Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” was topping the Billboard Hot 100, Owen Wilson had just made his debut as Lightning McQueen in “Cars” and Sacramento Kings forward Keegan Murray was counting down the days to his sixth birthday.
May 2006 was a long time ago and for all those involved with the Kings, it must feel like even longer.
Sacramento has not played an NBA postseason game in almost 17 years but after turning a corner this season, fans in the Golden 1 Center will finally have something to cheer for after the 82 games of the regular season conclude.
The Kings clinched a playoff berth following the team’s 120-80 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday. They now sit with a record of 46-30 and become the third team to secure a spot in the Western Conference playoffs, joining the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies.
With De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis leading a new era in Sactown, there is hope that the return to the NBA Playoffs isn’t just a flash in the pan, but a sign of things to come for future years.
There were a lot of questions raised when the Kings opted to trade brilliant, young point guard Tyrese Haliburton to the Indiana Pacers in early 2022.
Haliburton was drafted No. 12 by the Kings and was seen by many as the point guard of the future for the franchise. The 6-foot-5-inch playmaker was named to the 2021 NBA All-Rookie First Team and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting after his first season in the league.
After averaging 13 points, 5.3 assists and three rebounds in his first year, Haliburton kept up the pace during his sophomore season and recorded a career-high 38 points and 17 assists early into his second year.
However, the Kings began to have concerns over his long-term fit with Fox in their backcourt and a subsequent blockbuster trade sent Haliburton to the Pacers.
Buddy Hield and Tristan Thompson followed the guard to the Hoosier State with Justin Holiday, Jeremy Lamb, a 2023 second-round pick and, most importantly, Sabonis heading to California.
Like Fox alongside Haliburton, Sabonis was a star in a team which was not particularly well constructed around his skillset.
The Lithuanian has excelled since arriving in Sacramento and is having one of his best years in the NBA in the 2022/23 season. Sabonis – son of Hall of Fame center Arvydas Sabonis – is averaging career highs in rebounds and assists at the time of writing and returned to the All-Star team for already the third time in his young career.
Speaking to The Athletic shortly after his trade, it seemed that the 7-foot-1-inch star knew there were good things waiting for the Kings.
Sabonis said: “They brought me here, and we want to change things, you know?
“It’ll be a lot of fun. It’s just little by little, I think we’re doing great things and going in the right direction. We’re gonna have a big summer – we’ve been talking about it. And then we’ll have a good training camp and get all the people together, you know?”
All change in the off-season
After a dismal start to the 2021/22 season, Luke Walton was fired from his role as the Kings’ head coach. Walton was replaced by veteran coach Alvin Gentry on an interim basis and upon the completion of the campaign, the 68-year-old was also let go.
The Kings then appointed the associate head coach of the Golden State Warriors, Mike Brown, as their new head coach before the start of the 2022/23 season.
Brown had just won an NBA championship with the Warriors after a finals win against the Boston Celtics, and was tasked with bringing some of his winning know-how to Sactown.
The 53-year-old has completely overhauled how the Kings approach the game and has turned the franchise into one of the most exciting offenses in the league.
Along with Brown, guard/forward Kevin Huerter and shooting guard Malik Monk became key pieces for the Kings and No. 4 draft pick Murray also joined up with the squad.
It is no surprise that the arrival of these pieces has coincided with the overhaul of the Kings’ offense.
Since moving to the West Coast, Huerter and Murray are shooting over six threes a game, and both are draining shots from deep at over 40%.
Monk is just slightly behind the pair in terms of three-pointers attempted (3PA) and three-point percentage (3P%) but helps demonstrate how far this Kings offense has come and the planning that went into building the squad.
The Kings ranked 21st in terms of three-point attempts-per-game last season while also shooting from deep at a 24th-rated 34.4%.
This term, Brown’s team has climbed to seventh in the 3PA rankings with 36.9 attempts a game at a clip of 37.4% – eighth best in the NBA – again demonstrating the offensive changes that have been made.
Another contributing factor to the Beam Team’s success are the performances of Fox in the clutch.
The brilliant 25-year-old is on top of the NBA’s Clutch Player Ladder and has been vital in helping his side grind out crucial wins in key moments of the season.
Attack is the best form of defense
So far this season, the Kings have led the league in points-per-game with a staggering 120.9. Last season, the Kings finished 16th in this ranking, averaging just 110.3 points per outing. The transition the team has made and the additions to the roster have been vital in terms of their increased offensive numbers.
Summing up the franchise, the Kings top the offensive rating rankings but sit 26th in terms of defensive rating – demonstrating their all-out attack mentality.
This was encapsulated in their record-breaking game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
In the second highest scoring matchup in NBA history, the Kings won 176-175 in an incredible offensive display. Fox scored 42 and added 12 assists with Monk leading the team in scoring with an impressive 45 from the bench with six threes.
‘Light the beam!’
The fans at the Golden 1 Center have completely bought into the project and have also played their part in the Kings’ success this season.
After every home win, the Kings project a huge purple beam into the sky, in what has become a key part of the culture created at the franchise.
With a win approaching, the entire arena erupts with chants of “LIGHT THE BEAM! LIGHT THE BEAM!” which has created a social media sensation.
While some opposing teams and fans have used this to mock the Kings if they lose a game, the beam has helped create a special relationship between the fans and the franchise.
Whatever happens to Sacramento in the playoffs, it has turned things around this year while capturing the hearts of its fans by playing run-and-gun, fearless basketball.
Everyone in Sactown will be hoping they continue to light the beam throughout the postseason.
CNN’s Jacob Lev contributed to reporting.