Whenever people talked about the Sacramento Kings before the 2022/23 season, they most likely brought up the franchise’s failures over the past decade.
They are constantly scraping the bottom of the Western Conference as teams build up to compete. While they drafted talented players, they somehow found a way to mess things up. This made this more painful for Kings fans because the era preceding it was the most competitive in franchise history.
While Kings fans weren’t entirely optimistic about the team coming into the season, the team suddenly became fun to watch. Draft picks and pieces started working. Their new head coach brought energy and culture to a franchise and fanbase starving for relevance.
More importantly, they started winning basketball games in a tough Western Conference.
This piece will discuss the successes and tribulations of the Kings over the past two decades. We’ll discuss some of the failures that hounded the Kings organization and its fans for years. We’ll also highlight what made 2022/23 the most exciting season for Kings basketball.
If you ask any Sacramento Kings fan what the best era for the franchise is, they would immediately answer the time Chris Webber was the centerpiece of the Kings roster.
From the moment Webber was sent to the team via trade in 1998, he spearheaded an exciting era of Kings basketball. Despite lacking a running mate to run the show with him, the Kings played incredibly entertaining basketball that rivaled the Los Angeles Lakers further down the state.
With the help of Mike Bibby, Doug Christie, Peja Stojakovic, and Vlade Divac, the ARCO Arena was one of the toughest arenas to play. From the cowbell-loving crowd to the entertaining style of basketball they were playing, even the most seasoned OKBET players will tell you how the Kings of the noughties were tough to bet against.
The biggest highlight of the Webber era was an incredible playoff run that saw them make the 2002 Western Conference Finals. They were pushing the Lakers’ Hall-Of-Fame duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal to their absolute limits.
However, Game 6 of that series was marked as one of the most poorly officiated games in playoff history. There were dubious calls that favored the Lakers, which caused the Kings to lose the game and, eventually, the series.
The Kings never returned to those lofty peaks. Webber was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2004/05 season, kickstarting the most difficult rebuild in the history of the Sacramento Kings.
After trading Webber, the Kings still managed to make the playoffs in 2005/06. However, they failed to make the playoffs over the next couple of seasons. While they made the lottery, they weren’t terrible enough to get any top-five selections.
Their first top-five selection in the 21st century came in 2009 when they drafted Tyreke Evans out of Memphis. He was a serviceable player in his five seasons for the team, averaging 14.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists on decent shooting splits.
However, the fact that players like Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Ricky Rubio, and Jrue Holiday were drafted after Evans showed how unlucky they were in this year’s draft.
The Sacramento Kings found their franchise cornerstone a year later when they drafted DeMarcus Cousins with the third overall pick. He was a strong centerpiece to build around, as he made 21.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks during his 6 ½-year stint with the team.
However, the team failed to surround him with strong enough talent to even crack past the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. They never made the postseason during his time there, eventually trading him to the New Orleans Pelicans in the middle of the 2017 All-Star Weekend.
There was plenty of discord during Boogie’s time with the team, and it was expected to see him get technical fouls due to his frustration. The big man revealed after the trade that it was foolish of him to try and stick it out in SacTown.
Fortunately, the Kings only took a short time to find their next centerpiece to build around.
De’Aaron Fox had a solid March Madness run in 2017, leading the Kentucky Wildcats to the Elite Eight before falling to North Carolina. His incredible speed, scoring, and playmaking made the Kings pick him with the fifth overall pick.
The next four years saw them struggle to build a strong team around Fox. The biggest draft miss for the Sacramento Kings came in 2018 when they chose Marvin Bagley over Luka Doncic. The Slovenian wonder himself thought he would be headed to the Golden 1 Center before thriving with the Dallas Mavericks.
However, the Kings eventually found the perfect running mate for Fox. Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton was the biggest steal of the 2020 Draft with his solid rookie campaign. The 12th overall selection finished his rookie season with 13.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists on 47% shooting and 41% from deep.
For a while, fans thought the Sacramento Kings would be pushing through with the Fox-Haliburton combo. Both players are playing great basketball, and a few roster changes are needed to push the team into playoff contention.
The Kings’ front office also believed that something must be done to push the team to greater heights. With that in mind, they found the perfect trade that will help the team improve their playoff hopes.
Unfortunately, the trade they pulled off was unexpected.
The Kings shook hands with the Indiana Pacers to send Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and Tristan Thompson for Domantas Sabonis, Justin Holiday, Jeremy Lamb, and a 2023 second-round pick.
The Kings fanbase was stunned to see a high-potential player leave for what seemed like nothing. While Sabonis is a solid center with two All-Star selections, they seemed to be rooting out their future for a player that may not even work out for the squad.
Even Haliburton admitted that the business side of the trade hurt him. He was ready to build his legacy with the team, and it took him a while to let go of his resentment toward the organization.
There were plenty of question marks for the Kings coming into this season. However, the way they played quickly quelled any doubts surrounding the team.
They started the season in typical Kings fashion, losing four straight matches. Their fortunes eventually improved when they began a 10-2 run from October 29 until November 22.
A sense of community was also brought back to the Kings’ fanbase as they introduced the victory beam. The beam is a purple light introduced during the preseason that shines above the Golden 1 Center whenever the Kings win a game. It lights up even if the team wins on the road.
The Kings currently sit at the upper half of the playoff bracket with a 32-25 record. The fact that the team started winning more often makes the beam even more meaningful for the franchise and the entire NBA community.
There are different reasons why the Kings are so much fun to watch. However, these factors became the perfect recipe for the team to compete for a first playoff appearance since 2006.
The first reason has to be their star players. Fox is playing elite basketball as the sole focus of the backcourt. He’s netting 24.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 1.0 steals a game. His lightning-quick reflexes made him one of the toughest assignments for any NBA guard.
Sabonis is also proving the doubters wrong with his play. He’s up for a third All-Star nod with how he’s orchestrating the offense from the five spot. His per-game averages of 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 7.1 assists prove how invaluable he is to the defensive scheme.
The other secret to their success is Mike Brown.
Older fans may remember him for managing LeBron James during his first run with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Youngers hoops followers may know him as the defensive mastermind that orchestrated the Golden State Warriors’ incredible run to become 2022 NBA Champions.
Nowadays, everyone knows him as the nucleus that built the winning culture for the Kings.
He built a culture of accountability and positivity that wasn’t evident in previous Kings teams. The team’s offseason moves to acquire Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, and Keegan Murray created the perfect environment for a budding team to win more basketball games.
The short-term goal for these Kings is to build on their strong start and finish in an automatic playoff berth. With the way they play in a competitive Western Conference, this goal is achievable.
Their long-term aspirations should be to keep building the team to make a Finals run. They have two great talents to build around, and they’re young enough to carry the team for the next six years. The top item on their priority list is finding the right role players to complement their stars and build a formidable fortress in the West.
The beam is here to stay. Expect the beam to become a fixture in the Sacramento skyline as the Sacramento Kings continue to play a brand of basketball the city hasn’t seen in two decades.