Pelicans embarrass Kings again as leadership problems surface 

The Kings just cannot beat the Pelicans and there seem to be some deeper issues than just a bad matchup.
Jan 7, 2024; Sacramento, California, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Domantas Sabonis (10) controls
Jan 7, 2024; Sacramento, California, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Domantas Sabonis (10) controls / Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Kings have plenty of issues and they all culminate in the fact that they just cannot beat the Pelicans. Sacramento faced New Orleans four times already this season and only put up a fight once, collecting one embarrassing loss after the other. 

The way the Kings are built, they don’t match up well with every team in the league, and the Pelicans are their personal nightmare. 

Where the Pelicans are big, physical, and have talented defenders, the Kings are undersized, lack fight, and don’t even have a handful of plus defenders. Where the Pelicans have an established rotation and solid bench, the Kings have two bench players Mike Brown trusts consistently—Malik Monk and Trey Lyles—and are still experimenting with lineups. 

Last night was no different. Zion Williamson was out with an injury but the Pelicans still came to Sacramento and took care of business. CJ McCollum led the way with 30 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks. 

The Kings’ starting point guard meanwhile finished with 3 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 turnovers. De’Aaron Fox has been looking tired for a couple of games now, and last night, no one had his back. 

Domantas Sabonis couldn’t save the struggling Kings, Malik Monk didn’t take over the game, and Keegan Murray didn’t light it up from three. Instead, the Kings rolled over and even let the Pelicans take a fifty-point lead at one point. 

After the game, Coach Brown made it clear what the main problem was in his opinion. 

“The fight to get back in the game, stay in the game, however you want to call it, was non-existent,” he told reporters, making a small exception for the unit that closed the game and “played the right way.”

There were few bright spots in the game. Kevin Huerter scoring 17 points and getting a chance to work through his slump was one, the end of the bench another. When the game was already way out of hand, guys who don’t usually play got into the game and made the most of it.

Keon Ellis played well enough to overtake Davion Mitchell in the rotation again, Kessler Edwards battled on both ends of the floor, and Colby Jones got some nice NBA minutes. That whole group, including Alex Len and Sasha Vezenkov, gave Mike Brown something to think about, something to distract him from the fact that his main guys failed to show up.

The Sacramento Kings seem to have a leadership problem

None of this is anything new. Most of the Kings’ losses this season have been bloodbaths, characterized by a lack of fight. It’s becoming a theme, pointing towards a lack of accountability and leadership from the top players.

It is no fun to talk about such a bad loss, but that is what leaders do. Last night, however, the Kings’ starters were painfully absent from the postgame presser. Keon Ellis was the lone player on the podium, taking the bullet for everyone else. 

Sabonis gave a quick interview in the locker room, but that is not the same thing as sitting on a podium, exposed in front of a bunch of reporters and fans who later watch it online. 

It is not fair to send out a second-year two-way player who only played the final quarter to answer questions about the team’s shortcomings. Ellis and the rest of the third unit had nothing to do with the loss. In fact, they were the only reason the Kings hit the 100-point mark.

It is not the first time this has happened, however. Ellis also drew the short straw after a bad loss to the Celtics. When asked about it, Coach Brown admitted that he has no control over who steps onto the podium after a game but criticized a lack of leadership and accountability during the game. 

The Kings’ best players need to hold themselves and others accountable, or we will see many more losses like this.