The Memphis Grizzlies, their fan base, and the entire NBA world is breathing a sign of relief after an MRI revealed that Ja Morant only has a knee sprain. Friday night, it felt like everybody was trying to navigate what the rest of the season may look like without the NBA’s newest superstar.
Ja out for the season? Says Who? But, the Grizz will be without ‘Big 12’ for the short term. First up, the Sacramento Kings at FedExForum. I reached out to Marina Drab from Sactown Royalty, who answered 5 Questions on who the Kings are, where they are going, and what they expect from tonight’s matchup.
1. The Kings have put together 2 nice wins in a row over Portland and the Lakers. Did the firing of Luke Walton bring together the locker room?
I don’t know that firing Luke Walton was necessarily the catalyst to Sacramento’s recent success, due to the fact that they underperformed in their first contest under Interim Head Coach Alvin Gentry earlier in the week. I do think, however, that Walton’s absence has made room for positive changes in what has looked like a stale roster. Gentry has already begun to mix up rotations, including the addition of Marvin Bagley III, which wasn’t the initial plan at the beginning of the season. I think Walton’s absence have definitely given Bagley the opportunity to earn his minutes back rather than be written off until the trade deadline.
2. Is the next Kings Head Coach currently on staff right now?
Unless Gentry can put Sacramento on the Nate McMillan/Atlanta Hawks trajectory we saw last season, I don’t think he will remain the Kings’ head coach heading into next season. There are several talented assistant on the bench right now - from Rico Hines to Doug Christie to Lindsey Harding, there is a strong pool of candidates that could contribute to this team’s success in the long run. However, Marc Stein recently reported that Warriors assistant coach Kenny Atikinson has emerged as a big fish the Sacramento is looking to catch in the offseason. It’s too early in the Gentry era to really know, but I lean toward Kings brass going for a more thorough search for their next leader.
3. Who on the roster do you expect to still be on the team when they tip off next season?
In a league where no contract is untradeable, Sacramento will most likely look to move Buddy Hield and company during the season and if that fails to launch, that will likely bleed into the offseason. Tyrese Haliburton seems to be pretty set in stone a franchise pillar alongside De’Aaron Fox, but really until decisions are made surrounding Ben Simmons in Philly, there could be a massive domino effect around the league in free agency this summer. Sacramento’s backcourt in Fox and Haliburton would be the only two names I could see being inked into next season’s tip off.
4. Sitting at 8-12, the Kings are only a game and a half behind 3 teams to compete in the play-in games (including the Grizz). Are the Kings built right now to make a run at the Playoffs?
As the roster stands, the Kings are still a piece or two away from making a serious run at playoff contention. Last season’s blaring defensive woes causes a glut at the center position and a malnourishment in the wing spot. The Kings desperately need a power forward who can compliment the guard heavy roster that is currently constructed. This year’s trade deadline will be a big opportunity for Monte McNair to swing for the fences and make his first big splash as Kings’ GM. There’s an abundance of talent on this team, but putting the pieces together to match the development of its younger players will be essential in making a 9th or 10th seed.
5. With Ja Morant out for tonight’s game, is there another Grizzlies player you are looking forward to watching?
I’ll be looking to Jaren Jackson Jr. for tonight’s matchup on the grounds that he is incredibly fun to watch - and someone that Sacramento could benefit from having. His size and athleticism thread the needle for him to play both as a guard and as a big. Although the defense is sputtering this season for the Grizz at large, I find his ability to space the floor refreshing in contrast to a team in the Kings who are desperate for someone with the same skills in their arsenal. Jackson’s ceiling is incredibly high, and despite his struggles following injury, I have high hopes that he will continue to ascend.
A big thanks to Marina for helping me out with the ‘5 Questions’ before tonight’s game. Sactown Royalty is the place to go for the best Kings coverage in the league — follow them on Twitter @SactownRoyalty, and make sure you give Marina a follow as well — @_MarinaDrab.