This is my ninth full season covering the Kings, which means I’ve seen a lot of losses.
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But nothing has been quite as bad as Wednesday night, when the Kings allowed the Atlanta Hawks – the now 3-12 Atlanta Hawks – to drag them up and down the floor for 48 minutes in a 126-80 thrashing at Philips Arena.
Yes, the Kings (3-11) are “rebuilding” and there are going to be bad games. But to repeatedly not show up is a team effort, or lack thereof.
It falls on the players. It falls on coach Dave Joerger, if he cannot find a group who will play with urgency. And it falls on the front office, which must examine this plan and question whether filling the team with so many young players is the best way to build for the future.
If the effort doesn’t change this season, the Kings cannot call this a rebuild; it’ll be more like pouring concrete on an already shoddy foundation.
All summer, the franchise sold exciting, fast-paced, energetic basketball and through 14 games it’s looked as if the fans bought into that more than the roster.
It’s true the Kings benefit from losing when it comes to the NBA draft. They might as well get the most from this “development” season with the highest possible draft pick, knowing they’ve traded away their 2019 first-round pick. But the problem is the Kings play like they know they’re not supposed to win, or that 2020 is the real time to shine. That’s the wrong message to send to fans, who are asked to be patient for wins as they grow impatient for consistent effort.
What are the Kings developing for the future with efforts like Wednesday’s? A lot of bad habits that won’t be changed simply by getting lucky in the draft.
Joerger said he has a lot of “nice” guys on his team, but league observers aren’t so nice and label the squad as soft.
How can anyone argue that after the debacle in Atlanta, which was the culmination of several slow starts and bad defense wrapped with a bow for the Hawks, who simply outworked the Kings all game?
“First of all, we’ve got to compete,” said guard Garrett Temple. “You’re going to make, miss (shots), blah, blah, blah, but you just can’t give up easy basket, after easy basket, after easy basket. We’ve got to go out there, man up and compete. And until we do that, it’s going to be like (Wednesday) every night.”
Young players hear that 2020 is when this season will truly pay off with wins and figure they’ve got time to mess up. Veterans are frustrated because as that thinking seeps into the locker room, it’s hard to get the youngsters to have the urgency needed.
Those vets also know that they won’t play extended minutes, or they’ll be asked to sit out games, for these same young players, which is how the Kings ended last season.
You could hear signs of troublesome thinking after DeMarcus Cousins was traded in February. Suddenly young players began saying things like “the Warriors used to be bad” as the losses piled up, and there’s still some of that talk this season.
A big difference is those young Warriors teams competed, and, under Mark Jackson, tried to play defense. No one would accuse the Kings of doing that Wednesday, and that’s been a theme.
Joerger insinuated there would be lineup changes in his search for “individual toughness” from the roster and players who play so hard, he’s forced to keep them on the court.
Along with lineups, the players in rotation would benefit from consistent, extended minutes.
Entering Thursday, the Kings didn’t have a player in the top 127 in minutes played. De’Aaron Fox was 128th at 26.1 minutes per game.
Players young and old aren’t sure how they’re supposed to get a rhythm essentially playing two quarters or less a night.
Tightening the rotation might be enough to start the process of getting more focused, energetic play from the Kings. If a player is uncertain of his minutes, he can’t afford to be laid back when he gets them.
Granted, the roster has holes. It’s young, lacks rim protection and size at small forward. Rebounding is a constant worry.
Still, it’s time stop using youth as an excuse. There’s no reason to play without enthusiasm and not compete.
For the sake of the Kings’ future, that has to change or there will be more losses like Atlanta. Because as bad as Wednesday was, it can get worse.