Why these seven Kings storylines will make or break their stretch run

Why these seven Kings storylines will make or break their stretch run

The Kings need the NBA All-Star break as badly as any team in the league. They’ve played better as of late, but that doesn’t change the fact that Sacramento is on pace for 32 wins, a seven game drop from last year’s breakout season.

They aren't yet mathematically eliminated from the postseason, but the Kings have a tremendous amount of work to do if they are going to claw out of their current hole. That begins Feb. 20 when the Kings face the Memphis Grizzlies -- the Western Conference's eighth seed -- for the first of two meetings over an eight-day period.

The Kings will play a soft spot in their schedule right after the break. If they aren’t successful during this seven-game window, which includes those two games against Memphis, a match with the Warriors at Chase Center and winnable games against the Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons at home, then the final 21 games should take a different path.

It has been a disappointing season in Sacramento, but there still is time for development and a slight opportunity to turn things around. Here are six other storylines to monitor over the Kings' final 28 games.

Heavily invested

Who is this group? De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Harrison Barnes -- that is your core. We can add Marvin Bagley and Richaun Holmes, but we’ll get to them later.

The Kings have already invested heavily in Barnes and Hield, and they plan to go all-in on Fox and Bogdanovic this summer. Can this group show more life than what we’ve seen through the first 54 games?

Even if they fall way short of a postseason berth, this group needs to come together and show that they are the future of the franchise. If not, this is about to become a really expensive 30-win team over the next few years.

Find an identity

The Kings were one of the most exciting teams in the NBA last season. They ran their opponents off the floor and shocked the league before running out of steam late in the season. With 28 games remaining, coach Luke Walton and his staff need to help this group of players find their identity.

After finishing fifth in the league in pace last year, Sacramento heads into the break all the way down at No. 25 this season. No team with Fox as their starting point guard should be this slow. Whatever the issue is, the Kings have a week to watch tape and find an answer.

Losing is one thing, but the brand of basketball through 54 games wasn't palatable. This team is better when they run, which should be a focus during the final third of the season.

Get healthy

There is no question that the Kings’ plans were thrown for a loop with Bagley's opening night injury. The 20-year-old big has had a series of injuries throughout the season that has limited him to 13 games and robbed him of valuable development time on the court.

Bagley might be done for the season. Then again, he still could come back in the coming weeks and finish out the season. The Kings need to take a cautious approach moving forward to ensure his health. If that means limiting him to 20 minutes per game, then so be it.

This isn’t about the 2019-20 season or even next year. It’s about a 12-to-15-year NBA career for a talented young player who has had some bad injury luck.

Get more healthy

Bagley isn’t the only player sitting out games. Holmes has been a perfect fit for the Kings, but an early January labral tear and a setback last week have put the 26-year-old on ice. If he needs to be shut down long term, so be it, but get it right.

Holmes fits the Kings' age arc and he is the type of energy player they need. He has been their best defensive player and their most efficient on offense. His health, like Bagley's, is paramount moving forward.

If he needs to shut it down for an extended period or even undergo surgery, that decision needs to come soon. A healthy Holmes in 2020-21 could mean good things for the Kings.

Mend fences or move on

The Kings made the decision in October not to pick up the fourth-year option on Harry Giles’ rookie deal. That move has put them in an awkward position. Giles is now their only healthy center, and he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. General manager Vlade Divac has been clear that he hasn’t shut the door on a potential return for the No. 20 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but it won’t be up to the Kings.

Sacramento has a couple of options here. The Kings can acknowledge that this marriage is destined for divorce and then focus on a test drive for Alex Len when he is healthy, or even open up a roster spot for G League enforcer Eric Mika.

They could also hand the center job to Giles, play him 30-plus minutes a night and develop a talented 21-year-old with the hopes that the relationship can be mended.

This is a complex situation, but Giles has shown enough glimpses to still be an option moving forward. If he doesn’t show improvement or has another medical setback, then you adjust accordingly. If he looks like another piece to the puzzle then you work to find common ground.

Test drive

As long as the Kings’ postseason dreams are still alive, we are likely to see a heavy dose of veterans Cory Joseph, Kent Bazemore and Nemanja Bjelica. Joseph is under contract for next season and the team has an option a year after tgat. Bazemore is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and will have plenty of suitors as a rotational 3-and-D wing. Sacramento has a player option on Bjelica for next year, and he likely us coming back.

If the season is over, Walton needs to work Justin James and even two-way players DaQuan Jeffries and Kyle Guy into the picture. James is a high flyer with potential. Jeffries is built like a linebacker and might develop into a defensive specialist. Guy, meanwhile, is a volume scorer fans will love.

At some point, the transition from veterans to youth has to take place, although the team needs to be respectful of their older-players. With five second-round selections over the next two drafts, the Kings need to know if James, Jeffries and Guy are worth investing in.

[RELATED: Walton hilariously asks Doncic to give ref his autograph]

Parker an option?

The Kings chased Jabari Parker during free agency in 2018 and came up empty. They acquired the talented, yet injury-prone forward at the trade deadline in a swap for Dewayne Dedmon, and they have the next 28 games to see how he fits.

Parker has an affordable player option for next season at $6.5 million, but he might attract interest outside of Sacramento. If the two sides are a good fit, Parker, like Holmes, fits the player arc of this team. The 24-year-old is a quality scoring option who still has potential to expand his game.

