Kings Blog

Kings 2015-16: Ready to win – or implode

Kings all-star center DeMarcus Cousins, left, is greeted by coach George Karl during the summer. Will fireworks erupt between these strong personalities?
Kings all-star center DeMarcus Cousins, left, is greeted by coach George Karl during the summer. Will fireworks erupt between these strong personalities? hamezcua@sacbee.com

Why is there so much intrigue in a team that has had a losing record nine consecutive seasons?

How does a team lacking championship expectations garner national interest?

Simple. Take a look at the Kings over the past 12 months.

The team on the court is expected to be better than the disheartened bunch that had three head coaches and a 29-53 record in 2014-15 season.

But what really seems to be piquing interest is whether the Kings will be worthy of a reality TV show if personalities clash – win or lose. Some experts believe the Kings can win and maybe even make the playoffs. But it’s about how they do it, because many expect drama.

You know how the media goes. They find their villain and they pick at it. Right now, I feel like we have a team full of villains.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings center

“I cannot wait for good, bad or indifferent – I do not care what happens,” said Hall of Fame guard and TNT analyst Reggie Miller. “But I do want to see (Rajon) Rondo, Boogie (DeMarcus Cousins) and Coach (George) Karl. Whatever happens, I don’t care, I want to see it.

“Yes, they’re one of my teams that can sneak in, in that eighth spot. If things are clicking, if the way Rudy Gay has been playing in the preseason, mix in the genius of coach George Karl, if he gets these guys to buy in, it could be great; if they don’t, it could be great.”

That’s how many view the Kings. And to be fair, it’s not as if the curiosity is unfounded.

Excluding last season’s three-coach fiasco that led to players questioning the direction of the front office, the summer was dominated by friction between Karl and Cousins that played out through words and social media, and fed speculation that Cousins would be traded.

Along the way, general manager Vlade Divac signed Rondo, coming from Dallas where he was labeled a malcontent. But the Rondo addition was a footnote compared to Karl vs. Cousins.

“Man, it was dramatic during the summer,” said TNT analyst Brent Barry. “I was out there covering summer league and you had George Karl on one end of the gym and you had DeMarcus come in and was sitting on the other side, and the two of them didn’t want to cross paths. I was like, ‘What is going on with this squad?’ 

The brief handshake between Cousins and Karl in a Las Vegas gym that day was about as awkward as a groom shaking hands with his bride’s ex-husband on wedding day. But by the time training camp began last month, Cousins and Karl said their relationship was good and a picture posted on Instagram of Karl and Cousins a month earlier offered proof.

To think if George Karl could put together a roster, this maniacal roster, in some way, to be effective enough to get to the playoffs, what a remarkable coaching job that would be and no doubt would have consideration for Coach of the Year if the Sacramento Kings are sniffing the playoffs.

TNT analyst Brent Barry

The vibe has been positive since training camp in San Diego. Most players were with other teams last season, so they feel no connection to the mess that defined the Kings’ 2014-15 season.

“All together it was just a bad situation,” Gay said. “It was a tough situation for us. We have to rebuild on that. We don’t do too much talking about that. We just have to build on that this year.”

Still, many watch and wait – expecting to see if and when things will implode. They anticipate when – not if – Cousins will clash with Karl. There are probably wagers as to when Rondo and Karl will have issues.

“You know how the media goes,” Cousins said. “They find their villain and they pick at it. Right now, I feel like we have a team full of villains.”

Then perhaps Rondo is their perfect leader. He’s the most accomplished player in the Kings’ locker room, a four-time All-Star who won a championship with Boston in 2008.

What’s more, he couldn’t care less what anyone has to say about the Kings.

“We don’t care about the perception,” Rondo said. “We care about the 14, 15 guys in this locker room and the coaching staff around us. You guys’ perception, it is what it is. You can write whatever you want, you can call us crazy or bad guys, but I think personality-wise we’re pretty good and working with one another.”

Perhaps Rondo is the perfect leader for this group of “villains.” He’s the most accomplished player in the Kings’ locker room, and he couldn’t care less about outside noise.

Where Rondo’s style might have bristled some in Dallas, it’s welcomed in Sacramento. Karl will give Rondo freedom to run the team, and that’s how he thrives.

Karl is going to give Cousins more freedom than he’s ever had on offense, too. Gay will also look to build off a career year after playing well under Karl last season.

How to combine these ingredients into a winning recipe is on Karl.

“That’s where Sacramento is trying to forge ahead at this point and do something to forge some kind of identity, and schizophrenia is an identity,” Barry said. “And that might be exactly what you’re going to get in Sacramento this year, and to think if George Karl could put together a roster, this maniacal roster, in some way, to be effective enough to get to the playoffs, what a remarkable coaching job that would be and no doubt would have consideration for Coach of the Year if the Sacramento Kings are sniffing the playoffs.”

Karl has coached his share of teams with combustible personalities. Some of his Denver teams were as unpredictable as any in the league.

I think guys care, that’s the biggest thing. Guys believing and wanting to take that step to win. I’d probably say there were a few guys who wanted to win right away. Others had different motives, whatever the case may be.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings center

He’s had outspoken, strong-minded point guards, such as Sam Cassell (Milwaukee) and Gary Payton (Seattle/Milwaukee). Those teams still managed to win a lot of games.

Karl has preached patience with 10 new players. He also reminds critics there were plenty who thought his players could not co-exist in the past, whether in Seattle, Milwaukee or Denver.

“Well, I think a big thing is to get to be a team that thinks we can win every night we play,” Karl said. “And then understand this is not a perfect science. There are nights players don’t play well. There are nights I don’t coach well. And 82 games is probably too many games to push the mind and body as much and you’re playing against great players.”

The resolve of these Kings that the season won’t become a soap opera is based on the belief these aren’t the same Kings of the past nine seasons. Personal agendas, from the front office on down, are gone. The team is a collection of young players out to prove they can win – not that they deserve the next big contract.

“I think the veteran leadership that we have here with Rajon, with Caron (Butler) and with some other guys that we added, it seems guys are more in tune and holding each other accountable in a good manner,” said forward Omri Casspi.

Said Cousins: “I think guys care, that’s the biggest thing. Guys believing and wanting to take that step to win. I’d probably say there were a few guys who wanted to win right away. Others had different motives, whatever the case may be.”

If the Kings break their near-decadelong playoff drought, they’ll be remembered as a collection of unique personalities that helped bring Sacramento back to NBA respectability.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones; read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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