Kings coach Michael Malone ripped into his team following a 113-100 home loss to the Pelicans on Monday night, questioning their ability, focus and commitment to winning.
"We are a bad basketball team, that's the bottom line," Malone told reporters, in post-game comments recorded by News10.net. "We're a bad basketball team right now."
Sacramento lost for the fourth time in five games and dropped to 8-19 on the season, the second-worst record in the Western Conference. The Kings haven't made a playoff appearance since 2006.
"How many times do you have to hit rock bottom? Look at our record, we've hit rock bottom four or five times now," Malone continued. "Maybe some of these guys are so used to losing that they're accustomed to it. I'm not. I'm not used to losing. I'm used to being in the playoffs, being a competitive team that takes pride in its defense. Right now we don't have a lot of guys to do that. I'm not sure what their rock bottom is, but I hit my rock bottom about one week into the season."
Hired by new Kings owner Vivek Ranadive to replace Keith Smart back in June, Malone is in his first season as a head coach after spending more than a decade as an assistant coach for the Knicks, Cavaliers, Hornets and Warriors. Sacramento currently ranks No. 28 in defensive efficiency, and Malone was particularly upset by the fact that Sacramento nearly conceded a 40-point fourth quarter to the Pelicans.
"Do you know how hard it is to give up 39 points in a quarter? That's embarrassing, I'm embarrassed," he said. "I don't know if anyone in that locker room is embarrassed, but I'm embarrassed."
Asked how the Kings might improve their defense, Malone intimated that a roster shake-up might be in order.
"It's the same problem every night," he said. "I guess we've got to get some better players who can contain the basketball, and right now we can't."
The only thing as aggravating for Malone as his team's defensive struggles were their turnover problems. Sacramento committed 22 turnovers on the night, and he singled out point guard Isaiah Thomas and forward Rudy Gay for one miscue in particular.
"We come out of the timeout in the fourth quarter, and we can't make an entry pass to the wing," Malone lamented. "We turn the ball over out of a timeout, our starting point guard to our starting small forward. Rudy Gay has seven turnovers, DeMarcus [Cousins] has four, Isaiah has four, Marcus [Thornton] has four. We're not that good where we can give teams 22 extra possessions, I'll tell you that much."
Gay was acquired from the Raptors in a trade earlier this month; Thomas moved into the starting role around the same time, replacing Greivis Vasquez, who was shipped to Toronto.
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Sacramento got 24 points and 14 rebounds from Cousins, and Thomas finished with 21 points and five assists. Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans, who was sent from Sacramento to New Orleans in a sign-and-trade back in July, registered a game-high 25 points, 12 assists and six rebounds in his first return to Sleep Train Arena.
"If [our] guys didn't think [Evans] was going to come into this arena and try to get off, I question their IQ," Malone said. "He played here, and he's going to come in here and try to show everyone what we're missing. And he did."
The venting session, which lasted for more than four minutes, also saw Malone challenge his team to take ownership for their play as he admitted he was tired of taking the blame following poor outings.
"Plenty of times this season I've put it on me, and I'll do that," Malone said. "But I tell you what, each guy in that locker room has got to start looking in the mirror, owning up, and start taking responsibility for their play, and we don't have a lot of that right now. ... My challenge to these guys is: who do we want to be? Are we just going to be a team that wins once in a blue moon and comes out here and puts on a performance like that?"