LAS VEGAS -- After eight straight lottery trips and a convoluted ownership change, any championship, even one of the Summer League variety, will feel pretty good.
The Kings defeated the Rockets 77-68 in the Las Vegas Summer League title game at the Thomas & Mack Center on Monday, celebrating the victory in a circle as confetti showered down upon them.
"One day the Sacramento Kings are going to win a championship and we'll remember this as the first step," said owner Vivek Ranadive, who purchased the Kings from the Maloof Family in 2013.
That comment elicited some chuckles and groans from assembled media members, but Ranadive's positive approach is understandable given his franchise's woeful recent history. The Kings haven't won 30 or more games since 2008, and the team's fans were forced to fight tooth and nail to stave off relocation efforts before Ranadive's emergence as a buyer last year. There wasn't much progress to speak of during the 2013-14 regular season -- as the Kings won 28 games for the second straight year -- and fan favorite Isaiah Thomas departed for the Suns in free agency this summer.
Second-year guard Ray McCallum was named championship game MVP after scoring a game-high 29 points (on 9-of-15 shooting) and adding nine rebounds. McCallum tallied seven straight points in the game's final two minutes, including an off-balance, running three-pointer with 1:25 remaining to put Sacramento up by four. Sacramento closed on a 19-3 run in the game's final 3:30 to claim the victory and complete a 6-1 record. Kings GM Pete D'Alessandro and fellow front-office executive Chris Mullin joined Ranadive in courtside seats during the title game.
"Fortunately, God blessed me to walk away with the MVP trophy. It means a lot, it's something I'll definitely keep forever," McCallum said. "I saw my team struggling a little bit down the stretch. I knew I had to make some big plays, score the ball, just make the right basketball play. ... Just find a way to win, I'm a winner."
Sacramento becomes the second champion in the history of the Las Vegas Summer League, which instituted a tournament format in 2013. Lsat year, the Warriors defeated the Suns to claim the inaugural championship.
The Kings' 2014 title stands as a bit of a turnaround, as the franchise went 1-4 at last year's event, with then-rookie Ben McLemore struggling throughout the tournament. This time around, Sacramento won six straight games to capture the title, including four wins in four days. McLemore scored just nine points (on 4-for-13 shooting) in the title game, but he hit a key three-pointer in the game's final minutes. Nik Stauskas, Sacramento's 2014 lottery pick, added 10 points (on 3-for-6 shooting) and four rebounds.
"We've always talked about trying to change our culture," said Kings coach Michael Malone. "A team that has lost so much in recent years. This isn't the regular season by any means, but for us to come here and play as well as we did and win a championship, I think that's a step in the right direction to create a winning a culture."
Houston's title game defeat dropped their record to 5-3 in Las Vegas. After losing to the Heat and Spurs, the Rockets posted five straight wins to land a spot in the finals. The Rockets were one of only three teams, along with the Heat and 76ers, to compete in both Orlando and Las Vegas. They compiled a 1-4 record in Orlando.
Houston was led by All-NBA Summer League First Team selection Donatas Motiejunas, who finished with 16 points (on 7-for-15 shooting), six rebounds and three assists. Nick Johnson scored a team-high 17 points (on 6-for-16 shooting) and tallied six rebounds. Isaiah Canaan chipped in 15 points (on 5-for-13 shooting) and six assists in a losing effort.
Joining Motiejunas on the First Team were Doug McDermott (Bulls), Otto Porter (Wizards), Glen Rice, Jr. (Wizards) and Tony Snell (Bulls). The All-NBA Summer League Second Team included Rudy Gobert (Jazz), Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Knicks), Jordan McRae (76ers), Russ Smith (Pelicans) and T.J. Warren (Suns).
Rice, 23, was named the Summer League MVP after leading all scorers by averaging 25 points per game. The Kings eliminated the Wizards in the semifinals.