The Sacramento Kings — the franchise that hasn’t won more than 33 games for a decade and hasn’t reached the playoffs since Corliss Williamson was still on the roster — are still not good at basketball.
There is hope, to be sure, that will change someday. The Kings feature a cache of recent first-round picks, from lightning-quick point guard De’Aaron Fox to sweet-shooting wing Buddy Hield and potential rim-runner and -protector Willie Cauley-Stein, all of whom may eventually lift this franchise from laughingstock to legitimacy. But not now, not after a 46-point loss … TO THE ATLANTA HAWKS.
The Hawks entered Wednesday night’s game against the Kings with a league-low two wins in their first 14 outings, owners of a bottom-10 offense and an even worse defense. Then, they dropped a 126-80 win on Sacramento — the largest margin of victory in the history of a franchise that won a title in St. Louis with Bob Pettit in 1958, won 50 games with Dominique Wilkins for four straight seasons in the 1980s and reached the Eastern Conference finals during a dominant 60-win season three years ago.
These Hawks have been stripped down to the studs, losing All-Stars Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver in the rebuilding process, and yet a starting five of Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Luke Babbitt, Taurean Prince and Dewayne Dedmon did what their forebearers could not.
Atlanta shot 63.3 percent from the field (16-of-32 from 3-point range) to Sacramento’s 35.2 percent (6-of-28 from 3), submitting the franchise’s best shooting performance in three seasons. The Hawks finished with 40 assists on their 50 field goals, and they out-rebounded the Kings, 53-29. On the same night, Sacramento managed the season’s sixth-worst single-game offensive rating and fourth-worst defensive rating. It was a larger discrepancy than the opening-night beatdown that the Portland Trail Blazers handed the Phoenix Suns, which led to a coach being fired three games into this campaign.
Hawks journeyman center Dewayne Dedmon looked like a Hall of Famer, scoring a career-high 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a pair of steals. Second-year Atlanta forward Taurean Prince posted a plus-38 rating, the largest in franchise history, in just 32 minutes. This is the result when one team actually tries and the other team does this:
What was that? The Kings weren’t working on a back-to-back. They were playing the final game of an East Coast road trip that had already seen a 27-point loss to the New York Knicks and an 18-point defeat at the hands of the Washington Wizards, but this was four minutes into an outing against one of the few teams that owned a worse record than Sacramento (now 3-11). That should not happen.
Yet, it only got worse.
Kings coach Dave Joerger did not call a timeout after Dedmon waltzed through his disinterested defense for a dunk, perhaps because he had already called one after the Hawks took a 9-0 lead on a third straight layup 2:38 into the game. Atlanta put a 40-spot on Sacramento in the second quarter, taking a 64-35 lead into the break. And even a horrendous halftime show wasn’t as bad as the Kings:
And some people wonder why I'm so critical of hip-hop nowadays. This might be the worst half-time show I've ever seen pic.twitter.com/vkhUNsDBnf
— David Astramskas (@redapples) November 16, 2017
The Kings dealt DeMarcus Cousins after six and a half frustrating years in a move that was supposed to signal a fresh start for a franchise mired in less-than-mediocrity since his arrival. After the trade, Hield, Skal Labissiere and others flashed just enough to make us think the Kings could be ascending.
They brought in veterans Zach Randolph, George Hill and Vince Carter to steward a ship that’s only known how to sink. This was supposed to be the culture change the Kings needed to begin laying an NBA foundation for rookies Fox, Justin Jackson and (the still injured) Harry Giles.
The Kings weren’t supposed to be great or even good this season, but to be this lackluster again has to be maddening for a franchise that is watching Cousins post MVP-caliber numbers on the New Orleans Pelicans (8-7) and seeing former coach
It’s not just that they’re bad. The Kings are used to that by now. It’s that they seem so uninspired. Or at least they looked that way on Wednesday, when Randolph — a former All-Star who built his brand on grit in eight seasons on the Memphis Grizzlies — already looked like he doesn’t want to be there:
— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) November 16, 2017
The Kings own the league’s second-worst offense (95.3 points per 100 possessions) and defense (110 allowed per 100), and somehow they’re worse on both ends with Z-Bo involved, getting outscored by a team-high 24 points per 100 possessions in his 24.4 minutes a night. And Hill hasn’t been much better.
LaBissiere, whose minus-2.9 net rating is the best among Sacramento regulars, saw just seven minutes against the Hawks and hasn’t played more than 11 since scoring a season-high 19 points on Saturday. Fox and Hield also played fewer than 21 minutes off the bench. Joerger is starting three NBA veterans and European vet Bogdan Bogdanovic around Cauley-Stein, and what do they have to show for it?
If the vets (signed for a combined $30 million next season, too) aren’t there to demonstrate the desire it takes to win in the NBA, then the team that we figured finally had a direction is rudderless again.
“We’ve got to figure out how to start competing, start being men,” Kings guard Garrett Temple said after the Hawks loss, via the Sacramento Bee. Growing up early, growing up quick and the veterans that are here, we’ve got to compete. … We’ve got to make shots, we’ve just got to play basketball.”
“We told our guys you’ve got to be ready to play because they’ll come at you, they compete and they play hard,” added Joerger. “Losing is one thing, but we have to do a much better job of competing.”
This comes after Joerger said last week following a seventh straight loss, “We are settling into, at times, where it’s OK, and it’s not OK. You’ve got to bleed for this, you’ve got to bleed for playing time, you’ve got to bleed to win.” That message worked for a spell, as the Kings beat the Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers in back-to-back home games, but they fell right back into the trap.
“You’ve got to take it, own up to it,” Hill said Wednesday night, via the Sacramento Bee’s Jason Jones. “We were awful tonight as a team. As individuals, we were awful. You can’t back down from it, we got our butt kicked and we’ve got to take it on the chin ourselves.
“We owe Sacramento, our fans better than what we’re showing them.”
There’s still time to right the ship, which doesn’t mean winning more often than not — just showing some fight. They’re working in a host of new faces and 10 players ages 25 or under, but when a team needs to be reminded to actually try multiple times in the first month of the season, that’s generally a sign that the year is headed out to sea with little hope of returning with a cooler full of keepers.
Sorry, Sacramento. It’s going to be a long December. Maybe next year will be better than the last.
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