These Kings are trying to be different.
They have been known as passive and soft for many years. Those labels stick when you’re one of the worst defensive teams, routinely giving up season and career highs to opposing players.
Through two preseason games, the Kings are trying to be the aggressors. Whether it be DeMarcus Cousins urging rookies George Papagiannis and Skal Labissiere not to be pushed around against the Los Angeles Lakers or Matt Barnes being called for a foul that looked and sounded as if it had playoff-level intensity, the Kings want to be the bullies.
Kings coach Dave Joerger said the team isn’t trying to send a message; rather, it’s trying to forge a new identity based on defense and toughness.
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So far, the team has been receptive.
“I think it’s what we hope to have on a nightly basis,” Joerger said. “A mindset of being physical, being active. Flying around, being a good teammate, each guy up and down the line and helping each other.”
Those are qualities the Kings haven’t had, which is not surprising, because most bad teams lack those traits.
The Kings hope this season’s combination of experience and the addition of Joerger as coach will begin to change that.
It helps when a player like Barnes is added to the mix. Barnes has never lacked intensity, and having played for Joerger last season in Memphis, Barnes was the kind of veteran the Kings needed.
Cousins has long wanted Barnes as a teammate because he has no problem getting physical.
“He’s a true competitor,” Cousins said. “He leaves it all out there on the floor. I think he’s a great role model for the younger guys on how to approach a game on a nightly basis.”
Cousins long has been the only King to play with Barnes’ intensity.
So even in the preseason, Cousins welcomes Barnes’ style.
Barnes said the Kings must play with tenacity consistently.
“I think that’s what we need,” Barnes said. “I think myself and DeMarcus (are) like that. As long as we keep our energy focused in the right direction, I think you can light a fire under this team.”
The Kings allowed a league-high 109.1 points per game last season. With Joerger emphasizing defense and the Kings looking to be more physical, the team appears to have begun to shed its soft defensive label.
Cousins certainly likes the idea of the Kings being known as scrappy and physical.
“That’s the identity we want as a team,” Cousins said. “We need all five guys on the floor playing the exact same way. And if that’s the case, I feel we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
The way Barnes sees it, if he and Cousins play like that, the rest of the team will, too.
Barnes has no problem leading the way.
“I think it’s contagious,” Barnes said. “I’m a vocal leader, but also I lead by example. So, I’m going out there and pressuring people, and I think it carries on for the younger guys and everybody.”