This Kings offseason looks too much like last Kings offseason

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One year ago right now, the biggest concern for Sacramento Kings fans was that the team’s owners — the Maloof family — were going to pack up and move the Kings as soon as they could. That issue overshadowed the on the court questions about the young core of the team and how they would mesh and play together. There were questions if the coach was the right man for the job. But it all came back to the Maloofs, money and relocation.

The summer of 2012 is going to feel a lot like the summer of 2011 in Sacramento.

Some things have changed — an arena plan came together then was blown up by the Maloofs, DeMarcus Cousins emerged as a cornerstone — but the core question remain the same.

Specifically, are the Kings staying in town?

Right now, in the absence of a new arena plan, the Maloofs are discussing upgrades to the existing Power Balance Arena. Something they themselves said could not work a year ago. Nobody thinks that is the end game for the Maloofs. It’s the latest plan to stall, to win the PR battle. While the Maloofs keep saying they are not filing for relocation, it’s hard to believe anything they say anymore. Not after a they pushed back on a deal they not only shook hands on but stood at center court and celebrated with Kings fans.

Over at Cowbell Kingdom Rob McAllister does great work going into the groundwork being laid by the family and the lawsuits that are likely coming in the fight over relocation. There is a fight coming to move this team, it is clear. A fight that will involve other NBA owners and the courts.

It’s too complex a problem to be simply summed up here, but when you look at the Maloofs actions and not their words it is pretty obvious what is coming. They will try to move the team.

That cloud hangs over everything. From the AP:

“This year, everybody wasn’t really on the same page,” said rookie Isaiah Thomas, one of the team’s few bright spots. “The lockout, new coach, arena talk, all things like that. It was tough.”

The new coach was Keith Smart, who took over for Paul Westphal when the Kings started 2-5 and he had run ins with DeMarcus Cousins. Westphal tried to make a stand, the franchise sided with the player.

Smart stepped in and changed things. First, he had a connection with the players that was lacking before. They played hard for him. They also played fast as he tried to get the Kings out and running — it was a better strategy that worked some nights, but it was  not a great one because the Kings just don’t have a lot of talent.

The brightest spot for the Kings on the court is that Cousins developed into a star, the guy the team can build around inside. He averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds a game, he became the focal point of the halfcourt offense under Smart. Plus, Thomas developed into the point guard of the future, a guy who pushed the team in transition and maybe could make the All-Rookie team (problem is that point guard in Cleveland was pretty good, too).

But there are a lot of questions that remain. Like what to do with Tyreke Evans, the former Rookie of the Year whose game has stagnated, the Kings cannot seem to find a fit for him. Smart tried him at the three in his up-tempo offense, but that didn’t work. Evans shows up in a lot of trade rumors and the Kings will shop him around. They also would listen to offers for John Salmons or frankly anyone on the roster not named Cousins. There is a lot of work to do with this roster.

But how much can be spent to bring in players? It comes back to the owners — they have no goodwill in the community and that is going to hurt ticket sales, sponsorship sales and other revenue sources. The Maloofs will run the team on a shoestring because of that and… well, you can see the cycle.

I’m not sure how that cycle is going to end. There are a lot of questions out there about the Kings and what is next. But in the end it comes down to Maloffs, money and whether the other owners will vote to allow them to move the team.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.