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NBA Season Preview: The Sacramento Kings

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Last season: 25-57, in a year that was really all about figuring out that Tyreke Evans is a star you can anchor a team around. He is. And they found a nice young core to go around him.

Head Coach: Paul Westphal, who did a pretty good job trying to build young team and getting them to focus on defense. Be clear, their defense wasn’t that good but they focused on it (it was better than the disastrous year before), and it is that end of the floor that can anchor another big step forward. However, the team is not taking any steps forward if Westphal doesn’t settle down his rotations and give the players a rhythm that can get into.

Key Departures: Andres Nocioni is gone taking some toughness, a three points shooting threat and an oversized contract for that to Philadelphia. Spencer Hawes is gone, the price in talent for getting rid of the Nocioni contract. Hawes was inconsistent but losing someone like him would hurt a lot of teams — unless you have a DeMarcus Cousins coming in. Two solid players out the door but guys the Kings can get by without.

Also gone is Jon Brockman, some more size in the middle that likely would not get minutes now.

Key Additions:
They had the No. 5 pick in the draft and DeMarcus Cousins fell to them. That could be the best thing to happen to this franchise in a decade. The beast out of Kentucky then went out at Summer League and showed he could be the rookie of the year (well, the first half of Summer League until conditioning issues seemed to catch up with him). This preseason he has averaged 16.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in just 25 minutes per, although his shooting percentage of 44.8 percent needs to improve. There are questions about focus, but so far he looks like a steal.

Samuel Dalembert comes in and brings the defense at the rim the Kings really need. His offense is also a better fit in Sacramento’s drive-and-dish offense than whatever it was they were running in Philadelphia last year. Dalembert is also a large expiring deal that can save money this season or be traded for more assets.

They also drafted the very athletic Hassan Whiteside, a project that could pan out. Or not. But a good risk. Antoine Wright also was signed to a deal.

Best case scenario: They gel quickly behind their powerhouse young core and sneak into the bottom of the Western Conference playoffs.

For that to happen: Tyreke Evans will have to continue on a path to mega-star — that means developing a jump shot — and others will need to provide outside shooting well. DeMarcus Cousins will need to take the first steps to NBA stardom. Also the Kings defense needs to improve and the role players need to blend in.

Evans has spent all summer working on a jump shot and he is shooting 36 percent from three this preseason, well up from the 25.5 percent of last season. But he needs to do this when the games count (and the defense is better). If he can continue to knock down the shots and show off a hesitation move now and then, he will continue to blow us all away.

Where the Kings will be beasts is on the boards — they have a lineup of guys who thrive on the glass. Or, they will in a month or so when Dalembert returns from injury, although Cousins and Carl Landry will do just fine in his absence.

Where the lack of Dalembert hurts is on defense, where the Kings will be without that intimidating eraser at the rim for the first few weeks. Cousins will step into that role; we’ll see how he does with it and if he can stay out of foul trouble.

For the Kings to really thrive, Omri Casspi needs to become a scorer off the bench, Donte Greene needs to live up to the starts role, Jason Thompson needs to keep improving, and Francisco Garcia needs to be a steady outside shooter for the team (along with Beno Udrih in that role).

More likely the Kings will: Be improved but not quite playoff ready in a deep Western Conference.

Evans and Cousins are a powerful young core. Very powerful. Build a contender around powerful. But you need them to grow and mature, and you need to start finding the right pieces to go around them. Can Landry, Casspi, Garcia and the rest do that? If not they need to go. The Kings are going to have a lot of cap space after this year (whatever that will mean under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement) and a chance to build more around this team.

Last season was about finding out Tyreke Evans was THE MAN. This season is about seeing if Cousins can fit with that and who is coming along for the ride.

Prediction: 36-46, but this time the draft spot will not be so good as to have Cousins fall to them. Well, unless David Kahn has a lot of picks in front of them, then anything is possible.

Really? Online petition started to change name of Durant, Oklahoma, to Westbrook.

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stands on the court in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Durant, Oklahoma, is a city of just more than 15,000 people in the southern part of the state. It is the capital of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and it was named after its Choctaw founder, Dixon Durant.

But some people in Oklahoma are not high on the name Durant, lately. Kevin Durant decided to bolt the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors this summer, and some Thunder fans feel betrayed. Understandably. Durant was well within his rights, but if you’re a Thunder fan and you’re not hurt by this it would be strange.

Still, you have to hope what follows is satire. It reads like it.

