Kings

Four Kings' traveling party members didn't fly to NBA's Orlando bubble

Four Kings' traveling party members didn't fly to NBA's Orlando bubble

The Sacramento Kings are short-handed in Orlando.

On the first day they are allowed to practice as a team, coach Luke Walton confirmed that none of the three players who tested positive for the coronavirus have traveled with the team and a fourth unidentified member of the traveling party missed the team flight as well.

“We’re still in the protocol,” Walton told the media during a Zoom call following practice on Friday. “From our traveling party, I’m not going to get into names, I’ll make that a personal decision, but from the travel party, out of the 35, we left four people back. From those four, nobody has passed NBA protocol yet to rejoin us, but we are hopeful that some of them are getting close.”

We know that three of the four are Buddy Hield, Alex Len and Jabari Parker, all three of which are confirmed to have tested positive around the June 23 mark.

“There could be a week, there could be a hey, someone doesn’t come at all,” Walton added. “It’s just the reality of what it is. I’m very open to our team about that.”

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It’s a tough situation. If Hield can’t make it back in time to play, the Kings are without their second leading scorer and one of the better 3-point shooters in the game.

Len provided a massive lift to the team as a defensive roadblock in the middle of the key. His skill set could really come in handy against players like Zion Williamson. Parker wasn’t in the rotation, but with so much uncertainty regarding the coronavirus, there could be a time where his ability to score the ball could come into play for the Kings.

“The mindset is that we’re going to embrace all of it,” Walton said. “We know that it’s going to be crazy. People are going to join us. Maybe they won’t. Maybe there are people that are here that test positive at some point. Every team has to go through this, so we’ve got to be ready to accept what our roles are. Our roles are going to change as this thing goes and the teams that can do that most efficiently I think are going to give themselves a big advantage.”

The Kings, like the other 21 teams in the bubble, have to prepare for as many variables as possible. In the meantime, the players are communicating with teammates back in Sacramento with the hopes that reinforcements are on their way.

[RELATED: Kings react to Orlando arrival]

“It’s a troubling time, a lot of unknowns and things like that, but we’ve definitely been in contact with those guys and always let their voice be heard in the group,” Richaun Holmes said. “We just want them to get healthy. Get as healthy as possible and make sure everything is good with them and their families and then when they get down here, be ready to rock and roll.”

Sacramento has another practice session on Saturday, which will be another limited contact practice as Walton and his staff slowly build towards scrimmage games beginning on July 22. It will be a quick ramp up with the Kings playing their first official game on July 31 against the San Antonio Spurs.

Luke Walton says Kings must 'feel that pain' after playoff elimination

Luke Walton says Kings must 'feel that pain' after playoff elimination

Luke Walton summed up 14 years of Kings basketball in one statement Sunday night following Sacramento's elimination from playoff contention.

“We’re not there as a team,” the Kings coach said after Sunday's loss to the Houston Rockets. “Unfortunately the best and only way to really learn that lesson is to feel that pain. And that pain’s gotta mean enough, it’s gotta hurt enough that we’re willing to make changes.”

Changes might come whether Walton wants them or not, but the point is, once again, that the Kings aren’t there.

In Walton's defense, he got the Kings closer to a postseason berth in his first season than they've been in any other season since 2005-06. Sacramento was mathematically eliminated from a playoff spot ahead of their third-to-last regular-season game, albeit in a very bizarre season. It's frustrating and the final outcome is what matters, but there also needs to be some perspective.

The Kings were one of 22 teams to participate in the restarted NBA season because they deserved to compete for a playoff spot. When the season was suspended in March due to the coronavirus, Sacramento was in a three-way tie for ninth in the Western Conference. The Kings were the hottest team out of the lot fighting for the eighth seed.

This largely is the same team that showed promise under Dave Joerger last season while still finishing 9.0 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the West's final playoff spot. They were fun to watch, but they "were not there as a team" in the end.

What is missing from this group? The Kings' defensive effort was atrocious in the Orlando bubble, but they also struggled with the finer nuances of the game. They made mistakes at times when you can’t make mistakes and it cost them the opportunity to win at least two games.

“It’s just how important details are,” Fox said about what the Kings learned. “We were in the race last year and we were in the race when we got to the bubble, but it’s just how every little thing matters. Every single second of every game matters. You can’t have mental lapses.”

It’s a bitter pill to swallow. Kings fans were hopeful that this team might break the spell. Instead, they're watching the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers flaunt their experience and surge into the playoff race.

They’ve even watched the talented-yet-mediocre Phoenix Suns streak past the Kings in the standings and jump right into the mix.

Sacramento isn’t the only team to fall apart in Orlando. Oddsmakers gave the New Orleans Pelicans the best odds to finish in ninth and force a play-in series for the last playoff spot, and they've completed flamed out. New Orleans is 2-4 in the bubble, despite having the easiest schedule.

