The NBA ultimately comes down to wins and losses, so the Kings have little reason to be pleased.
Theyre 18-35 at the All-Star break, tied for the worst record in the Western Conference, and theyve found that old habits are hard to break.
Its nearly impossible to turn one of the worst defensive teams into one of the best, and players who look out for themselves first dont suddenly become team players who try to make sure everyone touches the ball on each possession.
Though the Kings have taken steps toward moving out of the conference cellar, its unreasonable to expect them to turn around years of losing in 53 games.
Theres still a lot of work to be done, because we still have one of the worst records in the league, Kings general manager Pete DAlessandro said. Sometimes, youre a lot closer than you realize, and I feel like with some of the young talent we have and talent we have acquired, we have taken steps that dont necessarily reflect our record.
DAlessandro has made four trades since last summer to shake up a roster that needed an overhaul. He took a chance on Derrick Williams, a player talented enough to be the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft. Then, DAlessandro orchestrated a seven-player deal that added three players to the team, including small forward Rudy Gay and his salary, which could be as high as $19.3 million next season if he exercises his option to stay.
Sacramento has embraced (Gay), and we hope that continues, DAlessandro said.
The acquisition of Gay was the kind of deal that likely wouldnt have happened in the final years under the previous ownership, when the bottom line too often took priority over basketball decisions.
The deal hasnt led to better results on the court, but the Kings are young and short on experience with many players who havent been on winning NBA teams.
When he was hired, coach Michael Malone said his first season shouldnt be judged solely on wins and losses, knowing it would be difficult to break the bad habits that have dogged the Kings. But Malone sees a positive sign in the teams improvement on defense.
Over the last 20 games, the Kings are holding opponents to 101.2 points on 44.8 percent shooting (34.7 percent from three-point range), compared to season marks of 103.5 points and 46.4 percent shooting (37.5 percent from three-point range).
And in the Kings 18 victories, opponents have shot 42.1 percent, giving Malone reason to believe his message is starting to take hold.
Thats exciting for me because thats something Ive been pounding all year long, and its taken us a while to get it, Malone said. But knock on wood, were starting to begin to defend at a much higher level. ... Even with all the losing ... for the most part weve stayed together, united and positive. We have not allowed distractions and drama with the losing, which is a credit to our guys and their willingness to understand that this is a process.
The biggest piece in the process has been center DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging career highs of 22.5 points and 11.7 rebounds. Cousins also is shooting better, in part because Malone has played him more in the post.
Isaiah Thomas has put up better numbers than expected with career highs of 20.2 points and 6.3 assists.
But even with three players Cousins, Gay and Thomas averaging at least 20 points, the offense has not been good. The Kings are shooting just 44.6 percent, and their turnovers have increased while their assists have dropped. They are 29th in the league in assists at 19.5 per game.
It would be easy to blame Thomas, since hes the point guard, but poor ball movement and too much one-on-one play involves the entire roster. Too often the first pass leads to a player dribbling and shooting. The Kings also can be slow initiating the offense. Its one reason the Kings would consider adding another point guard who could play a pass-first role and allow the scorers to score.
Trust each other, trust the offense, trust the system, trust each other, Malone said. Make a play for your teammates, because if you make a play for your teammate, the ball is going to come back to you. Thats just how it works in the NBA. So instead of taking that quick shot, lets work to get the best shot.
The Kings have shown progress, and closing the season strong would bring good vibes going into the offseason. The Kings need to win 11 of their last 29 games to surpass last seasons 28 victories.
With an exciting young coaching staff that has really engaged our players, were starting to see buy-in, DAlessandro said. And were starting to see a change culturally in the team, in the locker room and a separation from the way things were done and how theyre being done.