The Sacramento Kings have lost seven of eight to start the season, understandable given the team’s cruel schedule and injury woes.
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What’s also understandable is the sense of panic that sets in when, knowing you need about 45 wins to break a nearly decade-long playoff drought, knowing that you’ve already spotted the Western Conference seven losses. The Kings know the trend needs fixing, they just can’t actually do anything about it.
This is why the sense of dread was palpable in the Kings locker room on Monday night, coming from star big man DeMarcus Cousins, following what was a very winnable blowout loss to the San Antonio Spurs. From James Ham at CSN Bay Area:
“We got some issues that we got to, you know, carve out,” a cryptic Cousins said. “Can’t really speak on that, but one thing is, us players, we’ve got to stick together. Just with that, that will get us over or get us through most battles.”
“We got some issues in-house we need to figure out,” Cousins continued.
Ham went on to elaborate that Cousins will be encouraging all to attend a players-only meeting, pitched in order to discuss the “in-house,” and not “on-court,” issues.
The scene unfolded, weirdly, as Kings owner Vivek Ranadive brightened the Kings’ locker room following the loss by bringing pop star Drake back to hang out with the team. The Kings were expectedly morose following the Spurs loss, and immediately went back to the realm of the dour after Drake exchanged pleasantries with Cousins, Rajon Rondo and swingman Rudy Gay.
Cousins, who did his turn at the media scrum away from Gay and Rondo, clarified from there:
"Just to make it clear, I believe in every single person in this room and we just got to stay together. So that part I'm not worried about, but it is issues we gotta figure out," Cousins said. "When those issues are fixed, the winning will come."
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It’s important to remember that Sacramento’s 1-7 start, on paper, is excusable.
The team did as they should against the lowly Lakers in its only win, taking Los Angeles by 18 in Sacramento, but beyond that the schedule has been hellish. Sacto has lost to Clippers twice, the Warriors once, while falling to a championship hopeful in Houston and a playoff hopeful in Phoenix.
After acknowledging that, remember that the team has been without Cousins for four games as he dealt with a sore left Achilles. DeMarcus returned to score 21 points and 12 rebounds on Monday, but he was notably pained during the game while admitting in the locker room afterward that his conditioning was spent after not being able to run for the better part of a week. Point guard Darren Collison has also missed the last two games with a hamstring pull.
Beyond this, though … yeah, the Kings are a mess.
Ben McLemore has shot his way out of the starting lineup, and though coach George Karl started him for the second half on Monday he still missed four of six in the loss. Rudy Gay is back to his 40 percent (if that) ways from the field, shooter Marco Belinelli has failed to set the world on fire, and Rajon Rondo is turning the ball over far too much while back to his old struggles at the free throw line (5 of 14, thus far).
Rondo is pushing the ball, but the Kings aren’t getting much out of its 20th ranked offense or 27th ranked defense. Meanwhile, just two weeks in, DeMarcus Cousins is already talking up a fractured locker room in the wake of a Spurs loss that saw San Antonio outscore Sacramento 34-19 in the fourth quarter on the Kings’ home floor.
Drake and Kentucky products Cousins and Rondo are genuinely good friends, and it’s not like owner Vivek Ranadive was going to waste a Drake visit even in the wake of a crushing loss. If anything, the sometimes combative Cousins would probably be more upset had the singer been kept from the Kings locker room, a chance to see his famous friend lost just because Sacramento couldn’t guard Kawhi Leonard.
Still, it reeks of the showy, star-laden atmosphere that Ranadive is attempting to create with his team. The hiring of coach George Karl, the jettisoning of a respected (if, to that point, ineffective) front office in favor of a cadre of former Kings legends.
And though seven losses to one win against that lineup, half playing without DeMarcus Cousins, is passable in a way, you just can’t get away with this stuff in the West.
The current holder of the eighth slot in the playoff bracket is Portland, a team that wasn’t expected to compete for the postseason, a team currently on pace to win half its games (we’re good at math). The Kings are technically just three games out of the bracket, and they’ve gotten two Clipper games, a Warrior game and a Spurs game out of the way, but you’re still looking at a 44-30 finish to end things in order to grab that 45th win.
Does this look like a team that can rally long enough to win over 59 percent of its games? With Rondo seemingly set like this for good now, same as Rudy Gay, with rookie Willie Cauley-Stein being pulled after just one minute after starting the second half on Monday? With Cousins having to rehab an injury that needs rest on the fly, and the streaking Detroit Pistons in town on Tuesday. With Boogie already talking up a locker room that needs shaping up?
George Karl has pulled off stranger things, but this is some task he has ahead of him. And he’s not even allowed in his team’s next meeting.
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