The Memphis Grizzlies are 1-5 since the restart, clinging to just a half-game lead in eighth after starting the restarted season up 3.5 games on ninth.

How do the Kings take the next step and show improvement over a shortened offseason?

“It’s going to take a lot more work, but that’s what we are here for,” Fox said following the loss to the Rockets. “We’re here to win games, but we’ve got to put it together, completely.”

The Kings were a Jekyll and Hyde team all season. Sacramento started 15-29, then won 13 of the next 21 before the season suspended.

All season, you never knew which team would show up. That was firmly on display during a 1-5 start in the bubble.

“We got to be consistent,” point guard Cory Joseph said. “The inconsistency the whole year killed us. We’re a very talented team and that’s why it’s very upsetting that we’re in this position. We just have to learn from it and come back stronger.”

The Kings fought down the stretch in the restart opener, but couldn't execute in the final four minutes of their loss to the San Antionio Spurs. Sacramento was blown out by the middle-of-the-road Magic in the next game, losing a down-to-the-wire nail-biter to the Dallas Mavericks in the third.

A big win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday lifted the Kings' spirits, but they followed that up a day later with a loss to the no-name Brooklyn Nets. Joseph said the finer details are missing from Sacramento's play.

“We got to do the little things,” Joseph said. “We lost a lot of games on make shot, miss shot. To be a good team, it can’t all be predicated on that. You have to come out and have a strong identity every game on both ends of the court -- the way we move it on offense and also the way we play for each other on defense. As long as we get better at that and consistently do it on a nightly basis, we’ll be in a good position next year to make it.”

[RELATED: Kings' future uncertain after they miss NBA playoffs again]

It’s back to the drawing board of Sacramento. The Kings play two more games before heading home, but then the real work begins.

Will they make changes to the coaching staff or management? It seems unlikely at this point, but they have some major decisions to make with the roster as they prepare for another season that’s just around the corner.

Kings' future is uncertain after 14th straight NBA playoff absence

Kings' future is uncertain after 14th straight NBA playoff absence

The writing was on the wall when the Kings dropped an overtime thriller to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday. When Sacramento fell flat on their face against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, elimination was just a matter of time.

Before the Kings could get to halftime in Sunday’s matchup against the Houston Rockets, the news hit that the Portland Trail Blazers had officially knocked both Sacramento and the New Orleans Pelicans out of NBA playoff contention.

This is what happens when you don’t come out and play with intensity and force in each and every game. The Kings stumbled out of the gate against a beatable Spurs team to open the NBA restart. They didn’t show up at all in Game 2 against the Orlando Magic.

By the time the Kings found their rhythm in their lone victory against the Pelicans, they were already teetering on the edge of elimination.

Fans are angry over their team’s performance. They have been turning to social media calling for the replacement of both general manager Vlade Divac and head coach Luke Walton.

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Is an overhaul in the works? Not the last time we checked in, but that was before a complete collapse in Orlando. 

Divac signed an extension last summer, which coincides with the four-year contract the team signed with Walton. In a normal summer, there would be time to potentially replace both, but this isn’t normal.

The NBA Draft lottery, where the Kings currently sit in 12th place, is set for August 20. Teams will have less than two months to prepare for the Oct. 16 NBA draft, but also free agency, which begins on Oct. 18.  

Teams will have to assemble their rosters on the fly because training camps start in early November for a December 1 2020-21 season start.

In addition to a tight time frame, there is also the issue that the Kings, like every other franchise in the NBA, is hemorrhaging money. It’s not just that fans aren’t allowed in for games. There hasn’t been a concert at Golden 1 Center since March 11. The losses are in the tens, if not, hundreds of millions at this point.

Should the Kings pay out three plus years on both Divac and Walton’s contracts? That’s a heavy question. 

The team was playing very well when the season went on hiatus. While the performance in the bubble has been nothing short of embarrassing, Sacramento isn’t the only team to struggle. 

Can you trust Divac to handle extensions for Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Aaron Fox? Can he retain Kent Bazemore, Alex Len or Harry Giles in free agency? Can he pull off a trade that makes the team better and clears up some of the contract log jam the Kings now created?

Will Walton’s system look better with a regular training camp and his team already understanding not only his terminology, but his playbook after a second year on the job?

[RELATED: Fox developing into star in NBA bubble]

There are no easy answer to these questions, just like there are no quick fixes that magically make this team considerably better between now and December 1. 

Sacramento has chosen a path. Deviating from that path with so little time is a huge gamble. Staying the course might be as well. 

The future is uncertain. The only thing we know for sure is that the Sacramento Kings will miss the playoffs for the 14th consecutive season.