Can the Sacramento Kings Make the Playoffs This Season?
It’s been quite a few months for NBA franchises that call California home. The Golden State Warriors were beaten by the Toronto Raptors in their fifth-straight trip to the NBA Finals. The team subsequently lost a number of key players—including Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, and Andre Iguodala—which has caused their 2020 NBA championship odds to plummet.
Down in SoCal, both Los Angeles teams look stacked on paper. The Lakers, who signed LeBron James last summer, acquired Anthony Davis from the Pelicans in July. The Clippers, meanwhile, added star swingmen Kawhi Leonard and Paul George within minutes of one another shortly after the free agency period opened last month. To the surprise of nobody, the Lakers and the Clippers are among the NBA betting favorites to win it all heading into the new campaign.
The fourth California team seems to be flying under the radar. The Sacramento Kings were among the most-improved teams in basketball last season. While it didn’t culminate in a playoff appearance, there is finally reason for optimism in the state capital. The Kings’ 39-43 record was their best since winning 44 games back in the 2005-06 season. That was also the last time Sacramento appeared in the postseason.
The Western Conference is loaded with talent. While each of the other three California-based franchises have negative odds to make the 2019-20 playoffs, the Sacramento Kings are listed at +265 to do so at BetOnline. Can the Kings prove oddsmakers wrong? Or will the team’s playoff drought reach a 14th season?
The Sacramento Kings surprisingly won 39 games last season despite a roster consisting mostly of young players. De’Aaron Fox made a leap after a relatively unremarkable rookie season, while Buddy Hield emerged as one of the best young marksmen in the league. The team also got a strong rookie campaign out of Marvin Bagley, while Harry Giles III showed flashes in his first pro season, too. Complementary pieces like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica fit in nicely as well.
Sacramento swung a deal to acquire Harrison Barnes from Dallas shortly before last season’s deadline. While Barnes seems perpetually overpaid, he does fill a need for this team. In 28 games with the Kings, the former Carolina Tar Heel contributed 14.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game on nearly 41% shooting from three-point range. Barnes’ ability to play both forward positions gave Dave Joerger some much-needed versatility in the frontcourt.
The Sacramento Kings overpaid to bring Barnes back this summer. $85 million over four years is a lot, but he proved that he can be a useful cog in this rotation. With all of that aforementioned young talent in place, the Kings worked to add some experience this summer. In addition to Barnes, Sacramento also signed veterans like Dewayne Dedmon, Trevor Ariza, and Cory Joseph.
Joseph represents a clear upgrade on last year’s backup point guards, Frank Mason and Yogi Ferrell. He isn’t flashy, but he’s a proven commodity capable of handling starting duties if Fox happens to go down. The Dedmon signing was one of the best under-the-radar moves any team made in free agency. $41 million over three years will turn out to be a bargain for the USC product. In 64 games with Atlanta last season, the big man averaged 10.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He also provided consistent rim protection, and he showed the ability to stretch the floor offensively. Dedmon connected on 38.2% of his three-point tries, which is excellent considering he had only attempted one 3-pointer across his first four seasons in the league.
Ariza was a questionable signing. He’s a familiar name, but he didn’t play all that well last season with Phoenix and Washington. His once-heralded perimeter defense declined, and he shot only 33.4% from long distance across 69 games. He has proven to be a nice locker room presence over the years, but he’s a bit redundant with a guy like Barnes on this team. I imagine Ariza will start the year in the rotation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was relegated to mop-up duty before too long.
Notable departures from last year’s team include Willie Cauley-Stein, Ben McLemore, and Kosta Koufos. Cauley-Stein never lived up to his potential in Sacramento, and he was expendable thanks to the emergence of Bagley and Giles, anyway. McLemore and Koufos are nothing special either. On paper, the Sacramento Kings have improved this summer.
For whatever reason, this team can’t seem to get out of its own way. Joerger coached the team to its best record in over a decade. His reward? The Sacramento Kings fired him right after the season came to an end. Joerger patrolled the Sacramento sidelines for three seasons, but GM Vlade Divac and owner Vivek Ranadive apparently decided that fresh blood was needed in order to help the team take the next step. So, shortly after Joerger was fired, the Kings hired ex-Lakers coach Luke Walton.
Walton didn’t have much success in LA, but getting out of the spotlight could prove helpful. Still, firing Joerger after such a successful season raised eyebrows all over the league, and with good reason.
The Sacramento Kings have been something of a laughingstock for years, and this kind of constant turnover has helped them become a punchline. The teams that have struggled the most (Sacramento, Phoenix, Chicago, New York, etc.) over the last handful of years have showed a remarkable lack of stability. The Sacramento Kings have been the poster child for instability. While the improved roster provides reason for optimism, it’s tough to trust a front office that always seems to be trying to tinker a little too much.
While the Sacramento Kings look like a decent basketball team on paper, the fact that they’re in the Western Conference serves as a pretty massive roadblock. As mentioned in the open, there’s a pretty good chance that Sacramento will be the fourth-best team in their own state again next season. The Kings finished with a better record than the Lakers in 2018-19, but a healthy James plus Anthony Davis should be enough to get LA into the playoffs.
The Lakers will presumably nab the playoff spot vacated by the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder appear to be hurtling toward a rebuild after trading both George and Russell Westbrook this summer. OKC could still be better than oddsmakers expect, but the Thunder look quite watered-down compared to the team we’ve seen over the last decade or so.
It’s a numbers game. The Sacramento Kings have to finish with one of the eight best records in the conference in order to crack the playoffs. Health permitting, I think both LA teams are close to locks. The Houston Rockets aren’t going anywhere. The Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, and Utah Jazz look entrenched out of the Northwest Division. The Warriors may have lost Durant, but any team with Stephen Curry is still going to be in the conversation. The Spurs haven’t missed the playoffs in over 20 years.
The Clippers, Lakers, Warriors, Jazz, Rockets, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Spurs look like your presumptive Western Conference playoff representatives. Unsurprisingly, BetOnline has listed each team with minus odds to qualify. Oddsmakers are also higher on both Dallas and New Orleans than they are Sacramento. The Mavericks are at +200 to qualify for the postseason, while the revamped Pelicans are at +210.
So, if you take the odds as gospel, the Sacramento Kings are projected to finish no better than 11th in the Western Conference next season. I’d bet on Sacramento before I’d bet on Dallas at similar odds, but New Orleans does make for a more compelling contender. The Pelicans may not have a legitimate superstar anymore, but they do have quality depth.
Unfortunately, it’s looking as though Kings fans are going to have to wait at least another year before they see a playoff team again. It would be a different story if they were in the Eastern Conference. The Sacramento Kings would easily finish in the top-8 out east, but the west is just a complete bloodbath.
Injuries are the great equalizer, of course. If a fringe playoff team like San Antonio loses LaMarcus Aldridge for an extended period, the Spurs’ playoff chances could certainly be imperiled. That would obviously open the door for a team like Sacramento or New Orleans to sneak their way in. Generally speaking, though, the cream tends to rise to the top in the NBA. Parity isn’t all that prevalent in this league.
While I like what the Sacramento Kings are doing, I don’t think this is the year we see them back in the postseason. This is a franchise trending in the right direction, but now is not the time to jump on Sacramento’s playoff bandwagon. While the betting value that comes with the Sacramento Kings at +265 to make the playoffs is admittedly appealing, there is just too much standing in this team’s way this season. Throwing down $5 on Sacramento at those odds is a fine flier, but I can’t get past the overall quality of the Western Conference.
There’s always next year, Kings fans.