SACRAMENTO — Vivek Ranadive had seen enough.
Late Wednesday night, as Sacramento Kings fans stormed out of Sleep Train Arena after a 110-105 loss to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, the owner who has spent recent years picking all the wrong rebuilding paths was in the parking lot faster than you can say “DeMarcus Cousins trade.” If his Kings history repeated itself on the roadways, there’s a good chance he got lost on his way home.
This much we know for sure: The Kings (12-20) now find themselves at a crucial fork in the road — again.
Every time they hit a new low, the key question of Cousins and whether or not he’s the right guy to build around comes rushing back to center stage. This latest Kings saga arises because of this brutal stretch, one that started with a home loss to Portland on Sunday night in which the Blazers didn’t have Damian Lillard, continued in a road rout by the Golden State Warriors in which Cousins was ejected for arguing with officials while the Kings had a two-point lead in the third quarter, and continued with the Sixers loss that included boos from some of the league’s most loyal fans.
All of this, mind you, came from a team that entered play with a unique and seemingly special opportunity: Having not qualified for the postseason since 2006, and with all the business-side pressure to sell tickets that comes with the opening of a new downtown arena next season, they were just two games out of playoff position because of the watered down Western Conference.
If that sort of silliness doesn’t get Ranadive and vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac weighing all options regarding their uncertain future leading up to the Feb. 19 trade deadline, then nothing will. The Cousins quandary aside, the Kings’ awful defense alone demands a roster move or three. They are currently 26th in defensive rating (105.3 points allowed per 100 possessions, up slightly from their 27th ranking last season at 106.5). Even a worn and weary coach George Karl seemed to intimate that much afterward, when he found a variety of ways to say the same thing: The Kings should be ashamed.
“My thought, and I told the team my thought, is inconsistent intensity, inconsistent focus, inconsistent toughness and mental discipline,” Karl said. “Too many times we’ve come out on this court and we’ve been the quiet team, or the soft team, or the cool team, and not the man team.
“It’s just, I like so many things about this team, and nights like tonight, it hurts. One of my favorite quotes in life is, ‘Everybody goes through life and has to eat some humble pie,’ and tonight we have to eat some humble pie. … My feeling is we have too many offensive players. We don’t have enough guts to make stops.”
Something has to give here, and the harsh truth about the most popular strategy in times like these — a coaching change — is that the Kings have tried and failed four times with five different coaches to find their way on that particular road. From Paul Westphal to Keith Smart to Michael Malone to Tyrone Corbin and the future Hall of Famer in Karl, they have yet to win 30 games in a season with Cousins as the centerpiece in these past five years (good news, Kings fans, they’re currently on track for 30 wins).
But Cousins’ talent is so tantalizing, even in times like these that qualify as terrible. At last tally, he’s the only player in the league averaging at least 24 points and 10 rebounds per game (24.1 and 10.3, respectively, with New Orleans’ Anthony Davis close behind at 23.5 points and 10.9 rebounds per game).
Look a little closer, though, and it becomes clear that the Karl-Cousins fit has X’s and O’s issues that aren’t easily solved. With Karl pushing the pace at a league-high level (102.1 possessions per game, up from 97.9 last season), Cousins’ field-goal percentage has dipped (46.7% overall last season to a career-low 41.8%) and his hot start beyond the arc this season has slowed (29.5% from three-point range while averaging a career-high 3.7 attempts per game).
With Ranadive at the wheel and the heater stuck on full blast, this slope is getting more slippery by the day.
Follow Sam Amick on Twitter @sam_amick.
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