I used this space earlier in the season to write about Jahlil Okafor, the Philadelphia 76ers and the need for the Sixers to execute a trade.
It was a column critical of Philly’s front office in parts, but the Sixers have done a lot of right over the past five years. They tanked the right way, and we’re all seeing the fruits of that with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid now among the best players in the NBA.
What about the Sacramento Kings? Well, they are the anti-Sixers. They are what happens when tanking goes wrong. It’s a franchise perpetually destined for the bottom of the Western Conference standings as long as its philosophy remains jumbled and impulsive.
Kings guard and former Utah Jazz guard George Hill sent a tweet last week full of angry face emojis. It was after a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, so it wasn’t difficult to speculate he wasn’t happy with how the season is going.
Hill hasn’t played well, but his poor play this season deserves context. Sources say many of the Kings veterans were rounded up early in the year and told the philosophy has shifted, that the front office isn’t interested in winning and more interested in acquiring a top-,five draft pick.
That in itself isn’t a bad way to go. June’s NBA draft at the top is very strong as was the case with the current rookie class. And teams are gearing up for one last tank job to fortify their rosters with the NBA adopting new lottery rules next season to discourage losing. In this sense, the Kings are no different than at least a half dozen franchises.
Here’s the issue. The Kings brought in Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter during the offseason and still have Garrett Temple on the roster. These are respected vets who can play. These are vets brought in to help a young team, and according to sources, were brought in with the promise of a team aiming to be playoff competitive.
But that promise was made to them by Scott Perry, who since left Sacramento and now makes personnel decisions for the New York Knicks. So the direction of the franchise has shifted since Perry left. An organization that brought in veterans aiming to win now is aiming to lose.
Not surprisingly, Hill isn’t happy, according to multiple sources And the other veterans can’t be too happy, either. So the Kings have a mess on their hands. I’ve always liked Hill’s game, but when he signed in Sacramento, I questioned the prudence of the Kings bringing him on board when they just drafted De’Aaron Fox, the quicksilver point guard from Kentucky.
Hill’s still good enough to be a starter in the NBA, and a three-year $57 million contract stands as a major commitment. That commitment had a chance to stunt Fox’s growth when he needs all of the point guard minutes he can handle.
Other teams have handled similar situations differently. When the Dallas Mavericks drafted Dennis Smith Jr., they gave him the ball and put him in the starting lineup. Philadelphia? The Sixers gave Simmons the ball and put him in the starting lineup. The Utah Jazz? When it was apparent Donovan Mitchell was their best offensive player, they put him in the starting lineup with little hesitation.
The Kings play Fox a lot of minutes. But he plays a lot of minutes off the ball when he should be running the show. Every night is an illustration of a team fighting itself in philosophy. Should Hill get more touches? Or should Buddy Hield? Should Randolph be on the floor during crucial fourth quarter minutes? Or should Skal Labissiere?
The Kings used to be fun. Their games used to be a happening. Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Bobby Jackson, Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu. Those teams were ridiculously fun, and they had one of the best small market followings in the league.
Now, not shockingly, Sacramento’s one of the worst teams in the Western Conference, with a record of 8-17 entering Saturday. The Golden 1 Center is one of the most beautiful venues in the NBA, with no quality inside of it. Can it get better? It could. But the front office has to pick a direction and stick with it. It has to be patient and unyielding in its course.
So far, that hasn’t happened. And the result is a one of the worst teams and worst run franchises in the league.
NBA POWER RANKINGS
1. Houston Rockets (19-4) • The one team that may be equipped to beat Golden State in the playoffs.
2. Golden State Warriors (21-6) • With Steph Curry injured, Kevin Durant picks up the slack.
3. San Antonio Spurs (18-8) • Never retire, Manu. Ginobili beats Boston with game-winning 3.
4. Boston Celtics (22-5) • Only team in Eastern Conference with at least 10 road wins.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (18-8) • Saw 13-game win streak snapped in Indiana.
6. Toronto Raptors (16-7) • The most quiet really good team in the NBA.
7. Milwaukee Bucks (14-10) • Starting to resemble the playoff team it was supposed to be at the start of the season.
8. Indiana Pacers (15-11) • Victor Oladipo has the look of an All-Star.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves (15-11) • Very talented. Very inconsistent.
10. Washington Wizards (14-11) • Bradley Beal goes for 51 against Portland.
11. Detroit Pistons (14-11) • Coming back to earth. Losers of five straight.
12. Denver Nuggets (14-11) • Road woes temporarily halted in Orlando.
13. Utah Jazz (13-13) • Gave away one in Oklahoma City.
14. Portland Trail Blazers (13-11) • Tough December schedule just heating up.
15. Philadelphia 76ers (13-11) • Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid need more scoring help.
16. New Orleans Pelicans (13-13) • Suffered bad loss to Sacramento Kings.
17. Oklahoma City Thunder (11-13) • Is coach Billy Donovan nearing the hot seat?
18. New York Knicks (12-12) • Drastically different team away from MSG.
19. Brooklyn Nets (10-14) • Jahlil Okafor gets a new start.
20. Miami Heat (11-13) • Meet the most perfectly mediocre roster in the NBA.
21. Los Angeles Lakers (9-15) • Time to start re-boarding that Brandon Ingram bandwagon.
22. Orlando Magic (11-16) • The “get right” team. Teams just seem to get right against the Magic.
23. Charlotte Hornets (9-15) • Had a chance against Golden State but faltered down the stretch.
24. Los Angeles Clippers (8-15) • Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic nearing returns.
25. Phoenix Suns (9-18) • Could fall off a cliff with Devin Booker hurt.
26. Sacramento Kings (8-17) • Zach Randolph turned back the clock against New Orleans.
27. Memphis Grizzlies (8-17) • This may end in Marc Gasol being traded.
28. Dallas Mavericks (7-19) • Gave Boston a tough game before losing.
29. Atlanta Hawks (5-19) • Just acquired Nicolas Brussino. Been a slow year for them.
30. Chicago Bulls (4-20) • Half of their wins have come against the Charlotte Hornets.