The 2019-20 Sacramento Kings are a bad basketball team. At some point this season, maybe (hopefully) that won’t be the case, but there’s no sense in sugarcoating it now — this team is bad.
The Kings are also incredibly injured, and that’s part of the problem. There’s no greater example of how bad the Kings’ injury luck has been this season than last nights 105-104 double-overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They finally had their entire roster healthy for just the 2nd time this season, and both De’Aaron Fox (back spasms) and Marvin Bagley (undisclosed leg injury) couldn’t finish the game. There’s no word on how serious those injuries are yet, but it’s been that kind of year for this team. I’m expecting the worst.
Externally, from fans, to analysts, to NBA insiders, to local media — I haven’t seen a lot of folks fall for the everything would be fine if the the Kings weren’t so injured trap. For the most part, people aren’t excusing the Kings’ poor play with bad injury luck. That’s the right take.
Internally — where the narrative actually matters, could be a different story. In previous years, the Kings have done a masterful job convincing themselves that everything is fine despite obvious bouts of organizational incompetence. Hopefully they, too, understand that what’s happening with this team right now is unacceptable, injuries included. We’ll have to wait and see if anyone is held accountable for it.
Let’s talk about some of those other problems.
Outside of Bodgan Bodganovic, Nemanja Bjelica, and Richaun Holmes, every Sacramento Kings player regressed from their production last season. This is particularly inexcusable for Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes.
Hield signed a huge 4-year, $94 million (incentive heavy) contract this summer, and he’s having the worst shooting year of his career thus far. His shot selection has been outrageous. His defense has been mostly terrible. He’s been deservedly benched on multiple occasions. Everything is a mess here.
Harrison Barnes signed a huge 4-year, $85 million contract this summer, and he’s having the worst 3-point shooting year of his career thus far, and overall, hasn’t produced at the level you would expect out of a $20+ million a year veteran.
This is where the injury excuse just doesn’t work anymore. The Kings are paying good players a lot of money to play good basketball, and they aren’t doing it. A severe lack of talent has been the driving force behind the Kings’ decade of losing, but that isn’t the case this season. They are more talented than their record suggests, and that’s what is particularly disappointing about how this season has played out.
Luke Walton looks like a head coach that doesn’t know what he wants to do or how he’s going to do it. There has just been so many inconsistencies with strategy, playing time, the rotation, and everything in between.
Walton went from never playing Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley together due to spacing concerns to starting them together over the course of a few days.
Remember when the Kings played a ton of bad zone defense in back-to-back losses during this 5-game losing streak for no particular reason? We haven’t really seen it since. What was that all about?
And then there is the on again, off again benching of guys like Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley in crunch time. I don’t envy Walton’s position on this one. Bagley needs to develop, but Richaun Holmes is the better player right now. Buddy Hield has had a bad year shooting the ball, and his defense has been terrible, but they desperately need his scoring. It’s not necessarily the decisions Walton is making that I have a problem with, it’s the lack of consistency with any of it. What is the plan? Do the kids need crunch time minutes to develop, or are they rolling with the veterans to try and secure wins? I don’t know.
The Kings went from one of the fastest teams in the NBA under Dave Joerger last season to the slowest team in the NBA under Luke Walton. They have no identity.
There seems to be a severe disconnect between Vlade Divac’s vision for the roster he drafted, and what Luke Walton is doing with it. Divac preached playing fast for years. He’s been drafting mega quick athletes and tried to surround those athletes with shooters to create a modern ‘pace & space’ offense, but Walton has them playing a slow, grinding halfcourt offense that isn’t ideal for anyone on the roster. It’s just bizarre.
You can’t talk about the problems with this basketball team without talking about Vlade Divac. When you consistently whiff in the draft, whiff in free agency, and replace your decent-to-good coach with a seemingly worse coach, what else is there to say about it? Nobody needs this season to take a dramatic positive turn more than Vlade Divac.
One particular Vivek Ranadive quote sticks in my mind whenever the Kings put me in this sort of headspace where everything looks bad and terrible.
In 2015, via Aliene Voisin in the Sacramento Bee —
One of the most interesting parts of the conversation, which Divac and D’Alessandro joined briefly, was Ranadive’s thought process behind the recent hirings. For someone who normally approaches problems in a methodical, analytical manner, his two most important and impressive changes seem more instinctive than calculating.
“That is true,” Ranadive said, “but like I said, some of this is not rocket science. We just want to hire the best people. When I bought the team, I didn’t know anybody, and what I have discovered is that the NBA culture tends to be more of a ‘crony’ culture than Silicon Valley. ‘This is my guy. Hire this guy.’ I want loyal people, and Vlade is loyal.”
Vivek talks about finally understanding the NBA’s ‘crony’ culture, but also expressed his desire to just hire the best basketball people. Since 2015, the Kings have become the epitome of the NBA’s ‘crony’ culture, and this is the result.
Vlade hired his buddy Luke Walton without interviewing other head coaching candidates. Crony culture. Vlade hired his buddy Peja Stojaković, with no NBA executive experience, to the front office and now he’s an assistant GM. Crony culture.
Vivek Ranadive’s is letting it all happen under his watch.
If this reads like the ramblings of a person that has spent way too much time and lost way too much sleep over an organization that continuously overpromises and under-delivers, well, that’s exactly what this is, I guess. I don’t know, guys. Last night was bad. Maybe they’ll turn this thing around?