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NBA Sunday: Future Looks Bright in Sacramento

The Sacramento Kings are headed in the right direction and Mike Malone believes some key pieces are in place … A former “bust” finds a new NBA identity

Bill Ingram

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Future Looks Bright in Sacramento

The Sacramento Kings have been one of the more perplexing teams in the NBA in recent years. Since the decline of the core group that made them contenders in the early 2000s, the Kings have been through enough head coaches to populate an entire division and wasted enough draft picks to give Kings fans nightmares thinking about what might have been. Now, however, the Kings believe they are headed in the right direction. Mike Malone is at the helm of the team and he feels he has some important pieces in place to think about winning long-term.

“I’m a huge fan of Isaiah [Thomas],” Malone told Basketball Insiders. “It’s funny, with him not playing the last couple of games you see the importance that he has on this team and the effect he has on this team. He’s not John Stockton, he’s not a true point guard, [but] I think a lot of people get caught up in what he’s not instead of really valuing him for what he is. He has a huge heart and he has a mindset of never going to quit. Last pick in the draft, he’s a gym rat and he loves the game. I think we’re lucky to have him and obviously we’ll be looking forward to having him back as soon as possible. He’s had a tremendous year. Before the trade [for Rudy Gay that sent out Greivis Vasquez], he was our scoring off of the bench and he would have been in Sixth Man of the Year contention if he would have stayed in that role. He was forced to be a starter and he’s done a good job with that, trying to understand the difference between scorer off of the bench and starting point guard facilitator, getting everyone else involved while also making sure that he stays true to himself. I think he’s had an outstanding year and I’m really proud of the success that he’s had on an individual basis. I know in the future it’ll translate into more team wins if we can keep him.”

When Thomas isn’t running the offense, or when he’s in scoring mode, Malone has the utmost confidence in the other two pieces around which the Kings are building – DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay – and trusts that they’ll make plays.

“[Isaiah]’s shown that he’s willing and capable of being that guy,” Malone explained. “He’s always going to be a scorer, but I think he’s shown the willingness to be a facilitator and to be more of a point guard than just a scorer. He’s always looking to try to get better and be the best player that he can be and that’s the passion that he has. Aside from him, we have a big man in DeMarcus Cousins who is a willing and capable play-maker, as well. He can do it out of the post and he can also make plays off of the dribble. He’s shown that he can be a guy that could potentially average around five assists per game. Then Rudy has got the ball in his hands quite a bit as well. Both he and DeMarcus attract a crowd and they command a double-team some nights. I think they’re doing a better job on making the right play against those double-teams and I think we’ll be facilitating by committee.”

The Kings may be one of the worst teams in the NBA, but since the arrival of Gay, Coach Malone believes he has a vision of what it will take to win big in the future. Gay can opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but Malone hopes to see Gay in the mix with Cousins and Thomas going forward.

“I’m not even sure of the exact record, but I know we’ve shown the ability to be a great competitor and beat a lot of the best teams in the NBA when those guys are all playing,” Malone said of Cousins, Gay and Thomas. “When they play at a high level, three 20-point scorers, we become very hard to guard because you have a low-post force, a wing with the versatility and athleticism that Rudy has and a point guard in Isaiah who can score, get to the foul line and make plays for his teammates. Not that many teams have that three-headed attack. It’s great to have and hopefully we’ll be able to keep those together because with that core you add some pieces to that and you allow Ray [McCallum] and Ben [McLemore] to continue to mature and get better and I think we have a solid foundation. Those guys, offensively, are terrific and they’re getting better defensively.”

One big issue the Kings have had, of course, is that with the playoffs out of the question players can fall into the mindset of getting their own touches and their own shots and forgetting about team goals.

“That’s something that we talk a lot about,” Malone admitted. “I knew going into this year that playoffs weren’t going to be in our season, so it was all about trying to change the culture, getting this team to play the right way and become a team that bought into playing defense. Since the New Year, our defense has been a lot better. It’s just really pounding that rock every day and not allowing it to happen and when it does happen nip it in the bud, watching it on film and holding guys accountable and then practicing it. When you look at our assists and turnovers they are not where we want them to be, but my whole thing is everyday let’s play it the right way and make a play for your teammate on offense and cover for you teammate on defense. It’s easier said than done, but give our guys credit because, for the most part, they are trying to go out there and do that every night.”

The Kings might be far removed from the playoff picture, but Malone is working to instill some habits that will yield positive long-term results as the 2013-14 season winds down.

“It’s one thing that we’ve been talking about probably for the last 15 games or so is, ‘Alright we’re not in the playoff race but every night that we play, every game that we go into, obviously we prepare to win,’” Malone said. “It’s an opportunity for us to establish the Kings’ identity and who we want to be moving forward. We don’t take those opportunities lightly. Just because we are out of the playoff race, we don’t want to just be a team that goes out there and plays recreational ball. Every night we need to try to become the team that defends, rebounds, values the ball and get set in runs with discipline. I think how we finish this season is important for us going into next season, not necessarily with the wins and losses, but as long as we are playing the right way and competing at a high level then those are things that we can build on going forward.”

The Kings certainly have their work cut out for them, but they have a great deal of talent in their locker room and a potentially franchise-changing draft pick ahead in this summer’s NBA draft. A team whose future has been murky, to say the least, could become both clear and positive if they have the kind of summer they need to have to move their rebuilding project aggressively forward.

Marvin Williams Finds His Niche

Being drafted high in the NBA draft can be a mixed blessing. On one hand, it means that some team thought enough of you to use a highly-coveted lottery pick to acquire you. On the other hand, it sets sky-high expectations for you from the team and the fans alike. In the case of Marvin Williams, the second overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, the unconventional path has helped him extend his NBA career even though he never lived up to those lottery pick expectations.

Now with the Utah Jazz (and lately a reserve), Williams has made himself an invaluable member of a rebuilding team that has some important core pieces already in place.

“It’s part of being a professional,” Williams told Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune recently. “You’ve got to be ready for adjustments. In this game, changes happen — quarter to quarter, game to game, week to week. It means more to some players than others. Some guys care about starting. They feel more comfortable starting. I don’t care at all, man. As long as I’m playing, I’m fine.”

Williams has made a career out of contributing more than just stats and averages to his teams, something Jazz head coach Ty Corbin absolutely recognizes.

“[He’s] invaluable,” Corbin said. “You see and recognize numbers, but the little things he does with this group — his presence, his voice in the locker room — those things are invaluable when you look at the overall scope of trying to keep the guys on the same page and trying to get better.”

Williams will be a free agent this summer, and while he is not one of the heralded names, he is a valuable commodity to the Jazz. They reportedly had the opportunity to trade him for a first-round pick in this summer’s deep and talented draft but they turned it down, hoping to keep Williams in town long-term.

“I think it would be great [to bring Williams back],” Corbin said. “Who knows what will happen, but he’s a great guy to have on the squad.”

As difficult as it is to live up to being a lottery pick, it is also difficult to find a niche in the NBA and have a long and fruitful career. It’s a tribute to Williams’ hard work and dedication that he has been able to overcome those initial expectations and find his place in the NBA.

NBA Chat with Bill Ingram

In case you missed my last NBA chat, find it by clicking here! You can also go ahead and submit a question for this week’s chat, which you can find here! I make an effort to answer every non-repeat question, and early questions are virtually guaranteed to be answered, so drop yours in now!

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Bill Ingram is a Senior NBA Analyst for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA since 1998.

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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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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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