Sacramento Kings: 10 Biggest What-Ifs From the Past 10 Seasons
The last 10 seasons for the Sacramento Kings saw the best of times, and it saw the worst of times. It saw the franchise's most successful season (2001-2002 with a 61-21 record) and its most dismal (2008-2009 with a 17-65 record).
The last 10 seasons saw a franchise grow and nearly get to the top of the NBA mountain, only to stumble and trip all the way down. It saw some of the greatest players to wear a Sacramento jersey, and it saw some of the worst.
And with the NBA lockout in full swing, there seems little to discuss but the past.
Certainly in the last 10 years for the Kings, there were hundreds of moments that helped shape the team, but for now, lets consider 10 of the biggest "what if" changes in that span.
What If Chris Webber Didn’t Become an Alienating Force in 2004?
In the beginning of the 2003-2004 season, Chris Webber was still recuperating from a knee injury suffered in the 2003 playoffs. With Webber off the court and Vlade Divac finally feeling the effects of time, the Kings traded for center Brad Miller from Indiana.
The chemistry that developed through the first three months of the season was immeasurable, and the Kings held a league-leading 37-13 record going into the All-Star Break. Peja Stojakavic had emerged as an MVP candidate and the Kings were arguably the best team in basketball.
Webber returned on March 2 with the Kings' record at 42-15, and expectations on the team grew even higher. But Webber struggled, the chemistry began to boil away and the Kings went a paltry 13-12 down the stretch.
Much of the blame for the shift in fortunes has to go to Webber.
It was evident he'd come back too quickly, but he also wasn't the same player he'd been before the injury—he averaged 18.7 points, 8.7 boards and 4.6 assists per game on a dreadful and career-low 41 percent from the field.
The Kings seemed to get back on track when they easily dispatched the Dallas Mavericks in five games in the first round, but the team fell to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second round in seven games.
While Webber certainly shouldn't bear all the weight of responsibility for the collapse, he was the driving force. He demanded his starting spot back and possibly destroyed what had been an exceptionally fluid offense.
Rumors of a rift between Webber and Peja sprang up that offseason, and the Kings lost Divac in free agency that summer. The team was never the same after that 2004 run.
What if Webber had come back and accepted he couldn't be the star anymore?
If he'd come off the bench—at least to begin with—and accepted he was a second or even third option in the offense, the Kings may not have struggled as mightily as they did.
It's probable that without the suddenly inefficient offense, the Kings may have maintained home court advantage for the playoffs and might have been able to make a greater push for a championship.
Webber will be remembered as the greatest Sacramento King, but if he'd just handled his return in 2004 a bit better, the team may not have suffered as much.
What If the Mike Bibby-Jason Williams Swap Had Never Gone Down?
Sacramento got a steal in the offseason of 2001 when they sent Jason Williams to the Memphis Grizzlies for Mike Bibby.
Bibby was easily the best player for the Kings in their classic 2002 series against the Lakers, and for many seasons he remained the most constant King.
But a lot of the Sacramento fanbase, at the time of the trade, were furious that the Kings gave up on Williams, who was one of the most exciting players in the league.
What if the trade had never gone down?
Bibby was more than just an efficient offensive player. Certainly, he was never a floor general in the normal sense, as he played alongside such passing bigs as Vlade Divac, Chris Webber and eventually Brad Miller.
But Bibby was the most consistent King, able to pick up his game and defer to others as needed. He was also easily one of the most clutch players in Sacramento history.
Jason Williams was always flashy, but as his time with Memphis showed, he was never consistent or efficient. He retired with a career shooting percentage of 39 percent.
Without Bibby, the Kings wouldn't have even been a threat to the Lakers in the 2002 series and the greatest Kings teams of yore would never have been been quite so great.
What If Kevin Johnson Hadn’t Become Sacramento’s Mayor?
What If Kevin Johnson Hadn’t Become Sacramento’s Mayor?
If Johnson hadn’t been elected in 2008, the Sacramento Kings would now be the Anaheim Royals.
Weeks removed from saying he expected the Kings to relocate and saying it felt "like a slow death," Johnson strolled into the NBA Board of Governors meeting and presented Sacramento's case.
He showed over $10 million worth of untapped advertising, told the board that Sacramento was working with the Taylor/Icon group on getting an arena feasibility study, and presented a billionaire investor named Ron Burkle, who was interested in keeping the Kings in Sacramento.
While we'll never know exactly how it all went down, somehow the Kings stayed in Sacramento. What looked like a done deal became suddenly a one last chance.
Now, Johnson and his staff in Sacramento are moving forward with plans for a new sports and entertainment complex with hopes they can get a full plan completed before March 1 of next year.
