SACRAMENTO -- As the New Orleans Pelicans gathered their gear and headed for the team bus following shootaround on Wednesday, forward Ryan Anderson sat courtside at Sleep Train Arena taking it all in.
The 27-year-old forward was born in Sacramento and grew up in El Dorado Hills where he attended Oak Ridge High School. He grew up a Kings fan. Posters of Kings players adorned his walls. He played on the Kings home court as an eighth grader and even won a state championship at Arco Arena as a prep athlete.
One last game at the old barn held a special meaning for a player who has been through plenty of trials over his career.
“This will always be my home,” Anderson told CSN California. “My family’s still here.”
This is the last time he’ll have an opportunity to play in Sacramento before the team moves into a new building later this year. He is a player who knows his history of the franchise and it’s struggle to stay in Sacramento. And he has always been an advocate of the team staying in the capital city.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Anderson told CSN California. “I’m going to miss this arena. I have so many memories here. But it’s time for a positive change, I think, for the city and for the team.”
There is no question that Anderson felt some nostalgia when he suited up and walked out of the floor in Natomas for the last time. But he’s focused on trying to win as many games as possible down the stretch for his current team.
Anderson didn’t expect the Pelicans to be where they are in the standings. It’s a disappointment to everyone involved that they haven’t been able to repeat last year’s success that included a playoff berth.
“We know we’re so much better than our record and so much better than we’ve been playing,” Anderson said. “It would be nice to figure something out in the next 16 games. At least playing at a certain consistency of tempo and pace.”
At 25-42, the Pelicans trail the Kings by one game for the 11th best record in the Western Conference. Their season has gone sideways in a similar fashion as Sacramento’s. Coming into Wednesday night, they had lost four straight and 8-of-9.
Anderson will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and his timing couldn’t be better. The NBA’s salary cap is about to jump in a major way and the free agent class is small. Almost every team in the league will have money to spend and Anderson will have no problem finding a club willing to hand over a dump truck load of cash.
Will the dysfunction in Kingsland be enough to deter one of Sacramento’s own from coming back home?
“I think there’s drama everywhere,” Anderson said. “Every team faces it. Yeah, Sacramento has had a magnitude of different things. For me personally, when free agency comes this summer, that’s when I’m going to be focused on all that. I’m going to weigh out the pros and cons of a lot of different places, that’s the benefit of being an unrestricted free agent.”
Anderson visited Sacramento in the summer of 2012 before signing a four-year $32 million deal with New Orleans. The Kings decided to ink Jason Thompson to a five-year deal instead.
On Wednesday night, Anderson said goodbye to Arco Arena in style, dropping 21 of his 29 points during a wild first half explosion. He torched the Kings from the corner and with his step back jumper. If it was an audition, he aced it.
The Kings may get another bite at the apple with Anderson this summer and they would be crazy not to at least consider bringing one of the Sacramento’s own into the fold. He'll cost plenty, but he is a player that could open everything up for DeMarcus Cousins.
How fitting would it be to have young hoop fans in Sacramento grow up with a poster of Ryan Anderson in a Kings jersey hanging on their wall?