Sacramento Kings players receptive to forthcoming lineup changes

Chuck Hayes, Isaiah Thomas and Ben McLemore sit on the bench together during opening night against the Denver Nuggets. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

Michael Malone reiterated after practice yesterday that he still plans to follow through on making changes to the Sacramento Kings’ lineup. Following Saturday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Kings head coach said that after six games, he had seen enough and that the time had come to shuffle his rotation.

It appears his decision won’t be facing much resistance. Most of his players, including two of the Kings’ team leaders, agree that it’s time to shift things around.

“I’m on the same page with him,” Kings center DeMarcus Cousins said after practice Monday. “(There) needed to be some changes because some guys were put in position, and they didn’t step up to it. So, we gonna let the next guy do it.”

Cousins didn’t stop there when it came to assessing the current state of the Kings.  While speaking with the media yesterday, he seemed to suggest that excuse-making has been an issue for this season’s team.  After years of uncertainty involving a disengaged ownership group, the Kings appear to have developed a not-our-fault mentality when it comes to their on-court misfortunes.

But with structure set in place by a brand new ownership group, Cousins said that he and his teammates have no one else to blame but themselves for their struggles so far this season.

“It’s on us now,” Cousins said. “Everything is set up for us now. There’s nothing that we can complain about from the top to the coaches to (front office and ownership). Everything’s set for us now. Now it’s time for us to just go out there and play. There’s no more excuses.”

Though Cousins’ words sound harsh, there is truth to what he said. And through six games, the 23-year-old big man has the credibility to walk to the talk. After two lackluster performances against the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks, Cousins averaged 34 points and 10.5 rebounds over the course of back-to-back losses to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Like Cousins, Isaiah Thomas welcomes the changes Malone is planning to implement. Despite the small sample size of six games, Thomas is not surprised by his coach’s decision to tinker with the lineup.

“Nah, there’s need to be a change,” Thomas said when asked about Malone’s plans to shuffle the Kings’ lineup. “When you’re 1-5, that’s definitely not good. And we know this is going to be a process. We know it’s going to take time and we gotta be patient. But at the same time, guys are competitive, coach is very competitive and he wants change right now. And we need that.

“Whatever group of guys is going to play the hardest, give us the best chance of winning, I think coach is gonna try to go with that group,” Thomas continued. “So it’s about winning at the end of the day. Winning is everything.”

The Kings have so far struggled to find consistency on defense, an area Malone was brought in to address. But what’s been more troubling have been their issues with energy and effort. Aside from the home opener against the Denver Nuggets, the Kings have been unable to play with vigor for a full 48 minutes.

Thomas seems to believe part of the problem stems from his team’s inability to overcome mistakes. He suggested that they have a tendency to dwell on on their missteps, instead of having a “next play” mentality throughout games.

“That’s just how some guys’ mentalities are,” Thomas said. “We just gotta be a next play team, whether good or bad. Coach wants us to go out there first and foremost and play hard and just (know) we’re gonna make mistakes. He knows that, we know that we’re not going to play a perfect game.

“But if you play hard, that makes up for your mistakes,” Thomas added. “I think we just gotta translate that to the basketball court. We gotta play hard, that’s what we gotta do. We gotta show that we have the effort and we want to win and then I think things will change.”

Despite the five-game losing streak, Thomas and Cousins appear optimistic that the ship can be righted. Like their head coach, they’re preaching that it’s not time to panic just yet.

“I’m not really calling it a setback,” Cousins said of his team’s early season struggles. “It’s just time for guys to step up. It’s the same things over and over. Once you accept that you’re not doing your job the right way and then you actually try to correct it, then that’s when we’ll be on the right path. And right now, I think guys are still trying to make excuses.”

Malone still searching for lineup answers

He doesn’t have all the answers. In fact, the Kings head coach admits that he’s not quite sure yet how his lineup and rotation will look come Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets.

However, he has been experimenting. He was reserved about what combinations he tested during practice yesterday, but the Kings head coach did note that he tried out some different lineups.

“I guess I’m in search mode,” Malone told reporters after practice Monday. “Just trying to find groups that aren’t going give up those kind of runs. Because like you said, it’s been the starters some nights and it’s been the guys off the bench the other nights. I still don’t have a definitive answer as to where we go from here.”

The Kings’ issues have been perplexing, to say the least, for the rookie head coach. In his decade-plus in the NBA, Malone has never been around a team that “goes through such long dry spells so often.” But that is the challenge he faces with the Kings, who are mired in a shooting slump to start the season. Through six games, Sacramento is shooting an abysmal 42 percent from the field.

Making baskets, though, has not been a focal point for Malone. The Kings head coach has been more concerned with the fact that their offensive woes are affecting their output on the defensive end.

“I can’t wait for us to play 48 minutes,” Malone said. “Because if we play 48 minutes, I think we’ll be a pretty good team. We’ve shown that in stretches, but as you mentioned we’ll play very well (then very bad).”

Malone may still be looking for answers to the Kings’ early season struggles, but he’s certainly working hard to find them.


Jonathan Santiago
Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.

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