When the Kings added veteran big man Hassan Whiteside this offseason, a radio host in Sacramento made the argument that it was the best free agent signing in franchise history. Whether that's true or not is up for some debate, but the fact that it's a valid question tells you all you need to know about the Kings, both now and over the past decade-plus.
It's been 14 seasons without a playoff appearance for the Kings -- the longest such drought in the league -- and barring some sort of miracle, this group won't be putting it to an end. They simply don't have enough talent in a loaded Western Conference.
That being said, it isn't all gloom and despair in Sacramento. They brought an end to the disastrous Vlade Divac era, hiring Monte McNair from the Rockets as their new GM, signed De'Aaron Fox to a max extension and drafted Tyrese Haliburton. And, unlike previous offseasons, didn't make any egregious errors.
Taking the temperature
Kings believer: This isn't a playoff team, but at least they know it and have turned the page on the Vlade Divac nostalgia. McNair is an experienced executive who spent years working alongside one of the profession's best in Daryl Morey, and not only knows how to run a front office, but has a clear vision for how he wants to build the team around De'Aaron Fox.
"I think De'Aaron is certainly a great young talent," McNair said during his introductory press conference. "And I think his speed ability offensively to create really is going to be a huge catalyst for how coach [Luke] Walton and I envision this team being up-tempo, creating the space to shoot 3s and attack the rim."
With Marvin Bagley III healthy, and the addition of Haliburton, the Kings could put together some really fast and athletic lineups. And even with the loss of Bogdan Bogdanovic, they have enough shooting -- they were just a few percentage points away from being a top-10 3-point team last season -- to space the floor and potentially have an exciting offense.
Kings skeptic: If there's a shared vision for the future, then why did they retain Luke Walton as head coach? He wasn't hired by this front office, reportedly clashed with and lost the trust of Buddy Hield, and last season made a sharp turn away from the fast-paced style McNair is envisioning.
After an encouraging 2018-19 campaign, in which they finished ninth in the West, the Kings took a step back under Walton. It was an uninspiring first year in charge, not only because of the result, but because of quotes like this one from Fox after a loss in the bubble, where he suggests the team had been lost for much of the season.
"I think there were times where we knew where everything was coming from. And then tonight, with the Rockets, when they're playing like that, we need to know what we're going to do and I don't think we did that tonight. I think that was the case for a lot of games this year."
Obviously no owner wants to be paying two coaches at once, but it seems pretty clear they made a mistake with Walton. Instead of bringing him back, they should have wiped the slate completely clean this offseason and let McNair pick a new coach. Now, they'll once again be straddling two different regimes, which usually doesn't work out well.
Kings believer: Fox is the real deal, and only getting better. That's why the Kings gave him a max extension, and why he finished second in the annual GM survey for the player most likely to have a breakout season. He's electric with the ball in his hands, able to blow by defenders at will, both in the halfcourt and on the fastbreak. And because of his quickness and athleticism, it doesn't really matter that his outside shooting is still suspect, to say the least. On the other end of the floor, he's an aggressive perimeter defender who can put plenty of pressure on opposing point guards.
There are all sorts of challenges to building a winning basketball team, but finding that first piece, the cornerstone you can build around, is arguably the toughest. The Kings have one in Fox, and with the right pieces around him, there's a blueprint toward success.
Kings skeptic: Sure, it's great that the Kings have someone who can be their face of the franchise, but it wasn't all that long ago that they had another one in DeMarcus Cousins. And look how that turned out. Fox is a future All-Star, and could easily be an All-NBA guy at some point in his career. But unless you're a top-five player, an MVP candidate, you can't turn a franchise around by yourself.
Finding a star and convincing them to stay is great, but it's only the first step of the process, and the Kings have consistently stumbled when they try to move forward. A new GM is cool, but they've had a bunch of new GMs in the past decade and what has that gotten them? We know how things go in Sacramento: one step forward, one or two steps back. Why will it be any different this time?
Eye on: Tyrese Haliburton
Seen as a potential top-five pick heading into the draft, Haliburton fell all the way to the Kings at No. 12, which, let him and his camp tell it, was by design. Whether he really did engineer the move, or was just trying to save face after falling further than expected, the end result is the same for the Kings: They got perhaps the steal of the draft.
Haliburton isn't flashy, and he certainly isn't conventional, but he'll do a little bit of everything, and do it well. He's a fun and creative passer, can shoot it well from 3-point land, and will make an impact on the defensive end, as he's already shown throughout the preseason. Especially with such a wide-open field, it would not be a surprise at all if Haliburton ends up in the Rookie of the Year conversation.