The Trials and Tribulations of a Sacramento Kings Fan
Being a lifelong Kings fan is difficult. But you already knew that.
Let’s set the stage.
The year is 2006.
‘Temperature’ by Sean Paul and ‘SOS’ by Rihanna fill the airwaves. ‘Scary Movie 4 had just delivered the biggest Easter weekend opening in box office history (Yeah, I really looked it up).
Spring is beginning to turn to summer. The NBA Playoffs are about to begin, something that fans of the Sacramento Kings have been quite used to for the better part of the last decade.
Of course, the playoffs.
For Kings fans, it wasn’t anything new. You expected it.
Back when I was a kid, I would have to go to bed before the endings of some Kings games. In the morning, I would sprint to the driveway to grab the newspaper and see the final score. Before I even picked the paper up, I always had that feeling of optimism.
Winning was expected. It was a good feeling. I was only eleven in 2006, but I remember that comforting feeling.
That feeling was the sensation of winning.
Since the 1998-99 season, Sacramento had been a staple in basketball’s postseason—compiling a 395-229 record over eight incredible seasons.
Starting with the 1998-99 season, head coach Rick Adelman had led the Kings to the playoffs in every season that he was employed by the franchise.
Jason Williams and ‘The Greatest Show on Court”. The emergence of Chris Webber. Two unheard of talents from overseas, Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu becoming integreal pieces for a contending team. Slick-passing and fun-hearted center Vlade Divac providing plenty of memorable moments. Mike Bibby’s arrival and instant success. Sixth-Man of the Year Bobby Jackson getting buckets off of the bench.
Sacramento had provided Kings fans with nearly a decade of fun, winning basketball.
The year 2006 wasn’t any different—despite the fact that the team had said goodbye to former All-Star talents Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic while also having traded All-Defensive first-team selection Doug Christie in 2005.
Sacramento made the postseason as an eighth seed, having the unfortunate luck of drawing a first-round matchup against the 63-win San Antonio Spurs.
The Kings would put forward an admirable effort, tying the series up at 2-2 after a miraculous buzzer-beater by Kevin Martin and a blowout in Game 4. Although the Spurs ended up winning the series in six games, there was no doubt that the Sacramento Kings had left it all on the floor and that they would absolutely live to fight another day in the NBA postseason–sooner than later.
Fast forward to 2020.
It has now been 14 years since the Sacramento Kings have seen postseason play. There hasn’t been much to be excited about since 2006.
The franchise fired head coach Rick Adelman after the 2005-06 season, a move that still haunts Kings fans to this day.
After two below-average seasons that saw the team win 33 and 38 games from 2006-2008, the team hit its lowest point during the 2008-09 season when they finished with a league-worst 17-65 record.
After losing out on the number-one pick in the draft and falling to the fourth selection, Sacramento drafted Tyreke Evans in 2009–the eventual Rookie of the Year Award winner.
Evans put on one of the greatest displays an NBA rookie had ever exhibited, at the time joining Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the only rookies to average over 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game for a season.
Evans was never the same after his incredible rookie campaign, leaving the Kings for the New Orleans Pelicans after the 2012-13 season.
The team drafted Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins with the fifth pick of the 2010 draft, giving themselves a big-man with limitless talent—but with a lot of emotional baggage in tow.
Cousins would become one of the best players in the league with Sacramento, holding career-averages of 21.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game over seven-seasons as a King.
Although the talented center made three All-Star teams while with Sacramento, the drama surrounding Cousins and head coaches Paul Westphal, Keith Smart and George Karl were a constant negative storyline for the franchise..
Of course, the coach that seemed to gel best with Cousins, Michael Malone, was inexplicably fired in the middle of the 2014-15 season—after a 9-5 start, nonetheless. Cousins went down with viral meningitis after the hot start, missing action that resulted in a 2-8 stretch for the team.
Malone, who went on to be hired by the Denver Nuggets prior to the 2015-16 season, has compiled a 219-182 record over five seasons to go along with two playoff appearances.
Sandwiched in the middle of this playoff drought, a massive and dramatic relocation saga. The team was certain to be heading out of Sacramento in 2013, with Seattle being the destination.
The ‘Here We Stay’ movement was incredible.
Even though the Kings appeared to have their bags backed for Seattle, fans crammed into Sleep Train Arena with signs, cowbells and tears in their eyes as they pleaded for a miracle.
That miracle came.
Led by the efforts of Mayor Kevin Johnson and Vivek Randive’s ownership group, the Kings remained in Sacramento.
I remember skipping class to shoot hoops in my driveway, listening to the mid-day show on KHTK as information was relayed over from the Board of Governors meeting in New York.
