The veterans in the Kings locker room have masked any frustration over the change in direction this season with smiles and hard work on the court.
Playoff dreams turned into lottery hopes when DeMarcus Cousins was traded and young players began to see a lot more playing time.
But for one night, perhaps the last time this season, the Kings leaned on their old heads and pulled out a 91-90 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night at Golden 1 Center.
“Tonight was a big boys game,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “It was about the veterans.”
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
That meant more time for Darren Collison, who scored a game-high 23 points, including two free throws with 5.7 seconds to play to win the the game. It also meant the likes of Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple, Ty Lawson and Kosta Koufos seeing more action.
They sensed Joerger badly wanted to beat the team that fired him in May. The veterans wanted it, too.
Last month they weren’t expecting to be a part of a team hoping to get lucky in the NBA draft lottery in May. With that being the direction the organization chose to take, the veterans want to show the work they’ve put in to help turn the franchise around.
“It means a lot to us,” Collison said. “We want to go out there and compete. We spend the whole day with mental preparation, working out, trying to get better pushing ourselves to compete. I feel like the more games we win … the better it is for the young guys.”
The Kings won against a Memphis team without its All-Star, center Marc Gasol (left foot strain), but still had two high-level players in Mike Conley and Zach Randolph.
Lately Collison and Lawson have rarely played in the same game, with one usually resting. In those cases, Langston Galloway finished the games.
With both veteran point guards available, Joerger let them both play in the fourth and hold off Memphis for a second consecutive victory.
“Me and DC were talking about it,” Lawson said. “We’ve just got to go out there and play hard. It doesn’t mater how many minutes we’re out there.”
Tolliver said the message and approach has not changed in the locker room amid the changes.
“All of us that are still here from the beginning of this year, our mindsets haven’t changed that much,” he said. “Obviously with DeMarcus getting traded, some things changed. But at the end of the day, we want to win games; we want to continue to work and get better and allow these young guys to develop and get better.”
The Kings (29-45) have nine games left in the season, and the reality is to keep their top-10 protected draft pick, there is no benefit in winning the rest of the season.
The team will rest veterans the remainder of the season to allow youngsters more time. However, on Monday, it was about the older Kings.
“This was maybe our last stand for the year, as far as you’re probably not going to see all those veterans play together the rest of the season,” Joerger said. “It’s at home; it’s a great opportunity. The guys went out there and laid it all on the line.”
Conley led the Grizzlies (40-34) with 22 points and nine assists. Randolph had 17 points and 15 rebounds.