At the close of the most uplifting decade in franchise history, the Sacramento Kings are lower than they've ever been.
With Wednesday night's road victory over Minnesota, the Kings finished their misbegotten season at 17-65. Sacramento earned its ticket to the draft lottery with the league's worst record, which also was the worst in the franchise's more than half-century of competition since its inception as the Rochester Royals in 1948.
A playoff team just three years ago with eight consecutive winning seasons under Rick Adelman, the Kings have been through three head coaches and wholesale roster turmoil since the Maloof brothers fired the veteran coach. Their franchise has fallen apart on the court, with just two players remaining from that 2006 playoff team, and the club's efforts to build a new arena also are sputtering.
Even the Kings' famously loyal fans abandoned the club this season, leaving Arco Arena less than half-full on many nights during their miserable home schedule.
Although Sacramento has the best chance of securing the top overall pick in the draft, the worst team rarely wins the lottery " and furthermore, the underwhelming 2009 draft class doesn't contain any players expected to be saviors.
That's the future facing the Kings, who likely will have yet another new coach and a new franchise direction next season when they start over with the scraps of this disappointing campaign.
"We definitely have much more potential than we showed this season," guard Beno Udrih said. "Something just wasn't clicking. I guess we have to figure it out a little bit and try to fix it in the summer and in training camp when we come back. ... Nothing worked, really. I think they're going to figure it out and try to do something to get better, definitely."
In fact, the NBA season was altogether miserable for fans anywhere in basketball-crazy Northern California. The Kings and the Golden State Warriors combined for just 46 victories, matching the second-worst combined total since the Kings moved to Sacramento in 1985. Only the 1987-88 season was worse.
The saddest aspect of the Kings' season was the diminished atmosphere at Arco Arena, where the Kings incredibly sold out just three games " including the jersey-retirement games for Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, the stars of their successful run earlier in the decade.
A team that sold out 354 consecutive games before the 2007 season opener had the lowest average attendance in the NBA up to the season's final week " this, after an 18 percent drop in attendance last season.
The huge swaths of empty seats and short lines at concession stands at most games were disturbing, as were the racks of unsold Udrih and Francisco Garcia jerseys. At least the Kings largely kept it to themselves, with no national television appearances.
Kevin Martin, the skinny shooting guard who has become the Kings' best player, scored 24.6 points but missed 31 games, including the final eight. After Sacramento shipped out Brad Miller and John Salmons in a trade near the deadline, Spencer Hawes took another step forward in his development, finishing with 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds before injuring his troubled knee in the season's penultimate game.
"The season didn't go the way we wanted, and we want to do more than that for the fans," Hawes said. "We're going to work hard this offseason to give them something to be excited about."
Sacramento actually lost hope for the season early, shortly after the club fired Reggie Theus and promoted Kenny Natt, the longtime assistant coach who got stuck with the no-win job of shepherding this uneven collection of players through the season. Although Natt didn't get much out of his team, he maintained his players' respect.
"He's been consistent in his approach, and he set a different set of standards than we had before," Hawes said. "It's hard coming into a situation on both ends, but I think he made the most of it. It just doesn't always show up in the win-loss column."
Yet Natt almost certainly won't be back unless the Kings can't lure a more established head coach into the position. Several veteran coaches " including Eddie Jordan, Mike Fratello, Del Harris and Avery Johnson " already have been mentioned as candidates while Natt still is on the job.
Natt made no apologies for his work. He's been around the league long enough to realize what he faced.
"I just told them I was proud of them, in regards to their effort," Natt said after beating the Timberwolves. "At least they competed every night " better against the upper-echelon opponents, as a matter of fact. But we had an opportunity to bail out early, and we didn't. I'm proud of my guys, the way we finished the season here."
Nobody in the organization is guaranteed to be back next year, but popular veteran guard Bobby Jackson is among those who would like to see whether the Kings can rebound.
"I'm not done," Jackson said. "I don't know where I'll be next season, but I still want to play. I'll weigh my options, and whatever is the best situation for me and my family. I'll decide in July where I want to be and what I want to do."