Frustrated Kings enduring most disappointing season in over a decade

Frustrated Kings enduring most disappointing season in over a decade

SACRAMENTO -- The last thing the Kings needed Wednesday evening was a visit from Luka Doncic. The budding superstar, who the team passed on during the 2018 NBA Draft, ran over Sacramento on the way to his NBA leading 12th triple-double of the season. 

Adding to the frustration of the night, with a 127-123 loss, Sacramento fell 11 games under .500 and finished the first half of the season at 15-26. They currently sit five games behind last season’s 20-21 record at the midway point and they are in 14th place in the Western Conference standings.

The Kings are lost. They are 3-12 over their last 15 games and they are about to hit their longest road trip of the season, beginning Saturday in Utah. 

If ever there were a soft spot in an NBA schedule, the Kings just went through one. They played 10 out of 12 at home with seven of those games against sub-.500 teams. They went just 2-8 at home over the stretch in front of near-sellout crowds. 

Fans booed during Monday’s loss against the Mavericks. It’s not the first time they’ve made their displeasure known this season and the way things are heading, it won’t be the last.

“Everybody is frustrated, it’s not even them, we’re trying to figure it out too,” Buddy Hield said following the loss. “But it’s the home team and we get booed...we don’t agree with it, but they’re going to voice their opinion.

“I understand their frustration, but like I said, I’m going to keep shooting the ball,” Hield continued. “When I make a three they like me, when I don’t, they hate you. That’s how Sacramento fans are, man, so you’ve got to embrace it.”

Hield is wrong. This is not how Sacramento fans are. They are loyal to a fault and at this point, they are being tested. 

Fans are voicing their angst because they feel like they were sold a “Super Team, just young” and now the Kings are neither super, nor young.  

After watching one of the most exciting teams in basketball last season, management made the decision to fire their coaching staff and start over. Instead of building on the success, the players were forced to learn a new system and terminology during an abbreviated training camp due to a trip to India. 

On Opening Night, the injury bug hit the Kings and hasn’t let up the entire season. The team looks disjointed and out of sync, although they have enough talent to make every game close.

This isn’t a Luke Walton issue, despite the fan rhetoric. Yes, he has an over-reliance on a few veterans, but he’s also had his core of Hield, De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes and Bogdan Bogdanovic healthy for just one game this season. 

Not only has this group of players missed a combined 59 games, they rarely have practiced together or had time to build any continuity in a new system. Getting everyone healthy is only going to create its own set of issues.  

We can talk about the 19 games decided by five points or less. We can talk about the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report. We can talk about missed draft picks or bad free agent signings. There is a litany of issues that are either reasons or excuses for the Sacramento Kings.

The fact is, this is the most disappointing first half to any season since 2006-07 when the Kings’ streak of missing the postseason began. Watching Doncic tear through the team was just salt in an open wound.

[RELATED: Holmes back at practice, but weeks away from Kings return]

These are the questions facing a Kings franchise in complete disarray. 

Is it too late to turn the season around? 

No, but the clock is ticking.

How does this situation get better? 

Luck, better health, and an epiphany moment where the core players understand the system, play extended minutes together and find a rhythm.

Is it possible that moment comes this season? 

Yes, but a lot of damage has been done. The record is one issue, but the confidence of the team would have to completely change. They may not have the leader behind the scenes to fight through the adversity they are currently facing.

Were expectations too high?

Absolutely not. This is the most talented roster the Kings have had in over a decade. They have four top-seven draft picks in their starting lineup and enough role players to fill in the gaps. They won 39 games last season and that number would have been closer to 42 if they didn’t collapse in the final week of the season.

When do people start losing their jobs over this?

It doesn’t sound like that’s happening anytime soon.

This isn’t how anyone saw the first half going for the Kings. They are on pace to win 30 games this season and finish outside the postseason picture for a 14th consecutive season. They have not only lost massive amounts of time due to injury, but also major development time for some of their young players.

The team needs a solid second half to the season to assess where they are moving forward. If they post one similar to what we’re seen through the first 41 games, someone needs to be held accountable.

Kings continue postseason push, move to within four games of Grizzlies

Kings continue postseason push, move to within four games of Grizzlies

Something is different with this Sacramento Kings group. Last season, they believed they had a shot at a playoff berth, but when times got tough, they didn’t know how to respond.

The hangover seemed to play into the start of this season when the team dropped their first five games. Before they knew what hit them, the hole was deep and a series of injuries made the road even more difficult.

In a normal year, the Kings’ season would already be over and done with. At 24-33, they should have an insurmountable climb ahead, and the team and the conversation should shift to the 2020 NBA Draft.

But the 2019-20 season has been a train wreck for multiple teams. After making it to the Western Conference Finals last season, the Portland Trail Blazers have struggled all season and now Damian Lillard is nursing a groin injury.

The San Antonio Spurs have made 22 straight postseason appearances, but they, like the Blazers, are just ahead of the Kings in the standings.

