Let’s get this out the way now.
If you’re planning to base the success of the 2017-18 Kings on wins, go ahead and stop reading. As a matter of fact, don’t bother watching too many games. Instead, set your NBA 2K video game on rookie mode and guide Sacramento to a glorious playoff season.
This season is going to be hard. Will there be good moments? Sure. Will there be times where the future looks bright? Certainly. But the Kings will learn a lot of lessons the hard way as they work to establish a culture of accountability. Youth aside, they still lack size at the wing positions, could struggle to rebound and have to figure out how to consistently generate offense.
So what is success for these Kings? It can be measured in these tangible and intangible milestones:
All-Star weekend love
The Kings haven’t had a player in the Rising Stars Challenge since Isaiah Thomas in 2012. Considering the Kings have been in the lottery that entire time, it’s telling, to a degree, that they’ve failed to land a first- or second-year player in the showcase of the league’s future stars.
With eight players eligible this season (rookie Harry Giles won’t make the team since he’s out until at least January), at least one should make it to All-Star weekend in Los Angeles.
Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox are the most likely candidates, but Bogdan Bogdanovic and Skal Labissiere could also be contenders.
By no means does making an exhibition game mean signify that all is well, but it would be a nice sign of improvement.
The Kings must stay the course throughout the process. If reports of frustration and talk of panic-type moves surface, that’s a problem.
Making deals that are good for the long term is one thing, but a long losing streak in December is no reason to panic.
Kings fans have been patient. They’ve endured 11 consecutive losing seasons, two possible relocations and supporting a team that had been widely viewed as the Western Conference counterpart to the New York Knicks in terms of drama and dysfunction.
The entire organization needs to be committed to the rebuild. A good first step was picking up the fourth-year option on coach Dave Joerger’s contract. Now everyone has to stick to the script.
“First and foremost, we ask for patience,” swingman Vince Carter said. “We have a lot of young guys who are trying to learn, but they’re very hungry and they want to win. And we as veterans ... have been around and we want to bring the winning way.”
The Kings haven’t had a winning home record since 2007-08, when they went 26-15. It would be ambitious to expect that kind of success this season, but now is the time to make Golden 1 Center an intimidating place for opponents.
No longer should struggling teams expect to get a reprieve on the road in Sacramento.
“I was still playing, obviously, when Sacramento was a tough place to play and you had to come ready each and every time you stepped into (the Kings’) building,” Carter said. “And we want to bring that back. but there’s a patience, it takes steps and we don’t want to skip steps to get to that point. Yes, everybody’s like we want to win, hold that trophy up, we all want to do the same thing. And I might not be here when it happens or not, but it’s all about laying the groundwork now.”
By the end of the season, teams should dread visiting Golden 1, at least knowing they will face a raucous crowd and a team that will not quit.
A true culture change
To be around the Kings much of the past decade was to watch the joy slowly drain from anyone that walked into the locker room. It didn’t take long for newcomers to become jaded.
At times that appeared to be changing, but poor decisions in management (see inexplicably firing Michael Malone in 2014, for example) altered the locker room culture for the worse.
Players simply getting along this season won’t cut it. Everyone must commit to doing things the right way.
Now, no player has been on the team more than three years, so hopefully those who once bore the burden of dysfunction can start anew.
One of the reasons the Kings struggled, even when they had an outside chance to make a run at the playoffs (in 2016, for example) was the culture was so bad it became impossible to unify toward the goal of winning. It’s hard to succeed when players don’t trust management and those in charge are wading through the mess of previous regimes.
The Kings appear on course to change that. Then again, it’s October. Let’s see where they are in April.
What are we doing after the break?
The Kings aren’t expected to be a playoff contender, but that’s no reason to spend the end of the season tanking. No one wants to watch games where both teams are doing all they can to improve their draft position.
Sacramento can build a winning culture by competing hard and with a purpose down the stretch. Plus, they don’t have to worry about losing their 2018 first-round pick to another team based on draft order, so why not win as many games as possible?