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The Kings Make the Wrong Kind of NBA History

Sacramento will have a 12th coach since letting Hall of Famer Rick Adelman go in 2006.

It’s that time of year when we talk about the teams still alive with a chance to win a championship. For the second straight year, 20 teams are in that conversation, rather than just the standard 16.

But even with the recent addition of the play-in round, it hasn’t been enough for the perpetually downtrodden Kings to sneak their way in. And for an NBA-record 16th season in a row, the playoffs will happen without Sacramento being a contestant.

  • In his eight years coaching the Kings, Adelman produced eight winning seasons. In the team’s other 29 other years in Sacramento, the Kings have somehow had exactly zero winning campaigns—one of the more remarkable NBA statistics you’ll ever hear.
  • Another stat: Of the 11 coaches who’ve departed since Adelman, just one—Michael Malone, in Denver—has ever resurfaced as an NBA head coach elsewhere.
  • Sacramento’s also failed to field a league-average defense even once since Adelman.

There have been so many weird things that have happened over the years with this club, which was incredible in the early 2000s. Aside from just being bad, there’s been real dysfunction. Draft blunders. Perplexing firings. For a while, it looked as if the team would end up in Seattle. After I finished writing my book on the 1990s Knicks, titled Blood in the Garden, I started turning my attention toward a second project. Naturally, I began thinking about other teams—entertaining and highly competitive for a sustained stretch but dysfunctional ever since those glory years—that might fit the same bill. The ’00s-era Kings came to mind first, though I eventually decided against tackling them as a subject.

This year didn’t go very far in providing a ton of hope, either. Marvin Bagley III was finally moved elsewhere, and after showing little with the Kings, began playing solidly in Detroit, where he says he’s enjoying basketball again. The Sacramento player with seemingly the brightest future, second-year guard Tyrese Haliburton, ended up being included in a shocking trade with Buddy Hield for Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis at a time when people figured guard De’Aaron Fox, who was underperforming on a maximum contract, might be dealt elsewhere. They also didn’t move Harrison Barnes—a skilled, low-ego player who could fit nearly any lineup or locker room and perhaps the most dependable player on their roster—despite the fact that the Kings were never all that close to qualifying for the play-in round with him.

The Suns, who had a postseason drought of their own before reaching the NBA Finals last year, should be a fantastic inspiration for a team like Sacramento. For a long time, the management in Phoenix (which is good now) was not always top-notch. Hell, the ownership there is currently under investigation as we speak, even as the Suns just completed one of the more dominant regular-season runs in recent memory. There’s no reason the Kings can’t be competent enough to capture lightning in a bottle that they can hold onto for a while.

So here’s to Sacramento prioritizing defense more than it has in the past. (Taking Davion Mitchell in the draft last year was a good step forward in that regard.) And here’s to the Kings finding a good coach—one who can turn the franchise around, or, if not, at least can still land a head-coaching job with another NBA team elsewhere if things don’t work in Sacto. After this long drought, we have to at least be prepared for that possibility, too, I guess.

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