Sacramento Kings: How Did They Go from Elite Contender To Cellar Dweller?

David SpohnCorrespondent IMarch 22, 2011

Many fans believe the Sacramento Kings began their descent towards the bottom of the standings when Rick Adelman was let go.
Many fans believe the Sacramento Kings began their descent towards the bottom of the standings when Rick Adelman was let go.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

On the eve of a humbling 40-point drubbing at the United Center Monday night, the Sacramento Kings now limp along at a humiliating 17-52 record, second worst in the NBA

One year prior, they won just 25 contests. The year before that, a league-worst 17 victories.

The point is: it has been a while since this organization has been relevant.

Hardcore and casual fans alike can easily recall the glory days of Sacramento basketball, a fruitful 5-6 year run that consistently featured Peja Stojakovic swishing threes, Mike Bibby sinking clutch jumpers, Chris Webber racking up triple-doubles and ARCO Arena rocking like no other home venue in the league.

Those same fans would have a difficult time pinpointing precisely how and when the Kings experienced such a substantial fall from grace.

The reality is, it was a gradual process that landed Sacramento in the perpetual mediocrity they've been spinning their tires in since 2006.

The reasons are plenty. It's no coincidence that during that eight-year stretch of superb play, including one trip to the Western Conference Finals and having the best record in the NBA, Rick Adelman was the coach.

In the 26 years the Kings have been in Sacramento, they have made the playoffs a mere 10 times. Eight of those were under coach Adelman's guidance.

At the conclusion of their 2005 playoff loss to the Seattle SuperSonics, the Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof were very disappointed in the feeble defensive effort put forth by the team and speculation ran rampant that Rick Adelman would be the fall guy for a unit that was dispatched rather quickly.

That playoff series would prove to be the last straw for Adelman, a coach who has been vastly underappreciated for the duration of his career.

Under Adelman, the Kings enjoyed a 395-229 record and were legitimate NBA title contenders for at least three of those seasons. Since Adelman's departure, the Kings record is a miserable 130-266.

They'll never admit it publicly, but the decision to not bring back Adelman is easily the Maloofs' biggest mistake since purchasing the club in 1999.

The Kings wouldn't be a playoff team this year with coach Adelman still in tow, but they would be more competitive, they would have an identity, and Adelman would get every ounce out of his roster.

Rick landed on his feet in Houston and has the Rockets performing admirably year after year.

Despite a roster that has been rocked by a tremendous amount of injuries, including franchise icon Yao Ming out for the season, Adelman incredibly has the Rockets poised to make a surprising playoff run this year in a very competitive Western Conference.

When Webber blew out his right knee in the 2002-03 playoffs, just one year after signing a gargantuan 7 year, $123 million contract, it crippled Webber as well as the Kings.

To be quite frank, the franchise just recently recovered from the salary cap hell that ensued with Webber's enormous cap number. They were able to trade him away for three irrelevant players, but it did little to alleviate the salary cap pressure.

Despite the fact he was traded, the reality is ownership still paid the $123 million in salary, it was just paid to Brian Skinner, Corliss Williamson and Kenny Thomas rather than the perennial All-Star, Chris Webber.

Hard to compete when such a tremendous percentage of your salary is tied up on bottom-feeding talent.

Most teams could cry foul about injuries until they're blue in the face, but Webber was just 29 years old when he suffered the devastating ailment.

He still figured to be a long-term fixture for a club that had won 61 and 59 games the two previous seasons, but that hope was cut short prematurely. The Kings haven't come close to duplicating the success they enjoyed with a healthy Chris Webber. 

Sacramento has dealt away a laundry list of its finest players over the last several years, and I would argue this is the single biggest reason behind the recent failures of the team.

Chris Webber as previously mentioned, Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu, Doug Christie, Mike Bibby, Brad Miller, Ron Artest, John Salmons and Kevin Martin were all dealt for what would amount to pennies on the dollar.

The NBA, perhaps more than any other sport, is all about how good your personnel is. Coaching plays a minor role in determining a team's success, but the old saying certainly applies. 'It's not about the X's and O's, it's the Jimmy's and Joe's.'

Translation? If you don't have the talent, you're not going to compete for much more than bouncing lottery balls.

The Kings' talent level has seen such a sizable drop off from their glory days to present day that it isn't inconceivable to think their bench unit was better than the current starting five.

The harsh reality of professional sports is that it is almost impossible to stay competitive every year. With 30 different teams to compete with, free agency and the general cut throat nature of the business, all franchises have periods of time where they aren't in contention for a championship.

Even the best-run organizations, like the Lakers, Spurs, and Celtics, have down years where they are forced to retool.

For years, the salary cap figure hovered around the middle of the league as the Kings signed meaningless players like Mikki Moore and Beno Udrih to long term contracts, thus tying up valuable cap space and rendering the team stuck in neutral when they so clearly needed to reverse course and start over.

But the Kings have been in the process of rebuilding because they never properly gutted the team. Rather than starting from scratch, the Maloofs attempted to Band-Aid Titanic-sized holes on the team with mid-level, stop gap solutions.

The Maloofs have seemingly learned from their mistakes and have adopted the philosophy of rebuilding through the draft.

Strong draft classes in each of the last three seasons has yielded the services of Jason Thompson, Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi and DeMarcus Cousins.

With each of these players under the age of 24, the framework for a solid ball club is in place. It is this young nucleus, along with another very high draft choice in 2011, which hopes to finally put this Kings franchise back into the NBA's spotlight.