LAS VEGAS In two seasons in the NBA, Isaiah Thomas had never looked so happy to be exhausted. He had participated in a summer league practice and couldn't believe the level of intensity.
For coach Michael Malone, it wasn't anything special.
"Isaiah Thomas told me after our practice that it was the hardest practice he's had since he's been in the NBA," Malone said. "And I laughed because it wasn't that hard a practice in my eyes."
Malone wasn't planning to use the summer league as a barometer for regular-season success, and considering the Kings finished 1-4, that's a good thing.
Malone intended to establish a standard for hard work and accountability that would carry over into training camp and the regular season.
"I think they know it will be a lot different," Malone said. "That's not a knock on anybody. That's just the approach moving forward."
Malone wanted Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum, the Kings' two draft picks, to be indoctrinated into his ways during the summer league minicamp and games.
Helping Malone spread his message were veterans such as Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Jason Thompson and Jimmer Fredette, who worked out with the coaches or practiced with the summer league team.
Malone believes the time in Las Vegas began the process of changing the culture that has permeated the franchise during six consecutive losing seasons.
"I know for Ben and Ray, without a doubt," Malone said. "And for Marcus and Isaiah, who practiced with us a couple of times, and Jason and Jimmer, who also went to the gym with our staff, they know that it's a different staff and we're going to be a work team."
Working hard isn't something the Kings have been known for around the league. Opponents have exploited the Kings' habit of whining at officials, beating them down the floor for easy baskets.
Understanding scouting reports and opponents' tendencies seemed to take a back seat to individual play, too.
Count Thomas as one player in favor of what Malone is trying to do.
"It's a 100 percent change," Thomas said. "It just reminded me of college practice. Even though it's just the summer league team, everyone's dialed in. There's no talking on the side, just focus on getting better and attention to detail, just doing the right things. So I can't wait for this season to start."
Only two Kings, Thornton and Carl Landry, have played for Malone when he was an assistant coach. Both praised Malone's strategic prowess as a coach.
Malone wants all the returning players to know they are part of a new franchise, just without the hassle of relocation threats and ownership instability.
"Them coming around and sensing the change in the ownership, and the commitment from ownership, our front-office staff, the coaching staff, and they know it's a new day in Sacramento," Malone said. "I think they're excited and looking forward to the change that's ahead."
Though McLemore and McCallum weren't around for the struggles of recent seasons, they've been filled in by the veterans.
"I've been talking to DeMarcus (Cousins), Isaiah, J.T. and all those guys," McLemore said. "I think they have a feeling this year is going to be better. We're rebuilding for us a whole new organization."
McCallum said Malone's message has been clear accountability, effort and defense are priorities. Although those are basic tenets of NBA basketball, the Kings have been lacking in those areas for years.
"I feel like he's done a great job with the coaching staff getting us prepared for these games," McCallum said. "And Ben and I, really getting us prepared for what's ahead of us."