As the 2018-19 regular season draws to a close, this is typically the time of year when loyal Sacramento Kings fans begin to set their sights on the fast-approaching NBA Draft Lottery and the NBA Draft. But for the first time in well over a decade, these are two time-honored traditions that aren’t of particular interest. Though the Kings didn’t qualify for the playoffs and thus extend their league-leading 13-year playoff drought, everything has changed in the Capital City. The Kings have all the looks of a team evolving from a caterpillar into a butterfly right before our eyes.
Michelangelo’s David Was Once Just a Marble Slab
Hope has always sprung eternal in Sacramento, even when in retrospect that hope was unwarranted. Today, a blind man could see the franchise is in phenomenal shape after toiling in mediocrity and turmoil for so long.
For starters, you’d be hard-pressed to find another franchise with such an attractive young core of assets. In a relatively short time, General Manager Vlade Divac has assembled a stack of talent that has elevated Sacramento into a highly enviable position. Divac inherited Darren Collison and Ben McLemore as his backcourt when he arrived in 2015, and has transformed that into one of the premiere backcourts in the league. With De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, it’s legitimately a question of when, not if, they become All-Stars. Marvin Bagley seemingly gets 20 & 10 when he rolls out of bed and has enjoyed a very successful rookie campaign; displaying his vast offensive repertoire, elite rebounding skills, and all the makings of a future All-Star himself.
Additionally, the Kings’ core includes swingman Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harry Giles, and Harrison Barnes–all of whom are 26 or under. It’s a group that compliments itself well and genuinely enjoys playing with one another as their composition offers a dynamic set of skills, athleticism and versatility. It also can’t be undersold the culture has been completely revitalized as well.
Tipping the Cap
Another key element of the Kings’ bright future is the salary cap situation. The mid-season trade to acquire Harrison Barnes brought the Kings from the lowest salary in the NBA to 29th (out of 30), and several contracts will come off the books this upcoming off-season.
Just the three-cap figures of the expiring Alec Burks, Kosta Koufos, and Ben McLemore account for nearly $26 million, and though Sacramento would like to have its own pick in the upcoming draft, that’s an additional open spot on the roster and cap money that won’t tie up the team’s budget.
The Kings will also be players in the free agency, with an opportunity to entice a big name like Khris Middleton or Tobias Harris (or dare I even say Kevin Durant). They could also spread that money out and attempt to lure multiple-role players (think Patrick Beverly, Richaun Holmes, Bojan Bogdanovic, Danny Green) who would fit in well with the playing style and culture that’s been carefully nurtured here the last few seasons.
Beating the Odds
One massive reason free agency may not be a complete afterthought for Sacramento is the improved and impressive product displayed on the court this season. Last September, Las Vegas casinos had the Kings predicted to win 25 games. Pundits from coast-to-coast were still roasting Vlade Divac for the DeMarcus Cousins trade (how’s that deal looking now?).
According to the experts, Sacramento was fully expected to be a doormat for the league and finish dead last in the Western Conference. They would have been tarred and feathered for not owning their draft pick in another lost season. But none of that came to pass. Dave Joerger and his staff shattered expectations; depending on the final game in Portland they will finish with 39 or 40 victories, and fought diligently for a playoff spot until the final weeks of the season.
Alhough the Kings didn’t finish strong, don’t let that dismiss what an impressive turnaround took place in 2018-19. Sacramento was widely regarded as one of the league’s best stories, not only for their surprising record but also their gorgeous style of play and compilation of young talent.
As the off-season looms, Vlade Divac and the front office have the opportunity to continue to add to and improve the Kings’ roster. Critical decisions must be made, most notably whether to extend a qualifying offer to Willie Cauley-Stein, extend him with a long term deal or let him walk. If Sacramento adds another valuable contributor to its core, and if we see the continued improvement from that group, that lengthy playoff drought will be a thing of the past and Golden 1 Center will undoubtedly be hosting playoff appearances every Spring for the sustained future.
Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Kings