ESPN basketball dude and all-around good guy, Zach Lowe, had Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger on his podcast yesterday. This sort of longer-form, open interview with a member of the Kings organization is rare, and we’ve heard so little out of Joerger, or the Kings’ front office since free agency kicked off, that this interview really is a must-listen for Kings fans.
I’m going to pull out some of the more interesting, currently relevant quotes, but you should certainly check out the entire interview here. Joerger talked a lot about his time in Memphis, coaching in various minor leagues, and it’ll give you a better idea of who Dave Joerger is as a person. Again, I can’t recommend it enough, particularly because Lowe isn’t afraid to ask some of the tougher questions in a very blunt manner that doesn’t come across as sound-bite hunting.
On why Dave Joerger would take the Kings job, all things we know way too much about considered -
It’s time for the cement to dry here, and lay down the foundation, and do some things consistently, and having some people in place, and I felt assured of that coming out here. I have a good relationship with Vivek Ranadive, our owner, and also Vlade Divac made me very comfortable about the direction that we can go, and doing it together, where the head coach and the GM are on the same page, and I think that’s a very positive thing.
We’ve heard this before, for the most part. Every head coach the Kings have had in recent memory has come in here and preached ‘same page’, so while this is nice, there is definitely a little ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ involved. Yes, Dave Joerger was actually hired by the Kings’ current GM, and that does count for something. I’m glad everyone is good right now. We’ll see how long it stays that way.
On DeMarcus Cousins, kind of -
Making your teammates feel good, encouraging as much as possible, getting on dudes when you need to get on them, but making sure that your stuff is always tight, and that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing very single time before you say what somebody else is doing incorrectly.
Joerger jumped around on Lowe’s question here, but I thought this quote mostly pertaining to Cousins was relevant. I’m generally pro-Cousins in the sense that I think having him shoulder most of blame for the Kings’ terribleness is misguided, but he is far from perfect, and Joerger’s statement about making sure Cousins is doing everything he’s supposed to be doing before he calls someone else out couldn’t be more accurate. Cousins is bad at this. It’s something he needs to work on.
On what the Kings are trying to be -
It’s kind of a reset. Going forward, as I said earlier, between a GM and a coach who are going together arm and arm going forward, you do what you can do, what you are able to do at the time, knowing what the long-term vision is. If we said in the last two months ‘Well jeez, you guys have like seven bigs’, well yeah, but that doesn’t mean that is what we are going to do for ever and ever. It’s not. The roster will balance out.
I think we want to have an identity that begins on the defensive end of the floor. And that is where trust is established, and teamwork is established, and certainly high levels of communication. If you care about each other defensively I think it’s a lot easier to be a great teammate on offense, and share the basketball, and move the basketball. I want to say that, I don’t know that we are going to come out and run the Princeton Offense. As well as DeMarcus scores the ball, he puts a lot of pressure on defenses. I think he is a very effective passer, and we’ve got to put guys in positions where he has space to be a playmaker, and a playmaker is a guy who can score first, and bring his teammates into the fold because of his threat to score.
On Rudy Gay -
With Rudy Gay, I think he had a tough year last year. I think he’s going to be a little bit healthier this year, and I hope that, I’m looking for a big year from him. Now, I have history with him, coaching him in Memphis when I was an assistant coach so having a relationship with him is important, so having those two guys leading the charge.
For all the speculation that Rudy Gay would be moved this summer, Dave Joerger is talking about him like he’s an important member of the Sacramento Kings this season. We’ll see.
On Ben McLemore -
I’m looking for Ben McLemore to step up. You look at Ben, poor Ben, I think I’m his fourth coach in four years. It’s a tough situation. Look, I put my arm around him, he’s in here in August working out all five days this week, and it’s been, it’s been terrific, and there is a smile on his face, and I’m just trying to give him a lot of confidence, and work with him, and say ‘look man, this is just part of your journey, it’s been a tough road’. I can’t come in here, Zach, and say ‘hey, it’s going to be different now, we’re going to start over!’. I’m guessing the last three guys have said that, too, right?
We’ve heard this gym-rat tale involving Ben McLemore so many times in the past that I have a hard time getting too worked up about Joerger’s genuine excitement over getting to work with him, but it was still nice to hear. I’m glad the Kings didn’t trade McLemore this summer, despite my lack of faith in his ability to develop into the player we all hoped he’d become. I just think McLemore’s value was so low this offseason that whatever player or asset the Kings would receive for Ben wouldn’t have been worth at least seeing if Joerger could get anything out of him. If Joerger can do something here, great, if not, well, it is what it is.
On the big picture -
I want to be here a while. Lets build this thing the right way. And give you guys confidence, hold you accountable for what we expect of you, and how you play, and how hard you play defensively together, but lets do it the right way, and not just go ‘hey oh my gosh, the magic wand tapped somebody on the shoulder, and we’re going to win 50 games this year’ I don’t know if that is even best for us long-term. I’m not saying we’re trying to lose, I’m saying the wins and losses don’t matter as much as how we are, and how we play, and how we practice going forward. We’re laying down the foundation here. I know that is a lot of coach speak, but that really is what’s going on here.
Boy, that quote is equal parts depressing and encouraging. The Kings have been selling the fan base on ‘we want to win by the time the new arena opens’ and here comes Dave Joerger giving us another ‘it’s not about wins and losses’ speech. The toughest part is, Joerger is right. He’s right! But it doesn’t make the past decade of losing, and the next couple of seasons of probable losing, any more easy to stomach.
The Kings do not have a playoff roster right now. It’s hardly close, if we’re being honest. Multiple things have to break extremely perfect for the Kings to even sniff the 8th seed. Willie Cauley-Stein has to take a huge leap, Cousins needs to take another leap. Rudy Gay needs to have a near-career year. One of the Kings’ multiple shooting guards options needs to be a competent starter, the point guard position needs to be fixed, etc. There is a way, but it’s highly, highly unlikely, and Joerger is already tempering expectations. Again, he’s not wrong, it’s just tough to hear. It’s tough to reset when you’ve been resetting for a decade.
Joerger would go on to express how tough the Western Conference is, which he, of course, is 100% correct about. I just took that as another hint of expectation tempering, or better yet, just being realistic about where the Kings are right now.
This is a larger conversation that probably deserves its own post, but if the Kings are really resetting, from the front office on down, it’s probably time to give that DeMarcus Cousins trade a good look. We’ll see how the season plays out, maybe the Kings can stay in the mix up until the trade deadline and then swing something that could put them in position for a real playoff run, or at least marked improvement over the last couple of seasons. But if that improvement doesn’t come, and if this season isn’t about wins and losses, and we start doing the faux-tank, it might be time to get as many assets for DeMarcus Cousins as you possibly can. It pains me to say that, because the Kings have absolutely squandered the DeMarcus Cousins window, but it’s reality.
Unless, of course, the Kings can convince Cousins to re-sign early. I don’t see that happening.