Amid uncertainty, Kings aim for 'winning mindset'
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Keith Smart believes changing the attitude of the Sacramento Kings starts with taking the team out of Northern California.
No, not that kind of move.
With no arena solution in sight and relocation still a real possibility next summer, Smart and his players aren't paying any attention to the uncertainty that hovers over the franchise again this season. He will begin his first full year as an NBA head coach Tuesday with a short morning practice before taking the Kings to Colorado Springs, where the team will work out for the first week of training camp.
Smart not only hopes to gain a conditioning edge in the altitude but for players to form a tighter bond, which has been absent on and off the court over six straight losing seasons.
"As I keep feeding them the idea of where we're trying to go with this team, obviously, your way has not worked,'' said Smart, who took over for the fired Paul Westphal after a 2-5 start last season. "So let's try it another way, another approach, and see how it goes.''
The similarities for Sacramento this year are still everywhere except the coach's chair.
DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton headline a young team that is loaded with athleticism but has yet to show signs it can mesh - or play defense. Standout point guard Isaiah Thomas is back after a sensational rookie season and so is former BYU standout Jimmer Fredette, who had a mostly disappointing debut trying to play in a structured system but has vowed to be more aggressive his second time around.
The Kings also added free agent guard Aaron Brooks and fifth overall pick Thomas Robinson, the former Kansas forward and first unanimous first-team All-American since Blake Griffin, to mix with veterans such as Chuck Hayes and Francisco Garcia. The only bummer during another optimistic media day Monday was a physical on forward Tyler Honeycutt that revealed a right fibula stress fracture. He will be out three to four weeks.
So after going 22-44 last season, what's really changed?
"We have a different mindset, a more winning mindset,'' Cousins said. "Just our confidence, I believe that is there as well. I felt like, I can't really speak for everybody else, but we'd come in with the `what if' or `you-don't-really-know' mindset. But definitely a winning mindset this year.''
Smart and his two most talented players have been at the center of the changes.
Smart spent a week in the Denver area working with Fredette, who also married his longtime girlfriend, Whitney, over the summer. Assistant Alex English met with Travis Outlaw in Mississippi. And assistant Bobby Jackson did the same in Seattle with Thomas, who finished his bachelor's degree in American Ethnic Studies at Washington on July 17.
"I was kind of glad he left,'' Thomas joked. "He killed me up there.''
For as many personal visits as the staff made, Smart's proudest of the trips he didn't have to take.
Cousins and Evans - who has been practicing in the gym at such late hours Smart called him the "cat burglar'' - were around Sacramento for most of the offseason working out. Players also organized a week together earlier this summer, and most have been back at the team's practice facility since Labor Day.
"You have to take baby steps,'' Smart said. "Last year, I wanted to do a bunch of things, but I would've just been throwing seeds on a ground that wasn't ready for it. But having the summer to be able to cultivate that ground a little bit, now we can really get into these guys' minds as to what they need to do this year to help us win.''
Even glancing around during media day, the playful antics were limited, quite a difference from recent years with such a young team that has often been labeled "immature.'' At one point, Thornton posed with purple sunglasses for photographers and Cousins laughed and danced for the cameras. Asked if he'd perform more or make the funny faces, Cousins politely declined.
"Not this year,'' he said.
There are still far more serious issues facing the franchise.
Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof didn't make an appearance at media day like a year ago, when momentum was building toward a publicly financed downtown arena, a deal the team eventually backed out of after City Hall approved the measure led by mayor and former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson. The Maloofs have said the deal, signed off on by NBA Commissioner David Stern, didn't make financial sense for the franchise.
No other plan has been in the works between Sacramento and the Maloofs, which will again open the possibility of relocation if nothing develops before season's end.
There also appears to be no long-term deal in the works for Evans, the 2009-10 NBA Rookie of the Year who is eligible for an extension with Sacramento until Oct. 30, after which time he will become a free agent next summer. Kings President Geoff Petrie also is in the final year of his contract.
"I think really, for me, the only contract I'm concerned about is the one all of us have with life,'' Petrie said, before referring to a phrase that might suit just about every facet of the franchise. "One day at a time.''
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP