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Effort

I was going pen my musings on effort last week, but Akis sucks as a boss and his office scheme has had a negative impact on my effort and besides my dog ate the first draft right after the giant that lives in my closet knocked the lamp off the end table and broke it and…

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Effort.

Effort: Webster defines it as a conscious exertion of power, a serious attempt, something produced by exertion or trying, the total work done to achieve a particular end.

A little over a week ago, Omer Khan graced the front pages with this fine piece. (No sarcasm there - it was really well done.) Omer's take was that the defensive system of the Kings was broken, and that "no amount of effort or personnel changes can save it." Omer backed up his contention with twenty gifs. It was quite impressive. And if you wanted to look at the gifs solely from the perspective of scheme, I would agree 100% that the scheme is not working, be it the scheme itself or the personnel being asked to run it or a combination of these factors. But my contention, as I discussed in the thread that ensued this post, was that it all starts with effort, and without total effort you cannot fully assess the issues at hand. In other words, the scheme could very well suck to the high heavens, but until the inconsistent effort is addressed, no amount of scheme change can save it (see what I did there?).

The thread conversation was an eye-opener for me, especially as it pertained to reasons/excuses for giving less than full effort. I just couldn't wrap my head around it, and here's why -

My dad was a depression kid. At age 13, he was going to school in the morning and tarring roofs in the afternoon, with the proceeds helping to pay the rent at home. Think about that for a second. My 13 year old comes home, does his homework, hits a few in the batting net in the back yard, plays with the dog, and jumps on the X-Box. Pops tarred roofs. He never pissed and moaned about it, never gave less than full effort. Was he less productive if he was sick? Sure. But he still showed up and gave full effort, every time. That and an old set of golf clubs was the estate that my dad left for me. The clubs are long gone.

My first job was in an industrial laundry. My first full-time job was managing at Burger King. I logged three separate 24 hour shifts during my time at BK. Never even questioned it. You have a job, and you do it to the best of your ability. Dogging it is not an option, but finding another line of work sure is, and that is what I eventually did.

I wound up joining a Fortune 500 company, and after ten years of working my way up (relying much more heavily on effort than natural talent), I made it to Sales Manager of a $160m annual sales distribution center. There were good times and bad. Interestingly, I always found that the work was harder when things were tough. When sales were humming, there was a flow and symmetry to what we were doing. One could say that the scheme was good during those times. But when sales waned, when the scheme was not right, the work was so much harder. Was it frustrating? You bet. It seemed that we were always taking one step forward and two steps back during those times. But those were also the times where effort had to be above reproach. That is to say, I knew that I could not fault the scheme until I could convince myself (and my boss) that I had done everything in my power to make it work. As a result, success came far, far more often than not. I thank my dad for that.

Aftrer six years as sales manager, the boss who gave me the job left and a new one came in. The old boss had the approach of "managing up," which basically means that you find the strengths in your staff and play to that. Perhaps that is what Brad Stevens does, for example. The new boss "managed down,' determining that his system was the only way and you needed to adapt to it, more of a Gregg Popovich or George Karl style, if you will. The old boss' favorite saying was, "If you have to eat a turd, don't chew it on the way down." The new boss didn't want the word "turd" spoken in the office. We gave it a year and a half, but ultimately determined that we were not the best fit together. I moved on, with support from him...we are still friends to this day. The effort was never questioned by either of us, as we both know that we did everything that we could at the time to try to make it work. That is why the break was so amicable, because there was no lack of effort given or perceived by either of us.

That is why I am so obstinate on the topic of effort. If dad could tar roofs at 13, then NBA basketball players can give full effort at all times. Understand what I am saying here. I get the fact that players get hurt, or that they go through shooting slumps, and that back-to-backs are hellacious. And while all of those things can certainly affect the result, they should never affect the effort. And honest to God, I didn't think that this was a controversial point. I had it in my mind that virtually all of us in these tough times go about our tasks (be it work or school or running a household or whatever) with maximum effort. It never dawned on me that those of us that find even a small modicum of success have done so by giving anything less than their best at all times, in spite of whatever road blocks or disasters or schemes confront us. It all starts with effort. It...all...starts...with...effort.

Yesterday, Aaron Bruski (whose writing I greatly respect and enjoy) sent out a series of tweets, basically urging everyone not to buy into the narrative that player effort is an issue in Sacramento. This came right on the heels of Vlade Divac stating that player effort was an issue, a statement that Willie Cauley-Stein supported. At various times during the season, DeMarcus Cousins, Omri Casspi, Darren Collison and other Kings players have called out the team for inconsistent or less-than-full effort. I trust Bruski's reporting, and I value his opinion. But I simply can't agree with him on this one. Effort is certainly not the only thing wrong here, but I believe that it is the biggest thing. Full effort can make bad personnel a little bit better. Full effort can make a bad scheme at least a little bit better. But the best personnel and scheme will ultimately fail if the effort is not full and complete. To be fair, the best personnel and scheme do allow for that flow and symmetry that I mentioned earlier, the frustration goes away and full effort comes much more easily. So please don't think that I am excusing the scheme or saying that it is not part of the problem. The problems here start at ownership and everyone from there on down owns responsibility for the disappointment that is the 2015-16 Sacramento Kings. But as it pertains to what we are seeing on the floor, it begins with effort. Effort.

This is my concern as it pertains to the current roster moving forward. If they have not given full effort (and Divac and various players have stated that they have not), then why are we to believe that it will happen in the future? Even with a coaching change, will this group compromise its effort the first time that they are unhappy with their new coach?

"How they treated their last coach has a big impact on how you play. You can't undermine a coach and then with the next coach say, ‘Hey listen to this guy.'"

Jeff Van Gundy

Van Gundy's quote was in reference to the Bulls, but it is equally applicable here. This has really morphed into a systemic issue here. How do you get a roster that compromises its effort to suddenly flip the switch on full time? How do you change that dynamic?

I was thinking about the greats that I have seen in the NBA that played with uncompromising effort. Jordan, Bird, Johnson, Duncan, Garnett. My goodness, wouldn't you love to see Cousins play with an effort consistent with that of Duncan or Garnett? And make no mistake, I think that Cousins has been one of the better Kings this year as it pertains to effort. But should we not aspire that our two-time all-star franchise centerpiece take that next step?

And this does not just apply to greats. Shane Battier. Ronnie Price. Bobby Jackson and Corliss Williamson. These are careers built with effort as the core foundation, a will and desire to leave nothing on the court at by the end of every game.

Fifty one days ago I walked out of the Kings-Sixers game, disgusted with the lack of effort that was being put forth by the Kings. I don't have gifs to attach here, but if you have the time and the stomach, go back and watch that game and you will see everything that I am talking about here. Or watch the first ninety minutes of the second Philly game. Or the 12/27 Portland game. Or the 1/13 New Orleans game. Or the first quarter defensive effort of any game played by the Kings since the Charlotte loss.

Yes, the scheme is an issue. Yes, the player personnel is not to the standard of the top teams in the league, though it is probably at or in excess of the standard of Portland and Utah, two teams that play much harder much more often than the Kings. Maybe the coach needs to go. But it is my contention that any player that does not play at absolute peak level over the next 29 games needs to go, regardless of the importance of the games. The effort of this team is questionable in the minds of the players themselves, and as long as that exists, success will never be in range.

Everything is the problem. But if you fix everything but effort, you're still doomed to fail.

Fix the effort, Kings. Please.