For pretty much my entire existence here at Sactown Royalty, the first game of the season was my best and only chance to get out in front of the eighty-two game disaster that was about to unfold before us all. It’s really just a bit of crisis management unfolding in slow motion: introduce a couple of fun storylines to focus on and distract ourselves from the inevitable, inescapable realization that the team is bad, oh so bad, and that we pay what little money we scrounge and invest those precious and non-refundable hours of our lives to witness the professional sports equivalent of standing at the water’s edge as your dog is swept out to sea in a riptide. A decade-plus of that revolving door in management, the bevvy of draft mishaps and letdowns, the complete atrophy of talent at every level of this team at one time or another - there is no more succinct or apt description of the last 13 years of Sacramento Kings basketball than when Rudy Gay branded this team as “Basketball Hell”.
And then last season happened. Sure, the Kings did what the Kings do in blowing it down the stretch. Yes, the Kings spent another another off-season firing a coach, drafting against the grain and overpaying a free agent or two. That’s easy for those who had to watch their team run through three head coaches in the same season. It’s nothing to a fanbase that has watched their best hopes for management normalcy either run to the Knicks after a month in Sacramento and later sign nine power forwards in a single off-season and then see his replacement decide to cosplay Littlefinger from Game of Thrones for an entire season. No, see now the first time in what feels like forever, the Kings start the season with a true and palpable sense of hope. Not just that fleeting gambler’s rush of optimism after a hand or two go their way, but something much more rooted and based in this crazy, terrible reality. And, even more than hope there’s now an expectation for these Sacramento Kings. They can’t surprise their fans with the same tricks as last year. Sacramento has grown accustomed to flash, now they want fire. They’ve traded in a season’s worth of moral victories and their hands are outstretched and anxious for the real thing.
The Scores are dead.
Sacramento is good and ready for The Winners.
When: Wednesday, October 22nd; 7:00 pm PST
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ
Radio: KHTK Sports 1140 AM
For Your Consideration
Ayton to Catch Up On: Let’s talk about the actual game at hand. Phoenix heads into their first match of their season with a similar feeling of having finally turned the corner on their hamster wheel of disappointment. This off-season saw them roll the dice on some very nice complimentary pieces to Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton; they signed point guard Ricky Rubio to a stack of cash, they brought in stretch forward Dario Saric to help stretch the defense and get some breathing room down low for their big man of the future, and then they re-upped Kelly Oubre Jr. to stick around for two years. Most importantly, the Suns bounced their rookie head coach from last season, Igor Kokoskov, in favor of Monty Williams. With constant rumors floating around the Phoenix locker room of in-fighting between coaches and players last season, it came as no surprise that Kokoskov got the boot, or that Monty Williams (a coach known for developing player relationships) was stuck there in his stead.
It would be easy to say that Phoenix is the same brand of ass-basketball that the Kings ran up against the last few years, but much like the Kings of a season ago, Phoenix might sneak up and surprise teams that don’t take them seriously. A starting line-up of Rubio-Booker-Oubre-Saric-Ayton shouldn’t be taken lightly. Even their bench unit is shored up a bit with the likes of guys like Tyler Johnson, Frank Kaminsky, Aron Baynes and the youngin’ Mikal Bridges. Phoenix has nine guys that can actually produce in their roles in the NBA. That being said, Outside of Rubio, can any of those guys defend for 30 minutes a night? Probably not. Can DeAndre Ayton figure out where Willie Cauley-Stein hid the voodoo doll in the Suns locker room that drains Ayton’s motivation any time he decides to give a damn? Results are murky at best. Sacramento faces a pest in game one, there is no doubt about it. This isn’t the Phoenix team of the last few seasons, expectations should be adjusted as such.
Richaun Holmes gets a coming out party and out hustles DeAndre Ayton in the same fashion he did in Phoenix last year against HeWon’t Cauley-Stein. De’Aaron Fox haunts Phoenix fans for drafting a player no longer playing in the NBA and torches Ricky Rubio the whole night through. Marvin Bagley III faces off against his former teammate in Ayton and detonates a dunk of the year candidate in the first night of the season right on top of him.
Kings:131, Phoenix: 117