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Sacramento Kings – Contenders or Pretenders?

The Sacramento Kings are in the longest playoff drought in the NBA currently. The Kings made a ‘win now’ move before the deadline to acquire two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis. The team has unfortunately struggled since adding the big man, with a 3-11 record since the trade. Will the Sacramento Kings get it together in time to make their first playoff run since 2006?

Sacramento Kings – Contenders or Pretenders?

A Long Time Coming

The last time the Kings were playing postseason basketball, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was the top-selling movie in theaters. Since then, Sacramento has had a 461-800 record and has yet to finish higher than third in the Pacific division. A 39-43 record in the 2018-19 regular season is the closest to a .500 record that the Kings have been since 2006.

The Kings are currently 13th in the Western Conference standings. They are 29 games behind the first-place Phoenix Suns and four games out of the 10th seed and a spot in the play-in tournament. 

Deadline Deal

Before this year’s trade deadline, the Kings pulled the trigger on a massive, controversial trade. Sacramento acquired Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday, and a 2027 second-round pick from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and Tristan Thompson. They also added Donte DiVincenzo and these moves were collectively viewed as ‘win now’ trades for a franchise that was as close as it has been to the playoffs in the last decade.  The pairing of Sabonis with De’Aaron Fox looked to be a dynamic duo capable of leading them into a promising future.

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Sadly for Kings fans, the immediate future has been far from promising. Sabonis is averaging 17.4 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 5.9 assists in 11 games since joining the team, but that has rarely been enough to get them into the win column. The Kings have faced a brutal schedule during this poor stretch, but it won’t be getting any earlier over the next five games. All five matchups are against playoff teams. If this team is going to make a run, it will have to be because they are playing great basketball. There are only four games reaming on the Kings schedule against teams currently outside of the playoff standings.

Down the Stretch

The Kings clearly miss the backcourt play of Haliburton and Hield right now. DiVincenzo adds depth, but both he and starter Justin Holiday are only averaging nine points per game in their time with Sacramento. If the Kings are going to turn this around, they will need more from their backcourt offensively. The Kings could use more output from forward Maurice Harkless as well. The 28-year-old is averaging 5.1 points per game and is shooting 31% from beyond the arc. 

The Kings have a lot of young talent on this roster. This young core doesn’t have the luxury of time to acclimate to each other if they are to make the playoffs this year. Sacramento will need their three best players to lead the charge and push them past a few of these other playoff teams in order to at least get into the play-in. Harrison Barnes has played well, leading the team in scoring during their last win against San Antonio. He’ll need to elevate his game to another level for this run. A definitive third option would make the Kings a tough matchup each night for the rest of the year. Fox has been fantastic. The former Kentucky Wildcat has continued his team-leading offensive production even after the addition of Sabonis. Fox led all scorers with 44 points in a tough 114-113 loss to the Dallas Mavericks last Saturday.

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Final Verdict

This team has the talent and potential for a playoff run. It just won’t be this season. Give this new nucleus time to gel and an offseason to add pieces around and this team may be poised to snap that postseason-less streak. This year, the 3-11 hole that they have dug themselves is going to be nearly impossible to climb out of. It will take a lot of luck for this team to make the play-in. Even if they do, the reward will be a matchup with the likes of Phoenix or Golden State. Maybe next year. 

The Sacramento Kings are playoff pretenders in 2022. 

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