After an 0-5 start to the 2019-20 season, the Kings looked stunned. An eight-game losing streak in the month of December had the team all but dead in the water, and a six-game downturn in January had the Kings in need of some changes.
But a couple of moves at the trade deadline changed the chemistry of the Kings and righted the ship. Those trades might have saved the team from a tumultuous offseason filled with changes to the front office and coaching staff.
According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, the pairing of head coach Luke Walton and Vlade Divac is likely to continue into the 2020-21 season, at a minimum.
“Owner Vivek Ranadive had made his frustrations known with both the front office and coaching staff during the Kings’ 15-29 start,” Amick writes. “Questions arose about whether he might be compelled to make changes in the offseason, but sources say Divac and Walton appear very likely to remain (their contracts run through the 2022-23 season).”
There was plenty of tension in the room as the Kings stumbled out of the gate and completely fell apart during one of the softer parts of their schedule in December. But with the Kings rattling off a 13-8 record in their final 21 games and jumping back into the postseason chase, the noise began to quiet down.
The Kings had 18 games remaining on the schedule when the NBA went on hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone in the building appeared focused on the challenge at hand, which was ending the franchise’s 13-year playoff drought.
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At the time of the shutdown, Sacramento was in a three-way tie for ninth place in the Western Conference standings with the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans. The trio trailed the Memphis Grizzlies by three and a half games for the final postseason spot.
There is no question that Walton and Divac are tied together in this venture. After a 39-43 record under head coach Dave Joerger during the 2018-19 season, the team’s best record since the 2005-06 season, Divac chose to go in a different direction.
Rumors of Walton’s arrival had begun in Sacramento while he was still coaching the Los Angeles Lakers. The courtship lasted hours, not days, once Walton left the Lakers in an amicable split.
Walton was Divac’s target and the Kings’ general manager landed his top option.
Throughout the season, Walton asked for patience. Injuries to Marvin Bagley, De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic played a role in the slow start, as did the challenges brought on by installing new offensive and defensive principles.
The team’s turnaround coincided with two major moves. Veteran Kent Bazemore was added to the squad in a trade for Trevor Ariza, and Walton moved sharpshooter Buddy Hield to the bench in favor of Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Hield has thrived in his role as a sixth-man, although he isn’t ecstatic about the move. Bogdanovic was still making adjustments with the starting group, but the team was winning.
At the time of the shutdown, the Kings were playing their best basketball of the season. They had positioned themselves in the thick of a postseason chase and the improvements on both sides of the basketball were apparent.
While the Kings currently sit eight games under .500, there is no question that the team was trending upwards and Walton had bought himself another season, at least.