The bubble didn’t work out the way the Kings hoped. A 3-5 showing meant another early exit and another year without a playoff appearance.
Who was to blame for the meltdown in Orlando?
General manager Vlade Divac was the one who paid the ultimate price for the poor showing. He stepped down from his post on August 14 and assistant GM Peja Stojakovic, followed his longtime friend out the door the next day.
Head coach Luke Walton has taken heat as well, but for now, he appears safe as the team searches for a new executive to run the franchise.
While basketball is a business and decisions off the court are a part of the game, the players who step on the court should carry at least some of the blame. On the latest episode of the Purple Talk podcast, starting small forward Harrison Barnes spoke on the subject.
“It doesn’t really matter what scheme you have, you can have the best motivational speech, you can do all of these different things, but at the end of the day, it’s on us as players wanting to go out there and guard the ball and to go out there and make shots,” Barnes said. “There’s just no other way around that.”
The Kings struggled coming out of the gate in the NBA’s restart. They dropped their first game to the San Antonio Spurs and instantly looked stunned. It didn’t get better from there.
The Kings were throttled by the Orlando Magic in their second game and a brutal overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 3 all but ended their chances of competing.
“It starts with personal responsibility, everyone looking in the mirror,” Barnes said. “I can speak for myself and say I got better every game that went on, but I wasn’t at my best in the first game. So you have to own that and move forward from there.”
Barnes, like three of his teammates, tested positive for the coronavirus leading up to the Orlando bubble. The virus impacted each of them differently, but there was no question that the illness cost the team valuable time on the court together before the eight-game seeding tournament.
Was it worth it? Despite their struggles, did the team take away anything from the frantic finish to the 2019-20 season?
“It was a learning experience for us, if we choose to take those lessons in and move forward with them,” Barnes said. “Otherwise, we’re going to be in the same situation of things that have plagued us the last couple of years -- slow starts, kinda finding our way once the game has already been started.”
The “if” is the keyword to Barnes’ statement. The Kings needed the experience of playing in important games. The franchise would have loved for those games to come in the playoffs, but the Kings weren’t eliminated officially until the final two games of the season. That hasn’t happened in well over a decade.
How do the Kings learn and get better? They have to understand why they failed and then work to improve.
“It’s understanding playoff atmosphere and playoff intensity,” Barnes said. “A lot of those games that we played had those things associated with it. The attention to detail, the scouting report, all these different things.”
While there is a tentative date of Dec. 1 for a return of NBA basketball, no one truly knows when the league will return. The Kings may have a long stretch to think about where things went wrong with a focus on getting better and handling the situation better next time around.
Having a veteran like Barnes to acknowledge the mistakes made is a good first step. With everyone in the Western Conference improving, the Kings need more players to come to the same realization and come back ready to compete, whenever that may be.