As the Sacramento Kings tested their newfound mettle in Houston Saturday, a story broke from Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Haynes about a growing discord between the team’s management and head coach Dave Joerger over the rotation and his tendency to opt for veterans at the expense of younger players — specifically Marvin Bagley III, as well as Skal Labissiere and Harry Giles III.
It made for a postgame situation where the question had to be asked despite knowing full well there would be no answer: Is there something to this rumor, even in the middle of a successful early season run that has the Kings looking more promising than they have in a long time?
The team’s vice president of basketball operations and general manager, Vlade Divac, issued a statement stressing support for Joerger before the coach or any of the players had even left the court, and the young core of the team seemed calm and collected in the locker room despite the rumor and being fresh off a 132-112 loss to the Rockets, including Bagley.
The young big man seemed undeterred and in good spirits following the game. If there was any tension in that locker room, it wasn’t obvious. Bagley played 27 minutes, went for 16 points and 8 boards, and was one of the few Kings made available to the media.
His presser was largely uneventful, but there was a good-natured ribbing from a couple of nearby veterans — joking about him being the “star” now. An interesting night for that kind of comment to make an appearance, but when stories like these surface, even in the middle of a game, every coach, front-office employee, player and equipment manager is briefed and ready to go by the time anyone has a recorder near their mouth.
More details will likely emerge from all this, but the larger observation is the seemingly perpetual state of unluckiness in which the Kings seem to exist. Even as they continue to impress upon NBA fans and coaches alike, obstacles remain. But such is life on the road to success, and Sacramento has plenty to overcome before they get there — internal drama notwithstanding.
The Kings are incredibly young. Only four players on the roster have played more than four seasons in the league, and one of them (Zach Randolph) hasn’t even stepped foot on a court this year. Every aspect of growth requires time and experience, and Sacramento seems to be experiencing several things all at once, including improvement.
The team’s offense is drastically improved this season, sitting right around the top 10 in both offensive rating and true-shooting percentage, while the defense is giving up nearly two points fewer per 100 possessions. Challenging for a playoff spot in the Western Conference may still be unrealistic in spite of the fact the Kings are currently just two and a half games out of first — which would be even more amazing if they weren’t sitting tenth in the standings — but that’s not the main goal for the season in the eyes of most Sacramento viewers. Any palpable progress would suffice, and when your team is currently operating at a relatively high level with four of its top-five minutes-getters being 24 and younger, you’ll take it.
This group is only scratching its surface, and it’s already regularly competing with some of the best in the league.
And that’s one of the more interesting aspects as it relates to the Joerger situation. It appears on the surface as though we’re watching a coach doing a lot with a very young roster. And as far as the criticism of him playing veterans at the expense of younger players, well, he’s putting people on the court who management put on the roster and are playing well. Bagley is only a rookie who’s played 17 games of an NBA season thus far, but the Kings are nearly nine points per 100 possessions worse than their opponents when he’s on the court. That’s not an indictment of Bagley at this point; those are just facts, and this is a team that’s clearly trying to play competitive basketball on a nightly basis.
But this is often how things go in a locker room with so many players closer to high school age than they are 30 years old. There’s a dynamic and a hierarchy that must be fleshed out, and it’s something, while players can perhaps stay off the record and keep to themselves for the most part, to which coaches must always attend. And when it comes to sources providing information for stories such as these, they can come from anywhere and are often close to or stand to benefit from the topic that’s been put out for public consumption.
The Kings are already showing they have a chance to be something special, and they have a coach who has already shown he can win games in this league and appears to be invested in the future of the team. More may come to light before it’s all said and done, but this particular sideshow probably needs to take a back seat to the good things happening with this organization.
Whatever the truth of the situation may be, Joerger’s balancing act and coaching acumen is at least part of the reason the Kings sit at 9-8 on the season. It’s doubtful many projected them to have a better record than the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz or Minnesota Timberwolves through 17 games. It sure seems like something is working.
Strife between management, coaches and players is commonplace in the NBA, as it is in every workplace; how it’s handled is the real indicator of growth and potential for success.