Focus of the season shifts to developing Kings' young players

Focus of the season shifts to developing Kings' young players

SACRAMENTO -- Dave Joerger has a method to his madness. With DeMarcus Cousins now in a New Orleans Pelicans uniform and the Sacramento Kings quickly falling back into the lottery discussion, there is a buzz about playing the young core of the team, instead of veteran players.

At a certain point, the Kings will likely move that way, but not until they feel it’s right for everyone involved. Regardless of the public outcry, Joerger’s job is to attempt to put players in a position to succeed, not just throw them to the wolves and risk slowing their progress.

Skal Labissiere made his first career start against the Brooklyn Nets, but Joerger is unlikely to stick stick with the 20-year-old power forward for the remaining 21 games on the schedule. According to the Kings’ head coach, it was solely based on matchups.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is in his second NBA season and has a lot of room to grow for Brooklyn. Trevor Booker is an energy veteran that does the dirty work off Kenny Atkinson's bench. Joerger looked at the matchups and Labissiere made more sense starting against an inexperienced Hollis-Jefferson, so he got the nod.

“What I’ve tried to do as part of their development is, I think it’s worked out really really well, is try to line them up against second line guys,” Joerger said.

It’s not a slight on reserves or second tier players. Labissiere is still learning how to use his immense skillset. He and Willie Cauley-Stein are in similar boats when it comes to the need for more grooming. They are learning the game on the fly and playing against savvy vets could do more harm than good at this stage in their development.

“Willie and Skal are learning body on body position,” Joerger said. “There’s an art to it, of setting your guy up. Those guys are all big and long and athletic.”

There will come a time when these two are lined up next to each other, but until they refine their game, you will see each in bursts and typically paired with a veteran.

Sacramento has almost an endless supply of young players. Labissiere and Cauley-Stein are getting minutes in the post. 7-footer Georgios Papagiannis works behind the scenes with the staff, as well as earning minutes with the team’s D-League affiliate in Reno.

Malachi Richardson earned back end of the rotation minutes before his injury and would likely be getting a substantial look now if not for a torn hamstring. Despite joining the team last week, rookie Buddy Hield has a green light to hoist up shots as he acclimates to the system.

“Sometimes the game is going a little fast,” Joerger said of his young players. “We can help each other, keep watching video, keep breaking it down for them, keep showing them on the court, keep trying to get better. It’s just a process.”

Most of the team’s veteran players took a maintenance day on Thursday, allowing the young guys to work through offensive sets with the coaching staff. While you aren’t likely to see four rookies on the floor at the same time during an NBA game this season, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t being developed.

It’s a transition for everyone involved, but young players need to earn minutes and veterans will not be cast aside. Joerger will continue to tinker with lineups and player combinations as he starts fresh with just a quarter of the season remaining.

Expectations have changed, but the path is clear. Youth will get opportunities, but they will earn their keep. It's rebuild time in Sacramento.

Response to adversity opens Kings, Golden 1 Center to national conversation

Response to adversity opens Kings, Golden 1 Center to national conversation

SACRAMENTO -- Gavin Maloof once described a potential downtown Sacramento arena as “a beacon of light, shining bright.” Vivek Ranadivé likened the idea of Golden 1 Center as the modern town square, cathedral or communal hearth.

On Friday, Ranadivé might have finally found the best way to describe his $500-plus million arena in the center of Sacramento’s downtown core. Speaking to the Sacramento Bee, Ranadivé said, "you can't always dictate what the stories are that are being told around the fireplace."

Thousands of protesters surrounded Ranadivé’s fireplace on Thursday evening. They locked arms and barred fans from coming in the building as the Kings faced the Atlanta Hawks.

In one night, Golden 1 Center was transformed from the home of the Kings, to something much more. It became the meeting place for the protesters to vent their frustrations after the officer-involved shooting death of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old African American from South Sacramento.

The Kings’ first reaction was to protect the fans that had entered the building. They locked down the arena and cleared everyone from the massive windows that highlight the grand entrance. The limited number of fans allowed in the building were treated to seat upgrades and unlimited free food.

After securing the safety of the fans inside, the team chose a specific course of action. Instead of pointing fingers at protesters who likely cost the franchise hundreds of thousands of dollars, they allowed Golden 1 Center to become the heart of Sacramento.

It’s not always going to be about basketball or concerts or Disney on Ice. For Golden 1 Center to become what Ranadivé envisions, it has to be a place for everyone.

Instead of shunning the protest and turning their ire towards the thousands outside, Ranadivé had his defining moment, not just as an owner, but as a leader in the Sacramento community.

“The Kings recognize your people’s ability to protest peacefully and we respect that,” Ranadivé said from center court. “We here at the Kings recognize that we have a big platform. It’s a privilege, but it’s also a responsibility. It’s a responsibility that we take very seriously and we stand before you; old, young, black, white, brown and we are all united in our commitment.”

His postgame speech was humble and showed a different side of the Kings’ Chairman. It was also a moment for the franchise to become part of a larger conversation that is facing nearly every community in America.

To turn a blind eye to social injustice and civil unrest would violate the spirit of what Golden 1 Center was created for. If it is truly the fireplace of Sacramento, then there has to be an open invitation - not just for basketball, and not just for protests, but for all that a community has to give.

The Kings aren’t asking for games to be interrupted on a regular basis. But the team’s handling of the situation has opened the door for Golden 1 Center to become the communal meeting place they hoped it would be when they broke ground.

Report: Former Kings star offers to pay for Stephon Clark's funeral

Report: Former Kings star offers to pay for Stephon Clark's funeral

Former Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins reportedly reached out to Stephon Clark's family and offered to cover the cost of his a funeral, according to The Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones

Sacramento police shot and killed Clark, a 22-year-old African-American father of two, on Sunday while he was holding a cellphone in the backyard of his grandmother's home. Clark was unarmed. 

During his six-and-a-half year tenure in Sacramento, Cousins was not only the face of the Kings on the court, but the face of outreach efforts off of it. He paid for the funeral of Sacramento-area high school football player Jaulon "JJ" Clavo, who was shot in 2015, and ran free children's basketball camps for the city's children during the summer.

He continued to run a camp last summer following a midseason trade to the New Orleans Pelicans, and has spoken at length about how much he treasures maintaining strong ties to Sacramento. He told The Sacramento Bee last February that he "still consider[s Sacramento] a home."

“It’s very important to me,” Cousins told The New Orleans Advocate in October. “I’ve built relationships in a lot of the different places I’ve been. My biggest thing is helping those kids and helping families in need. I was once in their position, and it would’ve done wonders if I could’ve had a little bit of help coming up. I’m just doing my part.”

Bodycam footage from the officer-involved shooting was released on Wednesday, setting off protests on Thursday. Protestors blocked traffic on Interstate 5 both ways, according to NPR, before locking arms and surrounding the Golden 1 Center ahead of Hawks-Kings that night. Those protests delayed the start of the game by 15 minutes, and an estimated 15,000 fans were unable to enter the arena.