Teams in the NBA are quick to move on from players, even those who are productive, if they cannot immediately produce basketball that is not only good but great enough to create a lot of wins. That's what makes Sacramento Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox an anomaly.
Heading into the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2006, Sacramento enters as the Western Conference's three-seed competitive standings. Initially projected by many to miss the playoffs entirely, Sacramento is now set to face off against their in-state rivals, the Golden State Warriors, in the first round. To say the Kings have turned things around quickly is an understatement, but it's also been building for a long time coming.
The Kings Reclaim Their Throne
One of the biggest surprises of the season, the Kings have been led by their once-top pick in the draft. Fox, a 25-year-old star from the Kentucky Wildcats, was drafted fifth overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. Fox made his first All-Star team this year and has averaged at least 20 points per game the last three seasons prior. Shooting an efficient 51.2% from the floor, Fox is developing his talent to become one of the newest elite guards in his conference.
Dispersing the talent, Sacramento has surrounded Fox with a mix of veterans and younger, emerging players. The list includes All-Star center Domantas Sabonis, former Golden State Warrior Harrison Barnes, and sharpshooters Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray, among others. All in all, the roster has come together under NBA Coach of the Year Mike Brown in a tremendous way, but there was plenty of reason not think so if you were using the past to predict the present.
Sacramento has not made the playoffs in several seasons, last reaching the postseason in 2006 — only to lose in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs. Additionally, since drafting Fox, Sacramento has never reached even 40 wins in a season until this year, when they finished the regular season with 48 wins.
With no reason to be patient, the Kings are fortunate to have held onto the core that starts with Fox. Without it, there would be no path to winning at the level they are now. Yet, teams in the past have often moved on from stars who don't immediately succeed early, blowing up chances that things could ever work out.
Sacramento's Success is Built on Internal Growth, Not Outside Acquisitions
For all of the times that teams have moved on from players, the history of the league indicates that the most patient teams have put together the best runs of success. While there is absolutely no guarantee that the Kings will turn into either, two of the greatest dynasties were built off years of failure.
Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls didn't win a championship until Jordan's seventh season in the league. The team would win a total of six with Jordan after they finally put the other pieces, such as Scottie Pippen and coach Phil Jackson, around the star shooting guard.
In recent years, the Golden State Warriors have taken over the league with a star pairing of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Drafting Curry in 2009, the Warriors didn't win a championship until 2015. Golden State had to wait until the supplemental pieces arrived and coach Steve Kerr was on board and directing one of the greatest offenses of all time.
Even teams that have not turned into recent dynasties have benefited from not making impulsive decisions. The Milwaukee Bucks were able to win a title after coming up short with star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo in the seven prior seasons. The Boston Celtics are currently among the biggest title favorites and may finally break through to win a title with St. Louis native Jayson Tatum and company after losing in four straight conference finals from 2017 to 2021.
Things do not always come together in an instant, but there is more impatience than ever in the league.
Big demands and trades have left teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers franchise in a constant chaos. The Clippers, the crosstown rival, have experienced the same struggle as the team has failed to earn a championship after the big swing to get both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the summer of 2019.
The East's most unpredictable team, the Brooklyn Nets, made a big splash in acquiring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and D.J. White from the Boston Celtics in 2013. Selling the farm while doing so, the Nets were mocked for the trade but only seemed to make the same mistake while trying to put together a super team out of thin air in recent years. Acquiring Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, the Nets learned that plucking players developed outside of the draft doesn't always make championships.
All in all, basketball is a game run by the stars. The best players create all the championships. Certain stars, such as LeBron James, can change franchises and still win rings in each new location. Still, most teams are best equipped to find good players in the draft, build around them and wait until the iron is hot to strike. There was a lot of reason to give up on the experiment early, but the Sacramento Kings seem to be the league's newest team to follow the formula. If all continues to go well, Sacramento may finally find itself in a situation to contend for a title.
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