SACRAMENTO -- Leaderless in Sacramento? The Sacramento Kings made a move over the summer that may have changed the entire culture of their team. It flew under the radar when it happened, but the loss of guard Garrett Temple is huge.
Inside the walls of the locker room and on the floor of the Golden 1 Center, Temple was the voice of the team. He stood tall on social issues. He set forth an example of how to conduct oneself on and off the court. He was the leader of a young and inexperienced club.
“We are greatly, greatly missing Garrett Temple, I’m not trying to stir things up or anything, as a guy who holds the keys to our locker room,” coach Dave Joerger said following the team’s win over Maccabi Haifa on Monday.
After years of searching for a true leader in the clubhouse, the Kings stumbled upon Temple during the summer of 2016. He instantly made an impact as a defender on the court, but also as a professional behind the scenes.
“There is a vacuum of leadership,” Joerger continued. “And those things don’t just get anointed by a golden wand. It takes time, it takes credibility built through trust and it just takes a while for that thing to develop of who’s going to be a leader. I wouldn’t say we’re leaderless, but we’re looking for a couple of guys to emerge who have the credibility by their play to have their voice be heard and for people to follow.”
Temple helped set a standard behind the scenes. It was about more than just showing up on time and being a good teammate. He was a big brother, a confidant and the guy who stepped forward to field the hard questions when things went sideways.
“It’s not hard when you’re doing all the right things,” center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “That why Garrett - he does all the right things, he’s a pro. You can listen to him because you can see his track record. You can see the method that he’s using and it works.”
Temple was shipped to the Memphis Grizzlies over the summer for spare parts. It’s no disrespect to Deyonta Davis or Ben McLemore, but neither were in the long-term plans of the team. Davis has already been waived. McLemore is organizational depth and likely out out of the rotation when the season begins.
The Kings did, however, also receive a 2021 second-round draft pick and cash considerations from Memphis.
The trade split Temple’s contract into two more manageable pieces and saved a million in salary. It also gives the veteran a chance to play while the Kings go young.
Sacramento will learn that what Temple brought, you can’t put a value on. The players are starting to feel it now, but when the first losing streak hits, and it will hit, who is going to help hold the locker room together?
The transition of power from the veterans to the young crew is something that takes time. Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos and Iman Shumpert can help the process, but they aren’t expected to see a lot of court time this season, which complicates matters.
You don’t get to stay a young player forever. Cauley-Stein is entering his fourth season in the league. Skal Labissiere and Buddy Hield are in year three. De’Aaron Fox, Frank Mason and Justin Jackson are all entering their second seasons.
This group is inexperienced, but they are also going to be on the court for a majority of the team’s minutes. There is a need for these players to step up and take an ownership level that they haven’t had to take in the past.
“I can try to do the best I can to just be the leader that I am,” Fox told NBC Sports California during media day two weeks ago. “I’ve become a lot more vocal throughout the summer. Sometimes being a rook, you don’t feel like you can say some stuff, that’s out the door now.”
Fox came into camp in incredible shape. He’s worked on getting stronger and from everyone involved with the team, he’s taken a leap in his approach to the game.
But at 20 years old, it’s a lot to expect. He plays a position that requires a strong personality, and the team has been built to support his skill set. He is the head of the snake, but he’s not alone.
“I think I’m one of those guys that have a voice, that can speak up when things go wrong,” Buddy Hield said. “Speaking up, taking ownership and playing together.”
Without Temple, it’s all hands on deck. The current crop of veterans must give guidance behind the scenes, but if the young core is going to play the bulk of the minutes, they have to grow up in a hurry.
Finding a leader isn’t easy. Developing one is even harder. Temple provided a template, but he’s a tough act to follow.