The Sacramento Kings are revamping a roster that has been devoid of veteran leadership.
For too long, the Kings have lacked direction from ownership down. The effects played out through the poor development of Tyreke Evans and the on-court misbehavior of centerpiece DeMarcus Cousins.
The recent agreement to sign free agent Carl Landry is the first step in establishing a franchise grounded in experience and character.
While talent will always rule the NBA, the personality and temperament of a franchise will also be an influential factor regarding on-court performance.
Landry is regarded as one of the league’s most down-to-Earth veterans, with an affable personality that can unite a roster. His presence in the Kings locker room should help create a more congenial atmosphere for the team and help nurture the persona of Cousins.
Through my former coverage of the Kings and more recent day-to-day coverage of the Golden State Warriors, I often dealt with Landry and witnessed his influence within the locker room. He’s likableand he has a rare, big-picture perspective.
I will go as far to say that Landry’s personality in the Warriors locker room was a key contributor to the team’s success this past season; his leadership united the team in a unique way. He was valuable on the court as a low-post scorer, but he also motivated and encouraged a team dynamic.
One small example was his sideline cheering with rookie Kent Bazemore.
My Kings coverage extended through Cousins’ rookie campaign, a year in which Landry spent half the season with Sacramento before being traded to the then-New Orleans Hornets. I don’t believe Landry ever had a foothold in that disjointed Kings locker room after being traded from the Houston Rockets, and that resulted in limitations to his leadership.
Starting fresh in 2013-14 alongside new coach and former Warriors' assistant Mike Malone will allow Landry to help influence the process from the start. The 29-year-old can help establish a model of leadership and advance Malone’s goals in recreating a chemistry that Golden State revealed last season.
If there’s one key project for Landry, it will be to demonstrate professionalism to Cousins.
Through covering Cousins in his rookie season, I was able to get to know him at the earliest stage of his NBA career. He was generally pleasant, but he was also prone to the occasional blow-up and too often his emotions got the best of him.
Through his three seasons, Cousins hasn't done anything to change that.
However, in a recent sit-down exclusive with Cousins, I spent an entire afternoon in the 22 year old’s home and got to understand him on another level (the article reveals another side of Cousins).
Cousins was gracious throughout the visit.
He was kind with his words and he showed a humble understanding of his errors. He doesn’t claim to be blameless. Sure, he’s uninhibited, and his honesty and lack of emotional restraint can crush him, but he’s not a lost cause by any means.
If Cousins takes to Landry, the veteran’s influence will benefit the young big man.
Cousins isn't going anywhere. He told me in April he wants to stay and see things through in Sacramento. Since then, however, Cousins has vocalized his demand for a max contract whether it be in Sacramento or elsewhere through a trade. That desire hasn't changed, per a text message sent to me recently from the Cousins’ camp.
The team, however, doesn't appear ready to give up on their young centerpiece, and Landry’s presence is the first move toward growing Cousins’ emotional maturity.
If Landry is the right step, signing a veteran like Monta Ellis is the wrong step. As reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Kings have expressed interest in signing the free agent shooting guard.
Ellis’ temperament as a me-first guy doesn't match the direction of the Landry signing. The Kings need to be selective in the free-agent process if the individual-first mindset is going to change in Sacramento:
Landry adds to a crowded frontcourt of power forwards that also includes Jason Thompson, Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson, but the Kings are still rearranging their roster and the logjam will likely be fixed.
As the team brings back talent, it must be mindful of character and answering the question: Who will raise youngsters Cousins and Ben McLemore? (Isaiah Thomas seems well-grounded and I can't comment on incoming Greivis Vasquez.)
The problem now is that the top veteran presences left in free agency aren't the highest-yielding talents. Antawn Jamison is an example of a strong role model for a young team, but he’s likely not interested in joining a perennial rebuilding effort.
For now, the Kings must not force a free-agent signing if it doesn't fit with the mission of the team. Taking the route of signing a guy like Ellis just because he’s one of the top remaining talents available is the wrong decision.
The only way culture can change in Sacramento is if new ownership takes a serious approach to blending leadership and character with it’s current talent.