Sacramento, the capital of California, is known for its historical nature. For the Kings, the only major sports team in Sacramento, they've had their share of history in the NBA, and in recent years, it's been horrible, to say the least.
A Look Back
The Kings arguably had their best season in 2001-02 when they had a record of 61-21 with a core of Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Doug Christie, and Vlade Divac. Although falling short to the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, in the Western Conference Finals, some would suggest the Kings were "robbed" of that series and would have won the finals.
"I don't know if that was 2002 or 03. That's the year we got cheated I think in Game 6… The year Robert Horry hit a crazy shot… It was that year. It was that year. You know, me and Kobe used to talk about it all the time. — That was the team. We should have won the championship and we didn't because we didn't follow through after being disappointed in Game six." Chris Webber stated via The Ringer.
The Kings' decline started from the '04-'05 season when most of their starters from the fantastic '02 team departed their roster via trade and free agency. They would begin a transition of both coaching and culture in 2006 when we saw coaching replacements...and legal issues with their new head coach in Eric Musselman and player Ron Artest (who got traded for Peja Stojakovic in the '05-'06 season).
Sacramento would miss the playoffs in 2007, Musselman was fired, and Kevin Martin looked promising as the future of this franchise. Long story short, this was the origin year of their long playoff drought.
In the 2010 NBA Draft, the Kings drafted DeMarcus Cousins with the fifth pick. Cousins would then be paired up with reigning Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, who was the fourth player in NBA History to tally 20-5-5 in a season as a rookie joining LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Oscar Robertson. Despite the emergence of their young stars in the likes of Cousins, Evans, and Isaiah Thomas, even the addition of Rudy Gay, the Kings would never win more than 29 games from 2009 until 2015.
The Kings then saw Tyreke Evans depart the team in '13-'14 when Sacramento didn't want to sign Evans to a contract he wanted, and rather than lose him for nothing; the Kings got something in return in that New Orleans deal (Greivis Vazquez), which then was put in the deal for Gay. But, as we all saw in 2017, this won't be the last time the Kings trade a rising or a bonafide player to the Pelicans.
Boogie Cousins would showcase his superstar potential and would put up an average of 23-12-3 in that '13-'14 season, while his newly acquired running mate, Rudy Gay, averaged 20 points 6 rebounds, and 3 assists.
The George Karl Tenure
Hall of Famer coach George Karl took over the Kings in the middle of the 2014-15 season. The Kings let go of now Nuggets head coach Michael Malone to hire Karl, which turned out to be more horrendous as the Kings went 11-19 for the rest of the season after Karl took over, finishing the season with a 29-53 record.
In the '15 offseason, more beef escalated between DeMarcus Cousins and Karl as the coach reportedly tried to get rid of Cousins via trade. That would continue until today as Cousins and Karl go at it at Social Media.
"I did more for them than they did for me. That's just being honest. Just being 100% honest. I had two owners, three GMs, seven coaches in seven years. I was there seven years. I had three GMs, two owners and seven coaches. Not much more needs to be said." Cousins stated in an interview in 2022.
As George Karl answered: "Paid you approx $50M and gave you the opportunity to play professional basketball for a living. 🤔😳"
The Kings would finish the '15-'16 season with a 33-49 record but fired Karl at the end of the year after having a feud and heated exchanges with Cousins for the rest of the season.
DeMarcus Cousins was no doubt the best center in the league for a short period of time, and he was constantly improving. Boogie got traded to New Orleans in the 2017 All-Star break, forming the formidable duo with Anthony Davis.
On the other hand, the Kings would hire former Grizzlies Coach Dave Joerger to lead the team as the head coach. The Kings would have Joerger for three seasons but with a losing record of 98-148. After Joerger, the Kings hired Luke Walton from the Lakers to be the next head coach, and again, he would be gone. In two seasons and a fourth of a season with Sacramento, Walton would lead the team to a 68-93 record.
The Kings would then hand the keys to De'Aaron Fox after drafting him fifth overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. Fox and Hield, acquired from New Orleans in the Cousins trade, would then be the projects of the Kings as Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, who came from the Warriors before owning the Kings, tried to remodel the Warriors' success with Sacramento. Unfortunately for Ranadivé, when he took over in 2013, he's brought little to no success just yet.
The next big trade for Sacramento happened last season when rising star Tyrese Haliburton was traded to Indiana alongside Hield for big man Domantas Sabonis. Both Fox and Sabonis would be injured at the closing months of last year's season as rookie Davion Mitchell would prove to be another rising prospect as he gets his time to shine.
Decisions, Decisions, and... Decisions
Sacramento has been known for some terrible draft and trade mistakes in recent years. In the Vivek Ranadivé era, driven to remodel the team from Golden State, he and General Manager Pete D'Alessandro would prioritize shooting in consecutive draft classes, drafting Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Stauskas was traded a year later to make cap space for the former Warrior Monta Ellis, but Ellis didn't even sign with them and got less money to join Indiana.
The Kings turned their focus to signing veterans in the offseasons. And like Karl and Cousin's beef, GM D'Alessandro had beef with former Kings coach Michael Malone as he got fired in 2014.
Ranadivé would then hire Vlade Divac, and without experience and even admitting to not knowing about how front offices work, Pete D'Alessandro was gone. Divac would draft centers even if Cousins was still on the team. He would also give out enormous contracts to Harrison Barnes and then Buddy Hield. The front office situations would continue in Sacramento as the same goes for Divac and Joerger, who had their share of arguments in recent years.
He would draft Marvin Bagley with the second pick in 2018 in a talent-heavy class, and Bagley was traded a few seasons later and is now with Detroit. Bagley was considered a future star as he was plagued with injuries in his young career and couldn't find his rhythm with Sacramento. In the class of Luka, Trae, Ayton, and others, Vlade reportedly had Luka, who's arguably the best out of that class, at third in his board in a photo that circulated online.
Divac stepped down in 2020, and even though missing a few draft picks, he would find a gem in De'Aaron Fox. Monte McNair would then replace him and get the likes of Haliburton, Mitchell, and now Keegan Murray.
The Kings would continue to have subpar seasons until today, as their only best winning record came in 2019 when they won 39 games, their best since 2006's 44 wins.
With new additions in Malik Monk, Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, and new coach Mike Brown, the Kings are heading in another direction, looking to build on top of that recent success. Can De'Aaron Fox (23-4-6 last season) and Domantas Sabonis (19-12-6 in a King's uniform) lead this group to the playoffs after 16 long years remains to be seen.