Knightfall: In Heartbreaking Loss, Kansas City Reaches Sudden Crossroads
- By John Comey, Day 186, 2022
The Kansas City Knights ended their 2022 season in the most fitting fashion: on a game-winner in the final five seconds, giving them one last heartbreaking loss in a season chalk full of them.
The capper on their season, on Jamaya Sprinkle’s three with two seconds left in double overtime, was combined with the coup de grace: MVP favorite Kelvin Hawes missing two free throws immediately after, costing the Knights at least a chance at a third overtime, and ultimately, their season.
The Phoenix Vultures, shown to be the better overall team in this series, proved that axiom in the 129-128 double overtime thriller. Drayton Banks, long neutralized for the series by Hawes, went for 28 points, 18 boards, and four assists. He also nearly ended up the goat, as his foul on the inbound after Sprinkle’s go-ahead bucket put Hawes on the line, and fouled Banks out.
Rasheem Fisher, likely the MVP of this series, had 17 points and six assists in Game 7. We’ll circle back to him later. Sprinkle, a support man for most of this series, had his best game, finishing with fifteen points, twelve boards, and seven blocks. Oh, and the aforementioned game-winning three.
It was one of nineteen the Vultures hit in the penultimate game.
The Knights, all season long, tried to fight off claims that they were a two-man team. They got worthy contributions from The Other Guys, the members of the team not Kelvin Hawes or Aaron Honeycutt. Hawes performed at a level that could gain him the league’s top individual award this year. He is easily in the inner circle of those being considered. Honeycutt, seemingly still overlooked among the game’s top two-guards, really should not be. He made The Leap this year, giving some the thought that he could be The Man on a title contender. With Hawes, he does not have to be…but certainly, he is not a beta on this team.
But The Other Guys are why the Knights got to this spot. The team, who raced out to a great start, could have sunk when Curtis Price went down. Instead, Dyron Mays, signed to a minimum contract in the offseason, played admirably in his absence; certainly, he was well enough to keep his starting spot when Price returned. Xavier Yates, a second-year man who went undrafted, started for a third of the season, and played fantastic at times. Alexei Davydov, the rookie power forward, become a defensive stalwart with the second unit. Juan Maurice, whose team option, will be picked up by the team, was phenomenal in the role the team had for him. Certainly, he is the reserve center for Hawes, one able to play with him on the floor.
Those are the positives. And two big answers. But now, as the team turns to the offseason, it seems like the questions are going to pile up.
Rahmond Thompson, the talented but offensively limited postmen, is a solid defensive sidekick for Hawes. But is he a long-term solution? The team has a year to figure that out. He came out looking like he was ready to become a solid third option on this team. But he fell off as the season went on. It is possible that his game will ascend to another level next year. He made some solid leaps this season, though one wonders if he has maxed out his talent on the offensive end. If so, he may cede more minutes to Davydov next year.
It was a fit of irony that Thompson, who moved to the center spot as Hawes slid to the four to defend Banks, was guarding Sprinkle on the final bucket. It was the biggest gamble made by head coach Mitchell Anderson after a season of slight tweaking. As soon as the playoffs began, Anderson immediately sprang into action, making that switch, which looked genius throughout the series. He also desperately tried to find a solution for the team’s biggest hole, which will we discuss later on in the column. And that may have been the downfall of the team in this series, and their season.
That poses an interesting scenario for the Knights: Davydov looks like a player who could start. Do they try to move Thompson, perhaps to acquire another pick? Or do they continue to let him develop?
Oddly enough, there is an odd dichotomy with this team: They have two megastars that should have them putting up great records every season. This was, arguably, the greatest season in Knights’ history…from a regular season standpoint. But the team necessitates more depth and at least one more piece if they are to reach the next level. They have at least five players—Thompson, Yates, Maurice, Davydov, and promising youngster, SF Savonte Rowe, who need time to grow. But will their current window let them?
The team has two holes going into the offseason. The primary gap is at the point. Price is done. It is possible that he will retire at age 35. His $18m salary will certainly not be utilized for him. Mays was exposed badly on defensive by Fisher in this series. He also might have played himself out of a minimum contract; if that were to be the case, it will likely be out of Kansas City. So the team could easily be looking at two point guard additions. Well, three, as Craig Leonard, who never got a fair shake as his size was constantly used against him, will not return.
The other is at small forward. Yates is a good piece to have, and Rowe could be something. But for how the Knights want to play, they are not the current answer. The team had hopes that Tarvis McWilliams, an incredibly talented playmaker, would do exactly that for the Knights. He did, but only in flashes. In Game Seven, he was 3-8 from the field, finishing with seven points, thirteen boards, nine assists, four blocks, and three steals. He knows how to fill up a stat sheet, and make plays that show off his ability to do a bit of everything.
But too often, parts of his game go missing. He is a woeful shooter, something he dismisses with a “watch this” attitude, as he jacks up another poor shot. He sunk the Knights in at least one game this series with that misfiring ability. And the team tried to move him to the point, to slow down Fisher. It worked, to a degree. If the team were to add someone at small forward, which would allow McWilliams to freelance within the confines of the offense, then perhaps that would work.
However, it is doubtful that he will be brought back at his current salary, $8m. Another team may go after him in the hopes that he will be their missing piece. (He won’t.) He is on the severe decline at 33, and is nothing more than a reserve role man at this point. Will his ego even allow that?
So, the team turns to the offseason at a severe crossroads. With their current nucleus, they are still good for upwards of 48-50 wins. They will have roughly $30m to play with in the offseason, too. They will be able to sign a max player, if they can lure one. They should be able, and the biggest one available will be sitting out there in Dontay Sowder. If they go after him—and all indications are that they will make an aggressive pitch for him—then he may leave Houston for the second time. There will be an intense battle for him across the league.
The Knights could assume that, and go after players that may get overlooked. But that’s a big risk in losing out on maybe the biggest difference-maker in the league.
If you’re Kansas City, what do you do? How do you fill what may be the top most important pieces in the framework of the franchise going forward? It is no secret that the current administration finds Hawes to be a bonus, and that they want their team to go through a playmaking small forward and a leader at the point.
Tune in to find out.
The next chapter in Kansas City is about to be written. It is time for the Hawes Prime Era. As soon as pen hits paper, it will be debated.
And while Phoenix heads to Seattle, and Knights fans dejectedly read this column, there is reason for excitement.