Top three reasons Michael Malone yanked all five starters just minutes into the second half of the Kings' loss to the Grizzlies, and played only one of them again despite the game significantly tightening up in the fourth quarter:
1. The offense was a total mess. With DeMarcus Cousins struggling to post up against Memphis' frontline and the Grizzlies' guards trying to prevent perimeter passing, the Kings couldn't crack through to get a single decent offensive look early in the third. And this was after a horrendous first half on offense. This resulted in some standing around, turnovers and desperate plays at the end of the shot clock.
2. Malone seems prone to making statements at this point of his tenure. Yanking all five starters is the biggest in-game statement you can make.
3. There's a real arguments that players No. 6-10 on this team are on par with players No. 1-5, especially in a game in which Cousins is neutralized.
Here's the thing: the Kings, by my eyes, were playing pretty hard in the first half. The bench was an offensive nightmare in the second quarter, even Isaiah Thomas. The Grizzlies are just plain good and also weird. It's not a typical NBA team on offense: it likes to lean on Zach Randolph in the pivot, Marc Gasol in the high post and Mike Conley off the bounce. They don't take many threes. They thrive on defense. We'll see how new coach Dave Joerger changes their style over the course of the season, but this has been the book on Memphis for years: they are weird. That's why they cause so many matchup nightmares in the playoffs.
Memphis clamped up hard to open the third. They wanted to end the game with a big run. They succeeded (though the second-stringers got the game to within three points via magic). The problem with playing defense with such a discombobulated offense is that those awful shots and turnovers lead to advantages for the other offense. The Kings had no chance to get back and set on a couple of those possessions. So bad offense turns into disadvantaged defense. And that's a recipe for a run. And that's what happened.
Aggressive players (Isaiah, Travis Outlaw) on the second unit changed things up by making sure they got somewhat reasonable shots at the basket and retreated quickly. They cut into that lead over the course of almost all of two quarters. And Malone made another statement: he didn't put the starters back in. (He did let Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, for whom effort is never a problem, give Outlaw a breather.)
If winning games was the only concern Malone had, he might have put Cousins back in for Hamady N'Diaye (who, by the way, sets some pretty awesome screens). But Malone is taking control of the team and putting his imprint on it. We'll see if it works over the long term. It was his second big gambit of the season after switching up the starting lineup before the Nets' blowout.
But this is all really about patience. We knew the Kings weren't going to be great this season. We know it's probably in the Kings' best long-term interest to be somewhat mediocre. Only 25 percent of the Kings' minutes this season have been played by players brought in by Pete D'Alessandro. If you count the re-signed Cousins, it's 37 percent. This is still largely Geoff Petrie's team. We know the talent level is fairly low overall. It will take time for the front office to remake the roster so that it can play the way Malone wants to see it play. It will take time for Malone to install a credible defense.
Malone doesn't have to have patience: he knows exactly what each player should be doing on each possession, and if they fail, he should do whatever he feels necessary. For us, while the losses stink, all we can do is wait for time -- and with time the moves, drafts and player growth that will happen -- to pass. We've seen some glimpses of a better team. Let's hope those come more frequent while Pete D. and company remake the club.