The NBA summer league is in the second year of a format that ends with a tournament to crown a champion.
Many coaches rolled their eyes at keeping players and staff in Las Vegas longer than the usual five days to decide a champion even the most dedicated NBA fan would soon forget.
Kings coach Michael Malone didn’t begin summer league expecting to win the title, but you wouldn’t know that by the look on his face following a listless second half in Friday’s 85-69 loss to San Antonio. Even though it’s summer league, the defeat bothered Malone. The Kings were outplayed despite starting five players who could be on their opening-night roster, including three – Ben McLemore, Ray McCallum and Derrick Williams – who started last season.
After that loss, the Kings rebounded to win back-to-back games in the league’s opening round. The summer league tournament starts today.
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“I think summer league is always about player development, first and foremost,” Malone said. “But we have roster players here, so any time you put on a uniform and you play, there’s an opportunity for you to win.”
There also are a lot of areas for the Kings to work on in their upcoming games.
McLemore’s shooting has improved this summer (46.4 percent), but he has 16 turnovers in three games.
McCallum hasn’t shot well (33.3 percent), but he had 12 assists in the Kings’ 89-75 win over NBA D-League Select on Monday.
Williams had his best game of the summer league Monday with 17 points, but the Kings want him to rebound more (2.7 per game) and be more aggressive.
The Kings’ two most consistent players have been Quincy Acy (12.7 points, 7.7 rebounds) and rookie Nik Stauskas (13.0 points), who has looked comfortable even though he was drafted just last month.
The Kings have until July 26 to exercise their team option for next season on Acy, and his summer performance and improved shooting (52.4 percent) might convince the Kings to keep him.
The priority for Malone is making sure the players are ready for training camp, but a few more wins wouldn’t hurt.
“We’re all competitors and we have to start changing the Kings’ culture of losing at some point,” Malone said. “And if that can start here in summer league, so be it. Let’s win as many games as we can, play the right way while we’re developing Nik, Ben, Quincy and Derrick.”
The coaching staff has invited other veterans to Las Vegas to work with and support the summer league team.
Center DeMarcus Cousins practiced with the team last week and has attended every game. Forwards Rudy Gay and Reggie Evans also have attended games and dropped by practice to show their support.
Perhaps Malone will be right, that the losing culture can be chipped away by the effort and support this summer.
“We have a lot of guys that are on the team in summer league, so it’s good,” Williams said. “DeMarcus is here watching every game, and when (one of your top players) is here watching every game, it gives you more confidence, too.”
Malone hopes that carries into the regular season, too.