SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings looked every bit the part of a team trying to reinvent itself on the fly Monday evening when the Minnesota Timberwolves rolled through Golden 1 Center. It wasn’t pretty. A young and athletic T-Wolves club ran circles around the home team, coming away with a 102-88 victory.
There is a gaping hole in the middle of the Kings rotation left by the trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. Sacramento doesn’t have another 28 points per game scorer on the roster. If they have a chance to compete on a nightly basis, it will take a team effort, but also a player or two stepping out of their comfort zone and into a feature role.
“It’s going to take some time,” Darren Collison said. “It’s always going to take an adjustment period when you have a situation like this.”
Sacramento has had very little time to practice as a unit. They’ve played just three games together and had varying degrees of success. They are using stripped down offensive sets to simplify things and the defensive rotations are still a work in progress.
“I don’t feel that the comfort level is there 100 percent yet and it shows a little bit,” Kosta Koufos said.
It’s going to be a process as coach Dave Joerger tries to work newcomers Tyreke Evans and Buddy Hield into the rotation, as well as rookie Skal Labissiere, who has spent most of the season with the Reno Bighorns.
“That was a welcome to the NBA moment for me, it just shows you that anything can happen at anytime,” Labissiere said of the trade. “Everything is still pretty new to me. I’m shocked by it, but things happen, that’s the nature of the game.”
Joerger is trying to balance a game plan for his regulars and then pepper in players that don’t know the plays. So far it’s been a roller coaster ride for everyone involved.
“Our problem right now is trying to figure out the best way to move forward on a consistent basis and have more continuity,” Collison said. “There’s nothing you can do about that. We’ve just got to continue to help each other, figure out how we’re going to play together.”
As one of the primary ball handlers, Collison is still getting used to playing without Cousins, like the rest of the team. The star big not only led the Kings in points and rebounds, but also assists. Collison was the beneficiary of plenty of those passes from Cousins and the big man’s presence on the floor opened up driving lanes and spacing for Collison to work.
Willie Cauley-Stein is quickly learning that carrying the scoring load night in and night out is much more difficult than it looks. Like many of his teammates, he hasn’t been a primary scoring option for an NBA team, let alone a player that the entire offense runs through.
“This is the first time in my whole life I’ve been in this position, but this is one of the things I’ve been wanting to do my whole life, so it’s lit,” Cauley-Stein said.
The second-year center spent three years at Kentucky playing second fiddle to players like Towns and Lakers power forward Julius Randle. Cauley-Stein posted 29 points in his first game without Cousins, but just two points in Sacramento’s next contest following the trade. In game three, Cauley-Stein found a happy medium.
The 7-footer managed to drop in 14 points, six rebounds and five assists against the T-Wolves. He’s a quick learner, but trying to replace a player like Cousins, who boasted the league’s second highest usage rate (37.5 percent) is an incredibly tall order.
Patience is needed, but also a little bit of perspective. Dealing a franchise cornerstone in the middle of a season left a void in the center of the Kings’ universe. The race to fill the loss will likely take a lot more than the 22 games remaining on the schedule.
Sacramento will get another chance to pick up a win Wednesday when the Brooklyn Nets swing by Golden 1 Center. They sport the NBA’s worst record, but they are catching a Kings team in a major state of flux.