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The X-Factors: Sacramento

De’Aaron Fox is a superstar in the making, but the Sacramento Kings’ playoff hopes may rest with two other up-and-comers.

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The world is on fire.

And, frankly, the news of pending basketball hardly seems important in the slightest. The planet-wide pandemic and sweeping protests have turned everybody’s day-to-day routines on their head – but, obviously, for one group, it has done so in awful and disproportionate ways.

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Or try this: If you finish this article and come away having learned something — from a new three-point percentage to an underrated aspect — donate something of your own: Time, supplies, a tough conversation — whatever. Consider it a trade, do whatever it takes. Make a difference, even if it’s a small one.

The NBA is nearly back — how exactly (and with what measure of success) is yet to be seen, but there is a plan and structure worth building from. For teams on the bubble, getting into the play-in tournament will be the most and immediately pressing issue. But the other bracketed, locked-in franchises, jockeying for home-court advantage, must get serious and knock off that rust. Out westward, the stakes are even higher — and for those hungry at a postseason without the Warriors, this is a key moment in franchise history.

For the Sacramento Kings, it’s time to hand every single key on the ring to De’Aaron Fox and get out of the way. 

All things considered, Sacramento is lucky to be here, just as the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans are too. At 28-36, they’re right in the hunt for a play-in showdown of sorts. But they’ll need to keep pace with the upstart Memphis Grizzlies and three other teams to do just that. And although they’ll need to face the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets, they’ll also get the Brooklyn Nets — sans Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving  — Orlando Magic and the Pelicans twice. As far as controlling destinies go, they’ve got a puncher’s chance.

And although momentum is a thing of the past, notably, the Kings were 13-7 over their last 20 games heading into the stoppage.

Harrison Barnes may own the postseason pedigree, while Fox boasts the skill set of a future superstar – but Portland has, presumably, Damian Lillard; New Orleans has, presumably, Zion Williamson; and the Grizzlies have the current standings advantage. Of course, Buddy Heild needs to get hot, stay hot and be Fox’s right-hand man – ultimately, that’s not all that interesting of an observation. 

Herein lies, however, the two most interesting Kings-related subplots as the league moves toward an Orlando bubble. The obvious potential X-Factor is Bogdan Bogdanovic, a player so good that the Kings almost traded him away before restricted free agency this summer because they were afraid they couldn’t afford the cap penalties an albatross deal might bring. Thankfully, in February, Sacramento was able to shift Dewayne Dedmon, thus opening up the ability to match just about anything — which, reportedly, they are likely to do.

Unless you’ve lived under a rock, the list of Bogdanovic’s plaudits is no secret. Now with over a decade of professional basketball experience, the 6-foot-6 do-it-all playmaker achieved almost everything up for grabs in Europe. Between a EuroLeague championship and a well-earned Finals MVP, Bogdanovic had climbed the throne before even stepping foot in America. From the get-go, his basketball IQ, play-running and shot-making were NBA-ready and he’s only improved with time. 

Crucially, on a roster helmed by Fox, Bogdanovic does not need to score to be effective and his frequent off-ball movement is a major floor-opener. The Kings were 10-3 this season when Bogdanovic dropped 20 or more points and he could stand to shoulder even more of the offensive load. The Serbian’s 36 percent clip from three-point range in back-to-back seasons is largely forgettable, but he’ll have loads of previous high-pressure successes to fuel him through any elimination games he may face in empty Florida arenas.

Dedmon, naturally, has a connection to the Kings’ other looming X-Factor, Richaun Holmes. Neglected in Philadelphia and an afterthought in Phoenix, Holmes ended up in Sacramento last summer and quickly became a fan favorite. But with the team investing $40 million in Dedmon, Holmes wasn’t expected to be a key feature for the Kings in 2019-20 – and, well, that changed in a big way. After just five measly games, Holmes took over the starting role and absolutely ran with the newfound opportunity. The 26-year-old would notch 13 double-doubles (and finished with nine rebounds in four other games), well on his way to career-highs across the board. During a slim one-point defeat to Minnesota in December, Holmes tallied 20 points, 18 rebounds, two steals and two blocks on 60 percent shooting and 44 minutes.

It seemed like a star was swiftly rising on the horizon… until injury struck.

Suffered on Jan. 6, Holmes’ torn labrum was a momentum-killer, an ill-timed ailment that kept him out for 24 games.

Given the questions of health surrounding both Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley, the chance is there for Holmes to usurp the franchise order. Sticking Holmes on Nikola Jokic or Jusuf Nurkic might be a tough ask, but it’s certainly better than the alternatives. Better yet, Holmes — who lives in the paint – pairs wonderfully with the court-stretching Nemanja Bjelica and declutters the lane for an attacking Fox or free-roaming Bogdanovic.

By the time Holmes was re-arriving on the scene for Sacramento, the league was teetering on the brink of cancelation. But in a double-digit victory over Portland, Holmes snagged 10 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes – nothing major, but certainly an improvement over the likes of Giles and Alex Len.

Since Bagley was drafted in 2018, the Kings’ future has looked brighter — Fox, Bogdanovic, Hield and Giles – but, all at once, Holmes has forced his way into the conversation after just 40 games. While the fit alongside Bagley is potentially suspect, that’s a future problem. Today, right now, for getting into the altered play-in tournament and the right to face the Los Angeles Lakers, Holmes is crucial. His recovery and health some three months later may even dictate if the Kings have a shot here at all.

The focus falls rightly on the shoulders of Fox, but if the gritty Kings end up in a first-round battle for California, check the tapes on Bogdanovic and Holmes – they’ll certainly deserve their fair share of the credit.

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.

“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.

In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.

Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.

NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.

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Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons

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According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.

However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.

Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.

On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.

Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.

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