Defending Sacramento Kings from the 'Dumbest Team in the NBA' Label

Sim RissoFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2012

Cousins has got into trouble for arguing with officials. But the Kings have done a good job of managing his temper.
Cousins has got into trouble for arguing with officials. But the Kings have done a good job of managing his temper.Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

There aren't too many positive things you can say about the Sacramento Kings over the past few seasons. You can't call them winners, because they certainly haven't been doing much of that lately. At this point, it's even debatable whether you can say this team is on the right track for its future. But one thing you can't say about this team is that it's the dumbest team in the NBA, and here's why.

The Kings are short on progress, at least the tangible kind that shows up in the win-loss column. That said, there are other types of evolution this team is displaying that signal the sort of self-awareness "the dumbest team in the NBA" wouldn't possess.

One such example of this is the ownership the team is taking for its play. Now, taking ownership for your actions shouldn't be categorized as an intelligent thing; it should just be an expectation. But when you've played as bad as the Kings have for as long as the Kings have, just saying "we got beat by a better team" after every single loss gets old.

It's no longer a valid excuse—not when the team looks so poised some nights and so completely disinterested in other games. Always giving credit to the opponent neglects the fact that each team has a say in a game's outcome. The Kings' players are smart enough to realize that they need to shoulder the blame, which is what they're starting to do.

Here's what veteran forward John Salmons told Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee, following the Kings' pathetic 116-81 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers; a game in which the Kings were thoroughly outplayed from the start:

"If you're going to write anything, this is strictly on the players," Salmons said. "It's not the coach's fault."

As head coach Keith Smart would say, there's only so much the coaching staff can do in preparing the team to take the court.

"We do everything we can preparing the team to get ready to play, but they've got to get on the floor and play that way," Smart said. "Obviously, that wasn't the case (Saturday)."

It's up to the players to get on the court and execute. More importantly, at least in the case of the Kings, it's also up to the players to put forward the necessary effort, and they're smart enough to know that. It would be easy for them to give the same canned response but they didn't, they took responsibility for their actions.

If the players aren't executing, then it's up to the coaching staff to start finding players who will, which is what it's starting to do. One example of this is Thomas Robinson.

After averaging only 13.7 minutes per game and shooting only 40 percent from the field in his first five games, Robinson's seen his playing time increase as well as his production. Over his last nine games, Robinson is averaging 17.8 minutes per game and he's seen his shooting percentage increase to 52.5 percent during that time.

On top of the production, he's always full of energy and ready to go, which is more than you can say of some Kings players. Two perfect examples of this are his two come-from-behind blocks to stop fast breaks against the Indiana Pacers.

Increasing Robinson's minutes is the smartest thing this team can do. It would be one thing if the Kings were a borderline playoff team. In that scenario, you have to focus on winning games right now.

Entering the season, it looked like the Kings might be closer to the playoffs than they were to the top of the draft lottery. But after things got off to such an underwhelming start, there's no reason in not developing young players like Robinson.

Robinson may be raw but he's incredibly athletic. The organization drafted him at No. 5 for a reason; now is the time to see what he can do.

Another sign the Kings aren't the dumbest team in the NBA is their handling of DeMarcus Cousins. As you're likely aware of, Cousins has a tendency to cause problems. It happened again this season when he got a two-game suspension for a postgame argument he had with San Antonio Spurs broadcaster Sean Elliott.

Then, Cousins was ejected from a win against the Utah Jazz after getting nailed with two technical fouls for arguing with the refs.

The emotional thing for the Kings to do would be to make a public mockery of Cousins and try and trade him immediately for pennies on the dollar, or punish him further beyond the league's already-sanctioned penalties. The smart thing to do would be to handle the situation calmly, in hopes of either keeping his trade value intact or not alienating him from the organization. The Kings did the smart thing.

Beyond admitting that the organization has tried to get Cousins to act more mature, Smart put the onus on himself and the other players for not stepping in and diffusing Cousins' situations before they escalate.

Here's what he told Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:


Smart says it will take himself, and team, to help keep Cousins in line…

— JasonJones (@mr_jasonjones) November 26, 2012


Smart went on to elaborate, saying Cousins' teammates have:

"got to see with a call or how a person looks and they’ve got to step in as well. He’s an ultra-competitive guy and sometimes the moment gets to him. That’s when the team has to be able to rush in there and calm that down."

Ultimately Cousins is responsible for his own actions. But by taking the blame away from Cousins, Smart at least gives the perception that the team's patience isn't wearing thin with him. That's the intelligent way to handle it. It alleviates tension in the locker room and keeps options open.

Now the Kings can trade Cousins if they want and his value should still be high, or if he ends up maturing, the situation is amicable enough to where Sacramento can keep him as it goes forward.

But while it's true that the franchise has taken the necessary steps to improve, as laid out previously, and has handled its struggles as intelligently as possible, the real reason you can't call the Kings the dumbest team in the NBA is because it's a cop out.

Ultimately, you could blame every aspect of this organization for its problems. You could blame ownership for waffling on the arena situation and creating uncertainty. You could put it on the front office for not assembling a talented enough roster. You could put it on the coaching staff for not putting the players in a position to succeed. Or, you could put it on the players for a lack of effort and execution.

You could make a valid argument for one or all of those things contributing to the Kings' season. There would be no tangible evidence either way, but at least blaming it on those things would be more accurate than blaming the underachieving on a lack of intelligence. That's pure laziness. Furthermore, it's used as a means of explaining a situation that's nearly unexplainable, or a way to avoid the severity of the problem.

Even if we were to acknowledge that the Kings' struggles are due to a lack of intelligence (which they aren't), it's not like solely increasing the team's basketball IQ would turn things around overnight. The problems are too severe for such a simple explanation.


Follow me on Twitter: @SimRisso







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