Around half of the Sacramento Kings rotation players are new, leaving a handful of holdovers from a season the players, front office and fans would like forget.
The players who remain from last season, which featured three coaches and shifts in the front office, are ready to move on and believe the team's current situation will allow them to do so. Getting away to San Diego for training camp, participating in firefighter training and the rest of the team bonding exercises in recent weeks has been a good start.
Darren Collison, who is in a battle with Rajon Rondo at the point guard spot, said on media day that he has noticed a change in the environment.
"We have to [move on]. I think the environment that we have it just seems like a better environment than it was last year. We dealt with a lot, I know everybody has been talking about our expectations and they have been saying this about our team in a negative light, but I can't remember being part of a team that's dealt with three coaches," Collison said. "So we dealt with a lot and we're just happy that we can move forward and we have a brand new start. George Karl is excited to take this group under his wing and we're excited too."
Vlade Divac last week called the rift between Karl and DeMarcus Cousins an "old story." He may be right, but that isn't going to stop the microscope being placed over the team's head coach and its best player this season. Karl does continue to say the right things. He recently admitted to apologizing to Cousins for his remark last season that no player is untradable and Cousins and Karl have described their relationship as "solid." Five years into his career, Cousins said he thinks everything feels stable with the team.
"I would say yes, I mean, it took a lot to get here, but I'm glad we're in this spot now so I'm excited for the future," Cousins said.
Ben McLemore is part of the team's future. The Kings picked up the 2016-17 option on his contract this week. McLemore enters this season with a lot of expectations to make another leap in his development. Suddenly surrounded by a roster full of veterans (Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Caron Butler, just to name a few), he will need to prove he can fill the role of a starting shooting guard in the NBA. Those veterans will likely help that progression and so will a full year with one head coach. McLemore, who says he's added 5 pounds in the offseason and that his shot has improved, believes the guys who have returned from last season have moved on from the chaos.
"I think everybody has, especially this year we're going to have coach Karl for a whole year this year and I think everybody is focused and locked in, and on the same page because we have a talented team, not just a talented team, but a great team," McLemore said. "We have a lot of different type of experienced guys, vet guys that have been through the playoffs, won championship games and stuff like that so I think this year is going to be a standout season for us to show and prove to everybody what the Kings can do and bring the Kings back on the map."
Pride in Sacramento and the push to put the Kings on the map drives forward Omri Casspi. It wasn't a guarantee that Casspi would be returning to the Kings this season, despite the fact he expressed interest in staying. Casspi admittedly works from his heart and he has a soft spot for the city that drafted him so he was happy to sign a two-year, $6 million deal with the Kings this summer. Throughout the coaching carousel of last season, he remained a strong voice of reason in the locker room. The candid Casspi has confidence in the changes the Kings have made and the future of the franchise.
"I think we have guys that signed for long-term, we have coaching in place, a great coach in Karl and have guys ... at the right time to really take it to the next level and it's about time," Casspi said. "So I feel like I'm pretty confident our team is very stable now and we're going the right direction."
The direction of a team begins at the top and Divac appears to have smoothed things over there. If Karl and Cousins continue to work on their relationship, the holes that were filled in the roster this offseason should result in more wins and more importantly, a better state of mind for the players on the floor. Having so many players who weren't around for the Michael Malone-Tyrone Corbin-George Karl transition shouldn't hurt either.