Will the Sacramento Kings ever make the playoffs?


You remember 2006. YouTube was invented. Smartphones did not yet exist. Barack Obama was a 1st-term junior Senator in Illinois. Stephen Curry was graduating high school.

That was the last time that the Sacramento Kings qualified for the NBA playoffs.

The 2005-06 Kings represented the end of an extremely entertaining era of basketball. It was the team’s 8th straight playoff appearance, but it was also the 4th consecutive year that their winning percentage had declined. In 2002, when they arguably were not only the best team in basketball but at the peak of a run where they were maybe the best team ever assembled to never make the finals, they won 61 games and were somehow defeated in the conference finals by the Lakers in a series where the officiating could graciously be described as ‘questionable’. There was a feeling that year that the Kings got cheated but they’d eventually have their time. Unfortunately, it never happened – Chris Webber injured his knee and the team’s win total steadily declined from 61 to 59 to 55 to 50 and then to 44 in 2005-06. But the decline had started months earlier as the team’s core was systematically dismantled through a series of questionable moves that brought back inferior talent:

07/24/03 – Kings trade Hedo Turkoglu and Scot Pollard in 3-team deal with Pacers and Spurs for Brad Miller

06/22/04 – Kings lose Gerald Wallace in expansion draft to Charlotte Bobcats

07/20/04 – Kings lose Vlade Divac as a free agent to Lakers

01/10/05 – Kings trade Doug Christie to Magic for Cuttino Mobley and Michael Bradley

02/23/05 – Kings trade Chris Webber, Matt Barnes, and Michael Bradley to 76ers for Brian Skinner, Kenny Thomas, and Corliss Williamson

08/02/05 – Kings trade Bobby Jackson and Greg Ostertag for Bonzi Wells

08/03/05 – Kings lose Cuttino Mobley as free agent to Clippers

01/25/06 – Kings trade Peja Stojakovic for Ron Artest

02/23/06 – Kings trade Brian Skinner for Vitaly Potapenko and Sergei Monia

09/27/06 – Kings lose Bonzi Wells as a free agent to Rockets

The 61-win Kings team had a solid 8-man rotation plus young Gerald Wallace waiting in the wings. Over a 3-year stretch they lost everyone except for Mike Bibby; by the time they started the 2006-07 season all they had to show in return was Brad Miller, Ron Artest, Corliss Williamson, Kenny Thomas, and Vitaly Potapenko.

The team them continued to downgrade over the next couple of years. Williamson and Potapenko retired, Thomas was waived, and Miller and Artest (along with Bibby and Kevin Martin, an excellent draft pick in 2004 who in a functional organization would have, along with Wallace and Turkoglu, led a seamless transition to the next era) were traded away, somehow netting even more inferior talent in return such as Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue, Shelden Williams, Lorenzen Wright, Donte Greene, Omri Casspi, Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden, Cedric Simmons, Michael Ruffin, Carl Landry, and Joey Dorsey.

The descent into the abyss had begun.

There was no way, however, to have foreseen just how long the Kings would flounder. In the NBA, being bad gives you a crack at the top incoming players in the draft. Be bad often enough and you get several opportunities to come away with a franchise cornerstone or a perennial All-Star. At some point, it feels inevitable that you’ll eventually find the right player to build around. It didn’t happen that way for the Kings, though. It wasn’t for a lack of opportunity, however; the Kings have had the chance to draft almost every generational talent that’s entered the league during the past 15 years and without even really needing to maneuver – in each case, had they just used their own pick more wisely this drought would have ended long ago. Kings fans may need additional therapy after reading this list of squandered lottery picks:

