Sunday Musings: New traditions in Sacramento
We all have traditions. For the Ham family, every year, we travel to two separate Thanksgiving dinners, followed by a third feast at our house on Black Friday. Football is always on, the food is always amazing and the waistline is often affected.
We typically get our Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving from a small family-run tree farm in a little town called Cedar Ridge. Strangely enough, we typically choose a tree to be cut down from the same small grouping on the backside of the lot.
As a family, we unpack box after box of ornaments. Some are precious heirlooms that have lasted for 30 years or more, and some are cheap glass balls that the little guy gets to hang without fear of breaking.
We decorate the house and prepare for a long December of festivities. This is our family tradition.
I’m sure there are plenty of Sacramento Kings fans that do something similar, but this year feels slightly different. There is something else going on that is adding to the craziness of the holidays.
For the last eight years, Kings fans have a tired holiday tradition of writing off their team and hoping for something better next season. Dating back to the 2007-08 season, the Sacramento Kings had an astonishingly bad combined record of 30-65 heading into the month of December. If you add the first 15 games of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, their record is 35-75, giving them a winning percentage of just .318.
The last time the Kings came out of November at .500 or better was during the 2009-10 season. Sacramento started 8-8 but went on to finish just 25-57. You have to go back to the 2006-07 season to find the team with a winning record (8-5) in the first full month of the season, and even then, the team finished with a losing record.
A tradition of eight straight losing seasons takes a toll on any fanbase. But it didn’t end there for Kings fans. The Maloof family added to the disappointment by adding its own tradition into the mix. Every year from 2011-2013, the family attempted to move the team. First to Anaheim, then to Virginia Beach and finally to Seattle.
It’s like Ebenezer Scrooge met the Grinch, and they bought a professional basketball team together.
But that was then, and this is now. The new Sacramento Kings ownership group, management group and coaching staff have the team off to a fast start. They are committed to Sacramento with a new arena that already has shovels in the ground, and they are committed to a better product on the floor, as well.
9-7 isn’t anything to throw a parade over. In fact, the Kings are still on the outside looking in if the playoffs were to start today. But the team is heading in a direction, and that direction is not out of Sacramento.
After a brutal schedule to start the season, there is reason for optimism. Of the 13 teams the Kings faced over their first 16 games, all but the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Minnesota Timberwolves are at .500 or better. The combined winning percentage of the teams the Kings have matched up with so far this season is .646 (128-70) and nine of the teams are in the playoffs as of today, including all eight of the Western Conference representatives.
The Kings have played 10 of their 16 games on the road, and they have only played one Eastern Conference opponent in the Chicago Bulls, who currently rank third in the East.
The schedule flops for the Kings in December, where they play 11 of 15 at Sleep Train Arena, and only five of their 14 opponents have winning records as of today. They play eight games against the Eastern Conference and the win percentage of those opponents is currently just .433 (104-136).
Two of the four road games the Kings face in December (the Warriors and Lakers) are within a bus or short plane ride. The Kings will have time to practice, sleep in their own beds and normalize their lives.
It sounds like a lot of number crunching, but the reality is that Sacramento has every opportunity to start a new tradition of winning heading into the new year. The Kings have a chance to be in the playoff discussionm and for the first time in nearly a decade, they might be buyers instead of sellers at the trade deadline.
It’s a slow process to build a winner in the NBA, but the Kings are on the right path. For the first time since 2006, they have guaranteed a winning record at the end of November. The season is long and sure to have peaks and valleys, but there is a reason to tune in each and every night.
Along with family, friends and good health, Kings fans have something else for which to be thankful. Their team is young, entertaining and in possession of a winning record. If November was fun, just wait until the Kings come out of December with a winning record. And watch the excitement grow from there.
The tradition of losing is changing in Sacramento. Put that on your list of things to be thankful for this holiday season.