NBA Season Preview: Sacramento Kings

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Last season: 24-58, second to last in the West.

Head Coach: Paul Westphal

Key Departures: Beno Udrih, Omri Casspi

Key Additions: Jimmer Fredette, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons, J.J. Hickson

Best case scenario: Continued development of Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, and dramatic improvement in the team’s offense.

The Kings will need to see some serious progression from the two players they have chosen to build the team’s foundation upon, Evans and Cousins. The good news is, there’s nowhere to go but up for the pair with unlimited potential, especially on the offensive end of the floor. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann explains:

Whether or not Cousins and Evans have chemistry is a question that probably can’t be answered yet. Each was a more efficient scorer when the other was on the floor, but both did most of their work on their own.

Only 27 percent of Evans’ field goals were assisted, the seventh lowest rate in the league among players who attempted at least 500 shots last season. And among players 6-foot-6 or taller, only two other players were assisted on a lower percentage of their field goals than Cousins. Their names? Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Sharing the basketball must be a bigger priority for the team this year, and getting more balanced scoring will be equally important. Hopefully, help is on the way in the form of rookie Jimmer Fredette, who should be able to provide a punch off the bench at the two-guard spot. Marcus Thornton was solidified as the team’s starter in that role, after the club awarded him a new contract worth $31 million over 4 years. If Thornton can continue to put up the numbers he did with Sacramento in the final 27 games of last season — averages of 21.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.7 steals per game — it will be money well spent.

For that to happen: Health and maturity would appear to be the only things holding back Evans and Cousins (respectively) from continuing to improve. Evans was limited to just 57 games a season ago due to battling a plantar fasciitis injury to his left foot for most of the season, and Cousins, while putting up excellent rookie numbers of 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, had plenty of issues along the way. He argued with his own coaches, was fifth in the league in technical fouls, and even managed to receive a technical foul in a streetball game over the summer.

The raw talent is clearly there with Cousins, and the only thing that will prevent him from turning into something special is his own emotion.

More likely the Kings will: Show some marked signs of improvement on both ends of the floor, but not enough to compete for a playoff spot just yet in the extremely deep Western Conference.

Prediction: 25-41, last place in the Pacific Division.

Thunder’s Enes Kanter: ‘I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship’

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When Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter jumped fully on board the pro-Russell Westbrook, anti-Durant bandwagon.

That ride doesn’t stop with his former teammate facing the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Kanter, via Fox Sports Radio:

I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship.

Kanter never misses an opportunity to take a shot at the Warriors – except when Zaza Pachulia laid out Westbrook and stood over him.

Dwane Casey: Masai Ujiri assured me I’ll return as Raptors coach

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Raptors president Masai Ujiri didn’t mince words at his season-ending press conference: Toronto’s playing style had become unacceptable.

It sounded as if he might have been planting the seed for firing Dwane Casey.

But the coach says Ujiri assured him he’d return next season.

Casey on TSN (hat tip: Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic):

I think people mistook Masai’s comments for that. We had a good meeting before that meeting, and we’ve had meeting since then – with all the coaches – as far as plans for next year and the culture reset, which I think every corporation and every team should do periodically to get the culture back in focus and that type of thing. It’s not like we’re in total chaos or anything like that. It’s just good to have roles defined, things we can do better in each of our roles.

We’re doing some good things and some things we can do much better with. And that’s what we’ll plan on doing this summer and also this fall, when we go to training camp.

The Raptors’ offensive rating has dropped from regular season to the playoffs by 8.5, 7.2 and 11.7 the last three years. Their isolation-heavy style is just easier to stop when defenses see it in consecutive games.

The big question: What does Toronto do about that?

It’d be difficult to move on from the two players most responsible for the style, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is signed long-term, and if the Raptors don’t re-sign Lowry, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, they won’t have the cap space to land a comparable replacement.

The best bet is probably changing schemes from the bench and hoping the players can adjust – and maybe Casey can handle that responsibility. Hiring a new coach obviously would been the clearest path to a shake up, but maybe Casey can evolve. I’d want to see a plan from him before committing to keeping him, but maybe Ujiri got that.

Casey has played a key role in Toronto’s improvement, it’s nice to give him an opportunity to coach differently before hiring a different coach.

Kevin Durant: Don’t blame me for Nets, Magic and other teams stinking

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For the first time in NBA history, the NBA Finals will feature the same matchup for three straight years.

Among those responsible: Kevin Durant, who sunk the title-contending Thunder and gave the Warriors an even stronger grip on the Western Conference.

But don’t blame him for a lack of parity league-wide.

Durant, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“Like I’m the reason why (expletive) Orlando couldn’t make the playoffs for five, six years in a row?” he said. “Am I the reason that Brooklyn gave all their picks to Boston? Like, am I the reason that they’re not that good (laughs). I can’t play for every team, so the truth of the matter is I left one team. It’s one more team that you probably would’ve thought would’ve been a contender. One more team. I couldn’t have made the (entire) East better. I couldn’t have made everybody (else) in the West better.”

Some teams will always be better than others. The Magic, Nets and more were mis-managed before Durant left Oklahoma City.

But I’m not even sure this is the right debate.

Does the NBA even have a parity problem to blame on Durant?

Cleveland and Golden State aren’t traditional powers. Before 2015, the Warriors hadn’t won a title since 1975 and the Cavaliers had never won one. Their ascension is proof of parity – that sound management and a little luck can lift teams from the basement.

Report: Clippers take Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor ‘very seriously’

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Want to laugh off that Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor?

The Clippers aren’t joining you.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Clippers should be concerned. Losing Paul would unravel their entire foundation, dropping them from the fringe of championship contention to out of the title picture completely. It could even help usher out Blake Griffin, who will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer. (To be fair, Paul leaving could also help convince Griffin to stay.)

About a month ago, the Clippers reportedly expected Paul to stay. They even reportedly struck a verbal agreement with him to re-sign before that. But they can’t officially sign him until July, and that leaves the door open for him to leave.

The Clippers should be heartened by their advantages – a prime market and a projected max offer of $205 million over five years.

The most another team projects to be able to offer is $152 million over four years, and San Antonio will have a hard time doing that. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to shed two of those players to clear max cap space.

So, never say never, but the Clippers’ concern might be rooted more in the dire consequences of Paul leaving rather than the likelihood of it.