Are The Sacramento Kings The Next Threat In The West?

Are The Sacramento Kings The Next Threat In The West?

Stanley Shivley

This Season, the Sacramento Kings broke their sixteen-year playoff drought, ending the longest in NBA history. They didn’t make it in by a hair, either. The Kings won the Pacific Division, capturing their first division title since 2003. As of writing this, the Kings are 2-0 against the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in the first round, and despite the potential loss of All-Star center Domantas Sabonis, it’s looking like Sacramento will light the beam for the series. This Kings squad has come out of nowhere in the last few years. With this being said, is this season only the start of a similar streak of success for Sacramento, and can we expect the beam to be lit more frequently?


Brief Background & Playoff Drought

The last time the Sacramento Kings were in serious championship contention was twenty-one years ago, in 2002. The “Greatest Show On Court” Kings were led by Veteran big-men Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, rising point guard Mike Bibby, veteran defensive guard Doug Christie, and European shooters Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu, to name a few. That Kings team had made it to the Western Conference Finals before losing in a seven-game series against the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. A few years later, all of the players on that 61-win squad were gone, and for years the Kings swung and missed on lottery picks, almost constantly failing to find a stable young core. Players like 2010 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore; the list goes on and on for players that were excellent in college, however when it came to stepping up the big stage, they never were able to replicate success. The closest the Kings had to a great young core was in the 2011-12 season when they had Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins, and Hassan Whiteside, who were all in their Rookie and Sophomore seasons. All three became stars later on in their career; however, only Cousins stayed in Sacramento after 2014. Whiteside was barely used at all during his two seasons in Sacramento before bouncing around international teams and landing on the Miami Heat two years later, where he became their franchise center. Thomas showed flashes of stardom, even averaging 20 points a game in his final season with the Kings before being traded to the Phoenix Suns for a player whose only appearance with the Kings was during the 2014 Summer League. Fierce All-NBA center DeMarcus Cousins was the Kings’ franchise piece until being traded to the Pelicans for a rookie Buddy Hield in 2017. The most wins Sacramento had in a season with Cousins was 33 in 2016. During this time, The Kings were also in deep talks about moving out of Sacramento. Cities such as Virginia Beach and Anaheim were discussed, and a deal was even reached for the Kings to move to Seattle in 2013 before a deal for a new arena in the California capital was matched, and NBA owners rejected the relocation. Things started to look on the bright side when with the fifth pick in the 2017 Draft, the Kings took athletic Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox. In 2019, the Kings recorded their best record since the start of the playoff drought, recording 39 wins.


Season Review & What’s Next

The Kings went from twenty-third in preseason rankings to holding the seventh-best record in the league and leading the league in total points scored. All of this didn’t come from sheer luck, though. At the 2022 trade deadline, the Kings made a trade that was very controversial among fans. Sacramento traded Buddy Hield and rising sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton to the Indiana Pacers for All-Star center Domantas Sabonis. Kings fans believe they were robbed of young talent and expected Haliburton to shine in Indianapolis, and they were right; however, the same is seeming to be happening to Sabonis and the Kings. Sabonis led the league in rebounds and also recorded a career-high 14 triple-doubles this year. De’Aaron Fox logged the best season in his career so far and was awarded his first All-Star appearance and the inaugural Clutch Player of The Year award. Shooting Guard Kevin Huerter, whom Sacramento acquired during the offseason from Atlanta, also played his best season, averaging a career-high 15.3 PPG and .402 3PT%. Some other key contributors to this Kings team are 2023 4th overall pick Keegan Murray, Veteran wing Harrison Barnes, Sophomore guard Davion Mitchell, and athletic guard Malik Monk. Monk, who was a college teammate of De’Aaron Fox at Kentucky, has been having a career resurgence in these last two years. Monk was taken 11th overall by The Charlotte Hornets in 2017, and was seen as Kemba Walker’s younger backcourt partner. Monk struggled with consistency and injury in Charlotte, and was suspended in 2020 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He joined a very disfigured 2021-2022 Lakers team last year and was able to contribute heavily, averaging a career-high 13.8 PPG in 38 Starts. Monk also put up a then-career-high 41-point performance over the Denver Nuggets. Since signing with the Kings, while not being a starter, Monk has been one of the team’s most valuable offensive contributors. Monk averaged a career-high 3.9 APG and .889 FT% in his first season in Sac-Town. Monk also lead the Kings to a win over the Clippers in the second-highest-scoring game in NBA history on February 24. Monk put up 45 off the bench, along with a 42 and 12 double-double from De’Aaron Fox. 

The team also notably hired Mike Brown as the team’s thirty-first head coach and eleventh overall since the beginning of their playoff drought. Brown has a very storied career as a coach. His first job was as an assistant with the Washington Wizards in 1997. In 2000, he was hired by the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant, where he help the team win the 2003 NBA Finals. In 2005, he was named head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he was brought in to coach a young LeBron James. As head coach of the Cavs, the team made a finals appearance in 2007, and Brown was named Head Coach of the Eastern All-Stars and Coach of the Year in 2009. In 2011, Brown signed with the Los Angeles Lakers to succeed Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson and coached the team to the third seed in the West. Brown was dismissed five games into the 2012-13 Season before returning to Cleveland for a season in 2014. Brown has most recently worked as an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors and was a part of the team’s 2017, 2018, and 2022 championship runs. In his introductory press conference after being hired by the Kings, Brown said, “There’s just a lot of opportunity here for this place to explode, and I want to be a part of it.” And he did not fall short of that statement at all, leading the Kings to forty-eight wins. For his accomplishments, Brown was named Coach of the Year for the second time in his career and became the first coach in NBA history to win it unanimously.

The Kings are currently looking for their first playoff series win since 2004 against the defending-champion Golden State Warriors and are seeming to get the edge over the veteran team. Looking around the landscape of the present-day and future of the Western Conference, it’s very feasible that we’ll be seeing much more of this Kings squad in the playoffs in the future. The Pacific Division, where the Kings play, will not have much competition over division titles in these next couple of seasons. Besides the Phoenix Suns and potentially Golden State Warriors, I don’t see the Lakers or Clippers becoming a challenge. Both teams don’t have much draft capital, and age is becoming an impending problem. The Kings might be proving themselves right now against a veteran team, however, they’ll truly earn their wings by taking on much more challenging teams in the next round if they are able to make it.