As soon as the buzzer sounded Monday night at the Golden 1 Center, San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich walked over to congratulate Sacramento Kings Head Coach Dave Joerger. He then embraced Kings General Manager Vlade Divac for a hug.
After he left the floor following a 104-99 defeat at the hands of the Kings, Popovich briefly spoke to the media. When asked about what he thinks of the direction of the now 8-6 Kings, he offered some high praise.
“I was really impressed. Their culture is changing – it’s changed drastically. Guys are committed, guys are physical, taking pride in playing some defense. I think Vlade [Divac] and the team have made some good moves and I think Dave [Joerger] has done a great job bringing that group together. They look really good, it’s impressive,” Popovich said.
There are several reasons for the culture change in Sacramento, but two of the main reasons may be that there is an overall lack of selfishness on the team in terms of who is scoring and that guys know their roles.
Willie Cauley-Stein explained the shift.
“The culture was changed before our first game through the guys. I’ve been here for four years and this is the first time that everybody is on one page, and everybody likes playing with each other, everybody really cares if you do well,” Cauley-Stein said. “In the past it was like, these two dudes need to get their numbers and we might win, and if we win it’s cool. Now, it’s like we’re playing for everybody else to play good. We’re helping each other play good, and it’s more fun that way. Everybody is getting touches and everybody is getting to make plays, and that’s how you keep everyone engaged and happy.”
The Kings had 27 assists in the win over the Spurs. Bogdan Bogdanovic, who finished the game with 22 points, elaborated on how guys know where they need to be, which is different from last season.
“It’s amazing how we suddenly improved from last year. I remember we didn’t know some plays in the season – Where’s my spot? Where should I be? I’m talking about everyone generally. Now, I think we know the roles more and more,” he said. “It’s a totally different approach this season … We’re really trying to make the playoffs this year, I know that sounds crazy … but that’s our motivation.”
What all of this has led to is a winning culture. In seasons past, the mantra around the Kings was to not let a losing culture set in. That can sometimes be difficult when the losses are piling up, but as Popovich said, there has been a drastic change in Sacramento.
“We’re going into every game this year feeing like we can win and when you go into games with that confidence, you start seeing shots go in, energy picks up, defense picks up and you have a ball game,” said De’Aaron Fox. “People are starting to take notice.”
In case you wanted to know what Popovich said to Divac at the end of the game – he was asked about it and responded in true Pop fashion.
“Really? Really? … I love Vlade, we’ve been friends for a long time,” he said.