The Kings say without an arena deal in place, they will seek relocation again.
But it would have been already over without Johnson.
What If Bonzi Wells Had Taken the Kings' $36 Million Five-Year Offer?
After coming over in an offseason trade in 2005, Bonzi Wells had a very good 2005-2006 season where he averaged 13.6 points, nearly eight rebounds and two steals a contest while shooting 46 percent from the field.
In the six-game first round series against the Spurs, however, he was absolutely incredible. He averaged 23 points and 12 rebounds while shooting an absurd 60 percent.
That performance in the playoffs, apparently, inflated Bonzi's head a bit.
The Kings offered him a $36 million five-year offer, which he turned down. Two weeks later, he fired his agent and saw the demand for his skills dry up. He ended up taking a two-year, $5 million deal with Houston.
Kings fans should have spent every day of the past five seasons thanking Bonzi for not taking the Sacramento offer.
Wells spent only two more seasons in the NBA and was never close to as effective as he'd been for the Kings in the regular season, let alone the monstrous level he'd brought himself to in the playoffs.
He played just 28 games in the 2006-2007 season before getting hit with injuries.
What If Bonzi Wells Had Taken the Kings' offer?
He would have just come off the books last season. Considering he didn't even hold up for two more complete seasons after 2005-2006, it could have gone down as one of the worst decisions Geoff Petrie had ever made.
What If the Kings Had Gotten the Top Pick in the 2009 Draft?
On draft day 2009, when he was selected by the Los Angeles Clippers, some fans complained Blake Griffin wearing a purple undershirt was some sort of subliminal wish of Griffin's to be playing in Lakers purple.
It should have been Kings purple that got him.
The Kings had gone a league worst 17-65 the previous season and were desperate for a star. They saw their pick fall to number four, and luckily for them, both Memphis and Oklahoma City passed up on Tyreke Evans, who ended up being a good consolation prize.
But he's no Blake Griffin.
What if the Kings had gotten the top pick in 2009 and taken Blake Griffin?
Of course, the injury concerns for Griffin would have still followed him to Sacramento, but would he have hurt himself before playing a single NBA game, as he did for the Clippers?
Come on, the Kings are unlucky, but they aren't the Clippers.
And while Tyreke Evans is great, getting arguably the most exciting player in the game would have helped Sacramento in every fashion. Blake would have brought back the crowds quicker, drawn up the support quicker, and maybe the push for a new Sacramento arena would already be farther than it is.
Of course, it could have also have been a bigger incentive for the Maloofs and David Stern to get the Kings into a bigger market quicker, so they may already have been gone.
Still, Blake Griffin in a Kings jersey would have been pretty. But it could have been worse.
What If the Kings Had Taken Ricky Rubio With the 4th Pick in 2009?
Blake Griffin in Sacramento would have been a dream. Ricky Rubio in Sacramento probably would have produced more nightmares.
The fanbase was incredibly rabid for Ricky Rubio in 2009, seeing the swashbuckling point guard from Spain as the best great hope for Sacramento basketball.
And while Rubio didn't apparently want to go to Memphis, Oklahoma City or eventually Minnesota, it appears he and his agent were fine with Rubio playing in Sacramento.
We'll never know how hard Rubio and his camp would have tried to get him out of his Spain contract if he'd been drafted by a team he actually wanted to play for from the start.
But Sacramento couldn't have taken that risk.
Sacramento made the obviously correct decision in taking Tyreke Evans, who was named the 09-10 Rookie of the Year. The Kings are hopefully on their way out of mediocrity and—with some veteran leadership and growth of their young players—have the talent to make the playoffs sooner rather than later.
So what if they had taken Rubio?
Even if he'd been just a year removed from coming into the league (he's planning on coming over this year for the Wolves) it would have been one more year of horrible basketball without a star to draw in the fans.
Plus, since the 2009 draft, Rubio's stock has quickly dropped. He performed very poorly in the 2011 EuroBasket tournament, getting just 10 points and 15 assists combined in his six contests, while shooting a dismal 22 percent.
Any way you slice it, Rubio in Sacramento wouldn't have brought the Kings as bright a future as they currently have.
What If the Kings Had Started Rebuilding in 2005-2006?
At the end of the 2005-2006 season, the Kings were feeling good after ending the season with a decent six-game series against the top-seeded Spurs. Ron Artest had reinvigorated a team—somewhat—and Kevin Martin’s future looked promising. The Sacramento faithful were hopeful the team could improve on their season-ending run.
