The Sacramento Kings—the NBA’s most laughable franchise and, by ESPN’s estimation, the most miserable team in pro sports—finally had a good season. They didn’t make the playoffs, but they finished 39-43, a 12-win improvement over the previous season. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield took big steps up, the rest of the roster coalesced into place around them, and rookie Marvin Bagley proved to be both exciting and very good, a relief after the team inexplicably passed on Luka Dončić.
Naturally, that means they just fired their coach and are in the process of completely cleaning house.
This morning’s purge was preceded by tragically shortsighted owner Vivek Ranadive giving a four-year contract extension to GM Vlade Divac, who is the architect of one of the most catastrophic trades of all time. Divac is clearly receiving credit for the team’s improvement, and as Woj put it, he’s using his newfound leverage to consolidate power around him. Firing conspiratorial assistant GM Brandon Williams is a wise decision, though getting rid of Joerger is characteristically puzzling. Or, to put it more directly, it’s in line with the same dumb shit Divac has always done.
Despite improving the team by a dozen wins, installing one of the most exciting play styles in the NBA, and helping turn Fox into a budding star, Joerger is out on his ass because the Kings fell apart after the all-star break, finishing 9-16 despite a trade deadline deal for Harrison Barnes that theoretically should have improved the team. The Kings’ push to finish .500 for the first time in 13 seasons was undone at the last minute when they dropped a pair of ugly games against the Pelicans and Trail Blazers, both of whom were resting every player worth a damn.
Sure, maybe some of that is on Joerger. The defense dipped for dangerous stretches of time, and his stubborn insistence on starting Nemanja Bjelica over the clearly superior Bagley rankled Kings fans, Bagley’s dad (who spent literally all season yelling at Joerger online), and Divac. The Kings were sunk when they went 3-9 through the hardest chunk of their late-season schedule, dropping heartbreakers to Denver, Golden State, Boston, and Milwaukee by a combined seven points, while the Clippers and Spurs stopped losing. When Bagley went down late in that brutal Bucks loss and was forced to miss two weeks, the dream of making the eighth seed was dead in the water.
Firing Joerger for all that both misappropriates the blame and fails to account for his role in the team’s early-season successes. For the first time in over a decade, the Kings played vaguely harmonious basketball and looked like they had fun doing it. Buddy Hield became a legitimate three-point threat while also rounding his game out better than anyone projected. Harry Giles finally got his career started and looked good enough to possibly make Willie Cauley-Stein superfluous. Bogdan Bogdanovic built on a good rookie year and hit one of the best shots of the season. Bagley could be a 20-10 guy next year. The hardest needle to thread for an NBA coach is developing young players while also winning, and Joerger excelled this season.
Thus, out of all the lottery-level teams in the NBA, the Kings were least in need of a serious shake-up. Plenty of franchises would swap positions with the team in a heartbeat, and the only priority for the next few seasons should have been protecting and nurturing the young core. Instead, Bagley and Fox have learned their first lesson on what a bafflingly impulsive organization the Kings are.
Maybe Luke Walton, Ettore Messina, or Monty Williams will do a better job with the team. Joerger wasn’t perfect, and the Kings could benefit from a more defensively inclined coach. The problem is that the possibility of small improvement isn’t worth risking the development and stability of the team’s young stars. Divac has given himself the wholly unnecessary challenge of rebuilding the entire front office and coaching staff because apparently waiting is too hard.
If there’s a tiny silver lining here, it’s that Divac at least doesn’t have a draft pick to screw up this year, because he gave it up to acquire cap space, which was then used by Monta Ellis and Wes Matthews as leverage to sign better deals elsewhere. Kings fans should still prepare for him to give Harrison Barnes $200 million.