MINNEAPOLIS -- John Salmons exited the locker room long before it was time to leave, storming past reporters and pacing down the Target Center hallway while none other than Ron Artest was close behind.
As if it wasn't evident enough in the Kings' 108-103 loss to Minnesota that the return of Ron-Ron didn't exactly go smoothly, the tension-filled post-game scene made it official. Artest -- still wearing his jersey but sans sneakers -- was playing the part of peacemaker, trying to corral the teammate whose frustration overflowed inside the locker room.
Salmons, who averaged 20.7 points and led the team in assists (4.0) while starting during Artest's seven-game absence, had just four points on 2-of-4 shooting in his first game coming off the bench. And though he returned to the locker room after his quick exodus, Kings coach Reggie Theus said the larger question is whether Salmons can return to his productive ways in the new reserve role.
"He's got to make an adjustment," Theus said. "That's his role, and he's got to make an adjustment. There's really nothing more you can say about it."
It was a point of concern for his teammates afterward, with all involved placing a high priority on finding a way to use Salmons' skills even if the incumbent starter was back. Salmons did not speak to reporters.
"We've got to make sure that we keep John in there," Kings center Brad Miller said. "He did so well for us. He can do a lot for us. He can bring the ball up, guarding point guards, guarding big guys, doing a lot of things."
There was plenty of room for improvement in this one.
Coming in, Theus had compared this matchup to "running into a buzz saw." It was a winless buzz saw, but Minnesota was on the brink of making the wrong kind of history and had not played since losing to the Kings in Sacramento on Saturday.
Sure enough, the 1-5 T'wolves avoided tying the franchise mark for the slowest start to a season by repeating one aspect of their game plan and adding a few others. They fed the beast otherwise known as Al Jefferson all night, and the 22-year-old Minnesota forward acquired in the offseason mega-trade with Boston feasted on the Kings' defense for 23 points on 11-of-16 shooting.
But third-year player Rashad McCants was the newest wrinkle, scoring a career-high 33 points after the North Carolina product didn't even start Saturday because he was coming off of an ankle injury.
"He was hungry for a win," said Kings guard Kevin Martin, who led the team with 22 points. "They were all hungry for a win. He definitely made some good moves."