This isn’t easy for Tyrone Corbin or the players.
The coaching change is one thing, but the Kings are trying to change how they play, which isn’t easy to sell them on, considering they had a level of success playing another style.
Corbin has tried to add new things slowly, but as a former player, he realizes he can’t overhaul everything in a day.
With the emphasis on a faster pace, the Kings are changing from a style the players welcomed to one they are questioning, especially since the change is coming during the season.
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The players had embraced their identity under former coach Michael Malone but have accepted that they must change if that’s what their bosses in the front office want.
“I’m learning on the fly, just like everybody else,” said forward Rudy Gay. “It’s an adjustment. It’s something that as one of the leaders of this team, something I’ve got to be OK with regardless of what my feelings are about it. You’ve got to be OK for the team and help the team grow.”
The players liked their developing reputation as a physical team that would wear you down with defense. Maintaining that while playing the style of offense management wants to see has not been easy.
“It’s gradually coming along,” said center DeMarcus Cousins. “We’ve got to keep working at it. When you’re kind of stuck in your habits during a season and you hit change, it’s kind of difficult to deal with. I guess it’s coming along.”
It’s Corbin’s job to implement this new style of play and help the players know when to push the pace and when to slow down.
The goal is to try to score before the defense is set and move the ball faster in halfcourt sets when scoring chances in transition are not available.
“You want to play at a pace that’s not reckless because you want to have a chance to win the game,” Corbin said. “And that’s just a feel as the game gets down to the end of games and the end of quarters. If it’s to your benefit to play faster, do it, but if not, slow it down and control the tempo at that point.”
Corbin will be coaching his 10th game today since replacing Malone. He said he’s tried to add new things in small doses to get the Kings to play faster with discipline.
When the Kings first tried to implement the new style, players ran up court to launch shots wildly, but Corbin said that’s improving.
“That’s the misconception that people think because you want to run and you play fast, that you don’t run any sets,” Corbin said. “When you play fast, you play out of sets; you just have to make sure you get the ball up the floor quickly.”
If the offense works the way Corbin hopes, the increased pace should keep all the players involved, as long as the ball moves.
“Everybody’s a part of it, so everybody’s live,” Corbin said. “All the cuts are harder, all the screens are better. Guys think they have a chance to get the ball, so they move harder.”
But to make all that happen, the players have to be in condition to move and play faster. Corbin acknowledges that’s an issue for the Kings, especially as their big men try to keep up.
That’s hard for Cousins, who spent a good portion of December recovering from viral meningitis. There were many who wondered if this style was good for Cousins, one of the NBA’s best post players.
“It’s been a struggle lately, but I’ll come along,” Cousins said. “I don’t think people realize I’m still not in the same shape I was (before getting sick) and it’s still kind of a process. Me coming into this change in the shape I was in before probably would have been a lot easier. It’s going to be a transition.”
Gay said the only way the change will work is if the team’s best players adapt to the new style.
He and Cousins were on pace for career seasons under Malone. Darren Collison was revitalized as a starter and Ben McLemore was making strides.
“That’s how it’s got to be,” Gay said. “We’ve got to be at the forefront; we’ve got to be the most positive, no matter what. We’ve got to learn and be the best at it.”
He just didn’t say it would be easy.