By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer
The Sacramento Kings have not made the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) playoffs since the 2005-2006 season.
With completion of the 2020-2021 season, the Kings have tied with the Buffalo Braves-then-turned-San Diego Clippers (1977 to 1991) as the only teams in the NBA to have 15 futile seasons of not appearing in postseason competition.
In a pandemic season of 72 games, the Kings finished with 31 victories. They were eliminated from the postseason with two games left on the schedule.
“We’re disappointed. The fanbase deserves better, they deserve the playoffs. We feel the frustration,” Kings general manager Monty McNair said two days after the Kings lost 121-99 to the Utah Jazz at Golden 1 Center. “We saw some good stretches but ultimately we were too inconsistent. We need to find more consistency.”
The Kings decided to put their core players on ice for the last game. De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes watched the game from the sideline.
As for building a few winning streaks early in the season, the Kings had some bad stretches, that included two, nine-game losing streaks that proved to be one of a few reasons why they couldn’t qualify to participate in a play-in game, let alone the playoffs.
The teams that finished in the seventh and eight positions in each conference will face each other to claim the No. 7 seed. The loser of that match plays the winner of the teams in the ninth and 10th position in the conference to settle the eight playoff spot.
The NBA altered the system to allow more teams to be eligible for postseason play and the Kings just couldn’t manage to get it done. The Kings, who some say shouldn’t count on a top free agent to come to Sacramento, can look forward to getting a top-10 pick in a talented pool for the 2021 NBA draft.
“We’re going to do everything we can in our power to be aggressive and improve the team and ultimately get back to the playoffs,” McNair said.
McNair also said he would bring Luke Walton back as head coach, who was hired by Vlade Divac when he was the G.M. Walton is 62-82 in two seasons with the Kings. He reportedly has $11.5 million remaining on a four-year contract and a situation that worked in his favor.
Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive is on his sixth head coach since purchasing the franchise in 2013. With the pandemic limiting the amount of revenue all of the NBA team owners could generate, giving Walton his walking papers would not have been financially smart, since Ranadive would have had to pay Walton the money remaining on his contract.
McNair, who said he has “every resource” to get the team back into the playoffs, is sticking by Walton despite the talk that the organization is hamstrung.
“This was a basketball decision,” McNair said of retaining Walton.
Before the season was over and right after it ended for the Kings, Walton was always confident that he’d return to institute a “culture of togetherness,” he said.
“I told you guys before I was confident. I wasn’t going anywhere,” Walton told The OBSERVER on May 18. “We have a job to do and I am going to always focus on what I feel is best for the team. That’s where my mind and my focus is at. I was under contract and I expected to be here.”
Walton has been embattled for most of the season with talks of firing swirling around him after two critical losing streaks buried the Kings’ playoffs chances. But the 41-year-old coach, thanks to the confidence of his players, was not besieged.
The Kings kept fighting on the court and did not throw in the towel. Fox, who missed the remainder of the season due to contracting the COVID-19 virus, nursed himself back to health just in time to comment on his coach.
“For one, he’s someone who’s played the game. He understands all the things players are going through and what they need to continue to do to get better,” Fox said of Walton. “He’s won a championship. He’s played at this level. The highest level. And he’s a great communicator.He communicates all the time, on the court or off the court.”
Haliburton, a Rookie of the Year candidate, also told The OBSERVER that everything was fine working with Walton.
“Me and coach’s relationship has really grown throughout the year, just learning more about him,” Haliburton said. “Because he’s very much so a player’s coach. It’s been really nice to play for him and also grow our relationship because it will help us have more success as time goes on.”