Isaiah Thomas chatting with assistant coach Micah Nori. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

For the last few years, a dark cloud has lingered over the Sacramento Kings.  The pain of countless relocation attempts made wins and losses absolutely meaningless.  The former ownership group did its best to extinguish basketball in the capital of California, but Kings fans weren’t ready to let go.

So they fought.

It is an epic tale that will be written in books and maybe made into a movie or two.  We know about the incredible spirit of the Sacramento fan groups and Mayor Kevin Johnson.  And we are slowly learning about the new ownership group and their victory over Seattle’s Chris Hansen.  But there is another element to the story that is nearly impossible to capture – the plight of the team’s players.

Who in their right mind would want to be a Sacramento King through this saga?  The answer is no one.

Always an NBA outpost, the Maloof family turned the franchise into a complete circus and the players were left front and center to answer questions from the media, family members and fans on the street.

It’s hard to love the game of basketball when you are surrounded by nothing but negativity.  It saps your energy and leaves you wanting to get away from the situation as soon as possible.  And that is what most players did.  As soon as they could leave, they ran for the door.

But that feeling is gone.  It has been replaced with a new sense of optimism that is oozing from every pore of the franchise.

The fun is returning to Sacramento, which was abundantly evident during Monday’s media day.  In case you missed it, Patrick Patterson snuck up behind Travis Outlaw armed with Slamson’s backpack basketball hoop.  Outlaw turned to see what everyone was smiling about, just in time for rookie Ben McLemore to fly in and dunk all over him.

The room erupted with laughter.  Laughter three years in the making.

On Thursday, the team was at it again.  McLemore joined Jimmer Fredette, DeMarcus Cousins and advisor Chris Mullin in a 3-point shootout against a few UC Santa Barbara students.  Owner Vivek Ranadivé was on hand to watch the 50-year-old Mullin strut his Hall of Fame credentials, dropping in 14 of his 15 attempts, including his first 12.

This is organic team building.  It isn’t a high ropes course or a trust lean.  It is a group of young men enjoying the fact that they are NBA players.  They are smiling and laughing, all while wearing Sacramento Kings uniforms.

The difference in the franchise is overwhelming and it is spilling over to the players.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to have some hiccups along the way.  You don’t walk into training camp with four starting jobs on the line and expect to leave without at least a few players with hurt feelings.  But that is part of the game.

Relocation attempts and abandoning your franchise is not part of the game.  And neither is leaving your players to answer all of the questions.

The fans fought and won.  Same goes for the new ownership group, so the excitement for these two groups has been building for some time.  But the players are just now getting back to the flow of things.  They have flown in from all over the country to a city they did not know if they would return to when the season ended in April.

Many of the players came in early to meet the new coaching staff and start playing with their teammates.  There is a new sense of excitement with the team and for the first time in a very long time, there is a positive vibe surrounding the start of a season.

For a franchise stuck in neutral for what seems like an eternity, there are signs that brighter days are ahead.  Carl Landry was the first major free agent acquisition the Kings have been able to land in years and they backed that up with a new, four-year extension for Cousins.  Players have actually shown interested in signing with the Kings after years of staying away.

These two deals went a long way towards proving that the new ownership group is willing to spend to improve the talent on the floor.  It is positive momentum that the players will relish.

We are approaching a moment when all of the pieces are meeting in the middle.  The fans are beyond excited and returning at a record pace.  A new, hungry group is owning and running the team and the players are finally able to focus on the job at hand.