I love my Sacramento Kings. They are the team of my childhood and the team of my town. If they leave, it would hurt me like nothing else. I don’t know what it’s like to have your team leave you behind, and I hope that I never have to. It honestly baffles me that the Kings are even in this position. Every day, as I read about the Maloofs and see them crush the trust of this city, as I see Tyreke Evans dribble down the court and take an awkward eighteen foot jump shot with fifteen seconds left on the shot clock, as I listen to Carmichael Dave rant and rave about how the team is safe and #herewestay, as I see Kevin Johnson fighting to keep his hometown team, and as these new Sacramento sponsors continue to come out of the woodwork to save Sacramento’s only professional team, I am dumbfounded. How in the name of everything that is good did the Sacramento Kings go from on the verge of an NBA championship to this?
The answer is simple. The Kings are the most dysfunctional organization in professional sports. No organization, from the top to the bottom, runs less efficiently and produces less than our Sacramento Kings.
The owners of our lowly Sacramento Kings, the Maloof family, have become a popular target of ridicule for Kings fans. And with good reason. They rarely show up to games, backed out of an arena deal that would have kept the Kings in Sacramento, and head up an organization that takes a little more of a nosedive every year. The Maloofs have decimated their father’s fortune, and now only own just 2% of the “Palms” casino (They once owned 85%). The Maloof family has crashed economically, and unfortunately for Kings fans, brought the team down with them. As a small market team, the Kings need all of the money they can get. This ownership group is unhelpful, to say the least. Additionally, the Maloofs have destroyed their relationship with the city of Sacramento. Once the beloved owners of our proud franchise, the Maloofs have become public enemy number one in Sacramento. Their refusal to sell the team to local owners and backtracking on an arena deal are the fuel to our vitriolic fire. They once aligned with the fans to keep Chris Webber. Now they push against our homegrown mayor, Kevin Johnson, as he fires a metaphorical full court buzzer-beater to keep our Kings.
You can usually find him standing by the tunnel, staring into space as he watches his abysmal basketball team fade into obscurity. Yes Kings fans, I’m talking about the terrible architect of this dilapidated and unfurnished team, Geoff Petrie. As a small market team, the Kings have to be good in the draft and make good trades to be a good basketball team. Sacramento is many things, but a free agent destination it is not. When the Kings were good (or at least a team that made the playoffs), they drafted well and made smart trades. The best Kings team, the 2001-2002 Kings, featured a starting five of Mike Bibby (trade), Doug Christie (trade), Peja Stojakovic (draft), Chris Webber (trade), and Vlade Divac (trade). The backups included Bobby Jackson (free agent signing! What?!), Hedo Turkoglu (draft) and Laurence Funderburke (draft). Getting the point here? Excellence in Sacramento is created through the draft and through trades.
Now, let’s look at Geoff Petrie’s draft picks and trades since the Kings began their descent in 2005. Here are the Kings first round picks since 2005: Francisco Garcia, Quincy Douby, Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson, Tyreke Evans and Omri Casspi, DeMarcus Cousins, Bismack Biyombo (traded for Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons), and Thomas Robinson. 9 players, 2 above average picks. Spencer Hawes was drafted 10th overall. T-Rob has for the most part, flopped. Quincy Douby was god awful and the horrific pick of Cisco (drafted 7 picks ahead of All-Star David Lee) is compounded by his terrible contract (29.6 million over 5 years). Casspi was traded for JJ Hickson, who the Kings released the following season. So Omri Casspi, 1st round pick, was essentially traded for nothing.
