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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.

NBA to teams: No Hack-a-Shaq on inbounds passer

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NEW YORK (AP) — NBA teams need to keep Hack-a-Shaq on the court, not the sideline.

The league sent a memo to teams and referees Tuesday clarifying that intentionally fouling a player inbounding the ball will be a delay of game violation – and possibly a technical foul.

The memo, sent from league executives Kiki Vandeweghe and Mike Bantom and obtained by The Associated Press, comes in response to questions after San Antonio’s Danny Green fouled Houston’s Clint Capela as Capela was attempting to inbound the ball in a Jan. 28 game.

Citing a specific rule in the rulebook, the memo says that if a defender crosses the sideline before the ball has been thrown, a delay of game will be assessed. If it comes in the last 2 minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, a technical foul will be called.

A technical will also be called if referees determine there was “unsportsmanlike contact” on the inbounder, and officials could also rule it a flagrant foul.

Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol breaks foot, out indefinitely

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Just when the Grizzlies are making a move – they’re fifth the West despite dropping two straight games in overtime after winning 9-of-10 – they lose their best player, Marc Gasol.

Grizzlies release:

The Memphis Grizzlies released today the following statement on behalf of Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace regarding Marc Gasol:

“This morning at Campbell Clinic, Marc underwent a thorough evaluation by team physicians. During the course of this evaluation, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed a fracture in his right foot.

“Marc is a cornerstone of our franchise, and we are focused on getting him healthy. Marc will be out indefinitely and a further update will be provided after the All-Star Break.”

Gasol (7-1, 255) is averaging 16.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.35 blocks in 34.4 minutes in 52 games (all starts) this season.

Not only is Gasol the Grizzlies’ best player, he also plays their thinnest position.

Backup center Brandan Wright is injured, and Memphis has played parts of the season without a third center. The Grizzlies have been so desperate, they’ve signed Ryan Hollins multiple times – and that was with Gasol healthy.

Now, Memphis is in dire straights.

Here’s how the Grizzlies’ ratings change when Gasol is on the court to off:

  • Offensive: 102.8 to 99.5
  • Defensive: 102.9 to 103.3
  • Net: -0.1 to -3.8

And that undersells his impact. Gasol is the only Memphis player to start every game this season, so he has played with a variety of teammates – not just the team’s other top players. The Grizzlies’ dozen most-used lineups all include Gasol.

In other words, Gasol’s positive boost has also come with floormates who are typically backups. He’s not just along for the ride as his best teammates do the heavy lifting.

This injury obviously hurt Gasol, but it will also put several Memphis players in uncomfortable positions. The team’s next eight most-used players have all played a majority of their minutes with Gasol:

Gasol is an active and communicative defender and a good passer and screener. He’s easy to play with.

That’s a luxury his teammates will lose for a while.

Randolph will likely play more center and could even return to the starting lineup. He’s a nice individual defender, but needing him move quickly through rotations as the last line of defense is asking a lot. At least his low-post offense could work a little better with increased spacing if Memphis starts three wings between Conley and Randolph.

Another silver lining: This injury occurred before the trade deadline.

The Grizzlies could consider selling, but they owe the Nuggets a protected first-round pick. It’s protected top-five and 15-30 this year, top-five in 2017 and 2018 and unprotected in 2019. Memphis surely doesn’t want to convey the pick this year, which would guarantee a lottery selection. The ideal outcome is making the playoffs, guaranteeing the Grizzlies keep the pick this year, then remaining good next season and conveying a pick in the 20s.

It’s also unlikely they’d fall from they playoffs, though hardly impossible. They have a 4.5-game cushion over the ninth-place Trail Blazers

Plus, with Mike Conley entering unrestricted free agency this summer, Memphis surely doesn’t want to end the season with a poor taste in his mouth. It’ll be that much harder to secure a decent playoff seed and avoid the Warriors or Spurs – or even Thunder – in the first round. Heck, there’s no guarantee the Grizzlies have Gasol for the postseason.

