John Salmons would probably be the last man on the Kings’ roster you’d peg in such a role. But surprisingly, he’s been one of the Kings’ most ardent locker room leaders this season.
When the Kings lost two-and-a-half weeks ago to the Atlanta Hawks, it was Salmons who called for the players’ only meeting after the blowout drubbing. And when the Kings suffered their worst loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in franchise history, it was Salmons who made sure to tell the Sacramento Bee’s Jason Jones that the 35-point defeat was “strictly on the players”, not the coaches.
“It’s been good to see that he’s communicating,” said Kings head coach Keith Smart after practice yesterday. “And talking to the guys and not being afraid to say what he really feels. And that’s what we need on this team.
“We have veterans, but we want them to be a little bit more vocal,” Smart added. “Because coaches can only do so much. You get more out of the word that I’m going to say when one of your teammates says the same thing.”
Dating back to his first stint in Sacramento, Salmons has always been a quiet presence in the Kings’ locker room. That didn’t change last year as he embarked in his second go-around with the Kings.
“I think he was trying to feel this team out,” Smart said of his veteran small forward. “I think when he came back this year, one thing I noticed right away I said, ‘Wow, John is talking a lot more’ because he didn’t talk a lot unless you engaged him.”
Upon his return to the capital city, Salmons found himself in a position he had never been before. For the first time in his career, the 32-year-old swingman was the oldest player on the team. Salmons admitted he was reluctant to come to grips with the new responsibilities that come naturally with age.
“It was just a new experience for me,” said Salmons of becoming the Kings’ elder statesman. “I didn’t really want it. I didn’t really embrace it. But this year, I felt like (being a leader) was just something that I have to do, particularly the way the season was going.”
The Kings head coach noticed a change in Salmons in training camp. During the Kings’ stay in Colorado Springs, Salmons showed off a more vocal personality and was more comfortable offering feedback. Smart believes that spending extra time with teammates on a daily basis helped the veteran swingman come out of his shell.
“I don’t know what particular moment it was,” said Salmons, unable to pinpoint exactly when he decided to be more of a vocal presence. “It was just one of those things where I just told myself as a veteran I have to be more vocal. And a couple opportunities presented themselves and I just took advantage of those opportunities.”
Salmons and the Kings seemed headed in the right direction coming out of Colorado Springs. Unfortunately for the veteran forward, those good spirits would be cut short as he missed practically all of the Kings’ preseason schedule, along with their first five games due to personal reasons.
But picking up where he left off was not a problem for Salmons after rejoining the team. It took just five days after his return to crack Smart’s rotation and another nine for him to regain his role in the starting lineup.
“He’s comfortable where he’s at right now,” Smart said of Salmons. “And I think he’s looked at (himself) and said ‘You know what? I think I need to be vocal. I need to talk a little bit more,” and he has done that.”
Coming off Saturday’s dispirited performance against the Clippers, Salmons believes his teammates are starting to realize they have no one to blame but themselves for their disappointing 4-12 start. He is hopeful they begin taking accountability, much like he has in his new-found position as the Kings’ elder statesman.
“It’s something I embrace,” Salmons said of his learning process to become a better leader. “And by embracing it, I’m starting to enjoy that role.”