LIGHT THE BEAM – The Rise of the Sacramento Kings

Ethan Engellau

Sports Editor

On May 5, 2006, The Sacramento Kings lost Game Six to the San Antonio Spurs, en route to a 4-2 series loss in the First Round of the Western Conference Playoffs. This season was the first for Sacramento after five-time All-Star Chris Webber’s departure. The Kings starting lineup was led by Mike Bibby accompanied by Bonzi Wells, Kenny Thomas, Brad Miller and Ron Artest. Since then, Artest has changed his name twice, Mike Bibby has transformed into a modern-day Arnold Schwarzenegger and no player on that roster has played in the NBA since Metta World Peace’s retirement in 2017. 

Sacramento has been notoriously bad during this stretch, holding the longest playoff drought in NBA history and the current longest amongst the four major American sports at 16 seasons after the MLB’s Seattle Mariners broke their streak of 20 years last season. The second longest drought is a tie between the NFL’s New York Jets and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres at 11 years each. The Kings have had 11 different head coaches in this span and have yet to finish a regular season above 40 wins. With 13 games remaining in the 2022-2023 season, Sacramento has 42 wins and currently holds a firm grasp on the second seed in the Western Conference. 

So, how did we get here? The Kings have had many players come through Sac-Town in attempts to dig them out of their hole, most notably Demarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas. The construction of the “Beam Team’s” core began in 2017 when they drafted De’Aaron Fox with the fifth pick in the draft. Fox has shown flashes of greatness and is known for his octane style of play and ability to score 20-plus points a game. In 2018, Sacramento drafted Marvin Bagley III with the second pick in the draft. A pick that disappointed from the moment it was made as the like of Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr and Trae Young were taken with the three ensuing picks, all of which are now All-Stars with Doncic and Young both taking their respective teams to the Conference Finals and Triple J on his way to a DPOY nod this season.

In 2019, Sacramento acquired former NBA Champion, Harrison Barnes from the Dallas Mavericks. A quality three-and-d wing, Barnes has proven to be a vital veteran presence. Fox had his first season of averaging 20-plus in the 2019-2020 season. Despite this, Sacramento decided to draft Point Guard Tyrese Haliburton with the 12th pick in the 2020 draft. This was a highly scrutinized decision as many were expecting Sacramento to provide Fox with an accent piece instead of competition for his position. They then repeated this act by drafting Davion Mitchell with the ninth pick in the 2021 draft and filling their roster with three young point guards, all fighting for minutes. 

During the 2021-2022 season, the crucial flaws of the Kings began to show. Bagley couldn’t stay healthy, Buddy Hield desperately wanted out, the playstyle of the three guards overlapped far too much and washed-up veterans took up the majority of the other roster spots. 

The trade deadline came around and Sacramento began to take a turn for the better, making two major moves. First, they traded Haliburton, Hield and Tristan Thompson to Indiana for three-time All Star Domantas Sabonis, Justin Holiday and Jeremy Lamb. It was beneficial for both sides as Haliburton, now with the opportunity to shine and lead a team, was named to his first All-Star Game this season. Then they sent Bagley III to Detroit in exchange for Trey Lyles. The Kings utilized the rest of the season to build the chemistry of Sabonis and Fox and rearrange their coaching staff. At the start of this season, Sacramento brought in first-time Head Coach Mike Brown, who was notoriously Steve Kerr’s right-hand man throughout the Warriors’ four championships. Sacramento drafted Keegan Murray with the fourth pick in the draft, utilized their Holiday acquisition from the Pacers trade to bring in Kevin Huerter, and signed Fox’s former college teammate, Malik Monk. The Kings’ path to success was clear: bring in young players who get buckets. 

Murray, Monk, Huerter, Barnes, Sabonis and Fox are all double-digit scorers this season, leading them to the highest scoring offense at 121 points per game and the highest offensive rating in the league at 119.2. Sacramento’s scoring prowess was on full display shortly after the All-Star Break as they bested the Los Angeles Clippers in a historical double-overtime thriller 176-175, the second highest scoring game in NBA history. Not only does this high-powered offense lead to winning, but the Kings are enjoyable to watch. Kings viewership is up 28% from 2018-2019 and the “Light the Beam” slogan, which refers to how Golden 1 Center emits a bright purple beam of light into the sky after a Kings victory,  has become a viral sensation with celebrities, such as 50 Cent showing up at the arena to do the honors. 

The Kings have clinched their first winning season since 2005-2006 and look to be on the path for continued success over the following seasons. The Kings will most likely grasp a playoff berth this week, surely sending the entire city of Sacramento into a frenzy. Harrison Barnes stated, “I think being here for over four years now and seeing the bottom—the very bottom—and to see the frustration of fans and the people in the organization, I think it’s nice to be on the other side of it”. Can the Kings win a playoff game? A playoff series? We’ll soon find out. As for me, I’m rooting for them to continue lighting the beam.

Categories: featured, Sports

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