The Kings remaining in Sacramento is something that I will never forget.
After all that the fans have been through, they deserve a team to complain about.
Here We Stay-ed.
Good? Maybe. Good enough? Not quite.
Head coaching aside, the Kings had a few seasons where the talent looked good on paper.
In 2013-14, the team had three players finish the season averaging over 20 points per game–Cousins, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas was traded to Phoenix that offseason for–well, basically peanuts–so that the Kings could sign a “pass-first” point-guard. Sacramento filled Thomas’ slot with free-agent Darren Collison.
Over three seasons with the Kings, Collison averaged 4.7 assists over 187 games.
In Thomas’ three seasons with Sacramento, the two-time All-Star averaged 4.8 assists over 216 games.
Arguably the most ‘exciting’ team during the dreaded playoff drought was the 2015-16 Kings squad.
Sacramento signed Rondo (after Divac’s horrific salary July 2015 salary dump) to a one-year deal, and the former NBA Champion had his best statistical season of his career.
With scoring options like Cousins, Gay and Willie Cauley-Stein, Rondo led the league in assists with a career-high 11.7 dimes per game.
The Kings remained in the playoff race until a late-season collapse sealed their fates once again. Sacramento won 33 games–the most that the franchise had won since the 2007-08 season when they won 38 games.
Rondo departed after the season, while Rudy Gay followed in suit after the 2016-17 regular season.
‘A New Era’? Not so much
Sacramento traded Cousins to New Orleans in February of 2017, netting a return of Buddy Hield and a future 1st-round pick.
The Cousins trade signified the end of an era for the Kings, hitting the hypothetical ‘restart button’. At least, it looked that way from the surface.
A new decade was approaching, something that all Kings fans were clamoring for after the franchise posted a league-worst 287-517 record from 2010 through 2019.
After receiving a future first-round pick from the Cousins deal, the Kings had two top-ten selections in the 2017 draft.
Why would that hold any weight to a Kings fan?
Since 2009, the team had missed on almost every single draft selection made—minus the Cousins pick. The misses are endless:
- 2009: Tyreke Evans (4th) over Stephen Curry (7th)
- 2011: Jimmer Fredette (10th) over Klay Thompson (11th) and Kawhi Leonard (15th)
- 2012: Thomas Robinson (5th) over Damian Lillard (6th)
- 2013: Ben McLemore (7th) over C.J. McCollum (10th)
- 2014: Nik Stauskas (8th) over Zach LaVine (13th) and T.J. Warren (14th)
- 2016: Georgios Papagiannis (13th) Played in only 39 career games
Where is the infamous 2018 draft, you ask?
Yes, the Sacramento Kings defied the odds—literally—and jumped in the draft to obtain the number-two pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
It had been largely rumored that former Kings general manager Vlade Divac had been interested in a Slovenian kid named Luka Dončić. The team opted to draft Duke forward Marvin Bagley III instead, a move that Kings fans have called the worst thing to ever happen to the franchise.
Not drafting Dončić hurts, to state the obvious.
The 21-year-old had an MVP-type season, scoring 29.1 points, dishing 8.9 assists and grabbing 9.5 rebounds per game. Dončić’s efforts propelled the Dallas Mavericks to a playoff berth after missing the postseason last year for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
Bagley, who missed 20 games during his rookie season, only played in 13 games during the 2019-20 season due to an assortment of injuries.
Former NBA All-Star and beloved Kings center Vlade Divac was handed the keys to the kingdom back in 2015. Divac brought old teammate Peja Stojakovic onboard as Vice President of Basketball and Team Development, while also hiring former Sixth Man of the Year Award winner Bobby Jackson to assist with Player Development.
After five disappointing seasons, Divac and Stojakovic are gone.
Sacramento has no general manager. No real direction. No real voice of the franchise.
How do the Kings get back to relevancy? What needs to be done?
De’Aaron Fox has the making of a star. But beyond the talent of Fox, what is to be made of the Kings current roster? Fox needs the Robin to his Batman. Is it Bagley? Is it someone else?
Every offseason, the same things seem to be said regarding the 14-year Sacramento rebuild:
“They just need some stability.”
“Just a few pieces away.”
“An All-Star player would take them to the next level.”
For 14 years, it has been nothing but gut-punch after gut-punch for Kings fans. And just like the last 14 years, nobody is going to walk through that door and fix everything. These rebuilds don’t just happen overnight.
Apparently, they don’t happen over the course of a decade-plus for teams like the Kings, either.
Like the last 14 years, all we can do is wait.