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The Kings Have A Lot Riding On The Next 28 Games

Everyone is frustrated.

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Kimani Okearah

The disappointing 21-33 Sacramento Kings have reached the symbolic halfway point in the 2019-20 NBA season. In reality, the Kings only have 28 games remaining to salvage the season – if that’s even possible.

The Athletic’s Sam Amick, Shams Charania, and Jason Jones collaborated in a concerning report detailing both the disappointment ownership and basketball operations have in how the season has gone thus far, and what that disappointment could mean for the future of Vlade Divac, Luke Walton, and even Buddy Hield, in Sacramento.

Frustration has been mounting among Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and others within the ownership group over the franchise’s front office and coaching, multiple sources tell The Athletic.

I highly recommend reading the entire article, but the general sense I got from both The Athletic’s report and listening to Sam Amick’s follow up interview on KHTK Thursday, was that nothing is really off the table this summer.

If the Kings play reasonably well over the next 28 games, Vlade Divac and Luke Walton, will, in all likelihood, remain in their current positions and this regime will get another year to prove what they’d like to sell – that early season injuries are largely to blame for the failures this season – is accurate.

They could be right. It’s entirely possible that injuries to Marvin Bagley, De’Aaron Fox, and Richaun Holmes represent the biggest reason why the Kings have been disappointing, but I would counter that despite the injuries, the Kings haven’t played with competitive energy for a shocking majority of games this season. Luke Walton has only made things worse by slowing the pace down and taking away the identity the Kings built under Dave Joerger last season.

In a general sense, a good head coach is supposed to give the on court product more direction and build a system that compliments his players, not force those players to be something they aren’t. I would point to the frequent use of Buddy Hield as a primary ball handler and a defensive stopper as evidence that Walton is using some players in a way that only highlights their weaknesses instead of playing to their strengths. It’s been an issue with several players this season.

But the blame doesn’t belong entirely on Luke Walton’s shoulders, either. Vlade Divac signed four players to big contracts this summer – Trevor Ariza, Richaun Holmes, Cory Joseph, and Dewayne Dedmon – and two of those players (Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon) have already been traded elsewhere. On one hand, I appreciate Divac cutting his losses, but those are still losses among a long list of prior errors for the general manager, none bigger than passing on Luka Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft. If you’re looking at Vlade Divac’s track record as a whole, the scale of success has tipped in the wrong direction, and that’s putting it mildly.

The Sacramento Kings’ failures this season have been a collaborative effort, ownership included, for allowing it to happen under their watch. Using injuries as the primary excuse is too convenient for me, but I imagine everyone’s blame pie chart will look a little different.

The next question is, if certain jobs are in jeopardy based on how the Kings finish the season, what kind of finish would be best for the franchise as a whole, and does that finish differ from what’s best for the people currently in charge?

The Kings are currently 7 games behind the Western Conference 8-seed Memphis Grizzles. With 28 opportunities to make up that 7 game deficit, the likelihood of the Kings making a real run at the playoffs is minuscule. Not impossible, but incredibly unlikely.

That begs the question, should the Kings make a run at the playoffs and try to win as many games as possible, or shift gears towards development (when or if Marvin Bagley returns) and draft position?

If Vivek and ownership are going to take a serious look at the job Vlade Divac and Luke Walton have done this season, it’s to their direct benefit to play the season out and try to compile as many wins as possible.

On the flip side, only a handful of games separate the Kings from the last draft position in the lottery (14th pick) to the 5th spot. In what is being sold as a weaker draft class, the difference between selecting 14th to 5th is significant.

At what point should the Kings start playing for draft position, and will the front office feel comfortable enough in their job security to do it? I’m not suggesting an overt tank. I don’t think that really exists in the NBA despite the perception that it does, but you can do perfectly defensible things that may result in more losses, like giving consistent developmental minutes to Justin James and Kyle Guy while shutting down some of your veteran players.

The other point of contention worth monitoring is Buddy Hield’s potential issue if he’s relegated to a bench role long-term. Hield has flourished on the court since his move to the bench, but he’s also playing roughly 5 minutes less per game since Luke Walton made the switch.

If Hield remains displeased with his role, a source with knowledge of his thinking said he might request a trade. He believes he is a starter in the NBA and there’s no guarantee he’ll get that job back, given how the team has played lately.

If Buddy Hield doesn’t return to the starting lineup this season, is he a Sacramento King next year?

We haven’t really touched on the Marvin Bagley dilemma yet. It’s unclear if Bagley will return to the court at all this season after missing a significant portion of the year with a mysterious foot injury that seems to change in severity on weekly basis. If Bagley does return this season, you can make the case that finding out who he is as a basketball player is the most important thing the Kings can accomplish over the next 28 games.

But if Balgey doesn’t return this season, should the Kings continue to build their frontcourt around a player that hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy, or consistently contribute to winning basketball when he was able to play? It’s not an easy decision, but it’s one somebody is going to make this summer.

Despite the fact that the Kings will likely fall completely out of the playoff picture when the NBA season resumes next week, the Kings have a lot riding on how their remaining 28 games play out, from ownership, to the front office, to the coaching staff, to the young players that were previously perceived as essential to the young core moving forward.

As Charania, Amick, and Jones reported, Vivek Ranadive is frustrated. Minority owners are frustrated. Vlade Divac is frustrated. Luke Walton is frustrated. The players are frustrated.

Season ticket holders are frustrated. Fans are frustrated.

Do the remaining 28 games relieve some of that frustration, or make it worse? We’ll find out in May.