In the past 14 years, the Los Angeles Kings made the NHL playoffs seven times, the Clinton LumberKings made the Minor League Baseball playoffs eight times and 13 new kings assumed their positions atop monarchical governments across the globe. Also included in that time period: the Sacramento Kings never making the NBA playoffs.
For more than a decade, the Sacramento Kings have been a symbol of ineptitude in the NBA. Entering the 2019-20 season, they had missed the playoffs 13 years in a row. With the Trail Blazers’ win over the 76ers on Aug. 9, the Kings have mathematically been eliminated from playoff contention yet again. Their now 14-year postseason drought is by far the longest active streak among NBA teams and the second-longest such streak of all time, trailing only the Clippers’ 15-year drought in the ’70s and ’80s.
The NBA invites a higher percentage of its teams to the postseason — 16 out of 30 total — than any other major American sports league does. But partly because of poor drafting and on-court mediocrity, the Kings have fallen short year after year.
To make matters worse, pressure to move the team out of Sacramento seems ever-present. NBA owners even held a vote on the team’s possible relocation to Seattle in 2013.
One would think that as the years go by, the pain of constant loss would dull as expectations gradually fall, but for many Kings fans, this season hurts the most. In the 2018-19 season, the Kings won 39 games — their most in the last 13 years. Their young point guard, De’Aaron Fox, continued to develop into a borderline all-star, leading the team to the fifth-highest possessions per game in the league. And with promising young talent in Bogdan Bogdanović and Marvin Bagley III, it seemed like the Kings could only get better.
This was not the case.
Contract negotiations with key players Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield plagued the offseason and left the Kings with no cap space to bring in new players. Sexual assault allegations against coach Luke Walton brought the team and players into a negative spotlight. Early injuries to Bagley and others left Walton scrambling to assemble a competent starting five, and Hield’s inconsistent performance landed him on the bench to start games.
Put all this together and you get Sacramento home crowds booing the Kings, players publicly complaining about “trust issues” and a 15-28 start. Hope was almost lost, but then the team rounded into form and won 13 of its next 21 games before a March 11 bout with the Pelicans was suspended (along with the entire NBA season).
The team finished that stretch playing objectively very well. When the plan for the NBA bubble was announced and Sacramento was included among the teams to be invited, Kings fans allowed themselves to hope for a playoff run.
Unfortunately, despite stellar performances from Fox and Bogdanović, the Kings lost four of their first five bubble games and were swiftly eliminated from playoff contention.
On the bright side, there were no in-person fans to boo the team.
The sounds of the fake crowd, pumped into the court via speakers, never died down as the real fans shown through video calls slouched back in their home couches to watch their team do what it’s done best since 2006 — fall short of the playoffs.
As always, next year represents a fresh start. Whatever the NBA looks like in the 2020-21 season, the Kings can expect their young star Fox to develop as a shooter and decision-maker when driving to the hoop. They can also look forward to a hopefully healthy Bagley finally putting together a full season, and they may even snatch a top pick in the 2020 draft.
There is reason to hope that this 14th year without playoffs in Sacramento will be the last, but for now, the drought continues. The Kings will be leaving the Disney World bubble empty-handed to watch the postseason from the outside.
Maybe the Kings’ absence from the playoffs will provide a comforting sense of normalcy to an NBA season that has been anything but normal.