Alex Len didn't expect to be traded, let alone to the Kings.
He wanted to sign an extension with the Atlanta Hawks after the season, but the Hawks rebuilt their roster on the fly at the NBA trade deadline. Len, along with Jabari Parker, was traded to the Kings in exchange for center Dewayne Dedmon and a pair of second-round picks.
What awaited him in Sacramento caught Len off guard.
"Once I got there, it was a pleasant surprise," Len told The Athletic's Chris Kirschner earlier this week. "I like the team. We were winning games, and I could just do my part. My role is more defined over there.”
Len quickly fit in with his new teammates. The Kings went 6-3 in Len's first nine games before the NBA season was suspended following Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert's positive coronavirus test, and the 2013 draft's No. 5 overall pick averaged 6.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in just over 16 minutes per night.
Sacramento had the NBA's fifth-best net rating (plus-4.8) and the league's 10th-best defensive rating (107.6) following Len's arrival. The Kings were 21st (minus-2.7) and tied for 20th (109.1), respectively, in the first 55 games of the season.
The NBA entered its indefinite hiatus with the Kings just 3 1/2 games back of the Western Conference's last playoff spot, and Len's play off the bench was a big reason why. He told Kirschner that Sacramento's postseason pursuit reinvigorated him.
“There was a whole different mood and vibe around the team because we were going for the eighth spot,” Len said. “When I was (in Atlanta), it’s tough to play knowing you’re not making the playoffs. You go into the game, and guys are thinking about their points and themselves. (In Sacramento), it’s all about team and winning. Guys don’t care how many points they score; it’s all about winning. Everybody was playing a lot harder. We were playing all five guys on a string. It makes your job easier because everybody else is a lot better.”
Len will play a big role in the Kings' playoff chase, assuming the NBA season resumes with Sacramento still in contention.
That isn't where Len imagined he would be coming into the season, but he's thriving amid unexpected circumstances.