When the Kings concluded their tumultuous 2014-15 season, the only certainty was there would be plenty of changes.
Coach George Karl said the Kings had to revamp their roster if they were to win the 40-plus games needed to contend for a Western Conference playoff spot.
“I think when Vlade (Divac) and I sat down early in May, I think we thought whatever this is called, a makeover, was necessary,” Karl said.
An upgrade in talent was a given need, but a shakeup in the personalities was just as important. During the Kings’ nine-season playoff absence, they’ve often been too young and immature to become a winning team.
Divac, in his first offseason running basketball operations, sought veterans with winning pedigrees as he reshaped the roster.
The 2015-16 Kings will be more seasoned, putting them in position to improve, Divac believes. On the Kings’ new-look roster, only DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore and Eric Moreland never have been on a winning NBA team.
Finally, Kings who are accustomed to losing are in the minority.
“It’s good timing to be a Sacramento King,” Divac said. “We have good talent, much better than last year, and I expect a better season.”
Three new Kings – Rajon Rondo (Boston), Caron Butler (Dallas) and Marco Belinelli (San Antonio) – have been on championship teams. And the offseason additions did not express concern that so many new faces could make bonding difficult.
Divac also signed players such as Kosta Koufos and Luc Mbah a Moute, who are familiar with the coaching staff and can facilitate the changes. They also understand and accept their roles.
“Yes, there are a lot of new guys coming in, but we complement each other,” Mbah a Moute said. “We’ve got a good group of guys, guys who have been in the league who are pros, still young enough to compete at a high level. And veteran guys, guys who have won championships. I think that combination is going to be good for the team.”
Butler looks forward to the challenge of changing the team’s culture.
“I’ve been a part of that process over my years playing in the NBA, so it’s exciting,” Butler said. “It’s good to be a part of that fabric. Looking forward to that opportunity to play winning basketball.”
Butler, a two-time All-Star entering his 14th season, has a no-nonsense reputation. Divac will count on the veteran’s presence in the locker room if the focus gets off winning.
“We all understand what’s important: winning,” Butler said. “You can have all the numbers, and that’s just personal accolades you put in a trunk. But if you really want to be recognized, the winning teams get recognized, and that’s what it’s about.”
Butler said teams must take “baby steps” to become a winner and those strides begin before the season as players abandon personal agendas and unite toward improving the team.
“I think you win if everyone is invested and all on the same page,” Butler said. “I think the camaraderie, that’s the first part. That starts now. I think the winning part of a winning culture starts in the summer.”
Rondo wants to lead the transformation. As a point guard whose greatest strength is setting up teammates, he should help ease chemistry concerns on the court.
Off the court, he’ll try to instill the importance of accountability that carries over into games.
“We just want to go out there and play for one another, play unselfishly,” Rondo said. “We have a lot of potential on paper. If we buy into George Karl’s system and believe in one another, we’re trying to make a run at the playoffs.”