  • 2007 (#10) – Spencer Hawes. Player missed: Marc Gasol (#48).
    We’ll give the Kings a pass on this first one, as everyone missed on Gasol.
  • 2008 (#12) – Jason Thompson.
    This is one draft where they didn’t miss out on a generational talent, but just so many good players that would have made more sense than the power forward from Rider. Big men alone: Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka, DeAndre Jordan, Nicolas Batum, JaVale McGee, Robin Lopez. Plus there were guards like George Hill, Goran Dragic, and Courtney Lee.
  • 2009 (#4) – Tyreke Evans. Player missed: Steph Curry (#7).
    This is where it starts to get painful.
  • 2010 (#5) – DeMarcus Cousins. Player missed: Paul George (#10).
    This is one pick that turned out OK and made sense at the time. Cousins made multiple all-NBA and All-Star teams. But he was on the team for 7 years and they never won more than 33 games, so how impactful was he really?
  • 2011 (#7) – Bismack Biyombo. Player missed: Kawhi Leonard (#15).
  • 2012 (#5) – Thomas Robinson. Player missed: Damian Lillard (#6).
    Literally the next pick was an all-NBA point guard who was recently voted one of the top 75 players of all time. Robinson played 51 games for the Kings, not even making it through his rookie year before being thrown into a trade for Cole Aldrich, Toney Douglas, and Patrick Patterson. Appalling.
  • 2013 (#7) – Ben McLemore. Player missed: Giannis Antetokunmpo (#15).
    McLeMore really looked good in a uniform.
  • 2014 (#8) – Nik Stauskas. Player missed: Nikola Jokic (#41).
    OK, not totally fair to single out Jokic. How about Zach LaVine (#13)?
  • 2015 (#6) – Willie Cauley-Stein. Player missed: Devin Booker (#13).
    Not only picked the wrong player, picked the wrong Kentucky player.
  • 2016 (#8) – Marquese Chriss. Player missed: Domantas Sabonis (#11).
    Inexcusable. Chriss was then swapped for two later picks, some guy named Papagiannis at #13 who didn’t make it through his rookie contract and Skal LaBissiere at #28 who did nothing
  • 2017 (#5) – De’Aaron Fox and (#10) – Zach Collins. Players missed: Donovan Mitchell (#13), Bam Adebayo (#14).
    The dreaded double whammy. Fox is still the Kings point guard and is a very good player. But he’s not Mitchell. To miss on both picks is just the Kings finding a new way torture their fans.
    To top it off, Collins (the pick acquired when Cousins was finally traded away) was then flipped to the Blazers for two lower picks (as Kings repeat the mistake from the prior year), Justin Jackson and Harry Giles, who were at best ineffective.
  • 2018 (#2) – Marvin Bagley. Player missed: Luka Doncic (#3).
    This was baffling even at the time. To receive a gift such as Doncic falling into your lap at #2 when the Suns selected DeAndre Ayton, and then to decline that gift is just inconceivable. This pick was so bad that it didn’t even take the customary 2-3 years before judgment could be made. We literally made it to Halloween. Through 8 games, Luka was averaging 20p/6r/4a and shooting 40% from 3 on 7 attempts per game.
    To add insult to injury, they drafted Gary Trent Jr. in round 2 and then immediately flipped him for two future 2nd round picks that were subsequently wasted.
  • 2019 – no pick
    The Kings threw this pick in to a trade with the 76ers back in 2015 just to get them to take the contracts of Jason Thompson, Nik Stauskas and Carl Landry. I didn’t make that up. But at least the Kings gave their fans an additional year recover from the trauma of the Bagley/Doncic fiasco.
  • 2020 (#12) – Tyrese Haliburton.
    The only time the Kings ever took the best player on the board. It was so obvious even they couldn’t screw it up.
    A year later they flipped Haliburton for Sabonis (who they could have drafted in the first place).
  • 2021 (#9) – Davion Mitchell. Player missed: Too early to tell, but the Pelicans later drafted two players (Trey Murphy and Herb Jones) who would have made more sense. Moses Moody, selected 14th by the Warrriors, would have been the safe pick that also fit the roster.
    This was another pick that made no sense, as the team had just committed to Fox and there’s no viable way to play Fox and Mitchell together for any length of time.

The accumulation of all of those failed picks and misguided trades unsurprisingly resulted in constant losing. Their best season in that span was in 2018-19, when they won 39 games; unfortunately that still left them 9 games short of a playoff berth; even being close to .500 at the end of the year didn’t have them playing in meaningful games. Their 16 consecutive losing seasons is the longest such streak in NBA history, and their playoff drought is currently the longest in American professsional sports.

Fast forward to where we are now, in 2022. The Kings have been clear that their goal is to make the playoffs. They’ve surrounded Fox and Sabonis, who they’ve identified as their cornerstones with shooters and veteran role players. Players like Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk will certainly spread the floor and provide much needed spacing, while players like Terence Davis and Richaun Holmes provide athleticism and defense.

Picking in the lottery yet again, the Kings selected Keegan Murray with the 4th pick. The Kings took a lot of heat for this pick (with some people dismissing Murray off the bat just because the Kings selected him, which is fair given their track record). The two players picked after Murray, Jaden Ivey and Bennedict Mathurin, seem to be more exciting and have more star potential. However, to be fair, Murray has looked quite good from day one. He dominated the summer league and then the preseason, and as of now is the Kings’ second leader scorer behind Fox. Time will tell on this one, though. With the 4th pick in the draft, the goal is to get a player who will not only start but who will make multiple All-Star teams and be in all-NBA consideration. I’m not projecting Murray to be quite at that level, and if he’s not then he’ll certainly end up as another entry to the extensive list shown above. But you never know – maybe Murray will be the pick that breaks the run of bad luck. Maybe he’ll develop into the player who ends up with the ball in crunch time, who makes the key plays that change the outcome of the game. The team can only hope that for once they made the right choice.

