SACRAMENTO -- Jack Cooley and JaKarr Sampson walked into the Sacramento Kings locker room on Wednesday evening, ready to play. Neither of the Kings' two-way players were in uniform when the ball tipped, but their presence alone meant that something was amiss in Kingsland.
The ball dropped on Thursday when it was announced that Justin Jackson, Malachi Richardson and Georgios Papagiannis were assigned to the Reno Bighorns of the NBA's G-League.
For Papagiannis, the commute has become commonplace. The two-hour jaunt up highway 80 to Reno is beautiful, until the snow starts falling and the roads ice over. It's a short drive that typically yields plenty of minutes of court time.
That's exactly what the Kings are searching for when it comes to both Jackson and Richardson - court time.
"I think it's a good opportunity for them to play," Dave Joerger said following Thursday's practice. "They're going to play four games in seven nights. My advice to them was to go play. Don't overthink it, try to do this or try to do that, just go out, you're basketball players and go play and enjoy it."
Outside of some late game cleanup work, neither player has found a spot in Dave Joerger's rotation over the last two weeks. Jackson, the 15th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, has played a total of 17 minutes over the team's previous seven games.
A shift to Frank Mason III as the Kings' second point guard has pushed veteran George Hill to the shooting guard position and the trickle down effect has hurt both Jackson and Richardson's opportunities. After starting the first five games of the 2017-18 season, Jackson is out of the rotation and in dire need of some playing time. Reno will provide that chance.
"It can be real positive," Joerger said of the opportunity in Reno. "Sometimes people are, ‘oh, it's a demotion,' but once you get there and you're realizing (that) you're going to like your teammates, you're going to like your coaches, you love playing basketball and it's an opportunity to play. Once that ball goes up, I think it's a lot easier for everybody."
Richardson earned rotational minutes last season before a torn hamstring muscle ended his season. The hammy flared up again in Summer League, leaving Sacramento with very little choice but to shut down the 21-year-old wing.
Now entrenched behind Jackson in the rotation, Sacramento has chosen to give Richardson a shot at proving himself in Reno for the second straight year.
In a similar situation last season as a rookie, the 22nd overall pick in the 2016 Draft went nuts in Reno. Over 11 games, Richardson shot an impressive 44 percent from long range while averaging 21 points per game. His effort with the Bighorns helped him earn minutes with the Kings leading up to the All-Star break.
The general plan is to give both Jackson and Richardson time to find their bearings in Reno and build some confidence. Darrick Martin, the head coach of the Bighorns, spent time with the parent club during training camp. He likely has a game plan in place for the two young players, that includes plenty of time on the floor over the next week.
Papagiannis has already spent time with the Kings' G-League affiliate. He's played well in his four games in Reno, averaging 14.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and two blocks in 31 minutes per night. After 23 games with the Bighorns last season, Papagiannis knows the drill.
Cooley and Sampson will be used as organizational depth. They know their role with the Kings and it's likely that both will see action over the next week. As two-way players, this is a huge boon for the duo. They are allowed to spend up to 45 days with the parent club, earning a league minimum salary for every day they are with the Kings.
Sampson is an aggressive, 6-foot-9 forward with incredible athleticism and energy. He's posted 15 points and 8.3 rebounds during his stay in Reno.
Cooley is a fan favorite and a bruiser. The 26-year-old posted 12.7 points and 8.0 rebounds in 19.3 minutes a night in Reno. He's a throwback big that hustles and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He also knows his role as a defender and NBA tough guy.
This isn't a long-term demotion for either Jackson or Richardson. But with so many young players on the roster, a trip to Reno for one or two was expected at some point this season.