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NBA AM: More Trouble In Sacramento?

The drama surrounding the Kings is getting worse and it may be time for changes. … The Magic are prepared to win.

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Are You Surprised?:  The Sacramento Kings are off to a dreadful start on the season. Last night’s win over the Detroit Pistons may help calm things in the short-term, but there’s no question that this start has not gone as expected and tempers are boiling over everywhere within the organization.

Is anyone really surprised that in this situation, a player may have used profanity toward his head coach?

The number of times an NBA player erupts in a profanity-laced tirade when the locker room doors are closed during the NBA season are too numerous to count, but when the player is Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins and the profanity was allegedly hurdled at head coach George Karl, it’s simply another log on the burning fire that is the Kings franchise.

Cousins isn’t happy about the situation. His teammates are not happy about the situation and until the corner is turned and the team starts winning, it’s hard to imagine that this situation is going to go away quietly like most locker room blow ups eventually do.

Unfortunately, the marriage in Sacramento seems more than doomed. It was a shotgun wedding at best last year when Karl was hired mid-season. The fit at the time was suspect and given all the things that played out this summer, with Karl allegedly reaching out to other teams to try and get Cousins traded, there is no question that the trust between player and coach is non-existent. It’s also clear that it’s likely not going to be repaired as some in the Kings front office had hoped.

So what’s next?

Sources close to Kings ownership say it’s far more likely that Karl is removed as coach than Cousins being traded.

That’s not going to stop teams from calling and trying to tempt the franchise into a trade, especially given how poorly things have gone.

While some around the league question if any coach could win with a player with Cousins’ temperament and mindset, its seems that Kings president Vlade Divac is siding with Cousins, which puts Karl on the clock.

This situation could turn, but it seems far more likely that a breaking point is going to be reached sooner than later and the break may be the Kings paying off the remaining $9.75 million left on Karl’s deal.

The Kings owe Karl a reported $3.2 million this season, $5 million for the 2016-2017 season with a final season worth $5 million, which has a $1.5 million buyout clause.

Said differently, for what the Kings have agreed to pay point guard Rajon Rondo for a single season, the Kings can remove Karl and try to find a coach that matches Divac’s vision for the team. The problem with changing coaches mid-season is most of the really good coaches have jobs and the ones who are available may not want any part of the Kings situation given how this has played out.

It’s easy from the outside to think “just fire the coach.” The problem is that may not make anything better for the Kings and no one knows how Cousins will react to another lost season and mid-season coaching change.

Turning The Corner: When the Orlando Magic decided to trade away Dwight Howard to the L.A. Lakers in August of 2012, they had other options. Some of those options would have returned proven veterans, some of the options could have keep the Magic just inside the playoff hunt. The problem was the Magic were hemorrhaging money after years of bad contract decisions and it was also clear that a change was needed in the front office and at head coach.

New leadership was hired, and ownership was sold the idea of a three-year rebuild. The plan was a return to competitive basketball after a swing through the NBA’s draft lottery system for a couple of years and a chance to purge the bad contract money that did not make sense for a team looking to rebuild.

The draft has left Orlando with some promising pieces. Trades have yielded more proven parts and finally after another coaching change the Magic seem ready to compete again.

While the Magic’s record sits at 4-5 on the season, what is does not reflect is how close the Magic were in many of the games they are carrying in the loss column.

The Magic have a new process. Scott Skiles, who played for the Magic, is calling the shots from the bench and for the first time since Stan Van Gundy roamed the sidelines the Magic are not only prepared to win, they actually believe they can win.

There is no doubting that during the past few seasons, Magic players knew they were not ready to win many games. However, as the Magic approach their 10th game of the season, their mindset as a unit has changed dramatically.

“I think we’ve just gotten better as a team,” Magic center Nikola Vucevic told Basketball Insiders. “Each player got better and we’ve been able to put it together and play better as a team. I think that’s where we got really better.

“I think mentally, we have more confidence. We believe in ourselves and each other more. We believe that we’re supposed to win games. [We] go out there and play against any team in the NBA. We don’t act surprised if we win, we feel like we’re supposed to do that.”

Vucevic isn’t the only Magic player to notice the change his team has made since last year.

“At the start of season, we were in the games that we should have closed out and won,” Magic forward Tobias Harris said. “We let some slip away, but we all have the mindset that we should win these games.

“I would say there is more attention to detail on the defensive end, really buying into that and that is fuel for our offense. That’s the biggest change.”

Harris and Vucevic are the longest-tenured Magic players on the roster and have endured the losses that come with rebuilding.

“We have more experience under our belt. We know how to deal with certain situations,” Vucevic said. “I think we’ve become better players.”

Part of that process is understanding how things work in the NBA, and for Vucevic he understands that he has to be more than just a player who posts numbers in losses.

“The longer you’ve been in the league, the more responsibility you have,” Vucevic said. “I have been on this team for my fourth year now. I put a lot on my shoulders and expect myself to deliver every night for my teammates. And that’s not necessarily about numbers, like trying to beat my numbers from last year. I don’t think about that too much. It’s more about doing the little things that can help us win. I think that’s more important. I’d rather see my numbers go down and our wins go up than vice versa.”

For his part, Harris agrees that experience and all of the losses have helped his teammates turn the corner.

“I think everybody has stepped up,” Harris said. “They are more mature and we hold each other accountable, that’s been helping us. We want to step it up even another notch. We have to pick it up and we know that as a team.”

As much as the Magic may have wanted to win games over the last few seasons, they simply were not prepared to.

This season, things have changed and the Magic are ready to compete. The question now becomes, how many wins will they accumulate?

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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