Something’s been missing from the Sacramento Kings for quite some time. A lack of leadership continues to be thrown out as a reason for the team’s woes on-the-court, but it goes beyond that. The Kings have leaders. They have veterans who work with young players. They have coaches who are known for their ability to teach and nurture. But something else is still missing.
You have to want to be good. You have to want to work and study to improve both physically and mentally as a player. It’s not about stats; it’s about understanding how to get your team to the next level.
If you want to be great, it takes more than just standing in front of a room full of cameras and expressing how you intend to lead a team to the playoffs. It takes more than having a “C” sewn onto the front of your jersey.
We heard DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans talk a good game before the season began. This was supposed to be their year to take control of this team and lead it back to the promise land. Those promises have proven to be hollow.
Cousins insistence on making poor decisions has cost the team dearly. He’s had suspensions, technical fouls, run-ins with Keith Smart, Sean Elliott and plenty others – and that’s not what leaders do. Despite his immense talent, he has been a distraction and one of the reasons the Kings still sit near the bottom of the Western Conference.
And what about Evans? In a contract year to end all contract years, he once again missed a block of games due to injury. I don’t want to question a guy’s ability to play on game night. But if Evans were playing for the Lakers, Kobe Bryant would have given him the Dwight Howard treatment. Are you hurt or are you injured?
So the Kings struggle through another lottery-bound season of disappointment. Not because they lack talent (that is a long way down the list of issues), but because they lack an identity, heart, leadership, and no one is willing to take ownership of this train-wreck.
Well, almost no one.
Isaiah Thomas is done with the excuses. He is done with this rudderless ship and heartless play of his teammates. You can see it on his face in the locker room and in his play on the floor.
If it weren’t enough that he was able to make an NBA roster as a 5-foot-9 guard selected last in the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas has had to fight to earn minutes, a spot in the rotation and now a starting job.
While everyone else is busy hanging their heads and accepting defeat, Thomas is taking ownership of the Kings game-by-game. He has fought too hard to earn his place and now he is grabbing the bull by the horns.
This his team – no doubt about it.
That’s what it takes. The decision to be great isn’t something you announce from a podium. It is something you slave away at. It’s something you take personally and take pride in. You become a student of the game and you work tirelessly to improve. That is what Thomas gets and what many of his teammates don’t.
There are plenty of folks out there who don’t believe in Thomas. The Jimmer backers are pulling for their guy to get the same opportunity that Thomas has gotten, but let me be clear about why that won’t happen right now. While Jimmer has more potential than Thomas, he doesn’t have the personality to slap a teammate in the face and say “no more”.
And that is what Cousins, Evans, James Johnson and plenty other Kings players need – a good slap in the face. They need a floor general, but more than that. They need someone to hold them accountable every moment they’re on the court and for someone to get in their face when they stray from the concept of team.
That’s what great players in the NBA do. They take ownership of the floor and lineup on a given night. They do what it takes to win, regardless of whose feelings get hurt. And that is what Thomas is starting to do right now.
Would I like Thomas to be six-inches taller or have a higher assist rate? Sure. But for right now, he needs to put this team on his back in any way possible, because he is clearly driving the bus.
And what about the other guys?
They need to fall in line and start taking notice. The smallest guy on the team is now in charge and you either buy in or get out of his way because he isn’t slowing down to ask for directions anymore.
This is how a team gets better. It takes one or two guys to tell the rest of the group that this is where we need to be and this is how we are going to get there. The Kings have been waiting a long time for that person to step forward and now they need Thomas’ approach to become contagious.
The quicker we see teammates follow his path, the quicker the Kings improve. It’s not a hard concept. You have to want to win, not just talk about it. You have to want to be better, not just pretend like you do. The Kings now have one guy who gets it. Just a few more to go.