Here’s how the Sacramento Kings became the NBA’s team of redemption

Here’s how the Sacramento Kings became the NBA’s team of redemption

Sacramento Kings

No longer a league laughingstock
Image: Getty Images

Kings Nation has been through the wringer for the past 16 years. The Sacramento Kings may be poised to end their postseason drought and the path forward is illuminated in a unique way by an unusual group. During the offseason, owner Vivek Ranadivé had the brightest full-color laser equipment in the world installed atop the Golden 1 Center. After every home win, a Sacramento King slaps a purple button which I can assume is only a prop, and 1,000 watts of RGB power shoot into the sky.  

Since the Kings’ first win on Oct. 29, they’ve won nine of their last 11 games, and Sacramento has embarked on its first six-game win streak since January 2005. They’ve been such a sad sack of a franchise, Chris Paul has played an entire Hall of Fame career between six-game Kings winning streaks. A month into the season, fans clamor for the victory beam before the final buzzer.

The victory beam is just one of a slew of savvy changes the Kings made this summer. Their first change was replacing former Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry with Warriors assistant Mike Brown. After mixed results as the head coach of the Cavaliers and an ignominious stint in Los Angeles, Brown spent six seasons as a trusted aide to Steve Kerr on Golden State’s sidelines. However, his desire to take another shot at taking the reins of his own team led him to Sacramento this summer.

Ranadivé’s obsession with mimicking the Warriors can be embarrassing at times, but Brown has been a resounding success by taking an unfamiliar approach. Browns’s Cavs and Lakers teams were known for their slow-paced offenses and high defensive IQs. These Kings play breakneck offense at the league’s seventh-quickest pace and Brown is physically pushing players to get out in transition for easy buckets. Their 27th-ranked defense needs plenty of improvement, but Sacramento has had 16 years to fixate on the negative.

The offense is one of the league’s best, and these redemptive Kings have given their fans realistic postseason aspirations. A year ago, De’Aaron Fox had lost his way. He regressed as a shooter, hitting just 29 percent of his tries from 3-point range, and was one of the most inefficient scoring lead guards in the league. When the lane was clogged, Fox was a professional bricklayer.

Early on in his career, Fox was considered a top-five young point, but he has plateaued and was passed up by younger guards since signing his rookie extension — and fell out of favor in the ensuing years. The sentiment around Fox entering the 2021 season was that the lightning-quick guard had peaked early and that the franchise should hand the offense’s keys to the more cerebral Tyrese Haliburton. Fox’s name was bandied about in trade rumors, which made Sacramento’s trade deadline deal sending Haliburton to Indiana even more mystifying. It felt like the type of miscalculation that had extended the Kings’ playoff drought to 16 seasons.

In the first month of the 2022-23 campaign, Fox has bounced back and improved his shot selection, is pacing himself better, and displaying better decision-making. In return for Haliburton, Sacramento fetched versatile forward Domantas Sabonis. Trading one of the most sought-after young point guards in the league for a power forward raised eyebrows. The early returns on Sabonis were modest, but after a full offseason to integrate into Brown’s system, he’s shown why the trade was justified, operating as Sactown’s power forward version of Nikola Jokic.

Rookie Keegan Murray’s upside probably isn’t as high as the one-and-done prospects taken directly before him, but the 22-year-old was the safe fourth overall pick. For a franchise that has missed on a litany of lottery picks over the past decade, Murray’s stability has been needed.

In July, Sacramento traded Justin Holiday, Moe Harkless, and a future first for Hawks guard Kevin Huerter. Red Velvet came to Sacramento as a depreciating asset. However, Atlanta’s loss has been Sacramento’s gain. In his first season outside of the Trae Young-centric Hawks system, Huerter has finally grazed his potential as a savvy off-ball shooter and a crafty playmaker with the ball in his hands. Huerter’s precise shooting stroke has been a known commodity since he was drafted out of Maryland, but he’s hoisting two threes more than his career-high in Atlanta while his efficiency has climbed in a more prominent role.

Former lottery pick Malik Monk revived his own dormant career in Los Angeles, as a reliable bench producer off the bench for the Lakers. However, when Rob Pelinka let Monk walk, he signed a two-year $19 million deal that currently looks like a steal. In relief of the starters, Monk’s energy has injected the second unit with a boost.

Monk fell from grace early on in his career as an electric, but inefficient volume scorer with a one-dimensional game. In 22 minutes a game, Monk is averaging a career-high in assists, logging nearly 13 points a night, spacing the floor, and flashing his athleticism when he finds a driving lane. In just 15 games, Monk’s band-aid-on-his-face look has endeared him to Kings Nation.

The victory beam has energized Sacramento’s beleaguered fans, but without their redemptive pieces, it would just be an annoying gimmick collecting dust that reminds them of their team’s ineptitude. Sacramento’s victory beam is one of those NBA traditions that appears like it’s here to stay.

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.