HECTOR AMEZCUA / hamezcua@sacbee.com

Four of the Kings' starters – left to right, Isaiah Thomas, James Johnson, DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans – return to the court after a timeout against Atlanta on Friday.

Kings looking for a leader to take charge

Published: Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 9C
Last Modified: Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 - 10:57 am

In times of adversity, teams look to their leaders for direction.

The Kings are in the midst of a tough time, again. And whom will the players look to?

They're still figuring that out.

The Kings have lost four consecutive games, all by double digits. Their defense has faltered, and the on-court bickering picks up with each loss.

It got to the point where the usually reserved John Salmons initiated a players-only meeting after Friday's 112-96 loss to Atlanta.

"It's still early," Salmons said. "We haven't been winning games like we want to, so I just wanted to (meet as players) before it got too out of control, bring the team together and try to work some things out."

But going forward, the Kings still have to figure out who will be that leader on the court.

It's something else for coach Keith Smart to navigate.

Until it becomes clear who the leader is, it will be up to Smart to manage what has become a tense locker room with the losses.

"I'm the No. 1 leader on our team, but I can't play," Smart said. "I can't be on the floor and do things."

What Smart can do is dictate who is on the floor.

Smart indicated he would be changing his lineups to find a better flow with the team.

Smart has players with strong personalities who don't mind pointing out what's going wrong during a game.

Smart said some of the bad body language and snapping at one another is what comes with losing.

It's not uncommon for players who don't touch the ball to slump their shoulders and stop playing defense. Or a scowl is aimed at a player who a teammate believes is doing too much shooting and not enough passing.

Smart believes he has a handle on the situation.

"I still control the minutes and how (much) they play," Smart said. "And I think our guys still have an understanding of where we're trying to go."

The Kings hope airing their grievances with one another Friday and during Saturday's film session will help players understand their roles.

"We're still growing, trying to figure out not just who the leader is but who we can turn to when things aren't going good," Isaiah Thomas said. "We've just got to all stick together and figure it out as a whole, not just pieces."

Smart didn't oppose his players meeting without him. He said it's good for players to hold one another accountable because there's only so much he can do.

"Kevin Garnett, he polices Boston," Smart said. "Kobe (Bryant) obviously polices the Lakers."

Garnett and Bryant are former league MVPs and multiple-time All-Stars.

No Kings players come close to having that kind of résumé. The Kings with the most playoff experience – Salmons, Aaron Brooks and Chuck Hayes – all come off the bench.

Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins talked about being leaders before the season, but neither is playing up to expectations.

"The leadership is there," Smart said. "Now the ... right guys have to lead. Sometimes, you want your best players to be leaders and they're just not there. But we still have a lot of guys with leadership qualities on our team."

Until those players with those qualities step up, it will be up to Smart to lead the way. Because after nine games, the Kings need direction, and they haven't figured out how to right themselves.

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