Media day took place Monday afternoon and beyond the shared excitement of the encroaching return of NBA basketball that bounced off the walls of the facility, the palpable anticipation seemed to settle around the theme of increased competition for this year’s training camp.
As fans and beat writers have observed, this is a massive shift from years past, both the way the roster is shaping out on paper and the general feeling surrounding this team.
Think about last year’s training camp. It featured Matt Coleman, Louis King, Jahmi’us Ramsey, DJ Steward, Emanuel Terry, and Robert Woodard. The camp roster was built in a way where, with all the gaps in ability, little competition was felt. Given the limited level of true NBA players, it was easy to imagine what the depth chart and rotation would roughly look like because there wasn’t a whole lot for the imagination to consider.
This year is different. Things feel, as Richaun Holmes described, “a little more tangible.”
There are two veterans with championship experience battling it out for the third point guard spot on the roster behind De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell. The shooting guard position is stacked with talented players vying for minutes, with a promising guy like Keon Ellis on a two-way contract. The depth behind Barnes is marginally better, with guys like Trey Lyles and rookie Keegan Murray looking like they should be the primary tandem manning the 4. And the center position–arguably containing two starter-level talents–is noticeably strong.
There is enough experience and talent to form a solid dose of “healthy competition,” as Terence Davis characterized it.
GM Monte McNair said “competition is a huge emphasis” for camp, and coach Mike Brown described it as being engrained in the spirit and energy of the group.
“There’s a great spirit, energy that you can feel out there from our guys, from our coaches,” the head coach articulated. “That spirit, especially on the competitive side, is something that we’re going to carry over to our daily routine — we want to be competitive at a high level.
It’s apparent that being thrusted into such competition, whether for a spot or for minutes, is bringing out the best in the players. After all, that’s what professional sports is all about, and as such, each of the guys appear to radiate an unshakable sense of confidence.
Domantas Sabonis expressed his immense excitement regarding the possibilities with a full season of his pairing with De’Aaron Fox, noting that their chemistry can only get “better and better.” And citing the added three-point shooting ability surrounding their pick-and-roll game, the big man could hardly contain his smile.
After a year of setbacks both on and off the court, Richaun Holmes was brimming with confidence, describing his mindset as wanting to “go out and dominate.” Asked about the possibility of “coexisting” with Sabonis on the floor, Holmes seemed sure of himself and his teammate.
“We’re basketball players,” Holmes observed without hesitation. “You put us out there, especially with a guy that talented, who can pass, score, and push the ball on the break himself — we’re going to make it work, no problem.”
Trey Lyles made his confidence known, clearly investing in himself this offseason by losing about 20 pounds ahead of the competition he knows is coming. He expressed the reality plainly and said he doesn’t “want anything handed” to him and that he has “to earn it.”
Former UC Davis Aggie Chima Moneke, despite his uphill battle to a roster spot, arguably flashed the most confidence, saying he knows he “belongs,” especially in a positionless league.
In addition to the prophecy regarding his notoriety, Moneke talked himself up when he was asked to describe his game, but he did so realistically, not in some fantastical fashion. He rationally explained that four out of the five guys on the offense are playing off-ball, and that’s where he specializes in. And in addition to being an “energizer,” he said he feels like he’s “the best cutter in the world.”
Seemingly from everyone in the building, the energy was positive. Even from Harrison Barnes.
While pointing to the obvious fact that he’s seen a lot of roster turnover since being in Sacramento, the very down to earth and realistic Barnes admitted that he does feel a little different about this makeover of the roster.
“Every year is a different one,” Barnes reflected. “We have a lot of good pieces here, and like I said, coach Brown is committed to the details. So that’s what we’re looking forward to kind of building from here on out.”
Not only is the added talent generating competition, which in turn is flaring up guys’ confidence, but think about the chemistry that can potentially form when all parts come together.
De’Aaron Fox described how most guys, if they weren’t playing at EuroBasket, have been playing pick-up games for about the last month. He said that “everybody’s buying in and everybody’s ready to go already,” adding that “if your first time together (as a group) is training camp, you’re already behind.”
Perhaps the biggest vote of confidence for the Kings on Media Day came from the other side of the state. When discussing the immense talent and competition in the Western Conference, Clippers star Paul George included Sacramento as teams he considers could “give you fits.”
Whether or not George is correct will be determined in due time, but it is evident that prominent figures around the league see how differently the Kings are carrying themselves.
The results of this year will decide how good this team really is, but it’s clear from Media Day that the team Monte McNair has put together, from the coaching staff to the top of the roster to the bottom, is on a visible path with a particular formula in mind for trying to turn this franchise around.
By cranking up the heat on the competition, things have a legitimate chance to rise in the right direction.