The 2019-20 NBA season will go down as the longest and strangest year in league history.
It all began with the historic NBA India Games in Mumbai, included a four-month hiatus from mid-March to mid-July and ended with the NBA Finals in a bubble in Walt Disney World in Orlando.
Despite the uniqueness of the season, for the Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings - the two franchises that played the first-ever NBA games on Indian soil a year ago on October 4th and 5th - the 2019-20 campaign was more of the same.
Big Picture - Back to square one
At the conclusion of the 2019-20 campaign, the Kings' postseason drought extended to 14 years, the longest active streak in the NBA and one season short (15) of tying the LA Clippers for the longest streak of all-time.
Given the longevity of the streak, there are surely multiple issues at play but it's hard to overlook the number of head coaches the Kings have had during this drought. There's certainly been no shortage of talent in players like Tyreke Evans (2010 Rookie of the Year), DeMarcus Cousins (3x All-Star, 2x All-NBA) and De'Aaron Fox (2018-19 Most Improved Player finalist).
In the past 14 seasons, including current head coach Luke Walton, the Kings have had 10 different head coaches. Seven of the 10 only lasted one season while only two of them lasted more than a year - Paul Westphal (2009-12) and Dave Joerger (2016-19).
During this coaching carousel, the franchise's front office hasn't changed much. During the drought, Sacramento has had three executives at the helm in Geoff Petrie (2006-13), Pete D'Alessandro (2013-15) and Vlade Divac (2015-19).
With Divac stepping down this offseason and Joe Dumars taking over, Walton is a lasting head coach under a new regime. More often than not, that doesn't last long.
The Pacers have fared far better than the Kings over the past few decades, reaching 25 playoff appearances in 33 seasons since Reggie Miller was drafted in 1987. But the Indiana franchise seem to be battling problems along the same lines as the Kings, in search of perminent head coach and reliable franchise cornerstone.
Since 1990, only one of the eight coaches - current Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel - has lasted longer than four seasons irrespective of the results. Their most recent firing of Nate McMillan, a coach who had led the franchise to four straight playoffs despite a rebuild and injuries, came just over a couple of weeks after they agreed to an extension with him.
In addition, after Miller retired in 2005, the organisation has been forced to rebuild around a new cornerstone every few years. First, it was Jermaine O'Neal, then Danny Granger, then Paul George, then Victor Oladipo, and now ... maybe first-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis?
Oladipo's contract is up next summer in 2021, but the team hasn't seemed to find a clear direction of what they plan to do with the former All-Star.
Slow starts, injuries, playoffs and disappointment
After their trip to India, both teams played a couple more preseason games before the regular season. But when the real season began, both franchises struggled to get a win early on.
Sacramento began their campaign losing five games in a row but bounced back by winning seven of their next 10, holding a 7-8 record through the first 15 games. It wasn't a bad recovery, but the Kings could never keep this momentum going. For the rest of the season, they only won a maximum of three in a row and that occurred just three times.
A 4-14 stretch through December and January didn't help their cause, either. A major reason for that was injuries.
A couple of key players in Marvin Bagley (missed 58 games) and De'Aaron Fox (missed 21 games) were absent for a chunk of time due to injuries. Key role players like big men Richuan Holmes and Harry Giles could only suit up for 44 and 46 games, respectively.
Despite all of that, there was still a chance. A chance, when they were invited for the season restart, to make their first playoffs since 2006. But a 3-5 record in the Orlando bubble didn't turn out to be enough in a five-team battle for the final playoff spot in the West.
The Pacers fared better than the Kings but went through the same motions - an 0-3 start that was followed by a strong 12-3 comeback. In fact, if it wasn't for a brief 10-game stretch in January where they went 3-7 while trying to integrate Oladipo back into the rotation, Indiana fared quite well throughout the season.
For the fifth season in a row, the Pacers had clinched a winning a record (45-28) and a berth in the playoffs. In the bubble, T.J. Warren caught fire and carried the Pacers to a 6-2 record but he had trouble keeping that pace in the playoffs.
The combination of that and playing without their star Sabonis, who suffered a plantar fasciitis injury and missed the entire season's restart, saw Indiana's season end in the first round for a fifth consecutive year. For the third time in the past four years, it was in a four-game sweep fashion.
Despite both franchise's lack of continuity and stability, the future is still bright.
Both have a talented young core of players that can take the organisation to heights it hasn't reached in the past few years. For the Kings, that's the playoffs, while for the Pacers, that's deeper postseason runs.
The ultimate goal for every NBA franchise is a championship but not every team wins. So, you must take the positives from each campaign and I'm sure I can speak on behalf of all Indians that we are indebted to the Pacers and Kings for taking the long flights halfway across the world to make history in our country last October.
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