Since the Kings bowed out of the playoff hunt, coach Dave Joerger has been resting veterans for certain games. On Sunday against Houston, it was guard Ty Lawson’s time to jump back into the rotation after two consecutive games off.
As fellow guards Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Tyreke Evans sat, Lawson notched a double-double with 20 points and 11 assists in 28 minutes. Afterward, Lawson said he hopes to be in uniform Tuesday against the Phoenix Suns in the Kings’ final home game this season.
“Definitely want to be in it,” Lawson said. “I don’t know if I’m going to be here next year or not so… (I may) have my last time running through the tunnel. It’ll be fun.”
Tuesday could be the last home game at Golden 1 Center for several Kings. Lawson and Collison will be unrestricted free agents after the season. So will Evans, who arrived via trade in February on an expiring contract. Ben McLemore, the longest-tenured King on the active roster, will be a restricted free agent.
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For those Kings who will return, they have a chance to salvage one final positive from a difficult season and perhaps give the home fans a whiff of optimism going into the offseason.
The Kings need to win their final two games to equal last season’s win total of 33. They’re already assured a worse home record in their first season at their downtown arena, where Sunday’s loss dropped them to 16-24. They were 18-23 at home last season.
But Lawson is among those optimistic about the future. Whether he fits into that future is something the Kings will have to weigh, along with such factors as his off-the-court legal issues and his ability to change the course of a game. Coach Dave Joerger called him “arguably the second-best player on the floor” Sunday behind James Harden.
I think we have a lot of growth. I think after a summer of just watching film with the young guys, and whoever we get in, if we sign like two legit vets, I feel like we’ll be pushing (for) the eighth seed.
Kings guard Ty Lawson
Late Sunday, Lawson spoke as if he hopes to stay with the Kings.
“I think we have a lot of growth,” Lawson said. “I think after a summer of just watching film with the young guys, and whoever we get in, if we sign like two legit vets, I feel like we’ll be pushing (for) the eighth seed.
“Everybody on this team plays hard ... The times we mess up possessions is if we don’t know (a play) or it’s communication.”
Joerger’s first season in Sacramento was interrupted by the Kings’ trade of DeMarcus Cousins over the All-Star break. Before the trade, the Kings had won four of five and players agreed the team was starting to jell. They opened the second half with a 1-4 homestand, falling out of the race for the Western Conference’s eighth seed.
“We went more into teaching mode,” guard Garrett Temple said. “And these young guys have really progressed since they’ve been on the court.”
When the season started, rookies Skal Labissiere and George Papagiannis were playing in the D-League, second-year center Willie Cauley-Stein was seeing limited minutes off the bench, and Buddy Hield was experiencing the NBA for the first time in New Orleans.
Those players are now seeing 20-plus minutes a night with the Kings. The growing pains are reflected in the record. But the Kings see that experience – along with encouraging signs like Hield’s rookie of the month award in March and Labissiere’s career-high 32 points in Phoenix last month – as an investment for the future.
“We have a growing young group,” Temple said. “And we have guys that can produce right now. It’s not like we’re in a situation like Philly was, where we don’t have pieces right now... Hopefully we get two (draft) picks and bring some other young guys in here that can produce because this is a pretty good draft, and then we continue to grow.
“It’s going to be great to see these guys in their second year, in that 15th and 20th game, where they’re really understanding what’s going on. I’m looking forward to it.”
Before that, though, the Kings have two games to finish out this season, and one farewell on the home floor.
“Just trying to make the most out of it,” Labissiere said. “We have great fans who were here today (Sunday) to cheer us on. Once start winning, it’s going to be even crazier.”