SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Even in a year during which the NBA expanded the postseason and added a pair of play-in games, the Sacramento Kings weren’t good enough to get in.
The Kings have now failed to make the playoffs for 15 consecutive seasons, tying the league’s mark for futility previously set by the Los Angeles Clippers.
Hailed as a hero in Sacramento when he purchased the team in 2013 and saved it from a possible move to Seattle, Kings owner Vivek Ranadive is now once again facing another long offseason with some tough questions to answer. The future of coach Luke Walton is one. How to get an underachieving roster to play better is another.
Sacramento went 31-41 for a second consecutive season. That the Kings went into the final week still clinging to playoff hopes despite a pair of nine-game losing streaks was an anomaly.
As was the case a year ago, injuries played a major role in Sacramento’s struggles. Point guard De’Aaron Fox missed the final 12 games while in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Forward Marvin Bagley III missed 22 games with a broken bone in his left hand and four more with a groin injury. First-round pick Tyrese Haliburton’s season ended prematurely due to a left knee injury. Harrison Barnes sat out the last eight games of the season with a left adductor issue.
Where do the Kings go from here? Ranadive brought in former Houston Rockets assistant GM Monte McNair to replace general manager Vlade Divac, who stepped down at the end of last season. McNair drafted Haliburton and made a handful of late-season trades that improved the Kings’ depth but didn’t end their playoff drought. In one of the stranger moments of the season, Divac returned for a game in May and sat next to Ranadive, the two men huddling and conferring during timeouts while McNair sat quietly on the other side of the owner.
In the two years since replacing Dave Joerger, Walton has seen his team get off to encouraging starts only to fade. The main issues have been a lack of defense and a lack of consistency on the offensive side. The Kings swept three games from the Denver Nuggets and beat the playoff-bound Dallas Mavericks twice. They also lost twice to two of the worst teams in the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Not all the blame falls on Walton’s shoulders but someone has to be held accountable and it very well could be him. Ranadive hasn’t shown much patience — Walton is the sixth head coach he’s had — and it wouldn’t be surprising if another change is made. McNair inherited Walton from Divac and may want to bring in his own hire.
If there was a bright spot this season, it was how quickly the Kings’ top pick acclimated to the NBA and how well he played before getting injured. Haliburton started 20 of the 58 games he played but most often came off the bench to lead the second unit. He averaged 13 points, 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Some observers even felt the offense ran smoother with Haliburton running the point while Fox was out.
Expected to make a big impact after the Kings passed over Luca Doncic to draft him with the second-overall pick in 2018, Bagley has had a tough time staying on the court due to a variety of health issues. This season it was a broken hand and groin strain. In 2020, Bagley was limited to 13 games because of multiple foot injuries. Even when healthy, Bagley has had a difficult time. He’s averaged 14.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in three seasons, nice numbers but nowhere near the production the Kings need.
It’s clear the Kings can’t go forward with the status quo but it will be hard to make roster moves because of contract restrictions. Sacramento will get a top-10 pick in the draft and McNair is anxious to use it after finding success with Haliburton as the 12th overall selection this season.
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