Memphis has turned heads with their gritty play, but they are fading and injuries to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clark are slowing their path. New Orleans is making a move, but they are inexperienced and caught up in a 4-5 team race for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Why is this season going to be different than last year when the Kings closed out the year with an 8-15 stretch to fall out of contention?

Maybe it won’t be. It’s very possible that the Kings will fall on hard times once again and stumble towards the finish line.

It’s also possible that this team learned from their mistakes last season, gained valuable experience and the veterans they have added can help hold the ship together as they venture into unfamiliar waters.

“We have a greater sense of urgency,” Harrison Barnes said of what feels different this season. “We realize what we have to do in order to make the playoffs. I’ve been proud of how everyone’s come out, focused, ready to play since the break ended. Hopefully it will continue.”

The Kings have won three straight coming out of the break, including a 112-94 win over the Warriors on Tuesday night. Sacramento is now 9-4 over their last 13 games since falling to the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 22.

The loss in Detroit seemed to be a catalyst for change. Coach Luke Walton shifted his starting lineup to include Bogdan Bogdanovic, while moving Buddy Hield to the second unit, but that was only part of the shakeup.

Since that game, newcomer Kent Bazemore has stepped in and taken on a much bigger role with the club. Second-year big man Harry Giles has also started to show improvement and almost every player is seeing a spike in their numbers.

“We’ve got a little pep in our step right now at shootaround, at practices,” Bazemore said. “Guys are just working. After practice, guys are just in the gym for an extra 45 minutes to an hour, just getting up shots. Guys are loving to come to work.”

[RELATED: How Kent Bazemore proving to be Kings' missing ingredient during surge]

Players are putting in time and they seem to be buying into Walton’s system. The team is staying together and it’s possible they could get Richaun Holmes back from injury and maybe even Marvin Bagley back before the season ends.

Sacramento is starting to pick up the pace on the offensive end, and the defense has played well over the last two games.

“I think we’re playing well on both sides of the ball,” De’Aaron Fox said. “I think we’re playing like a desperate team right now. It’s been going good for us. We’ve been able to get stops when we needed them. We’ve been able to execute when need be. I just think, right now, we’re playing our best basketball of the season.”

[RELATED: Kings' De'Aaron Fox battles through nagging injuries in win vs. Warriors]

The Kings came out of the break seven games out of the eighth seed, but they’ve won three straight heading into a back-to-back with the Thunder and Grizzlies on Thursday and Friday.

Memphis has dropped three in a row, allowing the Kings to shave the deficit down to four games with 25 remaining. If the Kings are going to get all the way back in the race, Friday’s game against the Grizzlies is huge, as are winnable games at home against the Pistons and Wizards next week.

Sacramento still needs to find a way to get past Portland, San Antonio and New Orleans in the standings, but they have some momentum. They can’t afford any letdowns from here on out if they are going to have a shot of snapping their 13-year postseason drought.

Kings' De'Aaron Fox battles through nagging injuries in win vs. Warriors


Kings' De'Aaron Fox battles through nagging injuries in win vs. Warriors

SAN FRANCISCO -- No team needed the All-Star break more than Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox. An early-season ankle injury was getting heavy. Bumps and bruises were adding up and the time away was an opportunity to both heal up and mentally reset.

That worked for all of one game. 

Fox woke up on Friday morning with a sore left shoulder. He’s had it taped up the last two games, but he’s playing through the issue.

In the team’s 112-94 win over the Warriors on Tuesday, Fox disappeared to the locker room due to tightness in his right groin. He returned to the game and looked no worse for wear.

Fox is fighting through the pain because his team needs him on the court if they have any hope of continuing what has become a hot streak. 

“It’s motivating,” veteran wing Kent Bazemore said of Fox playing through pain. “You can see him wincing out there, but he’s pushing through. It means a lot that he’s bought in. We have his back and he is still demanding a lot of attention, dominating the game.”

Against the Warriors, Fox stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 21 points, five assists, two rebounds, a steal and a block in 32 minutes of play. He shot just 4-of-9 from the free-throw stripe, but that has nothing to do with the nagging issues he’s currently struggling with.

“I don’t know,” Fox said when asked about shooting freebies. “I think we just gotta get there and get better. I don’t really know what else to say about it.”

Is there concern that the injuries will take Fox off the court or decrease his effectiveness? Absolutely, but in the NBA, injuries always are part of the game.

“They tell me he’s good to go, I asked him at halftime and he said, ‘play me’,” Luke Walton said. “Between our medical staff and talking to him, I feel confident. He came out and made some big-time in that second half and seemed to be alright.”

The team will be cautious with the 22-year-old budding star, but they also are going to forge ahead. 

[RELATED: Bazemore is ingredient Kings missed during early struggles]

“We’ll go about it smartly and we’ll give him off days where he needs it and rehab and treatment and all that,” Walton added.

Fox is averaging 19.9 points and 6.9 assists for the Kings this season. He’s taking another leap forward in his production and growth, but Sacramento needs him at full strength if they are going to continue to stay in the hunt for the postseason.