Which brings us to the next source of Kings futility. Jaw droppingly bad trades. After Chris Webber’s knee injury destroyed any final hopes of a championship, Sacramento began dealing away its dynasty. These moves signaled the end of an era and an official rebuilding of the franchise. The overwhelming theme in these trades is the lack of staying power. There is a clear lack of vision in these trades. In 2004, Petrie dealt Doug Christie for Cuttino Mobley and Michael Bradley. Neither player spent more than a year in Sacramento. Later in the season, he traded Chris Webber, that same Michael Bradley, and Matt Barnes for Kenny Thomas, Corliss Williamson and Brian Skinner. Barnes has turned into a productive NBA player, while Thomas, Williamson, and Skinner are all out of the league. In 2005, Petrie traded Peja for Ron Artest, a move that actually turned out good for the Kings. Artest had 2 and half productive seasons in Sacramento, before signing with Houston in 2008. In the 2005 offseason, the Kings mutually parted ways with Rick Adelman. In 2007, the Kings traded the last big piece of their championship-worthy team, dealing veteran point guard Mike Bibby for Shelden Williams, Lorenzen Wright, Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue and a 2008 second round draft pick. None of those players lasted a full season and with the second round pick, the Kings drafted Patrick Ewing….. Jr. Who didn’t even make the team. In 2008, the Kings dealt Kevin Martin to the Houston Rockets for Carl Landry, a solid player who lasted a season and a half before he was traded for Marcus Thornton. The Kings, in general, do not trade well.
Even a marginal basketball fan can look at the Kings roster and see how badly they’re constructed. That doesn’t excuse the sub-par coaching of Keith Smart. The Kings are a talented, young basketball team. What they need, above all else, is stability. Smart refuses to provide his youthful group with any consistency. Every night it seems, there is a new starting 5 on the floor. Just when you think Smart has committed to Isaiah Thomas, Aaron Brooks appears out of nowhere to steal some of his minutes. The shooting guard and small forward positions have become a carousel of sorts, a rocky cycle of Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, and Francisco Garcia.
Additionally, the Kings rarely run plays. The majority of offensive possessions result in a isolation situation, with one Kings player attempting to score against his defender. The Kings are second to last in assists, 19th in offensive efficiency, and 19th in true shooting percentage. There are many factors to the Kings struggles on the offensive end, but I believe a large part of the responsibility lands on Coach Smart’s shoulders.
However, Coach Smart is limited by a huge problem. He has point guards that don’t pass the ball. The Kings split the point guard position up between three players: Isaiah Thomas (3.3 assists per game), Aaron Brooks (2.4 assists per game), and Jimmer Fredette (1.3 assists per game). Thomas’ 3.3 apg ranks him as the 29th ranked point guard in terms of assists. Brooks is 35th, and Fredette is 48th. Brooks and Fredette, point guards, actually average less assists per game than Demarcus Cousins, a center.
Demarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans are undeniably the two best players on the Kings. They are also a ridiculously frustrating duo who will leave your jaw on the floor with acrobatic plays one moment and make you bang your forehead on it with turnovers the next. Cousins is one of the best young big men in the league. For his career, he averages over 16 points per game and nearly 10 rebounds. Charles Barkley said that Cousins has the potential to be the best center in the league. However, Cousins is known much more for his terrible behavior than his great play. If you type “Demarcus Cousins” into google, the first four options are “trade”, “trade rumors”, “twitter”, and “suspended”. Cousins game is sadly overshadowed by his immature behavior. Cousins will never reach his full potential until he sheds his childlike approach to professional athletics.
Evans has actually been much better as of late, but he certainly isn’t the star many projected after his historic rookie season. After becoming only the fourth player in NBA history to average over 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in his rookie season, Evans’ play has dropped dramatically in the past few seasons. His PPG and APG have decreased every year and his leadership skills have been questioned by many. For the Kings to get better, Tyreke needs to elevate his game or leave town.
This entire Kings situation has devolved into an angry mob fight between Kings fans (led by Kevin Johnson), spurned SuperSonic fans (led by millionare potential buyer Chris Hansen), the NBA owners, and the city of Sacramento. But in reality, shots should have never been fired. If not for the complete mediocrity throughout the Sacramento Kings organization, this entire fiasco would be fantasy. The Kings find themselves in this mess because of where they are located, who they are owned by, the man who runs them, and the miserable on court performances they turn in every night.
But damn, I’d hate to see them go.