The form of veterans Andrew Bogut and Casper Ware isn’t concerning Sydney Kings coach Will Weaver, who has come out strongly in favour of both men.
He was initially tasked to arrive and revive the Sydney Kings’ NBL season but even that is too big of an ask for reigning MVP Jerome Randle.
Yet he is the right man to now set up a culture which could lead to success down the track.
Randle’s heart and competitive nature can never be questioned. That is why he has had such an impact in the NBL the past two seasons at the Adelaide 36ers, winning the league’s MVP award last season in a team that claimed the regular season championship.
For whatever reason things didn’t work out in Adelaide for him to return for a third season, but none of that was based around his competitive drive or his ability to put the team on his back and lead from the front out on the court.
Randle was initially signed by the Kings to keep them in the NBL finals hunt. When he played his first game against Illawarra on November 16, Sydney were already in dire straits at 2-7. They have gone 3-7 in the 10 games with him in the line-up, but he couldn’t have possibly done more.
Coming in and being expected to create a winning culture within a group lacking direction was always going to be tough. Despite Randle putting up great numbers at a league-high 20.8 points a game and doing everything possible to try to come up with wins, the task has been too great.
That’s if you are measuring Sydney’s season based on wins and losses, and on contending for the finals. With six rounds remaining and at 5-14, they are a lock to claim the wooden spoon for the third time since returning to the NBL for the 2010-11 season.
That is an ingrained culture problem that was never going to be able to be fixed just by signing Randle midway through the season and hoping for the best.
But what Randle’s presence can do is hold everybody accountable, weed out the aspects of the team and club not set up for success, and to set up all the pieces and the culture required to be successful down the line.
Randle is just the man who can do that. That’s not even necessarily because of what he produces on the court, but it’s his attitude and huge heart that has led to him having such a successful career that his teammates and the club as a whole needs to jump on the back of.
Randle is as passionate as he is talented and he makes no excuse for giving 100 per cent every single second of his life as a pro basketballer. As a result, he demands 100 per cent from his teammates and will accept nothing less.
That’s exactly the state the Kings as a whole organisation find themselves in. Whether it’s on or off the court after an eighth straight season where they’ll finish with a losing record, they need to demand better of themselves. Randle is the man who can set the example and hold everyone to account.
And if the Kings mean business, they should sign Randle to a contract for the 2018-19 NBL season and tell him that they are building a team and culture around him that they want to succeed long-term.
This season is gone. What the Kings need to do is get a jumpstart on the rest of the league by preparing for next season. Randle is the man who can help weed out who should be part of that going forward, and who shouldn’t.
Things all came to a head on Saturday when the Kings were embarrassed on their home floor by Melbourne United. Sydney actually led at the half, but went on to lose by 24 points. By slipping to a 5-14 record, there are no prospects of saving this season.
The scoreline was bad enough, but the attitude, body language and outright effort shown by the team overall throughout the second half was not up to NBL standard.
Randle, himself, fought valiantly and delivered another 26 points and five assists but was downright embarrassed to be part of such a performance.
Showing why he is such a terrific leader and standard bearer, he blames himself first before looking to anyone else and is focused on the things he could have done better to make the team more competitive.
But ultimately he says it comes down to heart and it’s time for everyone at the Kings to show what they are made of.
“You’ve got to have heart, that’s what it boils down to. You have to have heart, you just have to. You have to understand that this is a man’s game and is serious competition, you don’t want to be embarrassed,” Randle said.
“I’m embarrassed right now and I don’t want to be. It’s very embarrassing to be blown out on your home court like that. I don’t know how to take that. My pride is hurt and everyone else’s pride should be hurting from that.
“We are a professional basketball team, nobody should be blown out like that. It comes down to effort and heart. That’s everybody, all of us collectively and especially me. I’m the leader and I blame myself. I have to figure this thing out.”
The Kings actually entered Saturday’s game against Melbourne on the back of an impressive win against Brisbane seven days earlier. After conceding the game’s first 14 points, they went on to win 101-95 despite the absence of import centre Jeremy Tyler. There’s no coincidence in that.
To then put in that horrible second half at home to Melbourne is something completely unacceptable to Randle. Afterwards, he couldn’t help but let out his frustrations on how things have turned out at his second NBL club.
“The difference in the Brisbane game was that we didn’t have anyone that cared about who scored and who didn’t, everyone was just playing hard. Everyone was playing for the brother next to you and then in this game I didn’t feel like that energy was there. I thought it was really poor,” Randle said.
“When things are not going well, I look at myself and right now I just feel like I’m not getting it done as a leader. I have to just point at myself because I’m the leader of this team and I’m supposed to push my guys to another level. I just feel like I’m not doing that.
“I can only just look at myself and that’s the type of guy that I am. I just have to keep pushing to figure this thing out, but by no means am I going to give up. I don’t know how to give up, it’s just not in my blood so I’m going to keep fighting.”
NBL Round 13 Fixtures (AEDT)
Adelaide 36ers v Perth Wildcats – Titanium Security Arena 7.30pm
Cairns Taipans v Brisbane Bullets – Cairns Convention Centre 7.30pm
Sydney Kings v Perth Wildcats – Qudos Bank Arena 5.30pm
Illawarra Hawks v Melbourne United – WIN Entertainment Centre 7.30pm
New Zealand Breakers v Cairns Taipans – North Shore Events Centre 1pm
Brisbane Bullets v Adelaide 36ers – Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre 3pm