Consider just how much has changed for Sacramento Kings fans since the final game of the 2012-13 season.
Most importantly, the Sacramento Kings actually still exist. In May, the NBA Board of Governors voted 22-8 to keep the team in California's capital. That vote -- a monumental coda to a years-long fan crisis -- set in motion all of the changes to come. Days later, the Maloofs agreed to sell the team to Vivek Ranadivé, an owner who, in stark contrast to those Maloofs, appears to have a clue as to how to effectively run a business. In quick succession Ranadivé hired a new coach (Michael Malone, the rare Kings hire who was actually sought after by other teams) and general manager (Pete D'Alessandro, who was Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri's No. 2 in Denver) and pushed the local arena project forward.
D'Alessandro and Malone quickly began their refresh of the Kings' basketball operations. Malone hired six assistant coaches. The Kings have long been accustomed to having three. D'Alessandro wiggled through the draft, landing Ben McLemore, a player he had considered trading up to get. When free agency hit, the Kings were -- in a twist that left most longtime Kings fans gasping for oxygen -- in the mix for a top recruit. That'd be Andre Iguodala, for whom the team would have overpaid somewhat ... if he didn't lollygag with Sacramento's offer, leading D'Alessandro to yank it. (Iguodala ended up 90 minutes down the road in Oakland.) But just being on the cusp of signing one of the summer's top free agents was a sign things had changed.
D'Alessandro eventually flipped restricted free agent Tyreke Evans for Greivis Vasquez, added Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for a future second-round pick and signed Carl Landry. Meanwhile, Malone and Ranadivé talked up DeMarcus Cousins, the incumbent star and, for better or worse, face of the franchise.
But the sum of all of that action is that the Kings still don't look like a remotely good team. And no one -- not Vivek, not Malone, not D'Alessandro -- is talking about making the playoffs this year.
That brings up a question unique to Sacramento in this moment: how much patience do fans have left?
The Kings have the league's second-longest active playoff drought, and it's a strong bet that the only one longer -- which belongs to Minnesota -- will end within the next couple years, come Hell or high snow banks. The Kings were last in the playoffs in 2005-06, and the team's last two postseason bids ended in the first round. No franchise outside of North Carolina has been more depressing over the past three years given all of the losses, the incessant relocation rumors and the almost-naked sabotage attempts by the former owners. Even the ping pong balls haven't been kind: despite being among the league's worst six teams every year since 2008-09, the Kings haven't picked higher than No. 4. (And that was when the Kings had the league's very worst record.)
It's been a bad decade. Sacramento aches for success. Can hope fill the hole? The city believes in Vivek -- he's already been granted hero status -- and the new arena project appears to be on the right path. But the Kings simply aren't ready to be good. Even if Cousins figures out what's gone wrong in his game, even if Vasquez is just what the doctor ordered, even if Mbah a Moute and Landry fit their roles flawlessly, even if McLemore lands on his feet, this team likely won't be competitive in the deep, powerful West. The honeymoon should override that.
But next year, and the year after? How long before Kings fans' impatience over losing overrides their relief at having a team to get impatient with?
That's something Ranadivé and company will need to address. There's no sense in pulling a Prokhorov out West, even if the ownership team were capable of doing so. Vivek will need to find a way to effectively communicate his on-court vision for the club while hoping the off-court developments -- specifically, the massive 17,000-person development downtown -- keep everyone feeling good about the situation.
But a few more wins from the boys in purple and black wouldn't hurt, either.
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