Sunday Musings: It’s time for the Sacramento Kings to grow up

 DeMarcus Cousins being held back by Marcus Thornton vs. Celtics. (Photo: Steven Chea)

My two boys went back to school last week.  My oldest is starting fifth grade and my youngest is in kindergarten.  As I walked my oldest to class, I saw one of his friends from last year.  The boys hadn’t seen each other all summer and I was shocked to see how tall the other kid had gotten over summer break.  That shock was doubled when my son walked up next to the other boy, who towered over him.

Having children of your own gives a different perspective to the concept of growth.  You watch your children go from babies to adults in what seems like the blink of an eye.  You can’t wait for them to walk and then all you want is for them to slow down.  You are so excited to hear those first words and then you wish that they didn’t have such a strong grasp of the English language.

Basketball parallels life in this way.  Young players are brought in.  They are but babes in the woods.  They need time and slowly they mature.  Each player develops at his own pace and unfortunately, some stop growing both mentally and physically long before anyone hoped they would.

Soon they aren’t young anymore.  They are veterans or not players at all.  A new group of prospects are waiting to take their spot and the cycle of hoops life continues.

But while they are still young and impressionable, the plan is that with each passing season, there will be a new and better version of the player and the person than there was before.  You are looking for maturation and growth, something to give hope that there are better things to come.

The system is nowhere near foolproof, in fact, it’s flawed to its core.  In many cases a player never makes it past the first stage of development, but there is always hope of maturation and evolution.

For the last few years, this normal progression has not materialized for many players in Sacramento.  They seem starved for attention, lacking guidance and missing the basic understanding of how to move forward in their development.  A me-first attitude has infiltrated the brand, leaving behind mostly selfish and mostly unwatchable play.  The players have tuned out coaching and even worse, accepted losing as the norm.

Changes and instability with the franchise have created a built-in excuse.  While players have been busy waiting for the next coach to get fired, we have seen inconsistent growth from most of the Sacramento Kings’ players.

Very few have taken it upon themselves to take control of their own destiny.  They assume that there will be another opportunity somewhere in the league.  That they will be looked at as orphans from a lost franchise.  But that is a mistake.

A few of the Kings have ignored the crumbling walls around them and looked to “control what they can control”.  Take forward Jason Thompson, the longest tenured Kings, for example.  He may be one of the few anomalies under the Kings’ previous regime that has worked tirelessly to improve their lot in life, in spite of the precarious circumstances of the franchise.

While his numbers do not show the ascension some hoped for following his rookie season, Thompson is a much better player than he was coming out of Rider University.

Gone are the goofy-footed jumpers and the overzealous offensive post moves that drew charge after charge.  Both his body and mind have undergone a complete metamorphosis.

Every season Thompson has added to his game.  He now has post moves and can finish with both hands.  He is efficient on both ends of the floor and does a much better job of keeping a cool head.  He has started his own foundation and his presence in the Sacramento community is felt every season.

Thompson gives you hope that with hard work and persistence, other players can do the same, regardless of the situation.  While he isn’t perfect, he is an NBA regular that will spend a decade or more in the league as both a player and an ambassador for the sport.

But for every Jason Thompson, there are plenty of others who are more interested in the lifestyle of being an NBA player.  Not everyone understands what it takes to make it in the league, just like not every child is bound for Harvard or Stanford.  All you can hope for is that they push themselves to improve and come as close as possible to their potential both on and off the court.

We are a month from training camp and with all of the excitement of the new ownership and front office, the growth of the current roster has never been so important.  We know that Thompson will be ready to once again defend his position from hostile takeover, but what about the others?

Who will take that next step?  Who on the Sacramento Kings’ roster will stand taller than the rest when the summer break ends?  Who else will take the challenge and responsibility that comes with being a professional athlete?

The Kings are full of young players who have yet to fully cash in on their potential.  They have talent, but much of that talent has yet to make a permanent mark on the league.

Vivek Ranadivé, Pete D’Alessandro and Michael Malone have made a very solid commitment to helping these players along on their path.  But like good parents, they can only do so much.  This is a crucial season for DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmer Fredette, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton and Patrick Patterson.

It is time for this group to evolve from young NBA players to veterans with purpose.  The growth this season needs to be measurable in both tangible ways, like wins, but also in incalculable ways.  They need to find chemistry, balance and acceptance within the team and they need to quickly define who they are as players while figuring out how they make this team move forward as a unit.

The new management team won’t be asking for each of these players to have career years or become something they are not.  They simply need to see a better version of the players they have watched on film and played against in the past.  They need to see the growth that comes with being in the league yet another year.

The NBA life cycle is so short.  It won’t be long before this collection of talent is gone and we are writing about the one that follows and the one after that.  If this group is to leave a lasting legacy, it is time for them to grow up and take responsibility for both their personal development and the improvement of this team.  No more excuses.


James Ham

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