Chuck Hayes‘ first year as a Sacramento King was the definition of a roller coaster ride – both physically and mentally.
“It was just a different season for me in all,” said Hayes following the Kings’ first practice Tuesday afternoon. “The heart, the shoulder, new team, new city, the inconsistency of playing time, the inconsistency of winning. It was just different.”
Last year, Hayes joined the Kings as their prized free agent acquisition, signing a four-year deal worth roughly $20 million. But his season was derailed before it even started when a physical revealed a heart abnormality that nearly threatened his career.
Hayes would return after tests came back negative, but the damage was already done. He missed most of training camp, which left him playing catch-up with his conditioning. Not long after, the undersized big man dislocated his left shoulder, sidelining him for almost a month, and never became the presence on the floor the Kings hoped they were getting.
“It was something I never experienced before,” said Hayes reflectively of last year’s trying season. “But, I learned from it. I probably learned from that season more than any other I had ever been in.”
The former Kentucky big man was expected to bring veteran leadership and defensive savvy to Sacramento – both issues the Kings have sorely needed addressed in recent years. However, it wasn’t easy to reach through to his young teammates when playing time came at a premium.
“You would like to be a voice in the middle, in between the lines,” Hayes said when asked if it was difficult to lead considering the inconsistencies he faced last season. “Not a voice on the bench…but that’s part of the game. If I’m not in there, I still gotta talk, be vocal and let the guys know what I see from the bench.”
If Hayes’ physique is any indication, he looks like he’s learned plenty from last season. Entering training camp this year, the Kings big man looks noticeably leaner and trimmer. He credits a heavy dose of Bikram Yoga, cycling and avidly running track for his slimmed-down build.
Hayes also says the left-shoulder that bothered him throughout most of last year is back to normal. The Kings big man suggests that it’s no longer giving him the trouble he experienced after dislocating it twice last season.
“It feels stronger than it was last year,” said Hayes, no longer sporting the protective brace he was prescribed to wear after dislocating it in a January home game against the Milwaukee Bucks. “And I’m really going to play without the consciousness of being hesitant and thinking about it.”
Hayes seems ready to put a lackluster 2011-12 campaign behind him. He’s excited about the additions of Thomas Robinson, Aaron Brooks and James Johnson and believes they provide depth and versatility the Kings lacked last season.
For a team in desperate need of veteran guidance, Hayes appears ready to begin yielding dividends on the hefty investment the Kings made on him last season.
“I’m ready to make the change and be more focused,” Hayes said. “And be this leader that this team needs me to be.”