Then head coach Rick Adleman was named the scapegoat of everything that had gone wrong in the past few seasons and wasn’t retained. Kings fans somehow managed to convince themselves a Mike Bibby/Kevin Martin/Ron Artest/Brad Miller lineup was somehow scary.
In 2006-2007, the Kings were boring and missed the playoffs for the first time in many seasons. But they remained just competent enough (I blame Martin, who kept the team at least somewhat interesting) to conceal the truth—the once proud Kings franchise was now completely flawed and needed a total and absolute full rebuild.
Truth is, we should have seen it after the 2005 playoffs when the Kings imploded against the Supersonics in an ugly five-game series. What if the Kings had rebuilt then?
Chris Webber was gone, but Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakavic and Brad Miller all had significant value.
What if the Kings had accepted their fate and swapped out Bibby, Peja and Brad for young guns and picks?
Who knows what the Kings could have gotten on the open market, or who they would have drafted with an early pick in 2006, but it would have meant three fewer seasons of mediocrity.
What If the Kings Had Taken Rajon Rondo With the 19th Pick in 2006?
I know I just argued against the Kings' attempts to rebuild on the fly, but I had to slip this one in here.
General manager Geoff Petrie is excellent at picking out talent in a draft, but he messed up in 2006.
Arguments about Rajon Rondo’s effectiveness without his Hall of Fame teammates can go on forever, but it’s without question he’d have ended up being a smarter selection than Quincy Douby, the Kings pick at No. 19 in 2006.
Certainly, Douby was more of a Geoff Petrie-type selection. Douby, unlike Rondo, could shoot the ball very well and scored 26 points per game in his junior year at Rutgers.
Unlike Rajon, though, he failed to stay in the league for more than three seasons.
So what if Rondo had been the selection?
He certainly wouldn’t have become the star he is, playing with an aging Kings squad instead of the beast of a lineup Boston presented. But a Kevin Martin/Rondo core would have been better than the Kings had, and it would have given Sacramento a pass-first point guard, which the city hasn’t seen since Jason Williams.
What If Chris Webber’s Knee Had Held Up in 2003?
In Game 1 of the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals in Dallas, the Kings came out and demolished the Mavericks in a 124-113 victory. Webber scored 24 points and nine boards, including the poster dunk you see above, and many Kings fans were already looking forward to a Finals matchup with the Lakers or Spurs.
Of course, that was before Game 2, when Chris Webber rolled in pain under the basket and said the words that may have closed the title hopes for good—"I heard a pop."
So what If Chris Webber’s knee had just held up in 2003?
With how dominant the Kings looked in that first game—and given the fact that even without Webber they forced Dallas to seven games—it's highly likely that with Webber, the team could have gone to the Western Finals for the second straight season.
How would they have fared against the Spurs? San Antonio held home court throughout the playoffs, and the Kings had gone 3-1 against the Spurs in the regular season. But you never know.
And now the depression continues with the final "what if."
What If the Kings Hadn’t Choked in Game 7 Of the 2002 Western Conference Finals
This slide could be called, “What if Game 6 of the 2001 Western Conference Finals hadn’t been demonstrably rigged?”
It could have also been named, “What if Robert Horry’s parents had just done the city of Sacramento a favor and never met?”
But no. Kings fans will always decry the horrid reffing in Game 6 until we are purple in the face.
And we only pretend that we can block out Horry’s Game 4 winner.
You know what we really block out? Game 7. That’s what the Sacramento faithful really repress, because it represents the true failing of the best team ever to wear the Kings uniform.
14 missed free throws. Two of 20 from three point territory. The absolute collapse in overtime.
Do you know how hard it was for me to look up that box score?
So that is why this slide is named what it is. Because the Kings couldn’t have controlled the refs in Game 6. And Game 4 was sealed as soon as Vlade Divac’s hand inadvertently tipped it towards Horry.
The real reason the Kings lost the series was the utter failure in the deciding game.
What if the Kings had not choked?
If Sacramento had, say, made 70 percent of their free throws (their seasonal average was 75 percent) and sank 21 of the 30 attempts instead of just 16?
Or what if they’d just made 30 percent of their three-pointers (season average sat at 36.7 percent) and sank six instead of two?
It wouldn’t have gone to overtime. The Kings would have won and moved on to the Finals.
They’d have faced a Nets team that the Lakers ended up sweeping. Could the Kings have beaten New Jersey as soundly as Los Angeles did?
Probably not—the Nets and Kings split the regular season series, with the Kings squeaking out a 98-97 win at home and the Nets clobbering for a 117-83 win in New Jersey.
But would they have won? I’d bet money that if the Kings had made just 70 percent of their free throws in Game 7 against the Lakers, Arco Arena would have a 2002 championship banner waiving from the rafters.