The small market team with the black and purple trim has been anything but a Cinderella story over the last seven years. No effective systems on offense or defense and a rotating door of coaches and players, combined with relocation threat after relocation threat, left the Kings locker room in shambles and with a record of 182-376 between 2007 and 2013.
But this year's Kings team is off to a 7-5 start and national media continues to take notice, mentioning DeMarcus Cousins as a potential MVP candidate and going to great lengths to explain the unique way in which they win. The team's defense, a focus on attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line and sharing the ball all play a part. But the success of this new-look Kings squad may just begin in the locker room where a new culture and mentality has formed.
Two of the longest-tenured Kings, DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson, believe it is the result of a new outlook: unselfishness.
"Just a different mindset. We're not just worrying about who is scoring, this, that and the third. We're a team. We started that since training camp," Thompson said.
Thompson isn't putting up numbers that are off the charts, but he is playing admirable defense and fitting in to the team's system well. His frontcourt teammate, DeMarcus Cousins is putting up incredible numbers - averaging 22.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. But the numbers aren't what Boogie is focused on.
"Not worried about individual stats. A lot of selfishness is gone, I could even say it with myself. I'm not worried about if I'm touching the ball or not," Cousins said. "So it's a lot more team-oriented and at the end of the day, it's about winning a game, so that's the biggest thing that's changed in this locker room."
Head coach Michael Malone says the leadership of Cousins, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison and Reggie Evans has played a big factor, but also mentioned the way in which the team is communicating.
"Guys are really trusting in each other, they're communicating with each other, they're holding each other accountable and it's great to see," Malone said.
Collison echoed this.
"I really think it's just practice. Our work ethic, the fact that we get out there defensively. We're always getting after each other. We're fighting, we're arguing, we're trying to win every single game against each other, so it starts in practice too," Collison said. "We're trying to make a commitment on the defensive end and I think that's where it starts. We consider ourselves as one of the top defensive teams in the NBA and that's our goal, so I think that's what's helping us out right now."
Additions such as Collison and Ryan Hollins to the Kings locker room has helped the team's younger players get more comfortable as well. Case in point: second-year man Ben McLemore, who has had a more productive, and consistent season compared to last.
"A lot of vets, a lot of experience in here, Darren Collison, Ryan Hollins, guys that have seen the playoffs and know the will to win and they are bringing a lot good will in," McLemore said. "With this whole locker room we all want to win. We want to get to the playoffs. From DeMarcus, Rudy, me, JT, everybody, Reggie [Evans ]...We have that mindset that if we play as a team, play together, play hard...play together man, I think this is the year for us."
Malone and several players brought up the preseason trip to China as a possible reason for the cohesiveness in the locker room. The team spent a week in the China where they took on the Brooklyn Nets twice.
"We did everything together, I think the fact that we were over there and ate together, practiced together, walked around together and did everything together kind of helped us," Gay said.
Malone has admitted the time changes that came with the China trip took its toll, but did say that it was a positive outing for the team overall.
"Maybe that trip to China was worth the thousands of miles we put on because this team has come together," Malone said.
While the Kings did have a three-game losing streak on their recent road trip, they are a lot better at responding to losses these days - they came out strong at home after the losing streak to defeat the San Antonio Spurs and then beat the Chicago Bulls handily on national TV after a tough loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Rebounding is another reason the Kings are where they are - as a team, they currently rank third in the NBA in rebounding. One of those rebounders is Thompson, who has been with the Kings since 2008 and has never reached the playoffs. He, like his teammates, has high hopes for the rest of the season.
"We don't want this to be just a fluke man, we want it to be consistent," Thompson said.
The Kings are playing consistently tough basketball, but like most rising teams, they are still learning how to win and handle success. A good foundation in the locker room is always a good start.