Sacramento Kings: Playoffs or not, the 2018-19 season is a success

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 26: Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac looks on before a NBA game between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Clippers on December 26, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 26: Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac looks on before a NBA game between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Clippers on December 26, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Sacramento Kings weren’t supposed to be in the playoff hunt come February, but here they are and regardless of the outcome—the 2018-19 is a success for the organization.

After trading franchise superstar DeMarcus Cousins in February of 2017, both the Sacramento Kings and their fans were staring down the barrel of another rebuild—something this team has done (seemingly endlessly) since the mid-2000’s. Still, GM Vlade Divac dug his heels in and was adamant that this time would be different, that this time we’d see results, and quickly.

Sitting down with the Sacramento Bee’s Ailene Voisin, Divac said “I want to hear from these people (critics) in two years. If I’m right, great. If I’m wrong, I’ll step down.” It’s been nearly two years to the day and it’s looking like he was right.

The Kings are 30-27 and just one game back of the eighth playoff spot (as of this writhing), they bottomed out last year, losing 55 games, but have made an incredible recovery—so much so, that if anything is taken away from this season, it’s that it was a success. Playoffs or not, regardless of if they finish above .500 or if win or lose a playoff series, nothing can take away this season’s accomplishments from this team and front office.

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Blasted by pundits after the DeMarcus Cousins trade, criticized after the Sacramento Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive said Buddy Hield (the centerpiece in the Cousins trade) had “Steph Curry potential”, then slammed some more after drafting Marvin Bagley III second overall instead of Luka Doncic or Jaren Jackson Jr., the Sacramento Kings have shown they may have been right all along. As it stands, none of those moves or comments seem like the wrong ones and anyone who criticized them in the past is starting to look like they’re, quite frankly, wrong.

Sure, there’s things we can still criticize about the front office, their willingness to play Justin Jackson when it was clear he wasn’t going to work as a starter, not signing a small forward in the offseason and letting rumors of power struggles between the head coach and assistant GM leak immediately come to mind. But the Sacramento Kings withstood all that and are still in the playoff race. A large part of that, however, goes to the simple fact that the Kings have a legitimately good, young core.

Coming into the season, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone calling the Buddy Hield-De’Aaron Fox-Bogdan Bogdanovic trio one of the best young cores in basketball, but now? Now, you could add two more names to that list in Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles and they seem like they’re legitimately one of the best young teams in basketball.

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Obviously you still have the Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers who all have good, young cores and sit comfortably in West and East playoff pictures, respectively, but who else? The Lakers young players seem much less attractive than they were last year (at least if Dell Demps has anything to say about it), the Nets, Pacers and Celtics are good teams as well, but would you take their young cores ahead of Sacramento? We should also talk about how each of these teams, save for Brooklyn, has a bona-fide superstar (some with more than one)—the Sacramento Kings don’t, at least not yet.

Not only that, but all the Sacramento Kings players were talking about have less than three years experience and almost all have two or less. Point being, this Sacramento Kings team hasn’t reached their ceiling, not even close. This isn’t to bag on any of the leagues other 29 teams, but rather to say the Kings are winning, and doing so with one of the leagues youngest teams, in a season they weren’t supposed to win more than 25 games—let alone be in the mix for the playoffs. Still, here they stand, one game back of the eighth seed and just two games back from a top-six seed. Did I mention they’re also 6-4 over their last 10 games, with several of those coming against playoff teams?

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Now, this isn’t to say the Kings will make the playoffs, they currently out of the top-eight and have an absolutely brutal schedule coming up and it’s difficult to tell which, if any, of the three teams ahead of them will slip. The Clippers might be the most likely after they traded their best player, but they haven’t slowed up and, they also own the tie-breaker over the Kings. The Spurs? They don’t have the tie-breaker over Sacramento, but they’re still the Spurs and have a plethora of talent and one of the greatest coaches of all time still at the helm. The Utah Jazz have a tough schedule, but have a two-game cushion and currently hold the tie-breaker over Sacramento, though the two teams will play once more this season, and the Lakers (who sit two games back of the Kings) still have LeBron James.

The path to the playoffs is there for Sacramento, but it’s rocky. In all reality, they do control their own destiny, but we don’t yet know how this team will respond to the pressure of a playoff race down the stretch. The additions of Corey Brewer, Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks certainly help, but will they be able push the Kings over the edge with just a few weeks to get acclimated to their new team?

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The playoffs though, aren’t necessarily the point. Was that a goal for the team heading into the season? Undoubtedly, but a lofty one. The real goal heading into the 2018-19 season was likely more simple than that—just show that we’re on the right track. And that’s something they’ve certainly accomplished this season and you don’t need to make the playoffs to validate the massive strides this team has made in just one season.