Oklahoma’s Ryan Nazari created a Change.org petition asking the city of Durant be renamed the city of Westbrook. As in Russell Westbrook. The guy who signed a contract extension to stay in Oklahoma (for just one extra year, but still). Read the petition below and tell me it doesn’t sound like satire.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the great state of Oklahoma has been betrayed. As many of you know, Kevin Durant has left our state, torn out our hearts, and left our beloved Oklahoma City Thunder in depleted shape. All of this after even being offered a cabinet position for the State of Oklahoma. It is because of this heinous action that I believe the State of Oklahoma has a responsibility to change the name of the City of Durant to Westbrook, the man who is loyal, whom we believe in, and who will lead our team to glory. Yes, it is understood that the city Durant was not named after the evil Kevin Durant, but it is just another hideous reminder of what happened to our community.”

As of this writing, he had reached his goal of having more than 1,000 people sign on.

Maybe it’s satire, but it’s more creative than burning a jersey.

Obviously, the name of the city is not changing. If people want to live in Westbrook, they should move to Maine.

Way too early look: Who could make up USA’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic basketball team?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Kyle Lowry #7 of United States stand on the podium after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Let’s start with the obvious: This is an exercise in futility. There is no way to predict accurately what the 2020 USA men’s basketball team headed to the Tokyo Olympics will look like. There will be injuries that sideline guys. There will be contract situations where key guys decide it’s in their best interest to sit out. Plus, there could be a guy just now entering his junior year of high school who we don’t know well yet but in four years will be a clear choice for the team.

Now that we’ve gotten through the tedious disclaimer, let’s have fun:

What will the 2020 USA Basketball team look like?

First, it will have a bit of a business attitude — Gregg Popovich is coaching now. Not that Mike Krzyzewski ran a college party Team USA, far from it, but with Popovich’s demeanor and the scare put into the 2016 team (and some improving world powers, such as Canada), expect the USA to be a little more focused next time around.

For the roster, who from the 2016 gold medal team in Rio returns for more gold? At the top of the list: A 31-year-old Kevin Durant will be back for one more run (and to climb on top of the USA Olympic scoring list). He will be the unquestioned team leader. The alpha. It will be his team.

After that? Young stars who want one more go at it such as Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and Klay Thompson will seriously consider a return. Maybe Jimmy Butler. Those guys will have a leg up having Olympic experience and a commitment to the program.

After that, some big names that passed on Rio are going to suit up in Japan. There will be far less defection of top talent this time around — the fears around Brazil will be gone, and NBA players wanting to sell more shoes in Asia will be eager to sign up. I expect you will see Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and maybe James Harden decide they are in for the next round. LeBron James said he felt left out and may consider a return, but he will be 35 years old with 17 NBA seasons on his body by that point, does he want to put his body through an international curtain call? Probably not.

Rounding out the roster, expect a few guys from this year’s USA Select Team — the team the Olympic squad practiced against in Las Vegas at the start of camp — to make the leap up (as Kyrie Irving and others did this year).

Who? That’s the hardest thing to predict, it depends on development. Guys to watch include Victor Olidipo, Justise Winslow, Devin Booker, Brandon Ingram, and Jabari Parker — some of them will be ready to make the leap.

One clue to the 2020 roster: Players that you see in China for the 2019 FIBA World Cup will be more likely to make the 2020 team. (Yes, the World Championships are now the year before the Olympics, welcome to more of FIBA’s wisdom, as is the fact the Cup qualifiers fall during the NBA/Euroleague seasons.) Guys from the select team now that head to China in three years and perform well in that setting will likely have the USA across their chest in Japan.

Whatever team we send will have the most talent in those games. The question is will that be enough?

Check out the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays from last season

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With athletes such as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the team, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays of last season were going to have some special moments.

Yes, the block by LeBron and the stepback three by Irving that sealed the first Cleveland title in 52 years are on top of the list.

But there are some other ridiculous Irving handles and even a Timofey Mozgov dunk in there (a $64 million dunk, apparently).

Watch Spurs’ Dejounte Murray throw off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself in pickup game

Washington guard Dejounte Murray, center, dribbles the ball past Mount St. Mary's center Taylor Danaher (50) as Washington forward Marquese Chriss, right, watches duirng the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Just a suggestion for rookie Dejounte Murray: Don’t do this in front of Gregg Popovich. You may not like his reaction.

That said, the Spurs needed to get more athletic this off-season — landing Pau Gasol certainly didn’t help that cause — so enter first-round pick Murray, who pulled this off in a recent pickup game.

Murray is going to be brought along slowly in a backcourt where Tony Parker and Patty Mills will be splitting time at the point. Murray is more of a combo guard and is going to have to shoot a lot better than he did in college (28.8 percent from three) to get some run. But this is a situation where the Spurs can groom him, bring him along slowly, and see if they have another draft steal.

He’s certainly got the athleticism.