Kings walk into chaos in Phoenix, leave with stinging loss

Kings walk into chaos in Phoenix, leave with stinging loss

Chaos, unpredictable, dangerous. The Sacramento Kings walked into someone else's mess Monday night in Phoenix. A Suns team on the rocks and in complete disarray after firing their head coach three games into the season. They were also a team without their best player in Eric Bledsoe, who either wanted to get out of a hair salon or publicly threw the franchise under the bus Sunday afternoon on social media.

It looked like the easiest W in the history of the league, but no game was ever won or lost on paper.

Phoenix came out like a team possessed. Whatever ailed the struggling franchise behind the scenes vanished once the ball was in the air. The Suns shot a blistering 70 percent in the first quarter as the Kings looked stunned and slow to react.

Matchups were part of the problem. Marquese Chriss has young legs and he ran circles around veteran Zach Randolph as the Suns pushed their lead to 22 points in the first quarter.

Sacramento responded in the second, riding the reserves to cut into Phoenix’s lead. Driven by a pair of rookie guards in De'Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Kings matched the Suns’ intensity, cutting the lead to 59-51 going to the intermission.

Dave Joerger turned to the same group of starters to open the second half and found identical results. Chriss continued his strong play against Randolph and George Hill couldn’t find a rhythm.

Looking at plus/minus is usually reserved for a much larger sample size, but the Kings’ starters were each in the negative. Rookie Justin Jackson posted a -20 for the game to lead the way and Randolph finished with a -19. Buddy Hield got things going in the third quarter, allowing his defense to lead to offense, but he still finished the night with a -18. Hill (-16) and Willie Cauley-Stein (-8) also finished on the wrong side of the ledger.

Small sample size or not, the numbers show one thing - the Sacramento Kings were a better team on Monday with Fox, Bogdanovic, Garrett Temple, Skal Labissiere and Kosta Koufos on the floor.

Making his NBA debut, Bogdanovic came out on fire, scoring all 12 of his points in the first half. The Serbian wing was drafted by the Suns in 2014, but stayed in Europe until this summer.

Bogdanovic and Fox paired up nicely, giving Kings fans a glimpse into what the future might hold. They battled to keep the team from getting blown out and down the stretch, they, along with bursts from Labissiere and the hot shooting of Temple, almost had enough to complete the comeback.

Despite trailing by nine going into the fourth, Sacramento kept attacking the shaky Suns. Temple hit 5-of-7 from long range in the fourth quarter alone, scoring 16 of his game-high 23 in the final 12 minutes.

The veteran wing missed a free throw and a chance to tie the game with 10.1 seconds remaining on the clock and his 26-foot buzzer beater was just off the mark.

Night in and night out, Joerger is going to have to make difficult decisions. Some nights Randolph and Hill will lead the team and be relied on to finish close games. Other nights it will be some amalgamation of veterans and youth that find synergy on the court.

For one evening, the Kings are the team that lost to an embattled Suns team on the ropes. The final score won’t matter. The fact that Sacramento is running out their own experimental roster won’t matter. A loss is a loss.

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%