The new arena in Sacramento was a hit. The play on the court was just more of the same disappointment that has plagued the Kings for more than a decade.
The move to the Golden One Center did little to change the fortunes of the Kings, who finished their 11th straight season without a playoff berth, going 32-50 to finish 12th in the Western Conference.
After the arena opening that was the final step in keeping the team in California’s capital city after years of talk of possible moves, the most noteworthy event in the first season under coach Dave Joerger was the February trade of star center DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans.
That ended Sacramento’s slim playoff hopes and signaled a new direction for a team that last made the postseason in 2006.
“The last 20 games, our kids improved so much and we want to continue to do that,” general manager Vlade Divac said.
The Kings now will look to build around a core led by young players like Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and Buddy Hield in hopes of developing a team worthy of the fancy new digs.
“We have great fans here,” Labissiere said. “Once we start winning it’s going to get even crazier. So it’s all about us making the most out it, and then go into the summer working individually and as a team to get better for next season.”
Here are some other takeaways from the season
REPLACING BOOGIE: The Kings finally cut ties with Cousins in February after deciding his temper and difficult attitude outweighed his stardom on the court. Hield, one of the key players acquired in the deal, played much better after arriving in Sacramento and was named the league’s top rookie in March. Sacramento hopes he can be a building piece for the future.
“I just want to get better all-around and be more explosive,” Hield said. “I want to develop where I want to be like James Harden and how he handles the ball dribbling. I want to be able to do all of that, be more of an efficient scorer, get to the foul line more, and get my body strong so I can be explosive around the rim.”
BIG GUYS: The Cousins trade also gave more opportunities to Cauley-Stein and Labissiere and they made the most of it. Cauley-Stein averaged 12.9 points and 8.1 rebounds after the trade, more than doubling his scoring average and tripling his rebounding totals.
Labissiere played just eight games before Cousins left but averaged 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds over the final 25 games.
GAY’S STATUS: The Kings lost second-leading scorer Rudy Gay to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in January. Gay now has a big decision to make this offseason on whether to exercise a $14.3 million player option or become a free agent. Gay is expected to be ready for the start of next season but might have a hard time getting a big contract this summer with questions about his health. So he could choose to return on the one-year deal.
“I’m not even sure to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s one thing at a time. I think I’ve been doing well just worrying about my injury. I’m going to stick with that and let the people I pay to handle that handle it.”
LOTTERY LUCK: The Kings should have two first-round picks barring something crazy happening in the lottery. Their own pick is currently slated for eighth and they would only lose it to Chicago if three teams below them jump into the top three. If the Kings jump up and move ahead of Philadelphia, they would have to switch picks with the 76ers. Sacramento also has the Pelicans’ pick, which is currently in the 10th slot. New Orleans will keep the pick if it moves into the top three.
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