Before, during and after the trade deadline, one thing still remains; Sacramento Kings are still in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Looking at the team’s struggles in over a decade, Kings cannot afford to miss the postseason.
The Sacramento Kings have to make the playoffs this season and that is not an overstatement given the circumstances the team in the NBA with the longest playoff drought has going on at the moment. Some factors have resulted from careful planning and proper player selection and development in the draft while others have not been so much about the team’s management efforts.
The Kings have been the laughing stock of the NBA for a while after last making the playoffs in 2006 and screwing up every opportunity to get back.
They’ve whiffed on draft selections picking guys like Jimmer Fredette ahead of Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler, Thomas Robinson in 2012 ahead of Damian Lillard and Georgios Papagiannis with the 12th pick despite having four frontcourt players on the roster. When they did get it right-like DeMarcus Cousins- they messed up and failed to keep him around due to poor management of the team.
However, that looks like a distant memory looking at Sacramento’s roster which is filled with top picks playing well in their young careers. De’Aaron Fox is already making many question Los Angeles Lakers for picking Lonzo Ball ahead of Fox in the 2017 Draft.
After clearing its frontcourt, Willie Cauley-Stein is getting enough minutes and touches to shine as a top five selection, Buddy Hield (arrived in the Cousins trade) has fit in great. Former player Vlade Divac and Coach Dave Joerger have formed a fine tandem pushing the team to the postseason.
Many young teams in the West have been on the brink of making the playoffs like Kings are right now only to miss out eventually. Sacramento is ninth in the standings with 28 wins and 26 losses sandwiched between the Los Angeles teams.
Conversely, Phoenix Suns made a big run for the postseason with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic but ultimately fell short. Last season’s Denver Nuggets was a game win from making the postseason but conceded the conference final spot to Minnesota Timberwolves. Many fear this season’s Kings will fall eventually in its pursuit but there are strong reasons to believe Sacramento will beat the odds to end the postseason drought. A lot of Sacramento’s success is down to Fox who in his second season, ranks high among the most improved players in the league.
Averaging 17.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in the Kings fast paced offense orchestrated by Joerger is pushing Sacramento to new frontiers. Former Memphis Grizzlies Coach Joerger sure does deserve credit for the transformation after fighting off wide preference for veteran players and letting the “kids” play to their strength-speed-is a winner. Dropping Kosta Koufos and Zach Randolph from the rotation while having 2018 second overall pick Marvin Bagley come off the bench shows his willingness to double down on his system.
While their tenures as owner and President haven’t been smooth, Vivek Ranadive and Divac are putting up impressive early signs. Thanks to Ranadive, Kings remained in Sacramento by having the most high tech arena in the NBA-Golden 1 Center and Divac just filled the weakest spot on the roster before the trade deadline. The team is loaded with a host of frontcourt players including Nemanja Bjelica, Harry Giles and Skal Labissiere but is thin at Small Forward.
By trading for Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks at the expense of Justin Jackson, Zach Randolph and Iman Shumpert, Sacramento has loaded up on its weakest link. Barnes has an NBA title on his CV and playoff experience through four seasons with Golden State Warriors. Burks has had his fair share of postseason festivities with Utah Jazz. The duos presence deepens the Kings depth in the backcourt and wings with Yogi Ferrell backing Fox at Guard, Burks and Hield at Shooting Guard and Bogdan Bogdanovic and Barnes at Small Forward.
As fate would have it, Kings closest challengers –Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers- are going through changes that play into the hands of Sacramento. Lakers lost LeBron James to injury for 17 games and missed out on trading for Anthony Davis and the Clippers decided to stay out of playoff contention by trading top players including its best one.
By shipping Tobias Harris to Philadelphia Sixers and Avery Bradley to Memphis Grizzlies for draft picks and players on expiring contracts, the Clippers have turned their attention to parlaying those picks into young players from the draft. This gives Sacramento more opportunities to utilize in its pursuit for a playoff seed and there is strong belief that target would materialize.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter