In times like these, you look for signs of life, leadership and accountability, something – anything – to suggest there are better days ahead for the Sacramento Kings.
You could see some of that in Buddy Hield’s eyes as he finished dressing and turned to face the media in a somber locker room late Wednesday night. The Kings had just been booed off their home floor after falling to 0-5 for the first time since the 1990-91 season with a 118-111 loss to the Charlotte Hornets.
Hield flattened his T-shirt, straightened his spine and addressed the crowd of reporters waiting in front of his locker, answering each question with thought and purpose. He said he trusts in his teammates, believes in his coaches and promises they are working hard every day to find a winning formula, but he hears your boos and he doesn’t blame you.
“I know fans are frustrated right now,” Hield said. “They’re booing us and everything. I know when we get this thing rolling, they’re passionate, so we’ve got to finally get a win.”
The Kings will try again when they conclude a three-game homestand against the Utah Jazz (4-1) on Friday at Golden 1 Center. Victory seems unlikely against a Utah team that beat the Kings by 32 last weekend, but Hield insists the Kings won’t stop trying to give the city the success it craves after 13 consecutive losing seasons.
“It’s Sacramento, man. They’re diehard basketball fans and I respect that,” Hield said. “If my team’s not doing well, I’d boo them, too. You can’t take it harshly because we’re sucking right now. They’re passionate fans. I know they love us for sure, but we’re not winning so they’re showing their frustration.”
‘It’s not the coach’s fault’
All of this frustration has caused large swaths of the fan base to turn on the team and first-year coach Luke Walton just one week into the season, but players and coaches haven’t turned on each other.
A number of players, speaking both on and off the record, reiterated Wednesday that Walton has their trust and respect, saying the relationship between players and coaches is better now than it was last season under former coach Dave Joerger.
“It’s not the coach’s fault,” Hield said. “I think the players take the blame for it. … It’s on us. We take full responsibility for that and I take full responsibility for that, too, because as a team leader you have to be ready. We’ve got to find a way to put a win on the board.”
De’Aaron Fox had 16 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds against the Hornets, but he was 6-of-16 shooting with five turnovers. Hield made 7 of 16 from 3-point range to finish with 23 points, but he was 8 of 22 overall and didn’t get to the free-throw line once. Bogdan Bogdanovic was 4 of 14 from the field and 2 of 11 from beyond the arc. The Kings were outrebounded 46-39 and their bench was outscored 41-22.
“We should be ashamed with the way we played, especially at (our) home court,” Bogdanovic said. “We have to find energy inside of the locker room and definitely step up and get together. … We just need one win, I think, to start, and we don’t want to create that losing mentality.”
Bogdanovic was asked if he could pinpoint the team’s biggest problem.
“I always talk for myself,” Bogdanovic said. “I’m terrible right now, but I’m going to keep working. I’m a big believer in myself and this team, and I know as soon as we start winning, we will turn it up.”
‘The light will come on for us’
Walton has taken responsibility for his part in this mess, too. He acknowledged he didn’t have his players in good enough shape to start the season and admits to letting them lose sight of their identity as an up-tempo team.
Walton is trying to implement standards, practices and principles that will make this team a long-term success instead of a flash in the pan. That means being able to execute a half-court offense and sound defense. The Kings failed to close out umpteen games last season because they couldn’t do those things.
“It’s important for our group right now that we stick together,” Walton said. “I hope they can see that, even though we still haven’t found a way to win a game, the work they’re putting in is going to lead them – lead us – to be able to win at a consistent level.”
The Kings still want to run and shoot 3s. They shot 46 Wednesday and missed on a ton of open looks. But good track teams don’t win in the NBA playoffs. Good basketball teams do.
“I feel like we’re all still trying to learn the new system, the new coaching staff and what they see for us to be successful,” Kings guard Yogi Ferrell said. “The coaches have given us a great formula to win. It’s just about going out on the court and executing. The light will come on for us. It will.”
Maybe you believe them. Maybe you don’t. Either way, it’s better that they’re sharing your frustration and disappointment instead of pointing fingers at each other.
If you look and listen carefully in moments like this, you see leadership, you hear accountability, and maybe you find a sliver of hope.
“I think it is going in the right direction,” Hield said. “It’s not showing that, but you’ve got to have faith, man. You’ve got to have some type of faith and believe in what we’re doing. Yeah, it looks ugly right now, but you’ve got to have confidence, and Luke is doing a great job with us. Whatever anybody says, we got his back. We’re out there playing. We’ve got to go out and execute. We’ve got to make shots. Luke is putting us in good spots to be successful. It’s on us to go out there and perform.”
Sacramento Kings upcoming schedule
Nov. 1 vs. Utah Jazz
Nov. 3 at New York Knicks
Nov. 6 at Toronto Raptors
Nov. 8 at Atlanta Hawks
Nov. 12 vs. Portland