30 Teams in 30 Days | 2023

30 teams in 30 days: Kings aim to maintain momentum after return to playoffs

Sacramento enters 2023-24 with plenty of young talent and elevated expectations after ending a 16-year playoff drought.

With All-Stars Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox leading the way, the Kings ended a 16-season playoff drought in 2022-23.

Key additions

  • G Chris Duarte (trade), C Nerlens Noel (free agent), Sasha Vezenkov (EuroLeague) 

Key subtraction

  • C Richaun Holmes

Last season

It all came together, finally and gloriously, for a franchise that was stuck in the mud for years. The Kings made the playoffs, words that hadn’t been used in the same sentence for almost two decades, ending a 16-year drought. They also showcased a pair of breakout young talents — De’Aaron Fox, who won the Kia Clutch Player of the Year award, and Domantas Sabonis, who led the league in rebounding. They gave the Kings a pair of All-Star selections for the first time since 2004.

Also, Mike Brown won Coach of the Year in his first season with the Kings, while Keegan Murray made All-Rookie First Team. As if that weren’t enough, the Kings hypnotized all of Sacramento by lighting the beam from the rooftop of Golden 1 Center after wins. Clearly and purely, this was the feel-good story of the season, how a once-lost franchise found itself and played good and entertaining basketball. For the first time since cowbells clanged in the C-Webb/Vlade/Peja era, Sacramento was a basketball destination.

Summer summary

When the draft lottery came and went, there was a sense of relief in Sacramento. Not because the Kings botched a draft pick; on the contrary, the Kings didn’t have a pick. Imagine that: For a franchise that took flyers on Jimmer Fredette and Thomas Robinson and Nick Stauskas and the unforgettable Marvin Bagley III, the Kings were refreshingly out of the lottery picture.

That’s what success and a playoff spot does for you, and one reason the Kings avoided the lottery is their draft success of late. Fox was the No. 5 overall pick in 2017 and Murray No. 4 last summer. And the Kings were only able to get Sabonis in a trade with the Pacers because they had Tyrese Haliburton, a No. 12 pick, to swap.

Therefore, the 2023 Draft was without drama for the Kings. Actually, their first rounder, the 24th overall, was tossed in as a sweetener in a trade package to dump Holmes on the Mavericks. Sacramento tried to trade him last season and found no takers. Holmes had fallen out of favor quickly in Sacramento and was of no use in the new system employed by Brown. As an undersized center, Holmes had no future with the Kings, who for some reason gave him a four-year extension just two years earlier, and replaced him by signing Noel.

The primary goal of the Kings was to keep a good thing going. And that’s why they extended veteran forward Harrison Barnes, giving him three years and $54 million. That might be considered rich for a player whose production is starting to wane a bit, but Barnes is a solid leader, popular in the locker room and considered a safe bet.

The Kings followed up by extending forward Trey Lyles, a young journeyman (27) who played well last season by improving his 3-point range. 

DeAaron Fox showcased his ultimate clutch gene with the Sacramento Kings in 2022-23.

The trade route also benefited the Kings, who managed to get Chris Duarte from the Pacers for the economical price of two second-round picks. This was a surprisingly good pickup. Duarte was an All-Rookie choice just two years earlier (13.1 ppg) and at one point was considered one of the future foundations of the Pacers. Kings GM Monte McNair evidently believes Duarte can return to that level and perhaps beyond it. Duarte’s play plummeted since then partly because of injuries. He lost his place in the rotation last season and averaged just 7.9 points. He’s also 26, rather old for a third-year player and you wonder if he’s already hit his peak.

The Kings added some veteran experience to their young roster by signing JaVale McGee, who was waived days earlier by the Dallas Mavericks, as a backup center option behind Sabonis. The 35-year-old has career averages of 7.8 points and 5.2 rebounds, and delivered a productive campaign for the Suns in 2021-22, averaging 16 minutes across 74 games (17 starts) as Phoenix reached the second round.

They also added Sasha Vezenkov, the MVP of the European League. He’ll be an experienced newcomer from a pro standpoint and should add significantly to the rotation once he get acclimated to the NBA game.

That was the extent of the offseason for a team that didn’t need to be busy. The Kings’ goal was to keep the payroll reasonable, add a piece or two to the rotation, maintain chemistry and allow a playoff team to percolate. For once, nobody needs to second guess whom the Kings chose with their lottery pick.

Up next: Golden State Warriors | Previously: San Antonio Spurs

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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