DeMarcus Cousins is familiar with the doubt.
He’s answered this question in some form nearly every season he’s been a King. Except for last season, when some NBA observers believed the Kings’ combustible components could lead to a playoff run, recent expectations for the team have been low.
It’s no different this season. In a stacked Western Conference featuring the star-studded Golden State Warriors, consistent contenders such as the San Antonio Spurs and emerging teams such as the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves, prognosticators say the Kings won’t be a factor.
“For me this season, I don’t really care what people think,” said Cousins, entering his seventh season. “I don’t care what their expectations are. I know what we’re putting in daily. I know we’re in here working, trying to get better every day.”
With a new coach and eight new players, the Kings embark on another campaign trying to disprove the naysayers, opening Wednesday night against the host Phoenix Suns.
The Kings have missed the playoffs the last 10 seasons, posting a losing record each time. This season, they aren’t talking outwardly about the playoffs as much as they did last season, but that is the goal in the locker room..
Coaches tend to be more measured in stating their goals, especially in situations like the Kings’. During training camp, first-year coach Dave Joerger often was asked what would be a successful season for the Kings. Not once did he offer a win total or mention a playoff trip.
Joerger’s goal is to change the team’s culture.
“If we make progressions defensively, if we keep our turnovers down and be in close games,” Joerger said. “The first thing we’ve got to do is learn how to compete, and the second thing then is to learn how to win. We’re not a young group, so if we can get through stage one quickly, then we can get to stage two.”
For the second consecutive offseason, the Kings added veterans who played for winning teams to help change an atmosphere in which losing was the norm and expected.
While the front office added veterans Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Garrett Temple, Anthony Tolliver and Ty Lawson, Cousins spent part of his summer in Rio de Janeiro winning an Olympic gold medal.
Cousins is a two-time All-Star, but his international playing experience is the only consistent winning he’s experienced in his first six seasons as a pro. He hopes the lessons he learned with the U.S. national team carry over to the NBA.
“Sacrificing for one another to get the ultimate goal or the ultimate prize,” Cousins said. “Which in that case was a gold medal, but in our case, (we’re working together for) wins on a nightly basis.”
To begin the season with a victory, Joerger wants the Kings to harness the opening-night emotions and use them to disrupt the Suns.
“Probably want to take your nerves, emotions and everything else and use that on the defensive end of the floor,” Joerger said. “Sometimes you become frantic offensively and it makes you slow defensively. So expend your energy defensively, see if you can get some deflections, force the ball out on the floor a little with some pressure.”
Joerger hopes that will be the first step toward the kind of success Cousins never has had in Sacramento.
“I have one goal and that’s playoffs,” Cousins said. “That’s success to me. I want to be in the playoffs this year and that’s our goal this season.”