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.

PBT Extra: What coaches are on hot seat? Alvin Gentry at front of list.

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This season, for the first time in 46 years, no NBA coach will be fired during the season (nobody is getting canned at this point).

However, once the off-season starts, there will be a few changes.

Alvin Gentry in New Orleans and Fred Hoiberg in Chicago are the names most mentioned, but there will be an unexpected firing somewhere around the league. Some GMs are on the hot seat also (Rob Hennigan in Orlando leads that parade).

I get into all of it in this latest PBT Extra.

Raptors’ Serge Ibaka, Bulls’ Robin Lopez each suspended one game for thrown punches

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It was obvious this was coming. Get in a shoving match “fight” in the NBA and you get a fine. However, actually throw punches and…

Toronto’s Serge Ibaka and Chicago’s Robin Lopez each have been suspended for one game by the NBA “for throwing punches at one another during an altercation,” the league announced. What that works out to is a $120,715 hit for Lopez and a $111,364 ding for Ibaka.

Also, Raptors assistant coach Jamaal Magloire earned a $15,000 fine shoving the Bulls Nikola Mirotic and “acting as other than a peacemaker as part of the same altercation.”

This all came out of what seemed a rather innocuous play. Ibaka and Lopez were battling for rebounding positioning, it went on for a second after the ball went through the hoop, Ibaka caught Lopez with a little chicken wing elbow in the back, Lopez spun, and, boy, that escalated quickly. Lopez’s punch missed, while Ibaka’s caught Lopez in the hair more than the body.

Both men got technicals and were ejected.

Report: Sixers Joel Embiid “very likely” to undergo off-season surgery on knee

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When the Philadelphia 76ers formally announced they were shutting down Joel Embiid for the season, the team’s chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said:

“The assessment of Monday’s follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid’s left knee appears to reveal that the area affected by the bone bruise has improved significantly, while the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan.”

That meniscus may require off-season surgery, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

As described, this would be a minor surgery that likely has a 4-6 week recovery period. That said, you know the Sixers will bring him along slowly after this. Also, that’s just time Embiid is not on a practice court or in a pick-up game with Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and the rest of the team’s young core. That’s the time the foundations of chemistry on a team are built.

Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction all season. He was incredibly efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2 — and when he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions. He’s still likely a top three finisher in Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing in just 31 games.

Hopefully getting his knee cleaned up now means Embiid will be able to play in more games next season.

Report: Kevin Durant’s recovery going well, could return before end of season

Associated Press
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Back on Feb. 28, the Warriors’ leading scorer Kevin Durant suffered a grade 2 MCL sprain and a tibial bone bruise, an injury that happened when Zaza Pachulia fell into his knee. They planned to evaluate him at the end of the month, but this injury is often a 6-8 week issue, which would have him back around the start of the playoffs or in the first round.

The Warriors are optimistic it will be earlier than that, probably by the end of the season, reports Marc Stein and Chris Haynes of ESPN.

The Golden State Warriors aren’t scheduled to formally update the status of Kevin Durant’s left knee until next week, but there is cautious optimism within the organization that Durant — should he maintain his current recovery arc — will indeed be able to return to the court before the end of the regular season, according to league sources.

While noting that Durant is roughly at the halfway stage of his recovery journey, sources told ESPN.com that the Warriors are encouraged by the progress Durant has made in the 22 days since he suffered a sprained MCL and tibial bone bruise in his left knee on Feb. 28.

Durant was getting in some on-court work before the Warriors took on the Mavericks Tuesday.

The Warriors lost Durant at the start of their toughest schedule stretch of the season, and they stumbled some through that. However, after getting home (and playing some lesser teams in that stretch) the Warriors have gotten right, Stephen Curry is shooting well again, Matt Barnes and Patrick McCaw are playing well enough, and the Warriors have won five in a row. They are in the driver’s seat to be the No. 1 seed in the West (the biggest challenge to that is a road back-to-back in Houston and San Antonio next week, get a split there and the Warriors become tough to catch).

Between the end of the season and an easy first round — neither Denver nor Portland play enough good defense to slow the Warriors — the Warriors will have time to blend Durant back into the fold. If the Warriors can find their stride again with him, they are the favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.