Making a small trade for a serviceable probably makes most sense. Memphis will still rely on Gasol, once he gets healthy, for quite a while. He’s in the first season of a five-year max contract.

But the Grizzlies sure could use a little help as they enter this very difficult stretch.

Report: Khloe Kardashian dumped James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 07:  Khloe Kardashian Odom attends the MDA Show of Strength held at CBS Television City on August 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The show airs on Sunday, September 2, 2012 at 8PM ET/PT, 7PM CT/MT  (Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images)
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Just a few months ago, Khloe Kardashian was praising her boyfriend, James Harden, for his support while her not-yet-ex husband Lamar Odom was hospitalized following a drug overdose.

Now?

US Weekly:

Khloé Kardashian is back on the market. The Strong Looks Better Naked author, 31, has split from boyfriend James Harden, a source confirms exclusively to Us Weekly.

“She dumped him weeks ago,” the source tells US

It’s definitely not common to post on a player and his girlfriend breaking up, but Harden had to know dating a Kardashian would make his personal life public. For better or worse, that’s part of the deal.

I’d be shocked if Harden didn’t knowingly accept – and probably embrace – that aspect of dating Khloe. So, here’s some publicity.

Congratulations, James.

Blake Griffin suspended four games, docked five games pay

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Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers said the NBA would lead any punishment for Blake Griffin, who broke his hand punching a team equipment manager at a dinner. The league investigated, and…

A suspension was announced by the Clippers.

Clippers release:

The following is a joint statement from L.A. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Doc Rivers:

The L.A. Clippers announced today that forward Blake Griffin has been suspended without pay for four games for striking a team employee on Jan. 23 and his wages will be withheld for one additional game for injuries he sustained. The NBA has assisted us in this process.

The Clippers will donate the salary from the five games to charities focused on disadvantaged youth in Los Angeles. At his request, Blake will support this activity with his time.

We have made it clear that this conduct has no place in the Clippers organization. Blake is remorseful and has apologized for his actions. He is a valued member of our Clippers family and we support him as he rejoins the team. He understands his actions have consequences, and is eager to get back to work with his teammates, the organization and Clipper Nation which starts immediately with rehab, appearances and attendance at games.

For our team and organization, it is time to move forward which begins today and ultimately concludes when we have Blake back on the court.

If you want to parse the statement, it doesn’t say the Clippers suspended Griffin. It’s in passive voice — “has been suspended without pay” — and leaves open the possibility the NBA suspended him. We just know the Clippers announced it, which would be strange for an NBA suspension. So, I believe the Clippers suspended him. I’m just not absolutely certain.

NBA suspensions typically begin only once a player is healthy enough to play. It’s unclear how that applies to this situation, but I’d guess – no matter who levied the suspension – the same rule will apply. Again, that’s not a given – especially given the hard-to-follow use of “which starts immediately with rehab, appearances and attendance at games.”

The Clippers announced on Jan. 26 Griffin would miss 4-6 weeks, a timeline unaffected by a second surgery on his swollen, scarred hand. But Rivers called a 4-6 recovery period “unrealistic.” So, if he can’t serve his suspension until healthy, good luck figuring out when that is. Probably just have to trust the Clippers.

For each game a player is suspended by the NBA, he loses 1/110th of his salary. If that applies to this suspension, it’d cost Griffin $859,442.

Teams also have their team salary as it applies to the luxury tax – which the Clippers are in line to pay – reduced by that amount. Again, more conclusion. It’s unclear whether the Clippers will get their tax bill trimmed. If they suspended him and don’t receive the savings, that’s a significant difference – $2,148,605 in tax payments (or $1,718,884 if you count only the four games actually suspended).

Four games and a fifth game of pay is probably a break for Griffin. This could’ve been much worse for him, including legal action. But Matt Barnes received just a two-game suspension for a similar situation – one NBA employee attacking another while away from official team business. What’s the difference here?

The Clippers want to move on, but this result provides more confusion than clarity.