The lack of professionalism that infected the Kings’ locker room always seeped onto the court in recent seasons.
Players received scouting reports but, considering the glaring mistakes on the court, obviously considered them light reading.
When former coach Keith Smart preached proper diet and rest before games, he was met with rolling eyes, as if he were an old man telling stories of walking uphill to and from school in miles of snow.
For some players, chicken fingers, soda and french fries were perfectly acceptable pregame meals.
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So while targeting talent over the past year, the Kings looked for players with winning experience to help change a losing mindset.
“We needed to bring some guys in here that had been around winning,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “If you’ve been around winning, you understand the commitment and sacrifice that it takes.”
So the Kings added veterans Omri Casspi, Darren Collison, Ryan Hollins and Ramon Sessions in the offseason.
None is a superstar, but all have recently played for winning teams.
The hope is that incoming players who have developed positive habits on playoff teams will infuse a winning culture in a locker room filled with young athletes who haven’t had success as professionals.
“A lot of people talk about having a will to win, but more important is having a will to prepare to win,” Malone said.
Collison and Hollins were with the Pacific Division champion Los Angeles Clippers last season. Sessions has been to the playoffs and helped Charlotte improve dramatically before he was traded to Milwaukee last season.
Casspi played on losing teams with the Kings and Cavaliers before signing with Houston as a free agent and making the playoffs last season.
The additions have created a more of a professional atmosphere, said center DeMarcus Cousins.
“You’ve got guys that know how to win,” Cousins said. “You’ve got guys that have roles and are willing to accept their role. They know what type of player they are, and they never go out of their way to be something else. And those are the type of players that we need. I think they’re great pieces, I think they’re great additions, and they’ve been in winning cultures, so they know how to win.”
Jason Thompson and Cousins – in their seventh and fifth seasons, respectively – are the longest-tenured Kings.
Neither has been close to NBA playoff contention. Thompson said he spoke to Casspi and former teammate Francisco Garcia, who still plays for the Rockets.
“It doesn’t matter what type of role they had on the team,” Thompson said. “(It’s) just being around that type of atmosphere on and off the court. They said that they were a family. Some guys didn’t go out to eat and stuff like that, but on the court they were pretty much inseparable.”
Casspi said he plans to bring Houston’s mentality to Sacramento. He learned the level of work needed to win more than 50 games in a season and how rewarding it was.
“Last year with Houston was probably the best experience I’ve had, just winning games; we won 54 games,” Casspi said. “(I know) better now what it takes to win in this league. We didn’t accept any loss. That’s how you win seven, eight, nine straight. That’s something I’m trying to bring here, a competitive edge to win every practice, every game, to be the first one on the court and the last one to leave.”
Sessions said part of his job is to be a veteran presence. After watching Charlotte go from one of the worst teams in the NBA to a playoff team last season, he said camaraderie was key.
It’s a message he’ll preach this season.
“Just be a team,” Sessions said. “Not trying to bark at guys all the time, but bark at them in a way that we’ve all got each other’s backs. ... We’ve got to be a team and let everything else take care of itself.”