If Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day, How Long Did It Take?
When will the Sacramento Kings see light at the end of the tunnel?
When the 2021-22 NBA schedule was released, it seemed like the Sacramento Kings might start the season 1-8 during the opening nine-game stretch.
Instead, the team impressively posted a 5-4 record and raised eyebrows around the league after seemingly convincing wins over playoff contenders like the Portland Trail Blazers, Charlotte Hornets and last season’s Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns.
I mean, the Suns literally haven’t lost since the Kings defeated them in heart-breaking fashion back on October 27th.
As exciting as the first nine games of the season were for Sacramento, the next nine games have been a brutal showcase of some of the worst basketball this team has played over a 16-year period of disappointment.
If watching the Kings go 1-8 over a nine-game stretch seems familiar, that’s because it is. Last season, Sacramento lost nine games in-a-row not once, but twice of the course of a 72-game season.
That’s right. 18 of Sacramento’s 41 losses last season came in consecutive fashion. That’s 44% of the team’s losses.
Blowing leads late in the game has been a trend this season, even during the 5-4 stretch to begin the season. There has been no sense of calmness or poise from this team down the stretch of games. Too much one-one-one and hero ball during the closing minutes of games has cost this team wins.
The Kings held a two-point lead with six minutes left during November 12th’s game in Oklahoma City, but if you took the game-clock and scoreboard off of the screen, you would guess that they were trailing by five points with less than a minute remaining by how frantic the team appeared.
Rushed possessions, poor shot selection and a revolving door of underperformance that has claimed multiple members of the roster at different times this season has been noteworthy.
Coaching changes aside, De’Aaron Fox’s struggles have been the main storyline this season. Through 18 games, Fox is following up last season’s All-Star caliber, 25-point-per-game showing with a lackluster 19 points per game on 42/24/71 shooting splits.
While Fox has improved over the past eight games, the way that the 23-year-old is playing is foreign to what we saw last season. His mid-range jumpers and work around the paint seems to always come up short on the front-side of the rim. The defense has not been there as well (113 defensive rating, placing him 12th out of 15 players on the roster).
The Kings are a very dangerous team when they are out and running on the break, but the speedy Fox has not shown the same aggressiveness this season. It isn’t just Fox that is struggling, though.
After an MVP-caliber start to the season, Harrison Barnes has slowed down, with the forward averaging 14.3 points per game on 43-percent shooting from the field and 28-percent from three-point range over the past seven games after posting 22.5 points per game on 50/43/86 shooting splits during the first 11 games.
Barnes coming back to earth and Fox underperforming have been just two slices of a large Sacramento Kings problem pie.
Of course, a large slice and this season’s elephant in the room (that is no longer in the room, technically) is former head coach Luke Walton, whom the team fired from his position on Sunday after two-and-a-half seasons of, well, messiness.
The decision to fire Walton came just hours after an embarrassing back-to-back set against Toronto and Utah last weekend that was capped off by a court-side fan repainting the Golden 1 Center sideline with his own vomit.
From a timing standpoint, the move is a head-scratcher. The writing has been on the wall for some time regarding Walton. Former GM Vlade Divac brought Walton, and old teammate and friend, in on his own accord. After Divac was ousted from his position in 2020, many expected the recently-hired Monte McNair to make a change.
Instead, the Kings–who have a track record of paying multiple head coaches at once–soldiered on into the pandemic-shortened season, missed the play-in, went through a full NBA offseason, started training camp and then played roughly a quarter of the season before finally firing Walton.
When it comes down to it, the team needed to conduct a thorough head coaching search, something that the they haven’t done in a very, very long time.
11 head coaches over 16 seasons is an incredible feat. It just isn’t something you see in professional sports. Stability at any head coaching position for any franchise is hard to come by, but the Kings might as well declare the position cursed.
Interim head coach Alvin Gentry is a well-respected person in the NBA world. He’s a man that has been coaching for decades and has more than enough experience to get through these final 64 games.
Is he the long-term solution for this team and it’s seemingly never-ending search for a head coach? Unlikely. But if Gentry’s first press conference was any sign of what is to come, you can expect that the veteran coach will not shy away from changing things up.
“I don’t really care what the back of the jersey says,” Gentry said following Sacramento’s fourth-straight loss on Monday night. “If you don’t wanna run and get out in the open court then we gotta find someone who will.”
Sacramento is currently 6-12, placing them 12th in the Western Conference and 2.5 games out of the top-10 spots that would qualify for the Play-In with 64 games remaining. The NBA is an unforgiving league and nobody is going to feel sorry while this team tries to right the ship.
Is the season a lost cause? Absolutely not. The team has been beyond awful, yet they are two games out of a play-in spot with a majority of the season still to be played. We are still in the first full month of the season, here. It feels like this month has been 90 days long.
Speaking of feeling like forever, the Kings will need to turn things around if they want to avoid gaining full-possession of the NBA’s longest postseason drought in the league’s history. Sacramento is currently tied with the San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers (1976-1991) at 15-straight seasons without playoff basketball.
Many things will need to happen if the Kings want get to the Promised Land together.
De’Aaron Fox will need to re-discover his All-Star caliber form. Tyrese Haliburton needs to be more aggressive on the offensive end. Harrison Barnes needs to ease back into his 2020-21 self. The offense needs to find Richaun Holmes in the post more, as the center has shot 60% from three-to-10 feet from the basket.
Buddy Hield’s green light should remain as green as it has been (40% from three-point land this season). Davion Mitchell will need to break through the rookie wall. Gentry needs to find stability in the rotation. McNair needs to upgrade the wing depth on the roster.
If a majority of those boxes get checked, Sacramento can end the season where they want: within the top-10 in the West.
Will it be easy? No. Possible? Can’t say that it isn’t.
Things are miserable right now, there is no other way to slice it. The best thing about rock bottom is that there is only one way to go, and that’s up…unless you have some really serious equipment and you drill into those rocks, get through the crust, lithosphere, mantles and head straight for the Earth’s core for a fiery fate.
Drilling into the Earth’s core would mean a full overhaul of the roster and another hard reset, something that has happened multiple times over the past 16 years.
Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that point for the Sacramento Kings.
They say Rome wasn’t built in a day. Building a playoff team and winning environment can’t happen in a day, either. Or a year. Or 15 years. How long are Kings fans supposed to wait?
I googled how long it actually took to build Rome, and…
According to Discover Magazine, it took 1,229 years.
We’re 16 years in. Will this be the year the Kings break through, or do we have 1,213 to go?