The starting lineup the Kings used to open the season has been good more times than not.
Guards Darren Collison and Ben McLemore, forwards Rudy Gay and Jason Thompson and center DeMarcus Cousins are 10-7 when they are on the floor for the opening tip.
But in this ever-changing season, nothing is guaranteed.
Thompson, whose defense and energy was praised at the beginning of the season, has been benched the last two games as coach Tyrone Corbin experiments with lineups and his rotation nine games into his tenure after replacing Michael Malone, who was fired Dec. 14.
The Kings, 3-6 under Corbin, have started Ryan Hollins and Derrick Williams in Thompson’s spot. The Kings lost Hollins’ start at Boston and won with Williams starting at Minnesota.
In addition to a change in their style of play, the Kings are adjusting to lineups they aren’t familiar with, something that has contributed to some of their on-court problems, most notably their breakdowns on defense.
So how do the Kings keep up with the changes?
“We’ve just got to accept it,” Collison said. “Our job is to go out there and play, regardless of who we’re playing with out there on the court. Coach has a certain lineup out there, and that’s none of our business. That’s coach just trying to coach the team, so we’ve just got to play the best way we can.”
Corbin was pleased with how Williams (17 points) performed in his first start of the season. But that’s no guarantee Williams will remain a starter, which keeps him motivated.
“A lot of people on this team want to play more, but at the end of the day, whoever is out there on the court has to be ready,” Williams said. “And I think coach is feeding off of how you produce when you’re in the game. I think it’s going to be good from here on out.”
Corbin likes having flexibility in his lineup and noted there will be “little tweaks as you go,” depending on the opponent and as he settles on a rotation.
“It keeps everybody engaged, and we need all of our guys,” Corbin said. “And you want everybody comfortable as you try to move things around. But the guys need to feel comfortable with when they’re going in, how they’re going to play, the amount of time they’re going to play.”
Power forward has been affected the most. From owner Vivek Ranadive’s desire to acquire Josh Smith to the Kings’ interest in Brooklyn’s Mason Plumlee, replacing Thompson in the starting lineup has been a goal for some time.
If Thompson remains a reserve, he’ll likely back up Cousins at center and share backup power forward duties with Carl Landry.
Corbin also could use more three-guard lineups as he mixes and matches until he settles on groups that work well.
The lineup and rotation changes affect the play on the court, but the players realize they still need to make things work as fast as possible to get back to winning regularly like they did in the first 15 games.
There’s one part the players know they can control.
“Be ready at all times,” Cousins said. “That’s all you can do.”