Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes goes up for a shot as Dallas Mavericksâ€™ Jalen Brunson and Dwight Powell, right, defend.
The Kings are going into the 2019-20 season with the deepest and most talented team theyâ€™ve had in many years. These guys can shoot. They can score. Some of them rebound; some play defense.
Their path to the playoffs is uncertain and treacherous, but itâ€™s out there somewhere, overgrown with vegetation and guarded by assassins like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry and James Harden. Theyâ€™re all waiting. And they all have backup.
There are almost a dozen playoff contenders with more established stars in the Western Conference â€“ which only grew stronger in this summer of seismic movement â€“ but with the start of training camp approaching Sept. 29, the Kings have something many teams donâ€™t. General manager Vlade Divac appears to have assembled one of the deepest teams in the league, seizing on the fleeting opportunity to add reinforcements while potential All-Stars like Deâ€™Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III are under affordable rookie contracts.
The biggest, brightest stars tend to win championships in the NBA. None of these Kings have achieved that status yet, but there is an intriguing constellation of young stars in the skies above Sacramento that might light the way back to the playoffs. The Kings havenâ€™t had this kind of high-end talent and depth since their glory days, when they made eight consecutive playoff appearances beginning in 1998-99.
If you look at Sacramentoâ€™s last playoff team, youâ€™d have to think back to when you were much younger. The year was 2006. Some of us have 13-year-old children who were in diapers then. The first iPhone hadnâ€™t even been released. Fox was 8 years old and Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach was still alive.
The Kings won 44 games to claim the eighth seed before losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Their late-season surge was led by Mike Bibby, Brad Miller and Metta World Peace after a midseason trade sent Peja Stojakovic to the Indiana Pacers. Bonzi Wells, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Kevin Martin, Kenny Thomas, Francisco Garcia and Jason Hart were key contributors.
Everyone on that team is retired now. So, yeah, itâ€™s been a while, but now the Kings believe they have a team that could end the NBAâ€™s longest playoff drought.
They have Fox and Hield, who were just named the eighth-best backcourt in the NBA by Bleacher Report. They have Bagley and Harrison Barnes. They have Dewayne Dedmon, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harry Giles, Nemanja Bjelica, Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza, Richaun Holmes and Yogi Ferrell.
That seems like a long list because it is. Every one of those guys can play and at some point each of them will, giving coach Luke Walton a stable of fresh horses to push the pace in Sacramentoâ€™s run-and-gun offense. The distribution of minutes might prove difficult, but the Kings have no fewer than 12 players who can contribute in a variety of ways, giving them depth and versatility at every position.
The Kings recently landed three players on Sports Illustratedâ€™s Top 100 list. Given Bogdanovicâ€™s recent dominance in the FIBA World Cup and Bagleyâ€™s anticipated breakthrough, some might argue they could have four or five players on that list. They didnâ€™t have any a year ago.
The Kings could start Fox, Hield, Barnes, Bagley and Dedmon and still bring some heat off the bench. Bogdanovic, Bjelica and Ariza have all been NBA starters. Joseph, a tenacious backcourt defender, has been to the playoffs seven years in a row. Hopes are still very high for Giles. Ferrell had a 32-point game as a rookie with the Dallas Mavericks in 2017 and Holmes had several double-doubles in a backup role with the Phoenix Suns last season, averaging 17.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes.
This team is loaded for another run at the playoffs, but does it have enough? The Kings won 39 games last season to finish ninth in the Western Conference and still finished nine games behind the eighth-place Clippers.
The Kings had the third-highest pace in the NBA last season, but they faded as fatigue and injuries took a toll after the All-Star break. A deeper bench and fresher legs could help them maintain that pace right into the postseason.
The Golden State Warriors might come back to the pack following Klay Thompsonâ€™s injury and Kevin Durantâ€™s departure, but somehow the West has only gotten better. The Clippers have Kawhi and Paul George. The Lakers have LeBron and Anthony Davis. The Rockets have Harden and Russell Westbrook. The Warriors have Curry, Dâ€™Angelo Russell and Draymond Green.
The Utah Jazz might win 50 games again this year, the San Antonio Spurs are the San Antonio Spurs and the Denver Nuggets might be better than everybody. Heck, the Mavericks have Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, and no one is calling them a playoff team.
But here we are talking about two or three players on the other teams while the Kings have a stable. The Kings have improved their roster considerably over the past couple of years. They have talent. They have depth. They might be good enough to traverse a narrow and treacherous path to the playoffs.