Amazing how quickly expectations can change.
You remember how horrible everyone thought the Kings were going to be when the season started? Oddsmakers set the over/under on the team’s win total at 25 1/2. Lots of people thought that was too optimistic.
One guy who thinks he knows everything told me there were dark days ahead. People were going to get fired. The whole thing was hopeless. Man, those were simpler times.
Harry Giles III just wanted to play basketball. De’Aaron Fox just wanted to run. Coach Dave Joerger just wanted everyone to remember the Kings, in the infant stages of a youth movement, were a long way from being competitive.
“This is an opportunity to find out what we have, and what does our talent look like two and three years from now, and go through that grind of getting better,” Joerger said on the first day of training camp. “I’ve always said, ‘Don’t come back in two or three years. Enjoy watching these guys grow now.’ ”
You might think about those words as you watch the Kings play the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Thursday night. I thought about them Monday while watching Joerger squirm in his seat at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., his face so flushed you knew his stomach was in knots.
Joerger had just taken a timeout with his team trailing the Washington Wizards by 12 in the third quarter. The Kings’ playoff hopes — yes, playoff hopes — were fading before his eyes.
It was fascinating to see the level of consternation on Joerger’s face as he leaned over, listening intently to every word from Elston Turner and Jason March, two of his most trusted assistants. While their young players walked back onto the floor, they were searching for answers in a meaningful game in the final month of the season, a torturous moment unlike any the Kings have experienced in 13 years.
It was excruciating. And, in a way, it was magnificent, like a portrait of youth, education and development conveyed against a backdrop of high-pressure, high-stakes coaching in the NBA. The players, the coaches and the front office have all come so far, so fast, that shedding their old skin is a painful experience they share with their fans.
So then I started thinking about how much expectations have changed around here, how much everyone wants to recreate the wonder years and how patient you’ve been.
The long-awaited rise of the Kings was glorious, truly something to behold in Sacramento. You ask fans or former players about those years and they just shake their heads, eyes wandering off to some amazing place in the distance. It was special, to you and them.
The fall, though, was an awful, emotional slog through the depths of despair. There were bad drafts and bad trades. There were all these billionaires trying to take your team away. Then, city officials, civic leaders, regular dudes and even some Girl Scouts, I believe, had to join forces, rolling their sleeves up to their necks to win the city’s longest war with money, sweat and tears.
And now, of course, you’re all still here after 12 consecutive losing seasons, weathered and weary but ready to fly out of your seats once more to cheer the new rise of the Kings. They’ve played with your emotions, to be sure, and maybe that’s why being a Kings fan is such a bipolar existence in some corners of the internet. When they win a game, people start plotting the championship parade route. When they lose, some guys want to fire the coach and others want Willie Cauley-Stein floated out to sea on an inflatable pool toy.
The coach is a good coach. The players are good players. The front office is making good decisions.
They know your expectations changed. Theirs did, too.
They’re giving you everything they have, running at a breakneck pace every night in one of the fastest offenses ever unleashed on the NBA. Sacramento has always appreciated effort, heart and hustle. Look at these guys go.
Some teams have found ways to slow them down, so it seems we’re seeing the Kings in many more half-court sets lately, which might be partly to blame for their recent shooting struggles. This isn’t an area of strength for the Kings, but it is an area in need of growth, and there might be renewed emphasis on that in the final weeks as those playoff hopes finally fade and attention turns to the future.
Are there enough games left for Marvin Bagley III to start at some point after he returns from his knee injury? Will Giles start some games at center? Will Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic break out of their shooting slumps? Is anyone interested in getting a good, long look at a lineup consisting of Fox, Hield, Bagley and Giles with Harrison Barnes at small forward?
It’s all fascinating stuff, so enjoy watching these guys grow. Next season, when Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, Kevin Durant and so many others leave town saying how much Sacramento’s chemistry, culture and fortunes have changed, it might be with a tinge of annoyance instead of amusement.
You won’t be talking about whether the Kings will finally finish with a winning record. You’ll probably be wondering if they can win 50 games.
So squirm in your seat. Shed the skin. Take the pain. The sunlight will feel glorious.