SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It's been nearly four months since the Sacramento Kings watched their season come to a screeching halt as coronavirus concerns suspended the NBA season in March. Now first-year head coach Luke Walton and his team are just are days away from traveling to Orlando to resume their season in what's being called the NBA "bubble" at Disney's Wide World of Sports. The Kings will be among the some six teams vying for one of the final playoff sports in the Western Conference to end the organization's 14-year-long playoff drought. In the first of a series of Zoom meetings with reporters, Walton and Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox echoed that while there are challenges ahead, the team is looking forward to the opportunity to play again. Here's what we learned in our conversation.
1. No Kings players plan on opting out of traveling to Orlando to resume play on July 31
The Kings will travel across the country to Disney World's Wide World of Sports on Wed., July 8. Head coach Luke Walton confirmed a list of 35 people traveling to Orlando will be submitted to the league. Walton explained to reporters he worked through several drafts of this list with General Manager Vlade Divac and Vice President of Athlete Health & Performance Teena Murray and that proved to be one of the more challenging parts of this process. Walton stressed that he wants to make sure all of his players, coaches, and staff are comfortable and healthy by the time they travel to Orlando. Once the team arrives, Walton says he and his staff will be able to increase the level of physical activity.
2. The Kings just can't get no respect
Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox became one of the hundreds of people weighing in on this tweet from The Ringer leaving Sacramento out of the running for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Fox, who is closing out his third season in Sacramento, told reporters in the Zoom meeting that he's used to hearing the "disrespect" the Kings receive from some media outlets. Fox even seemed amused that outlets are already counting the Kings out even though they're 3.5 out of the eighth seed, tied with the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans in the standings. The Kentucky basketball product told reporters he looks forward to the opportunity to prove Sacramento's doubters wrong once the team hits the court at Disney World.
3. Sacramento will have to get hot in a hurry to end its 14-year playoff drought
The Kings haven't made the playoffs since 2006 but this year they have a chance to make some noise in Orlando while making history at the same time. As first-year head coach Luke Walton explained to reporters in the Zoom meeting, he was pleasantly surprised to see how well-conditioned his guys returned. Kings were playing arguably their best basketball when the NBA suspended its season in March, having won seven of their last 10 games. Walton stressed the importance of is team finding its rhythm and pace quickly if they want a chance to continue their season beyond eight games. Fox said the biggest challenge will be getting everyone to gel together again and pick up where they left off when the season was suspended. Likening this NBA restart to the NCAA basketball tournament, Fox said the team that gets hot at the right time will likely be the one to get into the playoffs.
4. There have been discussions about how the Kings and individual players will use their platform to bring awareness to social issues
The Sacramento Kings have been extremely active as an organization when it comes to addressing social issues. Their efforts in helping the community heal following the officer involved shooting death of Stephon Clark in 2018 even earned the Kings a 2020 ESPY nomination for Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year. Most recently, the Kings visited Folsom State Prison to hold a discussion and play a pick-up basketball game with incarcerated individuals as part of the REPRESENT JUSTICE initiative. Walton reinforced to reporters that the organization encourages players and staff to use their platforms for social justice. Fox told reporters he hadn't given much thought to what the special messaging could be on the back of his jersey once he gets to Orlando but Walton says there have been discussions about how the team could possible use messaging for "a change that needs to happen."
5. De'Aaron Fox cutting his hair was a big deal
The NBA season had been suspended for four weeks when De'Aaron Fox found himself in the spotlight for something totally unrelated to basketball: his haircut. The first question Fox received in his first Zoom meeting with reporters on Wednesday was "what in the world happened to your hair?" Yes, the Kings guard cutting his signature hair was that big of a deal. And he knows it, too. Fox explained he was planning on doing away with his "do" once the regular season was over but after the season was suspended in March, he called his barber to get it over with. Fox says he doesn't miss his old hair style at all and doesn't plan on growing it back out. He even referenced how his former Kentucky basketball coach and Naismith Hall of Fame inductee, John Calipari, would get frustrated with him for twisting his hair during conversations. While basketball fans are still getting used to the new look, Fox remains focused on staying healthy for his eight guaranteed games in Orlando.
Sacramento Kings schedule of games in Orlando:
Fri. July 31: Sacramento Kings vs. San Antonio Spurs, 5 p.m. PT
Sun. August 2: Sacramento Kings vs. Orlando Magic (NBATV), 3 p.m. PT
Tues. August 4: Sacramento Kings vs. Dallas Mavericks, 11:30 a.m. PT
Thurs. August 6: Sacramento Kings vs. Pelicans (NBATV), 10:30 a.m. PT
Fri. August 7: Sacramento Kings vs. Brooklyn Nets, 2 p.m. PT
Sun. August 9: Sacramento Kings vs. Houston Rockets, 5 p.m. PT
Tues. August 11: Sacramento Kings v. New Orleans Pelicans (TNT), 6 p.m. PT
Thus. August 13: Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers, TBD
(all games played at neutral location at Disney's Wide World of Sports)