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Kings’ Nemanja Bjelica relishes playing for Dave Joerger after struggling to find groove under Tom Thibodeau

Nemanja Bjelica, Tom Thibodeau, Dave Joerger

Sacramento Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica got his revenge against his former team, cruising to a 141-130 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night. Following a game-high 25 points, the new Kings forward expressed his appreciation for coach Dave Joerger, who has entrusted him with a decent load of minutes and plenty of opportunities.

“I have a coach who is trusting me,” Nemanja Bjelica told Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. “He knows how to use me. Not just me, he knows how to use everybody on this team. We have a great atmosphere, great group of guys. It’s the NBA. Everything is about opportunity in this league.”

Bjelica was unable to tap into his full potential under Tom Thibodeau, but made the most of Jimmy Butler’s absence when he was out with a knee injury. Bjelica was inserted into the starting lineup and played an average of 34 minutes per night, which ultimately set him up for a coveted free-agency period in the summer. The 30-year-old stretch 5 hovered between 13 and 19 minutes once Butler returned to the lineup, a vast difference in playing time.

“When you don’t play a lot and you get an opportunity, you need to stay ready and play good,” said Bjelica. “But then the next game, when everybody’s healthy, you don’t play. That was really hard for me, but not just for me, for every player in the league who doesn’t have a big role. I will never say that I was the best player in Minnesota. We had a great team. I think coaches like me there. People love me there. But maybe that wasn’t a good fit for me.”

The 6-foot-10 forward promptly hit free agency and nearly signed with the Philadelphia 76ers before re-routing to agree to a deal with the Kings, a change of mind that has worked wonders for his career as he’s putting up 11.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in undoubtedly the best stretch of his pro experience in the NBA.