Marcus Thornton and Isaiah Thomas cool down following Sacramento Kings summer league practice. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

LAS VEGAS – For two Sacramento Kings veterans who are not on the team’s Summer League roster, nobody said practice was mandatory.

In fact, their presence in Las Vegas was completely voluntary. But when Kings head coach Michael Malone gave Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton an open invitation to suit up, they embraced the opportunity.

“It means a lot to me because it shows that they want to change,” Malone said following the Kings’ Sunday evening practice at Cox Pavilion. “You can talk about changing and being a part of a change of a culture and a program and an environment. But to actually get out here and do it is a tremendous first step.”

Malone coached Thornton in New Orleans and has spoken “many times” with Thomas since taking the job last month. However, their participation in today’s practice marked the first time that Malone actually got to coach any members from last year’s roster. He said their presence among the Kings’ Summer League team showed a “commitment” and “willingness to buy in” to what he’s trying to accomplish as the Sacramento’s new head coach.

“They both got their gear on and came out and sweat with the guys and worked hard,” Malone said. “And they definitely raised the level of intensity of the practice tonight.”

The two veterans are in Las Vegas visiting and meeting with the Kings’ new coaches and front office staff. Thornton arrived in Nevada yesterday while Thomas flew in today.

A major reason the third-year point guard decided to make the trek to Sin City was to build rapport and familiarity with his new coaches.

“To get comfortable with the coaching staff, see what they’re thinking and what direction they’re in,” Thomas said Sunday evening. “And also just on the basketball court, I mean they have a lot of different (terminology) that I didn’t even know. It’s good for me to learn it early so that once training camp comes, I’m used to a lot of the stuff.”

Their presence on the court also gave two of their newest teammates a chance to compete and play alongside them. Rookie Ben McLemore spoke highly of Thomas’ ability to attack and penetrate the basket and also set up teammates.

“It definitely was good to see those guys out there, help us and get better as a team,” the 20-year-old shooting guard said of Thomas and Thornton.

Thomas liked he what he saw tonight from this year’s seventh overall pick. The 24-year-old point guard was impressed by McLemore’s “overall talent” and believes he has a chance to be “very hard to guard” if the young shooting guard puts everything all together.

Thomas is also welcoming McCallum, a fellow point guard, into the mix with open arms. He likes that the former Detroit Mercy standout has a well-rounded game.

“I’ve worked out with him when I was going into the draft down here in Vegas,” Thomas said of McCallum. “I know him a little bit, I know his game and he’s solid.”

Former NBA veteran lends expertise to Kings coaching staff

Another new face with NBA experience was in the gym helping out the Kings tonight. Former NBA forward Popeye Jones assisted summer league coach Chris Jent run drills and more at Sunday evening’s practice.

Much like former Golden State Warriors GM Chris Mullin, Jones is not working in an official capacity with the team. Instead, the ex-11 year NBA veteran is just currently offering his expertise for free. Jones was previously on staff with the Brooklyn Nets.