Sacrifice is an interesting concept. At its basic root, it is the act of giving up something for yourself with the hopes that it will help someone else. It is an exchange of the “I” for the “we.”
On Saturday afternoon, my family went to a local St. Baldrick’s event. St. Baldrick’s is a charitable organization that helps raise money for children’s cancer research.
My oldest son decided a few months ago to become a participant in the St. Baldrick’s festivities. With the help of social media, family and friends, he was able to raise $500 in donations for a very worthy cause. But St. Baldrick’s isn’t just about handing in an envelope full of cash and checks.
Participants show en masse to support those with cancer, those who have battled cancer or even those who have lost the fight to cancer. They get a T-shirt and they sit in a chair while clippers shave their heads bald.
Needless to say, it is an empowering event and not just for 10-year-old boys with a narrow comprehension of the symbolism behind shaving one’s head for charity. Watching a middle-aged woman and her mother sit side-by-side while a razor knocks their locks down to stubble is an emotional experience.
I’m sure there are a thousand different stories of why someone would take part in this event, but it’s more than just about cancer research. It is about sacrifice and unity and giving something of yourself that goes beyond a monetary commitment.
So what does this have to do with the Sacramento Kings? Everything.
Sacrifice is a vehicle of change. It is galvanizing, builds character and improves chemistry at the NBA level. It’s also a completely foreign concept to the Kings.
We have seen moments of sacrifice this season, but they are so few and far between that they feel accidental. This is a selfish team and it has been for a long time. New owners, management, coaches and players have been brought in, but the “culture of me” still prevails.
That is why the Kings are just 23-43 on the season. It’s not just one player. It permeates throughout the roster from top to bottom and manifests itself differently with each individual.
The epidemic of selfish play is typical of a young team. As players make their way in the league, they eventually tend to accept who and what they are, but that realization often takes time.
And there are more layers to this onion. Past instability within the Kings’ franchise has made the 2013-14 season one prolonged tryout, even for players like Jason Thompson, Sacramento’s longest tenured player.
Thompson has played for five different coaches in his six seasons in Sacramento. He is once again trying to learn what a new coach wants from him as a player. Michael Malone – like Keith Smart, Paul Westphal, Kenny Natt and Reggie Theus – has an idea of what type of player he wants Thompson to be. But after so many changes, I’m not sure that Thompson was willing to buy in and make the type of sacrifices that were necessary.
Instead of attempting to transform into a rebounding, defensive specialist, Thompson has struggled through a disappointing season as a square peg in a round hole. With three years remaining on his five-year contract, there are no promises that Thompson has played for his last coach. No matter how uncomfortable the reality is, Thompson is being paid handsomely to do a job; the fact that his duties change every 82 games doesn’t change that fact.
On the other hand, soon-to-be restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas is essentially trying out for every team in the league. Regardless of what Malone or Pete D’Alessandro want to see from him as a player, they have to understand that points equal dollars in NBA free agency.
Thomas is averaging a career-best 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in his quest to prove that he is a starting-level NBA point guard. While the points per game average will likely yield him the financial stability that he’s looking for, the Kings would have won more games if Thomas could shift those stats closer to 18 points and eight assists per game. As the season finishes, we still don’t know if Thomas is a legitimate starting point guard or if he is a good player on a bad team. If the Kings were 33-33 and a piece or two away from a 2014-15 playoff run, that question would have an answer.
No player has meant more to the Kings than DeMarcus Cousins. Vivek Ranadivé made him the franchise last summer when the team handed him a new 4-year, $62 million contract. While the 23-year-old center has taken a huge jump statistically, he leads the league in technical fouls and continues to struggle with attitude issues.
The numbers don’t lie. Sacramento is 0-9 on the season when the big man misses a game due to injury or suspension, and there are so many more games that the team lost when Cousins sat due to foul trouble. If the Kings are going to win going forward, Cousins needs to make a personal sacrifice. He needs to improve his court demeanor and re-evaluate his relationships with his teammates, his opponents and the officials.
Travis Outlaw hasn’t touched a ball this season that he didn’t want to instantly shoot. Before being traded, Marcus Thornton spent more than half the season looking over his shoulder at rookie Ben McLemore instead of just playing the minutes he was gifted. We could go through almost every player that has been on the Kings’ roster this season and point out similar, but unique ways in which they have not made the necessary sacrifices to make this team better.
Change is needed, and it has nothing to do with someone losing their job. This offseason has to be about self-evaluation and learning how to play for the man next to you in the trenches. It is about figuring out what the team needs to improve and making the necessary adjustments and sacrifices to achieve team (and not personal) goals.
The Kings could learn something valuable from the good folks at St. Baldrick’s. It can’t all be about money or personal accolades. It can’t be about the past or how difficult your personal struggle has been. If you want to play for a winner, it’s not about you. It’s about sacrificing part of yourself for the team. It is about pulling together for a singular cause and accepting your role unconditionally. If they accept the challenge, sacrifice can be empowering.