Reaching the 40th win of the season with 16 left to play was a milestone for the Sacramento Kings organization.
It hadn’t been done since the 2005-06 season, the last season under Rick Adelman and the end of a memorable stage in franchise history. And for the 16 seasons in between then and now, everyone knows what the fanbase endured.
Saturday night was a monumental victory that signified so much and meant so much to many. But not to coach Mike Brown.
Ahead of the 40th victory, Brown was asked the Friday prior after practice about if he had any thoughts on what had been building up to a momentous achievement.
“I don’t know much about it,” he remarked.
Brown had his attention focused somewhere else entirely.
“Again, I know I didn’t take the job with the goal in mind to win 40 games, so it’s not a plateau that I think about,” the head coach explained. “I hope I’m not offending anybody, but we need to keep winning. And whatever we end up with, we end up with, but right now we’re in control of our destiny, and so we need to seize that by the horns and go get it.”
He added a bit afterwards that the Kings are “fighting for a championship just like everybody else.”
It’s understandable that the fanbase probably felt a little differently about savoring the victory on account of their abiding connection to the franchise.
Reaching the 40-win marker was confirmation for them that the losing culture is long behind the Kings. It’s why Saturday was such a big deal, but for a fanbase that has been letdown and strung along in various manners over a good portion of this millennium, it’s reasonable that a large portion needed to see it to believe it.
However, it’s understandable that Brown is coming from the standpoint that he is.
Brown wouldn’t have come to Sacramento had the culture shift not been underway already. With Monte McNair and Wes Wilcox in the driver’s seat to pull the trigger on the Domantas Sabonis trade thirteen months ago, there was a coherent direction. There was also a formidable duo in Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox, who were both bestowed all-star honors. And as demonstrated with the drafting of Keegan Murray, the Kevin Huerter trade, and the Malik Monk signing, there was an intent to furnish the team with talent accompanied by an outlook for sustainability.
In other words, Mike Brown was well aware of what he was joining, and it wasn’t a losing culture. It was a talented group that was motivated and unaffected by any drought.
“It’s a new year, new group,” Harrison Barnes declared early in training camp. “That’s the focus. It’s not necessarily about trying to look back at past years or compare … The group that we have here is excited to be here, motivated, and from coaches to players, that’s what we’re focused on.”
In a lot of ways, the culture had already begun to be remedied before the new head coach came in. The intensive work, team-wide accountability, and leadership that came along with coach Brown has played a huge part, but this was always a potentiality.
For coach Brown, it’s about taking it to the next level. It’s about not being satisfied because satisfaction breeds an invisible enemy.
Prior to the 40th win, Sacramento beat the Knicks on national television on Thursday. While the team came out victorious and garnered the attention of a national audience, Brown demonstrated his wariness of satisfaction, demanding more of his guys and saying that while it may have been “a good win,” the team was “not good.”
Moving ahead to Friday after practice—the same media availability where he was asked about the notion of 40 wins—James Ham began by asking the head coach about how the locker room took his response in the aftermath of the victory over New York.
“We talked about it, and we talked about how slippage can be invisible and how we have to continue to hold each other accountable,” Brown reflected.
It’s been apparent that he knows a coach can only do so much, noting his longtime understanding that “this is a players’ league” on Friday as well. But he still has a vital duty; his primary objective at this point is to constantly preach, motivate, and remind his team how durable and fine-tuned a team’s drive has to be if they want to achieve the ultimate success.
Like the fact that the culture has been on the upswing for a while now, Brown too has been working on this for a while.
Ahead of the final game before the all-star break, coach Brown made explicit mention of that invisible enemy after Chris Biderman asked him how one coaches consistency.
“Somebody told me this one time: that, especially at this point in the year, slippage is invisible,” he said, marking his first use of the phrase.
“Guys are a little tired, you’re a little tired, so it’s easy to say ‘let’s just go get (up) some shots today,’ or ‘let’s just stop practice today,’ or ‘that guy’s doing a pretty good job, we had three wins in a row, let’s don’t show film today,'” he continued. “When you start doing those things, especially with a young team that doesn’t know … then you’re gonna get some slippage, and when you get some slippage, that’s when bad habits creep in.”
He went on to describe how imparting that lesson takes some creativity because the reminders have to be as constant as a jockey’s whip if it is to form winning habits that are sustainable.
Achieving a 40-plus win season, being the favorite for (and, really, the likely) Coach of the Year, and ending the playoff drought does not provide anything close to the satisfaction Brown is looking for with this franchise.
With 16 games left and a playoff series waiting for them—with an outlook for more if they earn it—Mike Brown will be lobbying his guys to be aware of this invisible enemy.
It’s vital not only for today’s success, but future success as well. If he can get it through to them—to the point where it becomes second nature—then with this being a players’ league, nothing can stop them.