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NBA PM: Fixing The Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings have big decisions to make this summer. Where does the organization go from here?

Jabari Davis



The Sacramento Kings announced they will pay for die-hard fans to get a tattoo of their new logo, rewarding those who show the ultimate dedication and team spirit. However, fans may want to know how the team plans to improve before making that kind of decision. The Kings have plenty of work to do this summer if they finally want to turn things around in a town current minority owner Shaquille O’Neal now calls “Shaqramento.” Clever nicknames and updated logos aside, the Kings are now faced with the task of finding some consistency in terms of organizational unity and with the coaching staff while also determining whether to consider a total reset of the roster and direction.

Following a 33-49 season that featured rumors about their head coach’s termination as many as three separate times (and they did ultimately fire George Karl just after the season), random ejections and stories of on-court and off-court trust or chemistry issues, Sacramento has some issues that need resolving. There are plenty of questions to be answered over the next few months for the Kings, and we took a look at several options for them to consider:

Make the right coaching decision so the franchise can establish some stability.

Remember when everyone thought Vinny Del Negro was somehow “holding the Los Angeles Clippers back” after leading them to a 56-win season, but failing to guide them past the second round of the playoffs a few years ago? It turns out Del Negro may have been more of a scapegoat than anyone realized at the time, which makes the news about his interest in Sacramento’s vacant position that much more intriguing.

Although boasting an overall 210-184 coaching record, Del Negro hasn’t manned the sidelines for a team since being let go by the Clippers following the 2013 season. The million dollar question with the Kings will always be how the coach ultimately vibes with DeMarcus Cousins, but whether the team decides to head in a different direction in terms of their franchise player remains to be seen. It would be fun to see Del Negro eventually get another shot with a young core once again.

Mark Jackson and Sam Mitchell are also names that have been linked to the position. Mitchell’s seven-year coaching career is highlighted by the 47-35 record his upstart 2006-07 Toronto Raptors ended with, but he’s just 185-242 overall – at least, in part, due to roster limitations. Jackson, to his credit, took an inexperienced Golden State Warriors team from 23 wins to 47 wins in his second season, before ending his run in Oakland with a 51-31 record. The Warriors qualified for the postseason in back-to-back years with Jackson at the helm (2012-14) for the first time since 1990-92.

Kevin McHale, fired by the Houston Rockets earlier this season, is another intriguing name to surface during Sacramento’s coaching search. Even though McHale won 54 and 56 games in consecutive seasons (2013 and 2014), it still didn’t earn him much leeway as he was rather unceremoniously terminated just 11 games into the year (4-7). Like Del Negro, McHale is considered to be a “players’ coach” and does have a history of (at least initially) getting through to players with peculiar personalities over the past few seasons.

Regardless of whether general manager Vlade Divac and owner Vivek Ranadive select one of these candidates or even one of the top available assistants (Jay Larranaga, Ettore Messina and the like), this franchise needs stability and a united vision moving forward. Additional defensive-minded players and a coaching staff that can establish a defensive identity wouldn’t hurt, either. But first things first, as they say.

Figure out what to do with franchise player DeMarcus Cousins moving forward.

The latest logo and team slogan updates are great in theory, but it will take more than a new paint job to get this car running again. While letting George Karl go makes it at least appear that they’ve made their choice in terms of which faction to build around, there are still those who believe the organization won’t be able to fully turn the corner without a complete overhaul.

Cousins has seen five coaches come and go since being drafted back in 2010. While his skills are undeniable and he’s almost universally regarded as one of the game’s top big men, the Kings haven’t been able to capitalize on his production in terms of actual team success. In fact, while there was a brief glimmer of hope during former head coach Mike Malone’s early tenure (prior to being terminated after just 24 games into his second season), their overall record during Cousins’ career is a paltry 162-312. Beyond the idea of finding the “right” coach to guide their mercurial star player, the front office needs to also determine whether Cousins is a player who can be the focal point of a playoff contender at this point in his career.

While the production is undeniable (averaging 26.9 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 65 games this season), neither are the results – in terms of wins/losses and in his actual behavior on the court or within the locker room. Although the Kings did finally cross the 30-win plateau in 2015-16 for the first time in Cousins’ career, the sum of the parts – at least on paper – still isn’t quite adding up, especially in a year when much of the bottom half of the Western Conference was either in a full-blown rebuilding mode or dealing with major losses due to injury.

Clearly, all of the dysfunction and problems cannot be laid at Cousins’ feet. However, he does have a certain amount of responsibility for his share of things as the main attraction for the Kings.

Fix this roster with a clear-cut vision of the type of team they want to be.

Successful teams aren’t built overnight and don’t develop chemistry simply by chance. It takes organizational stability and a united effort from top to bottom. While the jury may still be out on Willie Cauley-Stein, to say the Kings have had a questionable draft history over the last three or four years  would be putting it nicely. This year’s first-round pick could be a slippery situation depending upon how things go in the draft lottery.

Due to various transactions, the Kings have either their own pick or the Philadelphia 76ers’ pick, whichever is the lower between the two if the pick happens to fall within the top 10. If the pick falls outside of the top 10, then it is owed to the Chicago Bulls. Our latest mock draft has them selecting Notre Dame’s point guard Demetrius Jackson, which would likely signal a decision to go in a different direction at the position. Jackson is regarded as a good floor general who can do a little bit of everything in terms of scoring, playmaking and defending, but he could struggle against some of the longer guards initially (at 6’1) while continuing to develop and adjust to playing at the pro level.

Traditionally, this has been a franchise that has had difficulty luring top free agents to Sacramento, but they will have as much as $22.5 million to work with on the market this summer. That places them in the bottom-third of the league in terms of how much money they’ll have to spend, but it is difficult to say what they’d use it on as we simply don’t know which direction the franchise is headed at this point.

Caron Butler, James Anderson and Seth Curry have player options for the final year of their contracts and several others have non-guaranteed deals, but technically Sacramento’s only guaranteed free agent this summer will be point guard Rajon Rondo.

While Rondo can still impress the casual observer who still considers the stat sheet to be the holy grail when it comes to evaluating talent, there’s also a deeper way to factor in the actual impact of his production as well as how the enigmatic 30-year-old’s personality influences overall team chemistry. It would be unfair to reduce him down to a label of having “empty stats” or anything of that nature (after averaging 11.9 points, 11.7 assists and six boards per contest), but you also cannot completely ignore how ball-dominant he can be as well as his tendency to act abrasively with officials and coaches at times. Rondo and Cousins have clearly formed a bond, but that won’t necessarily guarantee his return to a team that is clearly looking to shift the general narrative and improve upon the negative stories that surround the organization.

There’s no easy answer when it comes to fixing this franchise, but this could absolutely be a pivotal summer in terms of reshaping what we’ve come to know as the current iteration of Kings basketball. With the coaching staff as well as what to do with the ultra-talented Cousins each in the balance, the 2016-17 Sacramento Kings could very well be the result of a total reset by ownership and management. Regardless of which direction they elect to go, fans in Sacramento probably deserve a bit more positivity surrounding their team for the first time in awhile.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.


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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



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



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



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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