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‘I was the same way’: Kings’ Randolph helps young teammates understand NBA officiating

Zach Randolph discusses the art of rebounding after surpassing 10,000 for his career

The Kings beat the Brooklyn Nets 104-99 on Wednesday at Barclays Center.
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The Kings beat the Brooklyn Nets 104-99 on Wednesday at Barclays Center.

Zach Randolph is a King for moments like last Monday in Oklahoma City.

Kings players and coaches met with NBA senior vice president and Head of Referee Operations Monty McCutchen; vice president of referee training and development, senior vice president and Head of Referee Operation Michelle Johnson; and associate vice president of basketball operations Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

The topic would be Respect For The Game rules, rules interpretations, on-court conduct and the expectations of NBA referees.

It's the kind of setting in which a lot of young players might not know what to say, or how to bring up their grievances.

And it's a situation where Randolph can fill the void and communicate for his teammates. It's a reminder leadership isn't just about what happens on the court, and the lessons passed along to teammates aren't always about in-game situations.

"Just trying to let the young guys know I've been in the league a long time, so I know the officials and everything," Randolph said. "So I'm trying to get the young guys to understand what the officials are talking about, the plays, what you can do, the hand touching. The game has changed."

Young players have enough to learn. That can make the process of understanding how to communicate with referees and how the NBA game is officiated too much at times.

Many rookies already feel as if they do not get the benefit of the doubt from officials and they have to earn calls. Randolph said he was "the same way" early in his career, but he learned how the NBA game is played and he passes that knowledge to his teammates.

"Explaining it to them, this call or that call, the reason why," Randolph said. "It's different from when I first came into the league until now. The game is not as physical, there's no handchecking."

The relationship between players and officials has received a lot of attention this season with some players not holding back in their criticism, including a much-publicized incident between Golden State's Shaun Livingston and official Courtney Kirkland.

Livingston was suspended a game and Kirkland was removed from officiating for a week when they bumped heads after a call by Kirkland.

McCutchen, who began his new role this season after 24 years as one of the league's best officials, said the talks with players have gone well.

"The discussions in the meetings have been very honest and to me that is more important than agreement, McCutchen said. "And they've all been professional ... The meetings are the model for what we'd like to see on the floor."

Young players are still figuring out exactly how to communicate with officials and lack the relationships veterans have established over time.

That can lead to frustration. McCutchen said young referees have similar growing pains.

"I think both young players and young referees are learning their craft," McCutchen said. "And part of that craft is how do we treat one another and how do we do so in a respectful manner."

McCutchen said he made sure to know every players' first name. Randolph said he's told his younger teammates knowing a referee's name goes a long way in establishing a good rapport.

"(It's) respect," Randolph said. "If he's talking to you, look at him, don't turn your head while he's talking, stuff like that."

Randolph is in his 17th season. And with all the talk of the strained relationship between players and officials, he sees progress.

"It's getting better, I think it's getting better," Randolph said. "It's not always going to be perfect but it's getting better and we're working toward it on both sides."

McCutchen said Randolph's engagement in their meeting last week was vital. He said Sacramento's young players are lucky to have Randolph around.

"It means he provides what real leadership is by providing a voice for those that maybe haven't developed their own voice yet because of youth," McCutchen said. "He is then able to articulate what many are feeling and to do so in a professional way that Zach did, which is a surprise to no one that's been around him, is what true leadership is."

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Buddy Hield is averaging 3.0 assists in 10 games so far in March. He averaged 1.4 assists in 11 games in February. Hield is a gunner, but he is making an effort to be more unselfish on offense. That will only make him a better all-around threat on offense.

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The talk of tanking around the Kings isn't as loud when compared to other teams. Sacramento is 5-5 in its last 10 games, which has them playing better than any team that has already been eliminated from playoff contention.

Looking ahead

The Atlanta Hawks make their only appearance at Golden 1 Center on Thursday.

The Hawks entered Sunday 20-50, the third worst record in the NBA, but Atlanta beat the Kings by 46 points on Nov. 15, 126-80, in November.

The Kings will be out to avenge that embarrassing performance.