If this season is about growth, Kings need more games like Thursday's vs Pacers


If this season is about growth, Kings need more games like Thursday's vs Pacers

SACRAMENTO -- Golden 1 Center might have been the safest place in America on Thursday evening. Between private security and Sac PD in full riot gear, the evening went off without a hitch. In addition, a pretty good game of basketball broke out.

With nothing to play for but pride and experience, the Sacramento Kings made the Indiana Pacers work a full 48 minutes for their 45th victory of the season. A loss is a loss, but once again, the Kings showed a glimpse into the what the future may hold.

“Guys are getting better and guys are developing and guys are better than they were a month ago and then better than they were in November,” coach Dave Joerger said in his postgame presser. “So it’s a fantastic opportunity for guys to play a lot of minutes.”

This was a different Joerger than the one we saw Tuesday evening. He couldn’t hide his displeasure with his team’s effort against the Dallas Mavericks. Despite the scores of the two games being similar and the outcome being the same, some losses feel better and some feel worse.

Against Indiana, Sacramento wouldn’t go away. The never trailed by double-digits and they entered the fourth quarter all squared at 79-79 after a Frank Mason 22-foot jumper at the buzzer.

This is what Joerger is living for down the stretch. You want close games. You want learning experiences for your young core.

The Kings fell behind by eight at the 3:02 mark of the fourth, but they never went away. Bogdan Bogdanovic, who finished the night with a team-high 21 points, hit a floater to make it a six point game with 2:42 remaining.

Buddy Hield continued his stellar stretch, drilling a 3-pointer at the 1:06 mark to make it a 99-96 game. After a Pacers turnover, Hield hit a pair of free throws to give the Kings a 7-0 run and cut Indiana’s lead to one with 30.1 remaining.

“I think all the young guys love those types of moments,” Hield said following the loss. “Everybody wants to step up and make big plays and show support for each other and be that guy for the team. I feel like everybody’s come through in those big moments.”

If this season is about learning and growing, these are the opportunities the Kings need.

With 17.9 seconds remaining, Victor Oladipo knocked down a 26-foot 3-pointer to give Indy a four point lead. Instead of folding, Hield dropped in a 20-footer straddling the line to make it 100-102 with 13.2 remaining and give him his sixth 20-point performance in his last eight contests.

“As players, you live for those moments, you want to be in those moments where you can make plays for your teammates and try to put your team on your back,” Hield added.

Sacramento was forced to foul and the Pacers Bojan Bogdanovic hit both free throws to once again make it a four-point game with 10.7 seconds left on the clock.

The Kings’ Bogdanovic answered back with a 31-foot laser to make it a one point game with 4.3 seconds in regulation. Victor Oladipo made both free throws and the Kings missed a 67-foot heave as time expired to fall by a final of 106-103.

“It’s always better to play in games like that, the intensity kind of picks up,” De’Aaron Fox said. “They’re fighting for a playoff spot, a higher seed. It’s always great to get that kind of experience.”

With the win, Indiana moved into a virtual tie with the 76ers for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff chase and they trail the Cleveland Cavaliers by just a half game for the third spot.

The loss was the third straight for Sacramento and drops them to 24-52 on the season. But in a season about growth and development, falling by three points to a high quality playoff team in the final seven games of the year shows that the team is still fighting and still looking to improve.

Kawhi Leonard is not the answer for the Kings


Kawhi Leonard is not the answer for the Kings

The murmurs have already started. Teams are lining up for a potential run at one of the game’s best players. We aren’t talking about LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Paul George, who all have early termination clauses in their contracts this summer. That trio will dominate the news July 1 when the NBA’s free agency period begins. 

There is another player who has an ability to change the course of a franchise and the way things are heading, who might become one of the biggest trade targets in recent league history. 

No one really knows the entire story about what is going on with Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs have their side and Leonard’s team likely has a different version. What is known is that the 26-year-old small forward was cleared by San Antonio’s medical staff to resume game action a few months back. 

Leonard returned to the court for a nine-game stretch during December and early January. And then he shut it down again. 

The two-time All-Star and former NBA Defensive Players of the Year has been diagnosed with tendinopathy in his right quadricep. He’s bounced back and forth between San Antonio and New York City all season, having his injury evaluated and re-evaluated by both the Spurs and his own medical team.

Where the Spurs go from here is anyone’s guess. They have the best two-way player in the game and he has made the decision on his own not to play. 

A season ago, San Antonio rattled off a 61-win season before falling to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. They made additions in the summer to make another run, but without Leonard, they didn’t stand a chance.

To make matters worse, the Spurs roster is aging quickly. Manu Ginobili turns 41 in July. Pau Gasol is almost 38 and Tony Parker will be 36 soon and in the last year of his contract. Six players in their rotation are 30 or older and the clock is ticking.

Leonard’s decision wiped out any chance of winning a ring for the Spurs. It also threw away one of the few seasons left for a couple of his teammates.

