Tyrese Haliburton was sitting in his Salt Lake City hotel room on Friday afternoon, his head buried in the latest round of infuriating film and his mood souring because of all the losing he refuses to accept.
The Rookie of the Year discussion that surrounds him these days was not top of mind, nor was the weight of the painful Sacramento Kings story of which he is now a promising part. From his high school days in Oshkosh, Wisc. to Iowa State to this NBA experience that started in the California capitol because of his stunning fall to No. 12 in the November draft, Haliburton has always taken great pride in being a winning player. Yet it was all of this losing — of these games, of his starting role and perhaps even of his patience — that was front and center when we reflected on his debut campaign for nearly thirty minutes by phone.
No matter how often the fans might moan about the torturous times that came before him, with the Kings’ playoff drought that began in 2006 the league’s longest of its kind, there’s just no time for the 21-year-old Haliburton to dwell on the macro of it all when the micro demands so much of his attention. Even if it is quite remarkable that he was just six years old the last time they made it.
As Haliburton shared in a wide-ranging phone conversation with The Athletic which came one day before the Kings’ losing streak extended to six games on Saturday against the league-leading Jazz, his focus — and his frustration — is on the here and now. He wants to change the fortunes of this long-suffering franchise, to lead the way alongside De’Aaron Fox and bring the Kings and their loyal fans better basketball days.
He wants to be great — All-Star great, champion great, Hall of Fame great — and sees these early struggles as part of that process. But as these past few weeks have reminded him, lofty goals like those aren’t easily achieved in this league.
“This is frustrating,” said Haliburton, whose Kings had fallen to lowly Detroit at home the night before. “I’ve never lost like this in my life, so it’s obviously different. But I think that’s the great part about being a lottery pick is (that) now I’m expected to come into a franchise and help change the culture and help change things for the better. It’s just a part of the journey that’s not fun but is just a part of it.
“I have film up right now (in his room) that I’m watching from last night. It’s been hard, but it’s kind of the beauty in the struggle, right? It’s a lot of different emotions, and it’s learning how to deal with it and hopefully make sure it doesn’t become something that’s consistent.”
Truth be told, I was surprised Haliburton picked up the phone for this interview. It was scheduled hours before the loss to the Pistons that was as bad as any the Kings have had this season, with the assumed expectation that our chat the following day would come after a win and thus lend itself to a lighter mood. What’s more, he had just finished a team-wide film session upon landing in Utah before beginning one of his own.