The Sacramento Kings from 2000-2006 were one of the model franchises of the NBA. They played an exhilarating brand of basketball, featuring the legendary Rick Adelman on the sideline and greats like Chris Webber and Vlade Divac on the court. They were the most exciting team in the NBA, playing a free flowing, fast-paced brand of basketball, which served as a precursor to the style of play that has swept the NBA lately thanks to the successes of the Heat and Warriors.
Arco Arena became a nightmare for opponents in part due to the signature cowbells Kings fans ring during games. The legendary battles with the Lakers in the playoffs are absolute classics, and produced some of the most iconic moments of the 2000’s NBA. Those Kings teams are widely considered some of the great teams never to win a championship, along with other ill-fated squads like the Stockton-Malone Jazz and the KD-Harden-Westbrook Thunder. Since their last playoff appearance, Kings fans have been perhaps the most abused fan base in basketball as they have watched the Kings become a complete embarrassment and the most dysfunctional franchise in the NBA.
They have watched the Maloofs run the team into the ground with bad trades, awful signings, and a dedication to making the absolute worst decisions possible, including threatening a move to Anaheim and nearly selling the team to a group of investors who would have moved the team to Seattle. Thankfully, Vivek Ranadive purchased the team and built a beautiful new arena in Sacramento. Unfortunately, the sale of the Kings has not resulted in better results on the court, and management continues to struggle to put a competent supporting cast around Demarcus Cousins.
The descent of the Kings into the NBA abyss can all be traced back to perhaps the most significant on-court moment in recent franchise history; Chris Webber’s torn ACL during the 2003 playoffs. Webber was the anchor of the Kings, their franchise player and engine through which the team ran. His injury would foretell Webber’s freefall from NBA nobility and would serve as the spark which would send his relationship with the team up in flames. Peja Stojakovic would do his best in Webber’s stead, but the team was unable to overcome the diminishing of Webber’s incredible athleticism and would never be able to replicate their magical run to the Western Conference Finals in 2002.
Over the next 3 years following Webber’s Injury, The Kings began to shed the team of the players the fans loved and supported over the last few years of unparalleled franchise success. Vlade Divac would leave the team and return to the Lakers for his final season in 2004. Doug Christie would be traded to Orlando in 2005, Webber traded to Philadelphia shortly after, and Peja Stojakovic shipped to Indiana for Ron Artest in a last grasp at playoff relevancy in 2006. Mike Bibby would be the last of the 2002 team to leave, traded to Atlanta in 2008. Perhaps the trade of Mike Bibby represented a turning point in the trust the fans placed in the franchise’s commitment to winning. Whether it is coincidence or not, the fact remains that the Kings dropped from 16th in attendance the previous year to 27th during the year Bibby was traded.
The inability of the kings to successfully rebuild the team following the trades of Webber, Bibby, and Stojakovic was compounded by the total ineptness of the front office to draft even a competent NBA player over the last 10 years. Other than the selection of Demarcus Cousins in 2010 and Isaiah Thomas in 2011, the Kings have drafted exactly zero all-stars in that time frame, including using top 10 picks on such NBA immortals as Thomas Robinson (whom they traded midway through his rookie year for financial reasons), and “Sauce Castillo” himself Nik Stauskas, whom they traded in a salary dump after his rookie year. Other than Boogie, the best player the Kings have drafted over the last decade who remains on the team is Ben McLemore, who rode the bench all season behind Rudy Gay and Aaron Afflalo before Rudy’s Achilles tear.
In Ben McLemore’s defense, at least he appears to be valued enough by Kings management to remain on the team. The Kings have apparently decided any decent players they acquire need to be sent somewhere else ASAP. Isaiah Thomas has developed into an All-Star in Boston and is currently in MVP contention while averaging nearly 30 points per game. Isaiah was the last pick in the draft in 2011 by the Kings, and they apparently decided he was not worth the 4 year, 26 million dollar contract he signed with Phoenix after his rookie contract ended in 2014. Tyreke Evans won rookie of the year over Stephen Curry in 2009, and the Kings let him leave to the Pelicans after his rookie contract expired in 2013.
While the on-court product has been undoubtedly awful, the front office has been full of more double-crosses, backstabbing, and deceitfulness than an episode of House of Cards. Since the firing of Rick Adelman in 2006, the Kings have had seven head coaches in the last decade, including four within the last 5 years. The tension between Mike Malone and GM Pete D’Alessandro led to Malone’s firing and D’Alessandro heading to Denver, and the George Karl experiment was an unmitigated disaster. Karl discussed trading Demarcus Cousins with rival executives, and the tension between Karl and Boogie would prove an insurmountable distraction until Karl’s firing last season.
Perhaps the most difficult thing Kings fans have had to endure however, was the drama involved in the sale of the team. The Maloof brothers had owned the team for years, and were in dire financial straits near the end of their tenure as owners of the Kings. In one instance in 2011, the franchise was seconds away from moving to Anaheim, which led to the iconic emotional speech given by Kings TV announcers Grant Napear and Jerry Reynolds following what they believed was the last Sacramento Kings game ever. When that deal fell through, the Kings were nearly sold to an investment group who intended to move the team to Seattle. Thankfully, Vivek Ranadive was able to purchase the team in 2013 and built a beautiful arena in Sacramento, where the Kings will continue to call home.
Over the last decade, the Kings have fallen from their fragile throne atop the NBA. They continue to suffer from the dysfunction that has infected them since those magical years in the early 2000’s, despite their sale to Ranadive. However, the team is closer to the playoffs this season than they have been for years, and the fans can rest easy their team will not abandon them for false promises from other cities. The Kings have the building blocks a great team needs right now; a legitimate franchise player and a coach with a proven track record. They can reclaim their throne very quickly if they cut out the dysfunction and formulate a real plan to return to NBA royalty.
All stats courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/