Dave Joerger grew up an NFL fan with a fondness for his home-state Minnesota Vikings.
Through the influence of family and friends, he also followed the famed Pittsburgh Steelers of the late 1970s, gleefully using hard-earned quarters to purchase plastic replica mini-helmets.
This is a basketball coach in his first season leading the Kings talking passionately about football. His bucket list includes attending a game at the Vikings’ new U.S. Bank Stadium, and how ironic.
On Monday night, Joerger’s new-look Kings will play at their new arena, Golden 1 Center, for the first time, facing Maccabi Haifa of Israel in a preseason game.
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He’s big on relationships, which is a good thing. If you’ve got your team’s trust, then we’re going to trust him, and it’s going to be everybody on the same page.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings center, on coach Dave Joerger
The Kings, 0-2 in the preseason, are hoping to close the competitive gap after 10 consecutive non-playoff seasons. They are emphasizing defense and implementing offensive wrinkles such as a high-post attack.
On Sunday, the Kings worked out in their new practice facility next to Golden 1 Center, and painter’s tape could be seen on corners and fixtures in the hallways.
“The guys are excited, and we’re fired up,” Joerger said. “The fanfest here was great. We’re still in a work in progress, getting the shot clocks right. The facility is ridiculously nice. Look at this. It’s fantastic.”
Joerger speaks like a fan because he is one, a devotee of his beloved Vikings.
“Growing up in the 1970s and early ’80s in central Minnesota, you’re a Vikings fan,” Joerger said. “My dad was the oldest of 11. I’m the oldest of 60 grandchildren and great-grandkids. Big family. One uncle told me to stay true to the Vikings. It’s been a 40-year thing. I’m fired up to see that new (Vikings stadium).”
Kings fans are fired up to see the new product under Joerger, whose enthusiasm, strategy and ability to connect with players have resonated throughout the roster. DeMarcus Cousins has raved about his new coach, something the All-Star center hasn’t always done.
“He just cares about his guys,” center Willie Cauley-Stein said of Joerger. “I feel like I’ve known him longer than what I have, so that’s big. He’s big on relationships, which is a good thing. If you’ve got your team’s trust, then we’re going to trust him, and it’s going to be everybody on the same page.”
Making stops has been a problem for the Kings, who have been among the NBA’s worst defensive teams in recent seasons. Joerger was known for defense during his successful Memphis Grizzlies tenure.
Defense is effort and more, Cauley-Stein said.
It’s going to take awhile. Something that could take half the season or longer to be really effective. There’s a lot of reading and reacting. Not many have played (the high-post offense).
Dave Joerger, Kings coach
“Trust,” he said. “Trust in knowing that your teammate’s about to have your back if you leave your guy to help another guy. There’s a circle of trust just helping each other.”
Joerger has stressed that no defense means no playing time.
“It’s a team norm to play like that,” Cauley-Stein said. “Otherwise, you won’t play. (The coaches) said that in the beginning. If you can’t guard, and you can’t play help defense, then you can’t be on the floor. So guys are really zoned in, playing just as hard on defense as you are on offense.”
Joerger said it’s important for Kings fans – and the franchise as a whole – to be patient. This team won’t be a defensive force overnight, nor will the offense be especially prolific immediately with so many new tactics and new faces.
“It’s going to take awhile,” Joerger said of his offense. “Something that could take half the season or longer to be really effective. There’s a lot of reading and reacting.
“Not many have played (the high-post offense). It’s not something being done as coaches continue to get shorter and shorter … jobs,” he said, laughing. “Not that they’re hired for short amounts of time. What’d we do? Have 12 to 13 job changes (in the NBA over the last year)? Why put in read-and-react and make (players) robots? Let’s give them a chance to lay some pavement down for the long term and see how good things can be. Hopefully, we see that here.”
Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD