If there wasn’t enough evidence the Kings have been the most active team in the NBA trade market, consider this:
Two different players have already worn No. 33 this season (Luc Mbah a Moute, Aaron Gray).
Two different players have also sported No. 5 (John Salmons, Quincy Acy).
Through 21 games, the Kings have sent off five players in trades and brought in four new Kings, including last week’s deal for Rudy Gay, Acy and Gray from Toronto.
The Kings have had 19 players on the roster this season.
“I guess it’s been a rotation influx,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “We’ve added a lot of new pieces.”
The person in charge of getting the most out of the new pieces is Malone. He is well regarded around the NBA but is still a first-time head coach dealing with constant change.
Besides adjusting to the roster turnover, Malone is still learning as he goes on the sideline. He’s admitted his own mistakes after losses and has to figure out the best strategies with players he’s still getting to know amid constant change.
“I learn and get better every day, just like I hope our team does,” Malone said. “And the coach I am right now, I’ll be a much better coach by the end of the season because all these experiences that I go through are only going to help me.”
Malone has already dealt with a long-term injury before the season (Carl Landry), losing streaks of five and six games, two trades and seven different starting lineups because of poor play and the arrival of new players.
Malone also lost an assistant coach, his father, Brendan, who decided the grind of the season would be too much on him and resigned.
Malone said there isn’t any one person he consults about his situation. But he’s also not complaining about the new additions of late.
Friday at Phoenix, Gay started in his first game for the Kings, while Gray debuted with a solid effort off the bench. Malone has also been pleased with the progress of Derrick Williams, who was acquired from Minnesota for Mbah a Moute last month.
“Experience is the best teacher,” Malone said. “Going through it and having been in the league and around the game as long as I have been, I’ve been in this situation, not as the head coach obviously. It’s just something we have to get our hands around. We have guys that are excited to be here, which makes it great. We’re excited to have them as well. Now it’s just a matter of trying to get them caught up to speed as quickly as possible.”
What has endeared Malone to his players during the process has been his willingness to reach out to them for help.
“He’s been like that, especially with me since Day One,” guard Isaiah Thomas said. “Asking, ‘What can I do, what type of player is this guy, what does he like to do?’ Even when we’re on a six-game losing streak, he’s still asking us.
“We’ve never had that, so it’s big for us. It gives us a lot of confidence, and it starts with the coaching staff.”
A team meeting last Saturday morning proved important for Malone’s relationship with the players.
The Kings were coming off a loss Friday night to the Los Angeles Lakers in which the offense bogged down and was sloppy, the defense was unreliable and a late lead disappeared quickly, extending their losing streak to six games.
The meeting allowed players to air their feelings on why the Kings struggle so much late in games. Thomas suggested the Kings were too easy to defend when they simply dumped the ball into DeMarcus Cousins without more player movement, even if Cousins does have an advantage in the post.
In last Saturday’s win at Utah, Cousins scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Kings did a better job of executing on offense late.
“It was a good talk,” Cousins said. “Everybody put their opinion in. I believe we all came to a common ground; we all agreed. It was something that needed to be talked about. We figured it out, and it helped.”
Malone is still learning about his players and learning about himself as a coach.
“Trust me, after every game, especially after that Laker game, I constantly analyze,” Malone said. “I told our players I look at myself first and foremost every night. What could I have done better? What player could I have used? What play could I have run?’ ”
There’s always more to learn, because things could change at any moment. That’s how it’s been for Malone through 21 games.