Carl Landry hadn't played in an NBA game since his former team, the Golden State Warriors, was bumped from the playoffs on May 16.
A torn hip flexor before this season started delayed his on-court reunion with the Sacramento Kings. But after a couple of brief appearances on the road earlier this week, Landry made his home debut Friday in front of a sold-out crowd at Sleep Train Arena. He scored 5 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in nearly 26 minutes of action, which is right around the veteran's career average in minutes.
Head coach Michael Malone had wanted to ease Landry into playing extended minutes, but due to DeMarcus Cousins' injury and foul trouble from the other Kings bigs, Landry got a shot.
"I put in a lot of work over the last three months to prepare myself for this moment," Landry told reporters following the 116-111 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
The recovery process has been difficult, but the wait has been even tougher on the 6'9'' power forward, who signed a four-year, $27 million deal with the Kings in the offseason.
"It's rough, you know, patience is the hardest part of rehabbing. Sitting here on the training table every day, doing exercises while your teammates are out there doing something that you have been doing all your life and that you love is hard," Landry told Sactown Royalty.
Landry will help solidify the frontcourt rotation and add a low-post scorer next to DeMarcus Cousins when the big man returns. This is his second stint with the Kings and he is pleased with the state of the franchise this time around.
"This is a really good team. The prior teams, you know, no disrespect you know, but this is a lot better team from front to bottom, not just the players, but the GM, coach and the staff," said Landry, who played for the Kings in 2010 and 2011. "This is a good team and we're proving it this year, you know, especially as of late after the trade, after team meetings and we're going to continue to go out there and battle."
There was a nice example during Friday's game of his solid relationship with Malone, who he played under in Golden State. Landry has been struggling with his shot in his first three games this season (he is shooting 35 percent from the field). Following a bricked shot, Malone noticed Landry was down on himself.
"He doesn't have great rhythm right now on the offensive end and he's so hard on himself," Malone told Sactown Royalty. "He took a pick and pop jump shot, didn't hit the rim. I told him the huddle, run the same play and knock it down. Don't even think about it, just shoot the ball."
He did just that, nailed the shot and then pointed to Malone on the bench with a smile.
Malone seems to have similar relationships with all of the players, including Cousins. This is Landry's second stint with Cousins and he sees a completely different player in his front court teammate under Malone and the new system.
"He's a totally different player than he was when he came in his rookie year when I was here," Landry told Sactown Royalty. "He's taken a leadership role, you know, and that's something that the coaches prior to Coach Malone has wanted out of him but wasn't sure if you were getting that. But this year, you know, he's accepting the challenge and I think that's the first step of him becoming the player he wants to be."
Landry still needs to get his legs and wind back, along with his shooting. But he has already shown in his brief time on the floor that he has the ability to impact a game through his rebounding and aggressiveness (he was getting under David West's skin big time in Friday's matchup with the Pacers). Combine Landry at full strength with Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay, Cousins and the Marcus Thornton we all saw score 42 points (had to check the box score a couple of times to wrap my mind around that one) on Friday, and the Kings could become very tough for opposing team's to deal with.
And yes ladies and gentlemen, Landry is fully aware of his Top Hat nickname.
"So I guess that's my nickname, we'll roll with it," Landry said with a smile.