Because of the NBA chaos that ensued within a global pandemic fog, it went unnoticed for a tiny portion of time. At the start of the 2020-21 season, it flickered in the hearts of Sacramento Kings fans like some starving revenant who was long thought to be dead after sticking their entire head inside a garbage disposal on a whimsical dare. The hope. That hope from over a decade ago. That mind numbingly glorious hope.
Did it come in the form of Rookie of the Year finalist Tyrese Haliburton?
How about De’Aaron Fox?
Or did it come in a staggering sliver of competence from a paterfamilias who peaked at the starting line of his own career in the bay?
(Hint, it’s the first three.)
However, head coach Luke Walton did manage to pull off something quite remarkable during his bloated corpse of a 31-41 sophomore season (same Looking Glass mirror record from last season, look at that): He somehow managed convince not only his players, but a small group of the media to suspend disbelief this season.
“For the sake of enjoyment”
For those not aware of what “suspended disbelief” is, it’s the intentional avoidance of logic when looking at a fictional situation in order to actually enjoy it. Like when reading “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” one decides not to analytically rip it to shreds because there is no possible universe where a rabbit would keep checking his pocket watch and fret obnoxiously about being late.
Naysayers of Walton tend to lean more toward the analytical side of things, their distaste over punctilious actions the man, with his mask shielding his chin from COVID, made during the past season.
A portion of the media and those choosing the path of suspended disbelief are peaking at the paper and marveling at the fact that Walton is standing behind the shadow of Rick Adelman in terms of win percentage, breathing hot air into an apparition’s ear.
Sure, let’s ignore that pocket watch and button up vest a white rabbit is sporting!
Ignore those two nine-game losing streaks!
Ignore the fact that croquet is being played with flamingos and hedgehogs, something that is clearly animal abuse!
Ignore the fact that the Kings finished 30th in the league in defensive rating!
“Everybody wants to continue to grow together and keep this group together,” Fox said to the media following the lackluster season. “And continue to play for a coach that you believe in.”
Ignore it all.
“Luke and I talk every day, we have a great working relationship – he’s got the support of the players,” general manager Monte McNair said. “We found some success, especially late in the season to get back into the play-in race. And I felt that we could build on that, and that he’s the coach who’s going to get us back in the playoffs.”
The psychological mind bend which occurs to those who swoon over Walton since the moment he stepped into Dave Joerger’s shoes often feels like something similar to suspended disbelief because of the painted pony carousel of head coaches that were paraded in since Adelman (10 – there were 10 of them. That’s two hands).
The stability has been non-existent, so the disbelief is put on hold, logic ignored, and over the course of time, the players come to sympathize with the man in charge as a way to cope with the trauma of the situation – that traumatic situation being they’re playing for a franchise that has the longest active playoff drought in the NBA.
Nagging injuries played a part in the overall picture this season especially during those nine-game losing streaks, but Walton still holds a significant portion of the blame because, well, it’s his team. He’s the one moving the pieces around the board. He’s the rabbit with a pocket watch leading everyone down the rabbit hole into some fever dream.
And it looks like it will continue into next season.