The Kings have a problem, and it goes well beyond their current four-game losing streak. When Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas hooked Chimezie Metu’s left leg, twisted him off the rim and sent him tumbling to the ground Sunday, the Kings did nothing.
There was no pushing or shoving. Nobody threw a punch. In fact, Valanciunas went down to the other end of the court and dunked all over the Kings to add insult to injury.
You hear it all the time in postgame. "We didn’t play with enough force,” or “we were not the physical team tonight.”
This goes well beyond getting pushed around.
“This is a competitive game, and we’ve got to be able to stand up for ourselves,” coach Luke Walton said in a video conference following practice on Wednesday. “We’ve got to be able to, when pushed, be ready to push back.”
Last season, Walton had both Harry Giles and Alex Len on the roster. In a situation like this, there certainly would have been a response from either player, if not both. In reality, there would have been words, possibly some push and definitely a response when Valanciunas went to the other end.
When asked whether this could be a teaching moment for Sacramento, the Kings’ coach agreed. While he doesn’t want his players looking to injure anyone, Walton thinks his team lacks a certain toughness.
“We don’t ever want to hurt anyone, we’re not going to teach our guys that, but as far as being a teachable moment, as far as standing up for each and pushing back, absolutely,” Walton said.
“When someone messes with one of your brothers, you’ve got a bigger brother to step up,” Walton added. “That’s part of our process and understanding.”
All of this being said, the Kings are very upset about this specific situation. Metu is a two-way player trying his best to stick in the league. He is now out a minimum of four weeks with a broken wrist.
“It’s a really tough break for Mezie, it sucks because he works his butt off,” rookie Tyrese Haliburton said. “He’s really like the first guy in this gym everyday. To be as honest as I can, I think the play was ridiculous what really happened.”
From Haliburton’s point of view, Metu was looking for a place to land and Valanciunas didn’t give anywhere to go. He didn’t like the play, especially from a veteran player.
“We were down 20, he’s not trying to taunt him, he’s trying to stay safe,” Haliburton said. “It’s just wrong what happened. I refuse to believe there are people who actually think JV was in the right.”
Walton agreed with Haliburton. He wasn’t happy in real time and days later, he still thinks it was a flagrant play by Valanciunas.
“It’s disappointing on a lot of different levels,” Walton said. “It’s like I said after the game, I thought it was a dirty play. I still do. I don’t see how that’s anything resembling a basketball motion or movement.”
What if a star had broken his wrist instead of Metu? If Valanciunas had spun LeBron James to the floor, the question would likely be how long his suspension was going to last, not whether the league would go back and assess something more than a technical foul to the Grizzlies center.
“I don’t that’s much of a question, I feel that’s a certainty more than anything else,” Walton said when asked about the double standard. “It’s player safety, that’s what this league is all about now. It’s come a long way since the 80’s, but I think anyone who saw that play knows that it would be different if it was someone else hanging on the rim trying to land safely.”
This might all sound like sour grapes from the Kings, but they're rightfully upset. The call on the court and subsequent review during the game was grossly insufficient. The fact that the league hasn’t chimed in is disrespectful to both the Kings and Metu.
This is one of those situations you shouldn’t forget and that should carry over. The Kings play the Grizzlies at two more times in the second half of the season. Maybe Sacramento will learn something from this incident and come out with a little extra fire next time around.