Hunters to hunted: How Kings can adjust to new expectations originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
When De’Aaron Fox approached the podium for the final time of the 2022-23 NBA season, his head was held high and optimism gleamed through his demeanor. It took him six seasons in the league – and the best showing of his career – to make his playoff debut, but he displayed confidence that the Kings would be back.
That was the mentality of the entire team last season: poised, confident, even-keeled. It’s why the Kings proved doubters wrong time and time again, and that same mindset will be key to their success next season.
The Kings entered last season with a feeling that things could be different after 17 long playoff-less years, but they had to prove it. With a young and exciting new team, the introduction of a purple victory beam and the No. 3 playoff seed – they did. Their magical season ended in a first-round playoff exit, but they turned heads and put the rest of the league on notice for what’s to come in Sacramento.
But with success comes real expectations. And that is one thing the Kings aren’t used to.
Kings coach Mike Brown anticipates his squad will be prepared for all the new excitement heading into the upcoming season.
“I’m excited about it. I’m looking forward to seeing how we can handle the pressure because it’s flipped now,” Brown told FOX40’s Sean Cunningham on Monday. “We’re no longer hunting people, people are hunting us. And there are expectations.
“So how do we handle that? I believe our guys are ready for it. And with the fans that we have here, the juice that they brought last year – let’s go. Let’s get it.”
Even while tightly holding onto the No. 3 seed over the Kevin Durant-powered Phoenix Suns, both of the star-studded Los Angeles teams and Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors, teams in the West were targeting the No. 6 playoff seed so they could face the Kings in the first round, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported back in February.
Brown immediately sent the quickly viral Windhorst video to Kings video coordinator Charles Allen and then later showed it to the team at practice. He wasn’t upset by the report, nor was he discouraged by any means.
Instead, Brown understood and even agreed with what was being said. But, the unanimous NBA Coach of the Year was determined to change that.
“We know what the narrative is. Trust me — and they know what the narrative is too,” Brown said in a March podcast with Chris Haynes and Marc Stein. “And you know what? That’s fine because we deserve it because we haven’t done anything yet.
“And if we’re as good as we think we are, we’ll change the narrative. That’s how I look at it.”
Kings sharpshooter Kevin Huerter heard all the outside noise, too, but blocked it out and focused on winning.
“We’re not going to look at matchups, there’s been a lot of matchup talk,” Huerter told Carmichael Dave and Jason Ross on Sactown Sports 1140 back in March. “ESPN, we saw a video yesterday about people I guess seeking us out.
“So we’re not looking at matchups, we’re just trying to win games. Obviously, continuing to get better. Just treating every game from here on out as a playoff game.”
That right there – that attitude and mindset heading into their first playoff series as a unit – perfectly displayed the type of team the Kings were.
They didn’t deserve any respect yet, but they never were discouraged by that. All they could do was prove people wrong, and they did it continuously over the course of the season. And they did so on the floor with their game, not with their mouths.
Sacramento wound up taking the defending champions to an intense Game 7 and fell just short of a revenge matchup with its early 2000 foes in Los Angeles, but there were promising moments that showed glimpses of what the Kings’ future holds. Fox is just getting started. Keegan Murray had one of the greatest rookie seasons. Domantas Sabonis made everyone around him better.
Fast-forward a year later, the same team that was being laughed at and mocked now has powered its way to real playoff contention, with national media personalities like Kendrick Perkins predicting NBA MVP honors for Fox and Charles Barkley proudly proclaiming Sacramento’s success good for the NBA.
They have to stay humble and determined, but with a coach like Brown who isn’t shy about putting anyone in their place, that shouldn’t be a problem.
The Kings essentially are running it back with the same core and a sprinkle of offseason sleeper acquisitions. They’re ready. The fans are ready. The city is ready.
Is the rest of the league ready?