Kings

NBA free agency: Kosta Koufos reflects on Kings tenure, his future

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USATSI

NBA free agency: Kosta Koufos reflects on Kings tenure, his future

A pro’s pro.

After four seasons in Sacramento, center Kosta Koufos is about to enter NBA free agency for the first time in a while.

The veteran center took a back seat to the Kings’ youth movement over the last two seasons, but at 30 years old, he still has plenty to give, whether it’s in Sacramento or somewhere else.

“I’ve been in the league for 11 years. I’ve started a numerous amount of games, and when given time, I can put up numbers,” Koufos told NBC Sports California on The Kings Insider Podcast.

Sacramento undertook a major facelift during Koufos’ time with the team. He had to adapt, and more that anything else, he had to accept a role as the team started from scratch.

From a starter on a 57-win Denver Nuggets team to a role player with the Kings, Koufos has done it all. He takes everything in stride and never has complained, be it to the media or the front office.

“From my perspective, knowing your role, knowing your situation and maximizing your role, whatever time is given to you,” Koufos said. “Whether it’s playing well on the defensive end or getting guys open with screens or scoring when the opportunity is there, it’s just being the best player you can be in whatever time is given to you.”

With the Kings continuing their youth movement, minutes weren’t easy to come by this past season for the 7-footer out of Ohio State. But when he didn’t see the floor or he played less than 15 minutes, Koufos would hit the practice-facility floor and the weight room after games to stay in shape.

“Have your mindset that you’re going to play 25 minutes a game, even if you’re not, just to be ready and keep your body ready,” Koufos said of his approach to this last season. “If you don’t play, then after the game you get your conditioning in, get your lifting in, get your shots up so you can stay sharp for the next opportune moment.”

For the first time in eight seasons, Koufos failed to register a positive in the offensive/defensive rating, but it had nothing to do with his effort. He played just 502 minutes with the Kings and played with countless teammates on the second unit. It’s hard to find a rhythm as a player when you’re playing half the games.

Circumstances have changed almost every year in Sacramento, but Koufos has rolled with the punches and been a team player every step of the way. While he wants to play, he also knows the NBA business, and the veteran center hasn’t ruled out a return to the Kings.

“You keep your options open no matter what, I believe in that,” Koufos said.

The Kings are looking for a major piece to drop into the center of their lineup, and Koufos will have to use a wait-and-see approach. It’s very possible that there is a club on the open market looking for a veteran big who understands his role and is willing to do all of the dirty work.

Although he didn’t get the best opportunity over the last year or two with the Kings, he enjoyed the fan base and would recommend the city to potential free agents.

“Honestly, there are a lot of friendly people in Sacramento,” Koufos said. “It’s more of a Midwest vibe, in California, which I like. The city is growing, the real estate market is booming, obviously, and I had a great time.”

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Kings haven’t closed the door on a reunion with the team’s longest-tenured player. The Kings hope to improve their frontline in free agency, but that doesn’t exclude a return by Koufos.

[RELATED: Examining Kings' current roster construction]

Both sides will let the market dictate the next course of action. If they meet back up after the initial burrage of signings, and a deal make sense for both the team and the player, they will talk.

If not, Koufos should be remembered in Sacramento as the consummate professional who brought his hard hat to work every day and helped bring along the next generation of Kings players.

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.

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

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.