While it’s still early and it is dangerous to read too much into what’s occurred in jus a handful of games, the Kings have already dug themselves a hole with an 0-3 start and there are some signs of trouble already that merit keeping an eye on. Despite having a coach, Mike Brown, who has historically brought a defensive focus, the Kings are giving up 119 points per game thus far. Opponents have shoot a blistering 41% from three point range while also averaging an astonishing 30 free throw attempts per game (7 more than the Kings). The team’s best defenders in the backcourt and on the wing, Davion Mitchell and KZ Okpala, have been so awful at the offensive end that the team cannot keep them on the court for extended stretches. Malik Monk and Harrison Barnes are supposed to provide a scoring punch, but combined they are shooting 33% from the field and are equally abysmal from just about everywhere on the court (shooting 39% from two and 22% from three). DeAaron Fox continues to make mistakes in key moments down the stretch. The team lost two home games to start the season, to the rebuilt Blazers and the shorthanded Clippers.

There have been some bright spots on the offensive end. Fox, Murray, and Kevin Huerter all have effective field goal percentages greater than 60% and combined are averaging 66 points per game. Sabonis has been reliable, putting up 14p/9r/5a pus 2.3 stocks per game. But there’s no all-NBA performers here and Fox may not even make the All-Star team despite the numbers he is racking up. And eventually these 4 guys will need help. It’s reasonable to assume that Barnes and Monk will be more productive at some point, but they aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts – when the Kings need a stop at the end of games, who can they count on to play lockdown defense? The Kings will be fun to watch, especially when everyone on the offense starts clicking at the same time, but it’s doubtful that it will translate to enough wins to get them that elusive playoff berth. Even if they sneak into the play-in tournament, they’ll be playing teams who have playoff experiences with stars who know how to close games.

Still, even getting to the play-in games would represent progress and will help the team determine which of their players should be part of the core going forward. That’s the short-term going – keep improving and get your team experience in meaningful games. However, for the Kings to not only break this drought but also set themselves up as a contender for years to come, they are going to need to make some organizational changes.


The Kings need to ask themselves some hard questions.

How do they constantly miss in the draft, not only on getting the top tier talent but sometimes even just acquiring quality rotation players? Are there some areas they are concentrating too much on, as opposed to not focusing enough on more telling skills, metrics, or behavior? Are they targeting players for a system or a style of play or a fit with other members on the roster, instead of just taking the best talent with the most potential? Are they fixated on weaknesses instead of strengths?

They also must ask if the real gap is in picking the wrong players or in not properly developing them once they are in-house. The Kings have had players like Seth Curry, Gabe Vincent, Alec Burks, and Bogdan Bogdanovic who have ended up flourishing after leaving the organization. They’ve traded 2nd round picks like Trent, Xavier Tilllman, and KJ Martin on draft day for lesser players; they may lack the vision that other teams have regrading how to develop these players and turn them in to useful rotation players.

They do have a new leadership team in place, with Monte McNair as the GM, Mike Brown as the coach, and Joe Dumars overseeing it all, so hopefully they are conducting this assessment of what was done by their predecessors and will be making some adjustments going forward.


Sometimes it seems like the Kings are built like a fantasy team. They often have players with gaudy offensive stats who are defensive liabilities, or with inflated stats built up during garbage time. What they don’t have is a defensive identity. Coach Brown theoretically is making that a priority and it may take this group of players awhile to pick it up. The Kings need to figure out how they can take away the other team’s first option in key moments and make them work harder for baskets. They need to stop committing so many fouls and giving opponents repeated opportunities at the free throw line. There may be a point where this requires a shift in personnel, but first they have to make a real attempt to get the most out of this current group. Requiring a commitment at that end of the court and determining which players are putting in the requisite effort regardless of the results will be vital to figuring out who belongs in the rotation and what gaps can be filled by trading players who aren’t a good fit.


The team needs to establish Sacramento as a destination for players. They may need to take some risks on a trade to bring in more high-level talent. Even just making the playoffs would shift the perception of the team as well as many of the players on the team and how they impact winning basketball. They should be sneakily acquiring additional assets whenever possible so that if someone worthwhile become available they are ready to pounce with an attractive offer. The Kings could take lessons from teams like the Cavaliers and the Grizzlies regarding how players are both acquired and developed, as well as how they can be quickly jettisoned if they don’t mesh with the culture.

They should also embrace their history. Bring back signature players and honor them, even ones who played with the franchise when it was in Cincinnati and Kansas City: Oscar Robertson, Tiny Archibald, Otis Birdsong, Peja Stojakovic, Mitch Richmond, Jason Williams, Reggie Theus, etc. Have those players develop relationships with the current players. This franchise has been two exactly two conference finals since winning their only championship back in 1951 when they were the Rochester Royals, and in one of those years they actually had a losing record in the regular season before making an improbable playoff run. It’s not a franchise with a long history of success, but there have been special moments and great players; the team should embrace that and from it form an identity and culture that will spur them forward so that whenever they do have the next cornerstone in place to build around, they will already have a solid foundation in place and a plan to execute. It happened to the Bucks when they were fortunate enough to get Giannis, saw what they had and what it could be, and fostered his development, built around him, and made him synonymous with the team, the organization, and the community. It can change that fast for the Kings as well, but not if they keep doing what they’ve been doing.