about how much they’ll miss the team. Instead, a tenure with the Kings is something of a lost summer that either represents some lost years in your career, lost potential, or a hindrance to your growth as a professional basketball player. Nobody leaves this thing with anything more than a wave goodbye and a tip of the hat because the Kings have shown no desire to build this type of product.
It’s time for the team to stop blaming old owners, coaches, front offices, players, and whoever else they think of as they start another new chapter of this never-ending tale of ineptitude, and they need to start asking themselves why the same problems keep happening in different forms. Lots of different factors have come and gone. Some were legitimate disasters that deserved the attention they got, while others were probably scapegoats who the fans and team unfairly used to place the blame on.
Players and coaches leave this team either frustrated or unmoved. They’re told they will get a contract and then traded, or they’ll extend a guy under faulty premises. The team has shown no ability to build the type of positive synergy that good teams possess with their players and coaches. Being a small market is unfair when it comes to free agency and keeping guys around, but a small market team who makes no effort to promote a sense of loyalty and (Sacramento) pride eventually loses that as an excuse and is left with zero options.
It’s time for this franchise to look in the room, think about everything that happened, and think about how everything it does, from major moves to seemingly inconsequential ones, affects the players’ desires to play, the coaches’ desires to coach, and the fans’ desire to fan.