The Kings’ first glimpse at how hard it is for coach Michael Malone to deal with losing came during last year’s NBA summer league.
In the big picture, summer league isn’t about wins and losses, and the Kings trotted out a team with no NBA experience. Still, Malone didn’t expect the Kings to lose four games in a row before winning their last one in Las Vegas.
On this year’s summer league roster, the Kings have five players who finished last season with them, so they’ll have some experience. And having five players familiar with the system the Kings run should make for a better showing.
Malone won’t focus on the summer league championship, but he doesn’t expect the Kings to be beaten like they were last year.
The Kings begin a four-day minicamp today at Spring Valley High School before opening play Friday against the San Antonio Spurs at Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus.
“I hope to be a lot more competitive than last year, but not at the expense of player development,” Malone said.
The Kings are much better prepared to develop their players.
“Last year, I’d been on the job a month prior to summer league,” Malone said. “I think we were the only team in summer league with all rookies.”
Summer league was especially tough on Ben McLemore. He struggled with his shooting and dribbling, problems that arose during the season.
Ray McCallum looked more comfortable in summer league, and his smoother transition eventually led to significant playing time last season.
Malone wants McLemore to improve his shooting and ballhandling and McCallum to become more of a vocal leader and a better decision maker.
Quincy Acy, Jared Cunningham and Derrick Williams are the other veterans on the summer league roster.
Nik Stauskas, this year’s first-round draft pick, will also play. He will be in a better position to succeed than McCallum and McLemore last summer because of the presence of the veterans.
“If Nik was coming in like Ben and Ray were last year, it would be tough,” Malone said.
This summer is especially important for Williams. Rarely does a No. 2 overall pick who’s a three-year veteran play in summer league, but Williams is still trying to find his place in the NBA.
Williams, who was traded to Sacramento in November after a disappointing stint in Minnesota, is in the last year of his rookie contract. He had moments with the Kings when he played like a high draft choice, but he often was a nonfactor.
The Kings have made Williams’ development a priority. They’ve visited him while he’s worked out in Los Angeles, and Williams has been in Sacramento working with his teammates.
The Kings want Williams to display consistent rebounding and an improved post game and defense this summer.
“Big year for him, and to his credit, it was not a difficult sell to him (on playing in summer league),” Malone said. “He was all in. His head and his heart are in the right place.”