When the Kings shifted to a youth movement in February, just 1 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, the veterans kept playing and said the right things.
But don’t get it twisted – their confusion and anger about what was seen as the team giving up on the season was palpable. The veterans hadn’t signed up to be mentors, but that’s what they’d become.
The Kings had a level of peace because their remaining veterans understood the organization’s strategy and weren’t the kind to publicly complain. Those are the kind of players the Kings will need to bring in this season to play in what is looking like the NBA’s version of a daycare.
The team is poised to add three rookies after Thursday’s NBA draft and would then have nine players with three years or less experience entering next season. That’s a formula for a lot of losing.
It’s difficult to develop one or two young players, much less a roster loaded with them.
Shooting guard Garrett Temple and center Kosta Koufos are under contract for next season, two vets the Kings’ brass likes and who won’t cause a disruption. But how many more veterans can the Kings lure with the right temperament? The answer to that question could weigh heavily on how effective the team is at shifting its culture, as it is faced with what could be a tough season ahead.
“To absorb a young player who probably is not yet ready to play,” requires a culture with the right mix of youth and experience, said NBA TV analyst and former league executive Stu Jackson. “Because these young players coming in the draft this year ... we’re talking about (possibly) 10 freshmen in the first 11 picks – if left to their own devices, most of them will not be able to perform at the level their franchises and, more importantly, their fans expect off the bat. So if you don’t have that right culture or that right roster mix, sometimes performance is not going to meet expectation.”
Most rookies are not ready to help a team when they enter the league, which puts pressure on their experienced teammates. Managing veterans’ morale will be much different over 82 games than it was for the final 25 of last season, when the Kings went 8-17 after trading DeMarcus Cousins.
They’ll need to manage the rookies’ morale, too, and that means being smart about how they allot them playing time. One of the quiet concerns from late last season was that young players would accept losing as part of the process and not take the defeats to heart because, regardless of the outcome, they were going to play.
“It’s really vitally important that you send a message to your team, and for the development of that player, that he earns the right to get minutes on the floor,” Jackson said.
With the Cousins trade came the expectation the Kings would not be close to the postseason for a few years. Some fans at Golden 1 Center booed when games got ugly last season. How will they react if and when things get out of hand this season?
“The key to the organization is managing the expectations of the fans so they can endure a period where a lot of mistakes are being made,” Jackson said, “but yet have a lot of hope and belief that this young team will one day be a team that challenges in the Western Conference.”
- When: Thursday, 4:30 p.m.
- Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
- TV: ESPN, 4 p.m.
- No. 1 pick: Philadelphia
- Kings’ picks: Nos. 5 and 10 in first round; No. 34 in second round