One team seeking a return to postseason play and another hoping to end a long drought would like nothing better than to use the other as a springboard to a rewarding campaign when the Portland Trail Blazers visit the Sacramento Kings in the season-opener for each on Wednesday night.
Separated by three games in the standings last season when they finished with the 12th- and 13th-best records in the Western Conference, respectively, the Kings will feature a new coach and the Trail Blazers a new frontcourt star when they showcase their 2022-23 editions at Sacramento.
On the way to their 16th consecutive season without a playoff appearance, the Kings fired coach Luke Walton 17 games into the 2021-22 season and then fared only marginally better in Alvin Gentry’s 65 games as the interim replacement before he wasn’t retained.
Enter Mike Brown, who was last seen sitting next to Steve Kerr as an assistant during the Golden State Warriors’ run to the 2022 title.
The former head coach in Cleveland and with the Los Angeles Lakers isn’t the only newcomer in Sacramento. The team used the fourth pick in the draft to select forward Keegan Murray, who enters as a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate.
Murray’s debut will have to wait after he contracted a non-COVID illness late in training camp and likely won’t be available for the opener.
“There is zero pressure at all,” Brown said of projecting a date for Murray’s debut. “We want him to come back the right way. We play 82 games. If he misses one or two, he’ll be fine.”
Expected to see action in his first Kings season opener is Domantas Sabonis, who was acquired in-season last year in a multi-player deal involving one of Sacramento’s other recent prize draft choices, Tyrese Haliburton.
A two-time Eastern Conference All-Star while with the Indiana Pacers, Sabonis averaged a double-double (18.9 points, 12.3 rebounds) in 15 games after moving west.
Brown inherits many of the same front-line players who have failed to deliver May basketball to the California capital in recent years. In fact, Harrison Barnes (36), De’Aaron Fox (27) and Richaun Holmes (21) combined for 84 points when the Kings took an entertaining 124-121 victory at Portland during last season’s season opener.
Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the end of that one, but had a 32-point, 10-assist double-double in his only visit to Sacramento last season.
Lillard is back for his 11th season with the Trail Blazers and, despite a contract extension through 2027, finds himself warding off rumors that he wants to move to a contender.
“People make a joke out of it sometimes, like, ‘Man, he’s too loyal; he don’t want to win; he just wants his money,'” Lillard said. “A lot of times because of my stance on it, people try to put my stance on it as if I’m belittling or I’m saying something bad about the guys that do move. They can do whatever they want; if that’s what makes them happy, then do it.”
After missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years while trading away CJ McCollum, Norman Powell and Robert Covington, the Trail Blazers hope they’ve found Lillard a new sidekick in Jerami Grant, acquired in a draft-night trade with the Detroit Pistons. Up-and-comers Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons are also counted upon to contribute to the quick rebuild.
–Field Level Media