The Sacramento Kings have experienced countless seasons filled with losses, head-coaching changes and trips to the NBA Draft Lottery. It was more of the same in 2021-22 as their streak of playoff absences stretched to an NBA-record 16 seasons.
The script seemed predictable well before the Kings (30-52) actually finished 12th in the Western Conference. Following a 6-11 start, the Kings fired coach Luke Walton and promoted veteran lead assistant Alvin Gentry. With the losses still piling up, the Kings were active leading into the trade deadline. In a four-team trade, Sacramento dealt one of its many disappointing lottery picks to the Pistons (Marvin Bagley III) while receiving assets from Milwaukee (Donte DiVincenzo) and Detroit (Trey Lyles, Josh Jackson). The Kings also traded promising second-year player Tyrese Haliburton, energetic scorer Buddy Hield and veteran enforcer Tristan Thompson to Indiana for All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis, perimeter threat Justin Holiday and a 2027 second-round draft pick.
As has become customary for more than a decade, the Kings stayed busy once the season ended. They parted ways with Gentry, the franchise’s 11th coach since their playoff drought started. The Kings then hired veteran coach Mike Brown, who has been fired from his three previous head coaching gigs, but at least brings championship experience. The Kings used its No. 4 pick on Keegan Murray, who impressed them in Summer League with his two-way skills, team-oriented play and coachable personality. The Kings gave De’Aaron Fox some backcourt help by acquiring Kevin Huerter from Atlanta. And instead of retaining DiVincenzo and Jackson, Sacramento lured productive bench scorer Malik Monk away from the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.
Will the Kings finally return to the postseason? That hinges on numerous variables. Will Murray show signs he can become a franchise player? Will Fox continue improving? Will Sabonis continue posting All-Star numbers, while elevating his teammates? Will the Kings’ offseason additions provide enough offensive depth? Will Brown’s defensive expertise translate to a Kings team that finished 27th in defensive rating last season? Sacramento has the potential to address these issues. But it seems uncertain how long that process might take.
The Kings will no longer be an NBA laughingstock. Sacramento has the right ingredients with a handful of talented young players, a proven All-Star and a successful coach. But few franchises transform their identity in one season. Barring major injuries elsewhere, it is hard to pick which teams the Kings can leapfrog in a crowded West. Short-term, Sacramento has little margin for error with its health, development and chemistry. Long-term, the Kings have plenty of upside. Projection: Play-in Tournament.
1 KEY STAT TO KNOW
16 — The Kings have been a worse-than-average defensive team in each of the last 16 seasons, a streak coinciding with the longest playoff drought in NBA history. They’ve ranked in the bottom five defensively in eight of those 16 years, including each of the last two. Brown’s teams have been better than average defensively in each of his six full seasons as coach (five in Cleveland, one with the Lakers).
— John Schuhmann
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
De’Aaron Fox: He appears motivated and equipped to show he can stay healthy and live up to his max contract.
Kevin Huerter: He should help the Kings significantly with his spot-up shooting and floor spacing.
Harrison Barnes: In his 12th NBA season and fifth with Sacramento, Barnes will provide his usual on-court leadership and positional versatility.
Keegan Murray: After collecting the Las Vegas Summer League MVP award, Murray will also show he can become a special NBA player with his maturity, work habits and unselfish play.
Domantas Sabonis: The Kings will rely on the chemistry between Fox and Sabonis on pick-and-roll sets, as well as his passing and interior presence.
Richaun Holmes: Even with Sabonis’ arrival, Holmes remains a valued frontcourt player for his energy, athleticism and rebounding.
Malik Monk: Monk seems equipped to fulfill Hield’s role as a productive volume scorer
Davion Mitchell: Mitchell is expected to take a leap in his second season with his defensive tenacity.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Kings have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
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