This time of the year is about optimism for every NBA team, including the Sacramento Kings. The Kings are likely more optimistic than some teams because the previous season is probably one they would like to forget, and that’s been the case for around a decade.
Over that stretch, the Kings have had a team with a defined identity maybe twice. There was the 2005-06 roster that featured Ron Artest (Metta World Peace), Bonzi Wells, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Kenny Thomas, Corliss Williamson, Mike Bibby and Kevin Martin that was a resilient, “us against the world” type of team. And for a few short months early in the 2014-15 season Michael Malone had the Kings believing in defense and playing a “bully ball” type of basketball through DeMarcus Cousins – the November 2014 era you may say. (They started the season 9-5.) Malone was let go shortly after and that team’s identity was lost.
In other words, the Kings have long been suffering from an identity crisis.
A team that has a defined identity and strives to fit that mold is going to be more successful than one that doesn’t. Granted you need the players to fit that identity, and through that, there will be growing pains. Enter Dave Joerger, who brings with him a “grit and grind” defensive mindset from the Memphis Grizzlies. On Tuesday, the Kings fell to a much more cohesive unit in the Los Angeles Clippers that exposed the fact that the Kings are just learning their new system, as Rudy Gay put it. After the game, Joerger, as he has preached for most of the summer, spelled out what he wants his team’s identity to be.
"We can be known as that team that's hard to play against every night, and that takes a lot of mental fortitude to do that possession after possession, to guard, to run back every possession, and that's what we're working on,” Joerger said.
Joerger, who is one for being rather straightforward with media either through a half-joke or a pointed response, admitted getting the Kings to this point is going to take some time, even declaring that it may take a “year-and-a-half.” Whether that was a bit of humor on his part or not, the Kings should strive to achieve and maintain a specific identity and culture, and be patient while trying to establish it.
Cousins said the beginning stages of this process is what makes this season feel different compared to previous campaigns.
"I think we're finding our identity earlier than usual. We know what type of team we want to be. We know what type of playing style we're going to play,” Cousins said. “He [Joerger] tells you what he expects, he tells you what he wants and that's it,” Cousins said.
That identity, of course, is defensive-minded.
"Your defense has to always be there. Your defense has to travel on the road, your defense has to be there on nights that the ball is not going in,” Joerger said.
Darren Collison said the Kings have the right personnel to play this way.
"That's something we should lay our hat on. We have the players to do it, you think of Arron Afflalo is one of the best two guards that can play defense, Ben [McLemore] can play defense at that position, myself at my position, Garrett Temple, Rudy Gay is long, Cuz, Willie [Cauley-Stein], Kosta [Koufos], we have players that can do it so why not hang our hat on the defensive end?" Collison said.
Playing defense, changing the culture, having the right pieces in place – these are all things we have become accustomed to hearing in Sacramento around this time of the year. As with most things in life, actions speak louder than words. The Kings are now on their fourth coach in four seasons so establishing an identity and keeping the train on the rails isn’t exactly something the fans are going to buy until they see it. It is going to take patience on the part of the players, coaching staff and front office. And it is certainly going to take some accountability and discipline. Collison said he is pleased with the job Joerger is doing so far in that category.
"I love coach. I think Dave is doing a good job of holding everybody responsible, accountable for whatever they’re not doing on the court. That's what you need a coach to do. Dave is doing a good job of making us execute and understand how to execute the plays,” Collison said.
Joerger recently told me how he deals with players who aren’t playing defense is “you don’t play them, it’s pretty simple.” When asked if the same goes for Cousins, he responded with, “Always.”
Cousins referred to Joerger as “cut and dry.”
“He comes in tells what you he needs, let's get the work done, let’s get out. There's no gray area, it's black and white,” Cousins said.