SACRAMENTO -- At 8-6, questions in the Kings’ locker room are changing. It’s no longer about moral victories or searching for shiny pennies in a sea of murkiness. The tide has shifted to more important issues, like culture and winning.
On Monday, the quote of the night regarding the state of the Kings didn’t even come from someone employed by the home team. It came from one of the most powerful voices in the game.
“I was really impressed, their culture is changing — it’s changed drastically,” legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters. “Guys are committed, guys are physical, taking some pride in defense.
“I think Vlade [Divac] and the team have made some good moves, and I think Dave [Joerger]’s done a great job of bringing that group together. They look really good. It’s impressive.”
Sacramento will take the compliment. After dropping 14 consecutive games to the Spurs, the Kings pulled out a wild 104-99 win over San Antonio. They ran the floor, pushed the tempo, and they got the stops when they needed them. It was a team effort and a team win.
“It’s a totally different approach in this season,” Bogdan Bogdanovic said. “It’s tough to go in a season, what was it, like 1-8, 1-9 last year. It’s totally different when after 14 games you have 8-6. We [are] really trying to make the playoffs this year, and I know that sounds crazy for somebody, but that’s our motivation.”
The vibe is completely different around the team. During pregame, almost all of the players sit in their locker stall conversing. It’s a light and fun atmosphere, and the players genuinely get along and like one another.
It wasn’t a bad locker room last season, but the team had no identity. It was 10 players with very little NBA experience and a couple of veterans trying to guide the ship.
This season, the youth of the team has taken ownership of the program. They have found what works for them, and they are feeding off the positive energy.
“I think the culture was changed before our first game, through the guys,” a passionate Willie Cauley-Stein said. “I’ve been here for four years, and this is the first time that everybody is on one page, that everybody likes playing with each other and everybody like really cares if you do well.”
“In the past, it was like, these two dudes need to get their numbers, and if we win, it’s cool,” Cauley-Stein continued. “Now it’s like, we’re playing for everybody else to play good. We’re helping each other to play good. It’s more fun that way.”
Winning cures all. That’s not a new a thing in professional sports, but after 12 years of futility, it was a forgotten idea in Sacramento.
Teams around the NBA are noticing there is something different happening with the Kings. More importantly, the players inside the walls of Golden 1 Center feel the change, and that’s refreshing.