This is a quality low-risk, high-reward move if Parker can get on the court and stay healthy.

How Kings are handling leaving family behind for NBA's Orlando restart

How Kings are handling leaving family behind for NBA's Orlando restart

The NBA’s Orlando bubble -- it’s a concept that somehow we have begun to normalize.

Later this week, the Kings and 21 other NBA teams will travel via private jet to Disney World where they will be under lock and key for a minimum of five weeks.

On paper, it doesn’t sound all that bad. Five-star accommodations, tons of food options, a golf course, bowling alley, ping pong tables. The only thing that is missing are the players' families, who won’t be allowed to join the bubble until after the first round of the playoffs, somewhere around Aug. 31.

NBA players and staff are normal people, just like everyone else. The bubble concept is a way for the league to survive and save at least some of the revenue stream that has all but disappeared due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the league is asking its players to walk away from their families for an extended period of time.

“There’s no way around the fact that this is a sacrifice,” Harrison Barnes said. “Whether you’re being away from your family, whether you’re not going to be able to see your parents, your siblings, whatever it may be. And not having an end date too, definitely adds an extra bit of focus to you, that if you’re going to be away from your family for this long, you want to make it work, you want to make it something that you’re completely locked in and focused on and giving your all to, or else it’s a waste of time.”

Barnes is married, but does not have children. He might be in the minority on that front on the Kings' roster.

[RELATED: Harrison Barnes keeps word, won't shave beard until Kings hit .500 record]

Nemanja Bjelica’s children can be seen on the court in pregame. Buddy Hield’s daughter waits for him after most home games. Richaun Holmes and De’Aaron Fox both have little ones.

Kent Bazemore has been known to post pictures of his little boy on twitter and his wife has another one on the way due later this year.

“It’s tough,” Bazemore said earlier this week during one of the Kings Zoom media calls. “It’s tough on being a husband and a father. I cried like a little baby when I left to head out here a couple weeks ago -- just seeing him and my wife standing on the front porch as I’m leaving, and he has absolutely no idea I’m gone as long as I’m going to be gone.”

“It’s definitely tough, especially him being such a young age,” Bazemore added. “It’s pivotal as a child to kind of have that stable foundation, and my wife is also pregnant with a little girl coming in September, so the realistic front is very tough.”

A week ago, Corey Brewer was out of the league wondering if he would get another shot at age 34. The 12-year vet will get that opportunity with the Kings, but again, it will come at a cost.

“That’s probably the hardest part for me,” Brewer said. “I have small kids. One’s six and one’s three months, so it was tough to leave them, but they understand I’m getting older. Any chance I get to play basketball, I have to take it. They’re happy. My son’s happy I get to play again, and we FaceTime every day for like five hours, so we still see each other.”

Modern technology has made the world a smaller place, but there is nothing that can replace physical contact.

“In your 20s and 30s, you make a lot of sacrifices, but I’m in a position to really set up my legacy and really help those behind me,” Bazemore said. “So It’s a tough decision and it’s something my wife and I are diligently working on, trying to stay connected, you know, phone calls, videos, FaceTime, doing everything we can to stay connected.”

[RELATED: Kings' Kent Bazemore could envision staying for 'next couple of years']

There is a human element that is being missed. Players aren’t just going to Orlando and risking infection by playing a sport. They are leaving everything behind for a month or two and perhaps longer.

This is a complex situation with real life consequences for players and their loved ones. Adding to the issue is that these aren’t normal times and that the world is in the midst of a pandemic.

The league is hopeful that they can limit the exposure to coronavirus by running a tight ship, but the families of the players will not be afforded that same luxury while at home.

There is no perfect solution, but fans should keep in mind that while they want to see NBA basketball and regain some of the escapism that professional sports provides, there might be times when players' minds are not 100 percent focused on the game at hand.

Kings assistant Igor Kokoskov announced as Fenerbahçe Beko head coach

Kings assistant Igor Kokoskov announced as Fenerbahçe Beko head coach

While Kings assistant coach Igor Kokoskov will travel to Orlando with the team, he has a new gig awaiting him after the NBA season concludes.

European basketball powerhouse Fenerbahçe Beko Istanbul announced Saturday that Kokoskov will be there next head coach.

Kokoskov has agreed to a three-year contract with Fenerbahçe, according to their press release.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski first reported Thursday that Kokoskov would take over Fenerbahçe. A league source confirmed to NBC Sports California's James Ham that Kokoskov would remain with the Kings through the completion of their 2019-20 slate.

Kokoskov, 48, has been an NBA coach since the 2000-01 season. He spent time as an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers, Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz and Kings. He also spent the 2018-19 season as the head coach of the Suns, where he amassed a 19-63 record.

The 2019-20 season was Kokoskov's first on Luke Walton's staff.

Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, who plays for Kokoskov on the Serbian National Team, congratulated his coach on his new job.

[RELATED: Bazemore open to Kings return]

Kokoskov and the Kings are scheduled to arrive in Orlando this upcoming week for the restart of the NBA season. They will participate in three scrimmages before playing eight seeding games. If they can remain within four games of the No. 8 seed, Sacramento would force play-in games for the last playoff seed in the Western Conference.

If the Kings can find a way into the playoffs, they can send Kokoskov out with a bang.