Sunday Musings: Play-in tournament proving naysayers wrong

NBA wins with play-in tournament. Wilcox Kings' secret weapon?

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The play-in matters.

In case you missed the build up to the 2021-22 NBA playoffs, the series of play-in games were nothing short of spectacular. Young teams looking to break into the postseason went to battle against each other and the winners are the NBA and the fans. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ battle with the Los Angeles Clippers was epic, even if the T-Wolves may have overdone the celebration. I guess that’s what you do when you’ve made the postseason once in the last sixteen seasons (Kings fans take note).

San Antonio put up a fight against the New Orleans Pelicans before eventually falling, but again, a young Spurs core gained valuable experience. The Pelicans used that win to catapult themselves over the Clippers to steal away the eighth seed and a true playoff berth.

Whether New Orleans can make noise against the No. 1 seed Suns shouldn’t matter at this point. For a team that is just coming into their own, two play-in games and a minimum of four playoff games is incredibly valuable for the culture of a team. 

The Cavaliers were the surprise team of the 2021-22 season, but their two losses in the play-in tournament showed their lack of experience. Atlanta’s two victories were a reminder of the opposite. 

Watching teams stumble and back into the play-in wasn’t pretty, but there is no question that there is value in trying to win, even if it just leads to a one or two game experience after a grueling 82 game schedule.

As the Sacramento Kings careened toward their 16th consecutive season without a playoff appearance, fans debated the virtues of chasing the ninth or tenth spot in the Western Conference versus tanking for a higher draft selection.

Unfortunately the Kings were caught in the middle, both missing the play-in opportunity and damaging their lottery position. 

Could the Kings have benefited from losing out and finishing with the No. 5 overall worst record in the league? Of course, but seeing these young teams that are on a similar track as Sacramento playing meaningful games is just a reminder that winning matters. Winning may not cure all, but it can have a major impact on the overall growth of a squad.

The Kings have a long way to go if they hope to get into this conversation next season, but the goal has to be to snap the longest playoff drought in NBA history. The play-in isn’t the playoffs, but at the same time, we should now acknowledge that it is more than just a game or two of extra basketball. 

How important is Wes Wilcox to the coaching search?

Not to completely change gears, but let’s change gears. Perhaps the most important issue facing the Kings this offseason is the search for a new head coach. Plenty of names have already been mentioned and many of them have one tie that binds them together.

Kenny Atkinson, Darvin Ham and Charles Lee have all been mentioned as candidates for the Kings’ coaching job. All three were on Mike Budenholtzer’s staff with the Atlanta Hawks while Wilcox was an executive.

You can add Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder to that list as well, if Snyder becomes available over the coming weeks. Budenholtzer has become a pipeline for NBA coaches after spending 17 years honing his craft under legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. 

Memphis’ Taylor Jenkins worked with most of these coaches, both in Atlanta and Milwaukee under Budenholtzer, and he has been an incredible success story with the Grizzlies over the last three seasons.

Lastly, Wilcox has ties to Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Brown, who has also been mentioned as a potential Kings candidate. Wilcox was an executive in Cleveland while Brown coached the Cavs from 2005-2010.

Having firsthand knowledge about coaching candidates and pre-existing relationships is a plus. The Kings plan to have a “comprehensive and process-driven” search for their next front man. The preliminary list has some additional names, like Mike D’Antoni (who has ties to Kings GM Monte McNair), Terry Stotts, Steve Clifford and Mark Jackson. 

More changes 

Alvin Gentry wasn’t the only member of the Kings’ organization to lose their job this week. In addition to the veteran head coach, the Kings Beat has confirmed that assistant general manager Ken Cattanella, head athletic trainer Joe Resendez and media relations director Alex Sigua were all let go as well.

Catanella spent the last six seasons in Sacramento and is a highly respected salary cap expert. He joined the Kings during Vlade Divac’s time with the club and has worked with both McNair and Wilcox over the last two seasons. At this time, it does not appear that the Kings will fill the position.

Resendez was in his fourth season with the Kings after spending seven seasons with the Clippers as the assistant athletic trainer. His track record for keeping players healthy and on the court has been solid, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sigua was in his second stint with the Kings and spent a combined ten years working for the organization. He is a pro’s pro who works daily with media people, like myself, and his presence will be missed greatly.  

Changes are nothing new in Sacramento. Hopefully this trio gets another opportunity as soon as possible.

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