Ex-Kings coach Phil Johnson hopes Sacramento saves team
When the Kings began playing games in Sacramento after moving from Kansas City in 1986, fans actually tailgated.
"They were so excited to get us there," former Kings head coach and longtime Jazz assistant Phil Johnson said. "That's what I remember as much as anything. ... It was like a football mentality in the parking lot."
Monday may have marked the last time the Sacramento Kings will play a game in Salt Lake City. By the end of the year, the Kings will cease to exist if, as many expect, a deal is finalized that would both move the Kings out of the California capital city and resurrect the Seattle SuperSonics. The sale by the Maloof family to a group led by hedge-fund manager Steve Hansen has been agreed upon and awaits approval of league owners.
If these prove to be the final months for the Kings, expect elegies and obituaries at every turn. But few people are as well positioned to provide one as Johnson, who coached the Kings when they moved to Sacramento in 1985 and held that position for a season-and-a-half before eventually joining Jerry Sloan in Utah.
"That franchise is just so important to that city," Johnson said. "With the lack of other professional franchises there, and so I'm hopeful that they'll put together a group and keep it there."
Johnson, now a studio analyst for Jazz television broadcasts, previously coached the Kings from 1973 through 1978, and amassed a career head coaching record of 236-307.
In 1985-86, the first year in Sacramento, Johnson guided the Kings to a 37-45 record and a spot in the playoffs. That team included future head coaches Reggie Theus, Mike Woodson and Larry Drew.
"We were fighting," Johnson said. "We ended up with not a great record. ... Just making the playoffs, that was a big thing for that franchise."
All of that, though, Johnson fears would be lost in a move if a new SuperSonics team re-establishes its own 41-year history.
"You lose the history of the team," Johnson said. "It's not like they when they moved from Rochester to Cincinnati and Kansas City and Sacramento."
Johnson expressed sadness that the Sonics left Seattle in the first place, but he's still holding out hope that Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former All-Star point guard for the Phoenix Suns, can find a group to present a counteroffer that would keep the Kings in the city.
"Kevin Johnson's doing a nice job," Phil Johnson said. "He's mayor of that city and he has ties to the NBA. They' can't have a better situation than that."
Jazz fans aren't alone. Injured guard Gordon Hayward continues to say he is making progress in his rehab from a sprained right shoulder, suffered on Jan. 26 against the Indiana Pacers. However, he acknowledged Monday the frustration of not being able to play.
"I still haven't shot the ball," he said. "I've still got to work on it so I can do that. Then, after that [happens], we'll go from there. ... Getting a little anxious."
Coach Tyrone Corbin could tell Hayward was getting antsy.
"He thought he'd be back in a couple days," Corbin said, "and he hasn't gotten back to where he feels comfortable just yet."