SACRAMENTO — It’s easy to draw larger meaning from a single event, to try to discern the moment when something big began.
Thursday night, when rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox buried a game-winning, 15-foot jumper over Robert Covington with 14.1 seconds left in the Sacramento Kings’ 109-108 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, felt like one of those moments.
“That’s a shot I take all the time, and one that I’m extremely comfortable with,” Fox said of his first NBA game-winner, which gave the 3-8 Kings consecutive victories for the first time this season. “That’s what he gave me, so I took it.”
If ever a franchise needed a player with the total package — dynamic talent on the court and polish and persona off it — it was the Kings, who have led the league for years in one category: dysfunction.
There were ownership issues, both with the Maloof family and current owner Vivek Ranadive. There were management issues, with several regime changes ushering in a series of front offices and coaching staffs. And, of course, there were player issues, stemming mainly from the presence of DeMarcus Cousins, the definition of a mercurial talent, who caused as many headaches within the organization as he did to opposing defenses.
Fox appears to bring only the good parts of that equation to the table. On the court, he’s earned favorable comparisons to John Wall for his incredible speed and acceleration, and the ability it gives him to attack defenses. Off the court, he has a 120-watt smile to go along with a smooth, affable manner, allowing him to comfortably handle the media responsibilities that come with such talent, even in a small market like Sacramento.
Put them together, and Sacramento finally may have the player who can make this franchise competitive once again in the Western Conference, something it hasn’t been since the Chris Webber-led Kings of the early 2000s.
“He has the right mentality,” Kings guard Garrett Temple said. “He’s not a selfish guy. He’s a team first guy. He’s still 19, so he’s still learning.
“But I think the biggest thing is he listens. He understands it’s a team game, and he’s got a lot of confidence … you have to have a lot of confidence if you’re going to be really good, and be a star in this league.”
It isn’t a coincidence that Fox’s locker is next to Temple’s. Nor is it a coincidence that the team signed veteran point guard George Hill to a three-year contract (though the third year is only lightly guaranteed) in July, just days after taking Fox fifth overall in the draft.
After years of mismanagement, the Kings seem determined to avoid past mistakes, so Fox still comes off the bench, even though he’s outplaying Hill and leads the team in minutes. The Kings’ caution allows Fox time to become accustomed to the rigors of the NBA, and their plan appears to be working.
“It’s great,” Fox said of coming off the bench. “I’m extremely comfortable on the floor, playing with [Hill] or playing without him. Coming off the bench I’m able to see the flow of the game, see how it’s going, and just try to be aggressive.
“If it’s getting my teammates involved, it’s that. If I’m scoring, then it’s that. I just want to be able to help my team win.”
Compare the Kings’ approach to that of the Los Angeles Lakers, who have anointed No. 2 draft pick Lonzo Ball not only as the next great Laker, but the heir to Magic Johnson as the floor general of the franchise’s next dynasty. As a result, Ball’s early shooting woes are a topic of discussion not just in Southern California, but around the NBA.
None of that is happening in Sacramento, where the near-constant turmoil surrounding the Kings seems to be over. Instead, the focus is on a young roster with the potential to grow together, and the 19-year-old point guard who is in training to lead it.
That’s why Fox’s first game-winner felt like the official beginning of a new era in Sacramento — even if it wasn’t as dramatic as it might have been.
“It ain’t the same as a buzzer-beater,” he said, flashing that megawatt smile. “A buzzer-beater, you go crazy.”
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