For the last four decades, San Antonio has been the model NBA franchise. They don’t get into situations like this. And now they have to make one of the most difficult decisions a team has to make. 

To complicate matters, Leonard has two years left on his five-year, $94 million deal he signed in 2015. The final year is a player option worth $21.3 million and it’s very unlikely that Leonard will exercise that option.

Why is this of interest to the Sacramento Kings? It might not be, but that won’t stop fans from turning to the trade machine to find a way to land Leonard in purple and black.

Anytime a player of this ilk comes available, it’s within every team’s best interest to at least make a call. It’s possible the Spurs would turn the Kings down three seconds into the conversation. Then again, they might listen.

While San Antonio is going to want a star in return for Leonard, that isn’t the way these things usually work out. The question then becomes, do the Kings have the assets to acquire Leonard?

It’s very possible that the Spurs can get more than what the Kings would be willing to offer. Sacramento has a group of young players, two or three of which might draw interest. They also have a top seven pick in the upcoming draft.

Due to the Stepien Rule, the Kings can’t trade their draft pick prior to the 2018 NBA Draft. League rules prohibit teams from trading draft picks in back-to-back seasons and Sacramento has already given up their 2019 pick in a salary dump in the summer of 2015. 

The Kings can make a selection for another team and consummate a deal once the new season begins in July, so there is still an opportunity to include the pick in player form. 

San Antonio would likely ask for multiple young players, as well as the Kings’ 2018 selection. Sacramento also has cap space and a few veterans on expiring contracts to make the dollars and cents work. 

Whether the Kings could come up with the pieces to make a deal work is debatable. The real question is, should they try and chase Leonard if he becomes available? 

The simple answer is no. 

No, the Kings shouldn’t offer up a top 10 pick and two or three of their young core to acquire one of the game’s best players. 

Take all of the issues that Leonard has had this season and throw them out the window. At 100 percent health, the risk is still too much for a team like the Kings to take.

It’s about the contract and it’s about the talent that you would have to give up. The Los Angeles Lakers might be able to absorb the risk of trading for Leonard. They would likely have to give up Kyle Kuzma and plenty more to make something happen. But they would also have a fighting chance of retaining Leonard once he opts out of his current deal and becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Kings fans will reach deep on this, bringing up that Chris Webber made the decision to stick around in Sacramento back in 2001, inking a seven-year, $122 million deal. 

Not only were those different times, but the Kings’ franchise was on a roll. Webber was the best player on one of the best teams in the league. He was also surrounded by quality teammates, many of who remain extremely close more than a decade later.

Leonard would come to a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006. It is also a franchise that would have to give up plenty of assets to acquire him. He wouldn’t make the Kings an instant success and although the team would have plenty of money in the summer of 2019 to not only pay Leonard, but add a few more pieces, the risk would never be worth the reward.

If the team truly believes that Leonard is an option, they might as well draft a high quality player in 2018, develop the current talent base, make a move or two to improve the roster and then chase the All-Star wing a summer later when they have upwards of $70 million to throw around.

It’s a fun conversation, but one that can only lead to ruin for a team like the Kings. The best chance to turn things around for Sacramento is to stay the current course and continue to develop the players on the roster. 

If the team can begin to build something, landing the right player and then keeping them around will happen for the Kings.

Kings lose coin flip to Bulls, hold No. 7 overall pick heading into NBA Draft Lottery


Kings lose coin flip to Bulls, hold No. 7 overall pick heading into NBA Draft Lottery

The Sacramento Kings’ win over the Houston Rockets in the season finale has officially cost the team a spot in the NBA’s Draft Lottery. After posting identical 27-55 records, Sacramento and the Chicago Bulls were part of the NBA’s coin flip rule Friday afternoon at the Board of Governors meetings. 

Unfortunately for the Kings, the Bulls picked up a victory in the game of chance and now sit in the sixth spot in the pre-lottery standings. Sacramento holds the seventh position, but both teams have an equal opportunity to move up into the top three positions when the lottery is officially held on May 15. 

Once the top three selections are drawn, the draft goes in order of worst remaining record, taking coin flip results into consideration. If the Kings do not move into the top three and no one slated behind them in the draft move up, they will draft No. 7 overall. 

There is also a small chance that Sacramento doesn’t move up and one or more lottery teams behind them in the standings jump up. In this scenario, the Kings could draft as low as 10, but the statistical probability of them falling that far is astronomical. 

Here are the odds for the potential draft positions for the Kings this season. Both the Kings and Bulls have an 18.3% chance of moving into the top three picks.

No. 1 overall selection: 5.3%
No. 2 overall selection: 6.0%
No. 3 overall selection: 7.0%
No. 7 overall selection: 57.3%
No. 8 overall selection: 22.6%
No. 9 overall selection: 1.8%
No. 10 overall selection: less than 0.0%