Every once in a while, an NBA team is allowed a throwaway game. Unfortunately for the Sacramento Kings, they’ve already reached their limit with 30 games remaining in the 2020-21 season.
Making excuses for a 129-105 drubbing at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers would be disingenuous. The Kings were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, but this season is filled with tough scheduling moments.
Sacramento was facing a team without two stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and another starter in Seth Curry. A ragtag group of Sixers were well rested and they punched the Kings in the face early and often.
“I understand that it’s a back-to-back, we’re tired,” rookie Tyrese Haliburton said following the loss. “But that can’t be an excuse, that’s got to be our identity.”
“If you asked around, I don’t know that we’ve found our identity yet,” Haliburton continued. “I don’t know that we’ve found exactly what makes us play our best basketball. We know we can score the ball very well. We know that when we’re getting out, running, we’re able to get easy shots.”
This is a stunning self-assessment from a 21-year-old who has barely scratched the surface of who he will be as an NBA player. But maybe that is exactly the voice that needs to speak up.
We know what the identity of the Rick Adelman-led teams of the late 90's and early 20's was. It was next man up. It was fluid, beautiful basketball. It was sacrifice and roles and it was amazing to watch.
What is Kings basketball now? What has it been for 15 seasons? If you don't know where you are heading, then you can't be disappointed with where you end up.
Haliburton isn’t jaded by the league and he isn’t willing to accept that this is just how it is when you play for a team like the Kings. He wants more, which is very much in line with the fanbase that has waited a decade and a half for someone to put their finger on an issue and then fix it.
“We’ve just gotta kinda understand what our identity is and do that, cuz right now, it doesn’t really seem like we have identified that,” Haliburton added.
De’Aaron Fox agreed with the sage words of his rookie backcourt mate and said the issue has been a topic of discussion in the locker room.
“Yeah, I think we’ve been very inconsistent with how we’ve been,” Fox said following the loss. “Harrison [Barnes] talked about it and sayin’ we’re kinda a different team tonight than we were in Washington and Boston for sure and even Charlotte, we just didn’t finish that game.”
Maybe this is exactly what Kings basketball is. Inconsistent to a fault. This is the team that started 3-1 on the season. It is the team that fell to 5-10 and then bounced back to .500 at 12-12. It’s the team that lost nine straight and is a 5-5 over their last 10.
Consistently inconsistent is tattooed on this roster and until they shake the moniker, it will be the reason why they miss the playoffs for a fifteenth consecutive season.
How do you find consistency? That’s a great question. But there are plenty of franchises around the NBA that have figured it out. There are even a few that have mastered the concept.
This is the missing ingredient for the Kings and it isn’t just on the players or the coaching staff or even the newly formed front office. It’s a franchise level issue and until it is rectified, nights like Saturday in Philly and seasons like the 2020-21 campaign will continue to be the identity of the team.
It took Haliburton a little over half a season to diagnose not only a symptom, but the underlying disease. He might be the smartest rookie to ever walk through the doors in Sacramento, but he is just one young man. It is long past time to treat what ails the franchise, if that’s even possible.
You don’t find consistency by firing head coaches every two seasons. You don’t find consistency by swapping out players or general managers at the drop of a hat. You find consistency by finding the right group, letting them grow together and getting out of the way.
Fits and starts don’t work. Find a core. Build around it. Stay the course.
Haliburton gets it. Fox gets it. Barnes gets it. Richaun Holmes gets it. Start there and build towards something that resembles consistency, functionality and a path forward. Find an identity that is Kings basketball or continue to be defined by what you aren't. It's that simple.