The Kingdom is crumbling.
The Kings dropped their ninth straight game Thursday night. They made the New York Knicks, the league's worst offensive team, look like the Warriors' championship squads last decade.
Sacramento coach Luke Walton was so frustrated in the 140-121 drubbing that his team took that he punched a clipboard in the fourth quarter and broke it into pieces.
Who is to blame for the Kings' 12-20 record, and what is now a nine-game losing streak? The easy answer is Walton, since he is the head coach and that is who usually shoulders the blame.
But the players say otherwise.
“I think it's on us who are on the court,” De’Aaron Fox said in a video conference with reporters. “We have to be able to go out there and execute the game plan and there are times there are just too many lapses. I don't think that has anything to do with coaching.”
“Effort or offensive rebounds?” Fox continued. “Like, we're going to go back to middle-school stuff and practice boxing out? There's nothing that Luke or Rico [Hines] or anybody on the coaching staff can do about that. That has to be us.”
Fox wasn’t the only one to blame the players. Harrison Barnes, who is just getting back into rhythm after missing time with a foot issue, pointed the finger at him and his teammates.
"When we win, we execute the game plan and we do that with energy and effort,” Barnes said. “When we don't, sometimes it's energy and effort, sometimes it's IQ, but it’s' going to look disorganized, it's going to look sloppy and you’re going to see performances like we did tonight.”
The Kings’ defensive rotations were more than just a step slow, but that’s not the only issue. There are plays where half of the team is running one defensive set and another one or two players clearly missed parts of the game plan.
“At some point, it simply just comes down to stopping the guy who is in front of you, regardless of who it is, closing out and getting the rebound, closing out and getting a loose ball,” Barnes said. “Those are basic defensive principles that we aren’t doing right now and that’s why we’re on this losing streak.”
One of the Kings' more frustrating issues is that their current skid follows one of their best stretches of the season. Before the losing streak, the Kings had just won seven of eight games and briefly climbed a game above .500.
The group that Walton is now asking to turn the season around is the same group that beat the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers over a four-day stretch. Walton has been reluctant to shift his starting lineup around, but he’s at least considering it at this point.
“We’re always evaluating,” Walton said when asked about his lineup. “I don’t have an answer for you right now. I’ll have one tomorrow.”
One way or another, change is coming. The Kings are limping into the All-Star break and the NBA trade deadline is just a month away. There could be massive player movement on the horizon, and no one should feel totally safe. Especially not the head coach.
“I’m in it with this team and I’m in it with this front office,” Walton said. “Our only goal is getting better, improving the group we have, developing our young players while competing and trying to win at a high level. That’s where my mind, my time and my energy is put into.”
Walton said he spoke to general manager Monte McNair earlier Wednesday and that they talk daily, if not more. They are on the same page, at least behind the scenes.
“As far as the front office, I feel very connected with them and very locked in as far as where we're at and where we're trying to go as a group,” Walton said. “They've been very supportive.”
McNair is in his first season running the Kings and he accepted the job knowing that Walton was under contract for another three seasons. Coming into the year, Walton’s job appeared to be safe, at league for this season. Whether that still holds strong after a nine game losing streak and the team plummeting down the standings is unknown at this time.
The Kings don’t have time to focus on the outside noise. They have another game on Friday night against the Detroit Pistons. Detroit is just 9-23 and has lost three of its last four games.
While the Knicks entered Thursday as the worst offensive team in the NBA, the Pistons have the worst record in the Eastern Conference. If the Kings find a way to lose this game, the pressure is only going to increase for Walton, his players and the Kings’ front office.