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Arron Afflalo On Free Agency and Kings’ Playoffs Chances

Arron Afflalo talks to Basketball Insiders’ Michael Scotto about free agency, the Kings’ playoff chances and more.

Michael Scotto

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Arron Afflalo’s time with the Knicks went as fast as a New York minute.

Afflalo averaged 13 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc, but the Knicks struggled on and off the court during his one season in New York.

Coach Derek Fisher was involved in a love triangle and fight with Matt Barnes, his former teammate, over Gloria Govan, Barnes’ ex-wife, which became a distraction for the team early in the season. Fisher was also scrutinized as a coach for his handling of the triangle offense on the court. Fisher finished with a 23-31 record before he was fired and replaced by Kurt Rambis on an interim basis.

Afflalo started two games after Rambis was hired, but was then asked to come off the bench for all but one game for the remainder of the season. Afflalo struggled, averaging 8.6 points per game on 37 percent shooting from the field and 34 percent from beyond the arc.

After being moved to the bench by Rambis, and with New York setting its sights on Courtney Lee in free agency, Afflalo knew his time with the Knicks was up.

“It’s hard to get a genuine experience with anything when you haven’t had longevity or there are a lot of changes taking place, whether it’s changes with my individual role or with the coaching staff or the environment as a whole,” Afflalo told Basketball Insiders. “Six months is a short season when you’re not a playoff team and you’re going through a lot of changes, but they seem to be doing better now. I think as the core group, with Melo [Carmelo Anthony] and KP [Kristaps Porzingis], and the guys that they bring in continuing to get better, New York will be okay.”

When Afflalo and the Knicks agreed to a two-year deal with a second-year player option in the summer of 2015, it was considered a good move for both sides. The Knicks needed a starting-caliber shooting guard, and wanted to keep cap space available for the following summer when the salary cap would rise. For Afflalo, coming off a midseason trade and playoff appearance with the Portland Trail Blazers, it was a chance to be more of a focal point in the offense and earn a higher salary if he chose to opt out of the second year of his deal.

Afflalo opted out of the final year on his Knicks contract and agreed to a two-year, $25 million deal with the Sacramento Kings during free agency this past summer.

“I knew we kind of had a new team coming,” Afflalo told Basketball Insiders. “I was a fan of [Kings coach Dave] Joerger and the way he coached in Memphis. Just happy to be a little bit closer to home, and Sacramento was one of the early teams that reached out, and they won. It just felt like a good fit at the time.”

Afflalo was born in Los Angeles, California and attended Centennial High School in Compton before attending UCLA.

“The further along you get in your career, obviously, you still want to perform well as an individual, but you just become more and more enamored with winning. I’ve known Rudy [Gay] for a long time. Cousins has been recognized as one of the best centers, if not the best center, in the league, so I thought it would be a good opportunity. Plus, at the time, Darren [Collison] and Ty [Lawson] were considering being the point guards here, and I was familiar with the point guard situation, too. It all seemed like a positive situation.”

Sacramento has garnered as many headlines for behavior off the court as on it. Collison was suspended for the first eight games of the season after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of domestic battery. Gay informed the Kings he will opt out of the final year of his contract this upcoming summer and will explore his options, The Vertical reported.

“We have a lot to work on, but we have a lot of potential,” Afflalo told Basketball Insiders. “We’re a veteran team, we’ve got some good guys on the team, we just have to continue to learn how to get the best out of everyone and learn how to play well together. A lot of the team, in the past, has really been centered around DeMarcus and Rudy, and now it’s just about bringing everybody else along so that we can really get over the hump.”

The hump Afflalo referred to is qualifying for the playoffs, a task that’s eluded Sacramento since 2006.

I asked Afflalo if Sacramento has the talent to get over the hump he alluded to and become a playoff team for the first time in a decade.

“Yeah, no question,” Afflalo replied. “There’s probably, at this point in the season, three elite teams in the West, and those teams you can compete with as well, but on a night to night basis we pretty much have a chance to win the game as any other team does. We just have to get out there and play.”

While Cousins and Gay will carry much of the scoring load for Sacramento on a nightly basis, the team will need the backcourt of Afflalo, Collison, and Lawson to supplement the attack on a consistent basis.

For Afflalo, his homecoming has been an adjustment period.

“I’m trying to get over myself a little bit and just be a part of a team and play to win,” Afflalo told Basketball Insiders. “I know I’m capable of large scoring nights or playing defense or facilitating. I’m capable of a lot of different things, but as I get older I’m really just trying to get over myself and get more enamored with winning and trying to play well when needed. Whatever the coach feels like is best for the team, just try to accept that.”

Joerger is looking to find the right combinations to maximize Afflalo’s production on the court.

“He’s a good player, he’s got a lot of experience, he’s a good pro and a pretty good defender,” Joerger said. “He’s just trying to find his spot with what we’re doing and playing off of DeMarcus, Rudy, Darren and Ty.”

If Sacramento wants to get over the hump and make the playoffs for the first time in a decade, the hometown man must be a big part of the equation going forward alongside Cousins and Gay.

Michael Scotto is a Senior NBA Writer for Basketball Insiders in his sixth season covering the league. He also works for The Associated Press focusing on Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks game coverage.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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