Why Kings will be playoff ready despite perceived inexperience


The last time the Kings were in the NBA playoffs, it was May 5, 2006. They were eliminated in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs on their home court in Sacramento.

Kings fans moped out of Sleep Train Arena with heartbreak and hope, believing their favorite team would be back to make a ninth-consecutive postseason appearance the following year.

However, it took 6,172 days for the Kings to be playoff-bound again. Their 16-season playoff drought was the longest active drought in the NBA and of any U.S. major professional sports league team. But after 17 long years, the Kings officially clinched a playoff berth with their 120-80 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

Now that they’ve removed that pesky and notorious playoff drought label from their franchise and are back in the playoff conversation after nearly two decades, Sacramento’s perceived “inexperience” appears to be an issue -- and even a target -- for the rest of the league.

As the Kings currently sit in the No. 3 seed in the West with a 47-30 record, pundits around the league publicly insist teams are eyeing a first-round matchup with the Kings due to Sacramento's lack of postseason experience. These teams, according to the pundits, don’t want a first-round playoff series against the No. 1-seeded Denver Nuggets or the No. 4 Phoenix Suns. They want that No. 6 seed. They want the Kings.

The notion floating around the NBA that the Kings are inexperienced is quite bizarre, though. I get it, this is a franchise that hasn’t seen the playoffs in nearly two decades. And I understand it’s easy to connect the words “playoff drought” any and every time you’re talking about the Sacramento Kings.

But those teams that went 16 seasons without a postseason appearance are not this 2022-23 Kings team. Not even close. Still, players know what it means to rep Sacramento Kings across their chest every time they step onto the hardwood. They understand the franchise has been a laughing stock to the rest of the league for so long.

And no one understands that better than De’Aaron Fox.

The 25-year-old point guard is the longest-tenured player currently on the team. He arrived in Sacramento in 2017. It has been five seasons. Five seasons, yet somehow all he ever has been tied to was this vexing playoff drought -- one that he wasn’t even a part of for over a decade.

The focus is on the present, though, and the ensemble general manager Monte McNair and the Kings front office pieced together perfectly over the offseason. 

Let’s look at the Kings' starting five, which assumingly won’t change come playoffs. There's Domantas Sabonis, a three-time NBA All-Star who leads the league in double-doubles and has three years of playoff experience. Plus, Harrison Barnes is an NBA champion and veteran leader of this fairly young team. 

Then there’s Kevin Huerter. Other than Barnes and veteran guard Matthew Dellavedova, he’s the Kings player who has had the deepest playoff run when he was a member of the Atlanta Hawks. Huerter helped Atlanta advance to the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals after a breakout performance in a do-or-die Game 7 of the conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers. Huerter and the Hawks made it back to the playoffs in 2022 when they were eliminated in the first round by the Miami Heat. 

Keegan Murray is a rookie. But hey, the Kings have gone to the playoffs every year he has been in the league. Wink. He is as poised as they come. He broke the NBA’s rookie 3-point record last week and barely grinned. He is young, but he recognizes the unique situation he’s in and is ready to take it on full force in the playoffs. 

Last but certainly not least, Fox. Sure, Fox never has been to the playoffs before, but he has been one of the biggest reasons why the Kings are headed there now. He’s having a career year, became a first-time All-Star, is making a strong case for an All-NBA team nod and is the frontrunner for the league’s Clutch Player of the Year Award. I don’t doubt how he’ll perform on the biggest stage in basketball. 

Of the other 10 guys on the roster, seven have some sort of postseason experience. Dellavedova has played in 52 playoff games in his career, been to the NBA Finals twice and won once. 

And coach Mike Brown’s resume speaks for itself. Six Finals runs, one as a head coach and four times winning overall. 

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Together, the Kings have exceeded expectations and made history along the way. And the best part is, they’re nowhere near finished. After they clinched, there was a similar theme across the locker room: The job’s not done yet. Of course, they acknowledged the significance of the playoff berth given how important it is to the franchise and to the city. But this team isn’t just satisfied with a playoff berth. 

You can credit that discipline and culture shift to Brown, but players are listening. They’re locked in and hungry for more.

Before Fox’s second season with the Kings began, he issued a message to Sacramento fans in an emotional Players’ Tribune video that recently recirculated on social media.

“If I've learned one thing from being here, maybe it's not surprising to get overlooked or even disrespected, but we don't tolerate it,” Fox said in the video. “Sacramento, you don't ask for a lot. Just that we're all in. Like you are.

“I don't want to make any promises I can't keep, but I'll promise this: You fought for us, for this team, for this franchise and this city. And that's why we'll fight for you.” 

There will be mistakes made. Lessons learned. From purple lasers to viral Band-Aids to a historic season led by a historic offense, these Kings represent a new era. Do not dismiss them. Do not dismiss this city.

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