One, Done

For Kings, a single good season is no guarantee

By R.E. Graswich
November 2023

The first thing to remember about the Kings is basic math. One plus zero doesn’t equal two when the numbers involve good NBA seasons.

Kings fans should be forgiven when they assume the team’s 2022-23 success automatically means the new campaign will produce greater glories.

I’ve heard people who should know better—pundits who follow the NBA for a living—predict last season’s surprise third-place finish, 48-34 record and sudden respect for a doormat squad ensures continued progress in 2023-24. Don’t believe it.

Decades ago, when I wrote about the Kings for a daily newspaper, excitement peaked in late October, just before the season kicked off. New players adapted to the mix. The latest system was a big improvement over the previous scheme, which was better suited for college or high school basketball. Anticipation was feverish.

At this point I turned to Billy Jones, the Kings’ weary trainer, a man who wrapped a million ankles, and asked what he thought.

Jonesy never publicly criticized the Kings, but always told the truth. Every year, his answer was the same: “Let’s wait and see what happens against the guys in purple and gold or red and black.”

Jonesy knew the Kings weren’t the only team that changed personnel, fired coaching staffs and rewrote playbooks over the summer. He understood whatever brilliance the Kings might conjure, the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns don’t spend their off seasons killing time, waiting for opponents to catch them.

Everyone tries to get better, constantly, even if that means incremental improvements. Often, and despite everyone’s best intentions, teams manage to make themselves worse.

I’m not here to suggest the Kings will backslide and tumble back to their accustomed place in the basement. There’s no reason to believe the team will resume its status as a perennial lottery franchise and surrender its playoff visitation rights after a glimpse against the aged but superior Golden State Warriors.

Like many Kings fans, I was captivated by the Kings last season. I crazily thought they would defeat the Warriors and get clobbered in the second round against whoever they played, given their clueless defense and lack of playoff experience.

Such optimism was dumb. As the first round unfolded, the Warriors behaved as if they spotted the Kings a couple of games to show love for their former coach and friend, Mike Brown. They sized up the Kings, made life interesting for a couple of games, then hit the jets and moved to the next opponent. So much for Sacramento.

It’s also worth remembering one year ago, nobody but the most demented Kings fan expected the team to play half as well as it did. Everyone underestimated Brown, not for his ability to teach pick-and-roll competency or exploit youthful backcourt speed, but for something far more difficult and less measurable.

He made playing for the Kings fun.

That was Brown’s majestic contribution, the intangible gift he delivered to a franchise whose dismal reputation meant prospective draft picks and veterans approaching trade deadlines would text their agents and say, “Anywhere but Sac.”
By transforming the Kings into a reasonable if not enviable destination, Brown performed a miracle.

The Kings were a team to avoid for four decades. Brown’s ability to erase disgrace and rid the team of its career-death stench was the sort of thing other coaches marvel over at league meetings and late nights in hotel bars on road trips. Making the Kings fun and attractive was astonishing. Brown did it fast, more or less overnight.

None of which guarantees the Kings will continue to improve.

The NBA grows more mercurial and less predictable every year. Competitive powers abound in the Western Conference, leaving minimal room for injuries and losing streaks. The Kings have limited space to make mistakes. They need luck, never an abundant resource with this franchise.

The best thing Kings fans can do is relax and enjoy the fun while it lasts. My reporting on the Kings began during the Regan administration. Those days were called Morning in America. Maybe this is Lunchtime in Sacramento.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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