DETROIT — The Sacramento Kings are constantly searching for respect in their turnaround season, a struggle that extends beyond the field to the touchline.
Sometimes it actually carries over from the sidelines to the court, as first-year head coach Mike Brown was kicked out a few nights ago in Toronto for furiously denying a series of calls that went against his team.
The reaction was certainly overblown, and for what it’s worth, the Kings rebounded to defeat the Raptors while Brown watched from the dressing room. It cost him $25,000 in an NBA penalty, but it likely earned him a lot of respect and admiration from his players.
“Every time we step on the floor, we have to prove our worth,” Brown said Friday night before the Kings defeated the Pistons. “Part of me doesn’t like that because I’m the first to say to our boys, ‘Hey, no excuses.'”
Seldom does one hear a coach acknowledge what is in sight. While Brown was collecting rings as a member of the Golden State coaching staff, the Kings were in the wild — a steadfast lottery team since 2006, and their last win in the playoff series was two years earlier.
But Brown has turned this team into one of the best offensive units in the league in his fourth term as head coach. Long considered an excellent defensive tactician, Brown led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals.
He lets the Kings splatter the ball and throw teams off balance in a move reminiscent of his time at Golden State and San Antonio — the latter where he spent time under Gregg Popovich from 2000-03.
They’re expected to do more than just compete, and Brown holds them to that standard.
“Even if the referees have a bad night, we have a bad night or buses break down. Hey, let’s get it done,” Brown said. “Because we’re in good shape, ‘Let’s believe.’ You know, having that belief no matter what is big, especially when you want to get to the next level.”
It’s a sample size large enough to believe what’s seen is sustainable. Keegan Murray is an impressive rookie with a lot of room to grow. Malik Monk adds some instant goals and Harrison Barnes has some league knowledge.
Domantas Sabonis was acquired in a trade for Tyrese Haliburton last season, a trade that could be described as a win for both teams.
He and De’Aaron Fox did magic together, with Fox arguably having his best season — at least his best from the standpoint of driving winning basketball — and both should earn strong All-Star considerations this season.
Brown went after officials when Fox received a technical error during a free throw. Fox walked away from the officer, an act Brown said officers usually let slip.
“Great, man, just knowing your coach has been with you through thick and thin,” Fox said after the Kings used a surge in the third quarter to beat the Pistons 122-113 at Little Caesars Arena and to finish a long swing on east street 3-3. “It starts at the top, goes top down when you’re trying to build a culture.”
They’re on track to surpass last season’s modest 30-win season, more than half of that mark so far.
Whether it’s the media boogeyman, opposing fans, or even officials, teams feel it and want the respect and recognition to become a credible franchise. Fox feels it – literally.
“I go to the track and I get hit a lot,” Fox said. “So if we don’t have that respect, for us it’s just about going out there and winning every game.”
The Kings were nicknamed “Kangz” for their dysfunctional ways, and even at their peak, Shaquille O’Neal derisively dubbed them the “Queens” during the height of the controversial and entertaining Lakers-Kings rivalry in the early 2000s.
But that search for respect has grown loud, and Brown is still conscious enough to turn the camera inward.
“And just as I’m asking the players to go out there and fight and compete and earn the stripes and respect that we think we deserve, I have to fight, compete and do the same thing with them,” he said he . “And we’re going to get that respect one day.”
That could come one day sooner than anyone ever expected.