The question was coming. Malachi Richardson just didn’t know when it would be asked.
How did he deal with having to watch summer league from the sidelines when he had so much to prove?
“I was trying to avoid that question,” Richardson said with a laugh after Friday’s practice, with the preseason opener coming Monday. “Nah, but it was tough. I had worked so hard to get ready for summer league, and to get out there and play pretty well – I would say I played OK in the first half – and to re-aggravate (a hamstring) in the second half towards the end of the game was very frustrating.”
Life couldn’t have been much better for Richardson in February. He was the first rookie to crack the Kings’ veteran-heavy rotation and Sacramento was on the cusp of the top eight in the Western Conference. Because of Rudy Gay’s Achilles injury, Richardson had a real chance to play even more. Veterans loved the fearlessness he showed on the court.
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Then, in the final game before the All-Star break at Golden State, Richardson partially tore his right hamstring, sidelining him for the rest of the season. Dealing with the same injury in July stung.
“To have to sit there and watch like I did for the previous 25 games, I was like, man, I don’t want to have to keep dealing with this,” Richardson said. “I’m ready to go now, so I’m feeling good.”
His place with the Kings has changed a lot since that first injury. At the time, it appeared he could be groomed to be the shooting guard of the future. While Richardson was on the mend, the Kings traded for guard Buddy Hield, who was part of the same draft class but was selected sixth overall, 16 spots ahead of Richardson. Hield went on to earn All-Rookie First Team honors.
The Kings also signed European star Bogdan Bogdanovic to a three-year deal worth $27 million. Veteran shooting guard Garrett Temple also returns.
It’s easy to see there won’t be enough minutes for everyone each night, and it’s been tough for Richardson to stay patient in his return.
“Man, honestly, it’s very, very tempting,” Richardson said. “You want to rush and play but you’ve got to remember, ‘I’m not ready to play.’ So if I get out there and don’t show as well I should be, then I’m really hurting myself in the long haul. It was tough, but competition, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve got to compete every day. That’s the plan. Go out, compete and get better.”
One way Richardson has competed is by playing more small forward. He said there isn’t much difference.
“Instead of a shooting guard, I’m a small forward,” he said. “But I think I’m ready for it and I think I can do it.”
The Kings have options there, too. Sacramento could use rookie Justin Jackson or veteran Vince Carter, whom Richardson sits by in the locker room, trying to gain as much knowledge as possible.
Richardson has also added about 20 pounds to his 6-foot-6 frame, which he said was to increase strength and durability, not in anticipation of playing more in the frontcourt.
“There is less and less difference,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger of playing small forward or shooting guard. “If you’re 6-6, 6-7, you can play the two or you can play the three, it doesn’t make any difference. So we’ll figure it out.”
The wait for training camp wasn’t easy after Richardson’s summer league ended early. Now he’s out to prove he shouldn’t be a forgotten man among the Kings’ youngsters.
He’s taken enough mental reps since February.
“I’ve been very anxious,” Richardson said. “Even when we were playing pick up, I was like, man, it feels so good to finally be back playing, not having to worry about how my body feels, just knowing I’m healthy and ready to go.”