Sunday Musings: Learning the hard way in Sacramento

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It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for the Sacramento Kings.  A difficult couple weeks, a difficult couple of years, a difficult decade, a difficult 30 years.

There has never been a parade in Sacramento to celebrate a championship, and after eight years of atrocious, playoff-less basketball, it’s hard to remember the last time the team was actually good.

9-6 doesn’t count.  It’s a microscopic sample size.  With or without Michael Malone, this season could have come undone at any moment.  That is the delicate nature of an NBA team, especially one in rebuilding mode.

Which brings us to our first lesson that can be learned from the latest Kings meltdown.

DeMarcus Cousins is a bona fide star.  Without him, the Kings are not very good.  When Cousins went down with viral meningitis, it exposed the fact that the Kings roster wasn’t deep enough.  That’s not a knock on Ryan Hollins or Reggie Evans or Pete D’Alessandro for that matter.  It’s reality.  Without Cousins, the Kings are a 25- to 30-win team at best.  With Cousins, this team had a chance, but with the understanding that more players were needed.

Lesson two, chemistry is a strange thing.  The Oakland A’s learned the hard way last season, when they traded Yoenis Cespedes, that removing one piece to a puzzle can upset the delicate balance that exists in professional sports.  The Kings cut off the head of the snake, and the team is dying.

We can’t predict Malone’s future as an NBA head coach, but we do know a few things after watching him lead the Kings for 106 games.  First and foremost, his players love him.  He took a historically bad culture and turned it around quickly.

The idea that this was an organizational shift that improved the culture of the team is incorrect.  Look at where the team was a month ago and where it is today.  Malone integrated five new rotational players into his system during training camp and had his team winning against an incredibly tough schedule.  He had DeMarcus Cousins moving the right way, Rudy Gay back on track and the team buying into his defensive concepts.

In short, if there was a list of issues with the Sacramento Kings early in this season, Michael Malone’s name would be near the very bottom, not the top.

Lesson three has to do with communication.  You can’t let your team continuously find out game-changing information from outside sources.  If Malone wasn’t your guy, then call a team meeting and be honest.  Not the next day as media is already assembled, but before it gets out to the public.  If Tyrone Corbin is your guy, take five minutes to tell the team.  You can’t hide this type of information; it always gets out.

Lesson four is that people tune into Sacramento Kings basketball for the basketball.  There is no question that the fans appreciate that Vivek Ranadivé saved the team and that he is dropping hundreds of millions into an arena and entertainment district.

But you had a winning basketball team and now you don’t.  There was hope that something was building and now there is none.  Ranadivé himself said that the season was about wins and losses and now it’s clearly not.  The NBA is a “what have you done for me lately” business.  Malone knew that.  The players understand that.  And now management does as well.

Fans are grateful that the team stayed in Sacramento, but that is so last year.  They are also excited that a new arena is under construction, but it’s 22 months away from being finished.  What was here and now isn’t was a winning team, and now the Kings are spiraling downward.

Lesson five is that Kings fans are passionate and loyal.  They make their opinions known, which is why Kevin Johnson felt like he had the political backing to try and save this team in the first place.  You take that passion away and you have nothing.

The franchise could argue this point, but it messed up, and the fans are calling out management for its mistake.  That doesn’t mean that the fans don’t still love this team, just that they feel betrayed, in a similar way that the players do.

Ranadivé is learning the NBA ownership game the hard way.  He is using trial and error to learn the ropes.  And it’s pretty clear from the happenings of the last few weeks that he has yet to get a feel for the people of Sacramento.

The folks that fought to keep the Kings are the same ones that are freaking out on the franchise now.  They are also the same fans that came to the defense of their owner late this week when Peter Vecsey called Vivek “Aladdin Ranadivé.”

It may sound confusing, but in reality, it’s pretty simple.  This isn’t the Bay Area or Los Angeles.  Folks aren’t coming to a game because they want to be seen.  They don’t turn on the televisions because the team is good or bad.  Kings fans wear their fandom like a badge of courage, and that is very difficult for an outsider to understand.

Hopefully Ranadivé is keeping a journal handy and writing down a few of the “do’s and don’ts” that he has already encountered.  Just to recap, DeMarcus Cousins is a star.  Chemistry is key and so is communication.  Basketball is king in Sacramento and the fans are going to voice their opinion, because that is who they are.

There are solutions to all of these issues, but before someone jumps to fixing a problem, they should understand the mistakes that were made so history doesn’t repeat itself.

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About: James Ham

James Ham is the senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news since 2010. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also contributes to ESPN.com and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".