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The Kings plan to take the 'training wheels' off. What that means for younger players

Vlade Divac breaks down the progress of the young Kings

Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac talks about the team's progress during the final news conference of the season.
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Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac talks about the team's progress during the final news conference of the season.

It was mid-January in Oklahoma City when Kings general manager Vlade Divac and coach Dave Joerger had a discussion with the team.

It was time to begin the full shift to youth and veterans would sit out games.

The Kings' young players shouldn't expect such favors when it comes to minutes next season, where the deck is cleared to give them plenty of time on the court.

The Kings admittedly took it slow with their young players this season. Minutes weren't heavy early to preserve them for an 82-game schedule. As the season progressed, older and more game-ready veterans were asked to sit out to make time for the youth movement.

For 2018-19, the younger players will have to hold off veterans for time based on merit as part of what general manager Vlade Divac called the "next phase" for the Kings.

"This year we decided in the second part of the season ... on minutes for the rookies," Divac said Thursday. "Sometimes it was automatic. Next year, it's going to be, 'Are you earning those minutes?' They have to fight for them."

Divac and Joerger met with the media Thursday afternoon to discuss this season, in which the Kings finished 27-55 and finished tied with Chicago for the sixth-worst record in the NBA.

The postseason, which Sacramento has missed for 12 consecutive seasons, was never a realistic goal, given the Kings' youth. That will likely be the case next season, too.

But when the Kings return for training camp in the fall, there are no plans to treat the players from this season like neophytes.

"The training wheels are going to come off right away," Joerger said.

That's not to say Divac or Joerger expect young guys like Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, De'Aaron Fox, Frank Mason III and Justin Jackson to suddenly be wily veterans.

The Kings will add at least two more rookies if they keep their first- and second-round draft picks, so it's not as if the team will suddenly become a group that has seen everything. But expectations will be higher.

"They're still young," Joerger said. "Even though they'll be in their second, their third years, they'll still have a lot to learn."

Joerger and Divac were happy so many young players logged a lot of minutes this season. Joerger believes they have to continue playing in the summer.

For some, that could mean the Las Vegas summer league in July. The Kings also want to see their players get together on their own and play, and find competition against older, more experienced players.

That would benefit them, especially the Kings' wing players who would have to fend off veterans Garrett Temple and Iman Shumpert, assuming both pick up their player options for next season.

Center Kosta Koufos also has a player option to return. Forward Zach Randolph is already under contract for next season.

The Kings do not have a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, having dealt the pick to Philadelphia in 2015. That means there is no benefit to finishing with the worst record, so if a young player isn't performing, he might sit in favor of a veteran.

The Kings are also excited about Harry Giles, drafted last year out of Duke but held out this season to recover from knee surgeries.

"Next year is going to be competition here, they have to earn their minutes," Divac said. "We're still in the evaluation to see who is going to being the next step, next level."

That's part of the Kings' process of establishing their identity on the court. Competition will help determine who fits the mold of what the team wants to be to eventually end what is now the NBA's longest streak of missing the playoffs.

Joerger saw progress from the team in how they want to play next season and beyond. But he also knows players' roles will evolve based on their own improvement and how the roster is built.

"We just want to be, as far as a team, a bunch of hard-nosed playing guys that care about each other," Joerger said.

"And I think if you hold onto that, a lot of stuff can take care of itself."

The Kings went 9-12 in their last 21 games, an indication their plan is on track. Their young players showed they could perform in close games and began to understand how to better play on both offense and defense.

Building on that and competition are priorities.

"Simple basketball is the best basketball," Divac said. "Passing, running, and that's how we want to play, play uptempo. We are very athletic, we are a very skilled basketball team and when we play together, good things can happen."

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