A meeting that was supposed to be just for the players became a group therapy session for Kings players, coaches and the front office Tuesday.
On Monday night, All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins said a players-only meeting was needed after a 106-88 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. It turned into a chance for everyone to vent after the Kings’ 1-7 start to a season most in the organization believed could produce a playoff berth.
With Cousins missing four games because of injury, the players lacking trust in the system and coaches unhappy with the players’ effort and attitude, there’s already been enough tension to force everyone to gather around the figurative campfire and speak their minds.
“Guys and the coaching staff and the front office talked about how comfortable players are with plays, coaches with the attitudes and stuff like that,” Kings general manager Vlade Divac said. “When you have a problem in the family, you address it, you talk about it. I was very pleased how we talked about it openly.”
After Monday’s loss, Cousins was open about his frustration, saying the players needed to meet to hash out concerns.
“We got some issues that we got to carve out,” he said. “... But one thing is, us players, we got to stick together. And just with that, that’ll get us through most battles. We got some issues in-house we need to figure out.”
The player-coach dynamic is most likely between Cousins and George Karl stemming from their feud in the summer.
But the Kings’ issues go deeper than Cousins and Karl. Multiple players are concerned about the defensive schemes. The Kings rank among the worst defensive teams through eight games.
The Kings are giving up 110.6 points per game, third most in the league. Opponents are shooting 49.3 percent, highest allowed in the league.
Conversely, coaches had reason to be upset with the effort on some nights. The Kings have started games sluggishly, and some defensive performances have looked lackadaisical at best. Karl even noted last week the Kings had “lazy” defensive possessions.
“You have to talk about things that you see, want to address and could be better starting with our effort and playing together a little better on defense,” veteran forward Caron Butler said. “Taking care of the ball a little better and being honest with ourselves. Everyone spoke and we move forward.”
Divac said he called the meeting and told everyone to arrive at practice early. He said with a new season and many new players, there are going to be growing pains. No one anticipated a 1-7 start, compounded by the injuries to Cousins and backup point guard Darren Collison.
Then there is the lingering notion of players not being all-in with Karl and his style of play. For some players, like Cousins, their only measure of success as a pro came last season, when the team started 9-5 under Michael Malone before Cousins became sick. The Kings fell to 11-13, and Malone was fired.
Some players still yearn for Malone’s defensive-minded approach that led to last season’s good start. Perhaps the Kings need similar success under Karl (he’s 12-26 since taking over last season) to gain confidence in him, even as he experiments with lineups searching for the right mix.
“I never said they don’t like the system,” Divac said. “They just didn’t buy in, yet.”
Karl did not speak with reporters Tuesday, but said he would Wednesday morning following shootaround. That’s noteworthy considering home coaches are not required to do so per NBA media access rules.
Butler was signed to be a leader in the locker room for situations like this. He’s known to speak his mind. He and swingman Omri Casspi were the only players to address reporters Tuesday.
“When you’re one of the elder statesmen in the locker room, you assess issues. You talk about things that can be better,” Butler said. “And then the message should be delivered from someone in that way in a professional setting. We talked about things we can be better at, all of us, not just the coaching staff but us as players.”
Said Casspi: “You could tell one of the things Vlade wanted was for us to speak up, speak our mind and stay confident that everything was going to stay between us.”
Casspi said Cousins’ outspokenness Monday night was part of being a leader. While some might fear the bad start again could spark trade rumors of Cousins going to the Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics, Cousins still has never asked to be dealt.
And he reached out to his teammates Monday night to remind them he’s committed to playing with them.
“(Cousins) was the one to send out a text to the players (Monday) night about how he cares about the team, wants to win and he feels like he has the right pieces here,” Casspi said. “So we’ve all got to step up.”
Apparently, that includes the coaches and front office, too.