Charles Barkley says the Sacramento Kings are embarrassing

NBA legend Charles Barkley is in agreement with just about everyone in Sacramento. The Kings’ fan base deserves better than what they’ve been given during the 16-year playoff drought, the longest in NBA history.

“Sacramento had tremendous fans my entire time in the NBA. They were awesome,” Barkley, the 16-year veteran and 11-time All-Star, said last week. “And I think it’s a disgrace and travesty they haven’t given them a legitimate team to root for. Come on, man, you’ve been in the lottery every single year. At some point, you’ve got to be putting a good team together.”

To Barkley’s point, it’s not hard to diagnose the Kings’ issues.

Sacramento has whiffed on top-10 draft picks for more than a decade while passing on players who wound up becoming stars. An argument can be made the team’s best draft pick since Tyreke Evans in 2009 (who won rookie of the year but was taken three spots ahead of Stephen Curry) is Tyrese Haliburton, who was traded last winter to the Indiana Pacers in the Domantas Sabonis swap.

The list of top-10 picks over that period includes Demarcus Cousins, Bismack Biyombo, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marquese Chriss, De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley. Cousins is the only member of that group to be named an All-Star. He made it four times, with two coming as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans.

Even during the long string of lean seasons, Kings fans remain passionate and loud when they show up to Golden 1 Center. Sacramento, of course, was known for having one of the best home-court advantages when it played in Arco Arena during its run of eight straight playoff appearances from 1998 to 2006. The Kings believe there would be a renaissance of interest if they could climb back into the postseason picture.

Barkley, a long-time analyst for TNT, rarely speaks on the Kings because they rarely play on national television. The Kings were one of four NBA teams that weren’t scheduled to play on ESPN or TNT last season.

“It’s embarrassing,” Barkley said last week. “Man, let me tell you something. I used to look forward to going to Sacramento. That fan base, especially back in Arco, they had a tremendous fan base, a tremendous fan base. It was a hostile, great environment. They loved their team. So I always kind of want to see them do good.

“But I don’t know what the hell happened out there. They traded their best player, Haliburton. And I’m a big Sabonis fan. So I have zero idea what happened to De’Aaron Fox. I thought three years ago he was going to be a perennial All-Star. I have zero idea what happened.”

Indeed, Fox was unofficially made the centerpiece of the Kings roster when general manager Monte McNair dealt away Haliburton at the trade deadline in February. It softened the logjam the team had at guard with Haliburton and Fox competing to serve as the primary ball handler and initiator of the offense. It came months after the team added a third point guard, Davion Mitchell, with the No. 9 pick in the NBA draft.

There’s a belief that Fox’ max contract, which has four years and roughly $134.9 million remaining, made him impossible to trade, while Haliburton was in the second season of his modest rookie contract. With Sabonis, the Kings have a roster that’s more balanced and big man that complements Fox.

Fox has work to do if he’s going to become one of the best players on a playoff team. He shot a career-worst 29.7% from 3-point range last season while his 116.5 defensive rating ranked fifth-worst among guards that averaged at least 30 minutes per game. His 5.6 assists per game were his fewest since averaging 4.4 during his rookie season in 2017-18.

Beyond Fox, the Kings have more to work to do to get back to the postseason in the competitive Western Conference. They finished four games outside the play-in tournament in 2022 while many teams in the West are expected to improve.

The Clippers believe two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard will be back healthy after missing the season with a knee injury, the Nuggets plan to have stars Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back after missing significant time with knee and back ailments, respectively, and the Lakers figure to have a busy offseason after missing the playoffs despite having LeBron James and Anthony Davis in tow.

“They need players, a lot of players,” said Barkley of the Kings. “I just don’t know what the hell is going on there. I’ve got to be honest with you because you can’t have that many lottery picks year after year after year and suck. That’s impossible. At some point you’re like, I’ve got to have a good player here or there.”

The next opportunity to land a young player to potentially add to the core of Fox and Sabonis is through the NBA draft. The Kings have the No. 4 pick, which they could use to trade down for multiple assets, including a potential veteran to help groom an otherwise young roster.

“And I just don’t see it at all. So they’re screwed for right now,” Barkley said. “So looks like it’s got to be another rebuild and see what happens.”

This story was originally published June 12, 2022 5:00 AM.

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Chris Biderman has covered the 49ers since 2013 and began covering the team for The Sacramento Bee in August 2018. He previously spent time with the Associated Press and USA TODAY Sports Media Group. A Santa Rosa native, he graduated with a degree in journalism from The Ohio State University.

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