Up to two hours before game time, it can be a toss-up as to who will play for the Kings.
The NBA’s draft lottery system gives teams like the Kings no incentive to win and many front offices with losing records are taking the approach of sitting their better players to give young players more playing time while piling up losses to increase their odds of getting the top pick.
The Kings also know if they finish outside of the top 10, they’ll lose their first-round pick to Chicago from a 2011 trade for J.J. Hickson.
So how does Dave Joerger handle the roster changes? The Kings coach relies on his early experiences and makes the best of the situation.
Joerger is a veteran of minor-league coaching, beginning his career in the International Basketball Association. The Kings had only eight players available for Tuesday’s win over Dallas and could be in a similar position Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, another team with no incentive to win in order to keep its first-round pick.
Joerger said his days in the minor leagues, where lineups could change at any moment, has helped him navigate fluid roster situations.
“It really makes me better as a coach,” Joerger said. “Each of the guys know they are going to play and that they’re going to be counted upon to play well. And I think as a player from what I’ve seen in the minor leagues, things happen.”
No question that’s the type of team we are. A team takes on the mindset of its coach and Dave’s a guy who’s going to continue to fight no matter what the circumstances are and we’re the same way.”
Kings guard Garrett Temple, on coach Dave Joerger and the team’s mindset
Joerger knew in those days games still had to be played regardless of the situation and with his lineups changing each night, he is maximizing his roster as veterans sit out.
The roster is different, but Joerger is not coaching like someone expecting to lose. So even though the Kings went into the Mavericks game with eight players, Joerger adjusted his plans and the available players responded.
“No question that’s the type of team we are,” guard Garrett Temple said. “A team takes on the mindset of its coach and Dave’s a guy who’s going to continue to fight no matter what the circumstances are and we’re the same way. They’ve brought guys in here who are going to continue to compete, play hard and try to win games. When we win games with eight players, three rookies, that’s more confirmation that we’re doing things the right way.”
Joerger has found having few players available allows some guys to relax, too. He said that was the case against the Mavericks. So while being shorthanded is not ideal, it’s not a reason to concede.
“Everybody knows if you care about each other, you need to hold up your end of the bargain for your teammates,” Joerger said. “At the same time, you know you can probably play through some mistakes because of the rotation. I have to sub a little earlier in each half ... because otherwise you get everybody tired at the same time.
“Those kinds of things come into play. And it’s just fun to come out and compete and play with true heart and I think we did that.”