The Inbounds: Can Keith Smart save the Kings’ soul?

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My favorite B-movie of all time is “Killer Clowns from Outer Space.”

It is as terrible and ridiculous as the title suggests, an outright cavalcade of campy horror bathed in absurdist light. To try and watch it is to recognize that sometimes, there are things which should not be made, and yet you will watch it anyway. It’s entertaining, but only if you let it be, and only if you’re OK with watching a few scenes which just blow your mind that anyone would write, let alone produce, direct and film.

That’s a lot like the Kings this year.

I’m not going to get into the toxic sludge that is the current owners’ shenanigans in their attempts to try and fleece a great NBA town of its team so they can go rake in the big-market dough, except to say that if allowing the Sonics to be ripped from Seattle was the worst thing David Stern has ever done as commissioner, he’s rapidly getting his karma back in his Gandalf-like stance against the Maloofs. (“You shall not pass to Anaheim!”) I just want to focus on the basketball for a minute, because the Kings are beautiful and horrible and a lot of other things all at the same time.

Their best player is a malcontent volcano of immaturity whose teammates are often in open revolt of him. Their second-best player was Mr. Irrelevant in his draft class and is under six feet tall. Their 2010 Rookie of the Year who accomplished something only four other players in history did is trade bait, their star pick in this year’s class had a miserable Summer League, their great white hope it turns out really is just Ron Howard, and they have Aaron Brooks now for some reason.

They added James Johnson in the offseason just to add to the number of totally perplexing players you can never figure out if they’re great or belong in the D-League, Travis Outlaw, Chuck Hayes, and John Salmons will all get significant minutes on this team, and have I mentioned that Marcus Thornton is on this team?

Jimmer-Thornton-Salmons-Johnson-Cousins is an actual lineup that can happen. So is Thomas-Reke-Johnson-Thompson-Hayes.

What is that?

I’m not even saying they’re going to be bad. There are about a million scenarios where this can work out and the Kings can be somewhere between decent and a playoff team. But it’s such a bizarre concoction it’s hard to see what, if anything, is going on on the team.

And that’s Keith Smart’s job.

Smart took over last season for Paul Westphal and managed to do something thought unreachable: connect with the team. They started to formulate an identity. It’s somewhere between a juggling act and advanced chemistry for Smart, who has to get DeMarcus Cousins to remain engaged, keep the trigger fingers of Brooks and Salmons in check, and try and figure out where to put Tyreke Evans. It’s a pretty tough job that doesn’t have a whole lot going for it and that’s before the expectations that come with Jimmer Fredette.

The Kings didn’t have a strong identity on the floor under Smart, but they did have something of a team concept in the locker room. They started to trust one another and to have a sense of identity. It was like basic NBA theory and the Kings had to crawl before they could walk.

The Kings are in large part expected to be one of the worst teams in the league next year. Was Isaiah Thomas a figment of our imagination (as he apparently was to the All-Rookie voters)? Is Cousins the modern incarnation of Barkley or just another knucklehead? Is Tyreke Evans going to be on the roster on opening night and if so, at what position? Can Marcus Thornton be a star? Is Thomas Robinson going to bring balance to the Force, and by Force I mean Cousins?

And what is Aaron Brooks doing there?

There’s no shortage about the Kings next season, but if Smart somehow manages to get a finger on the pulse and guide the blood flow where it needs to go for this team, there’s talent in place to do something unexpected, if not meaningful. And with what the fans have gone through there, that’s more than enough to feel alive for.

Jrue Holiday hits game winner, Anthony Davis has 45, Pelicans beat Heat in OT, 124-123

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis had 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocked shots and five steals, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Miami Heat 124-123 in overtime Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Goran Dragic scored 30 points and Dwyane Wade hit two runners to give the Heat the lead twice in the last 36 seconds of overtime, but Davis responded to the first with a layup as he was fouled, and Jrue Holiday answered the second with a runner in the lane with 7 seconds left.

Wade had one last shot for the win with Holiday defending him closely. It bounced off the rim to Josh Richardson, whose rushed put-back missed the basket as time expired in Miami’s third straight loss.

Davis, who has scored no fewer than 38 points in a game during New Orleans’ winning streak – and 42 or more three times – raised both arms in triumph as he looked up at the jubilant crowd, and then exchanged high fives with fans along the court.

Holiday finished with 29 points and nine assists, connecting with Davis on a couple of alley-oop dunks. Ian Clark scored a season-high 21 points and Nikola Mirotic capped his 10-point, nine-rebound performance with a crucial 3 in overtime.

Hassan Whiteside had 19 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in overtime when he hacked Davis on a put-back attempt. Davis hit both free throws to tie it at 117, and then gave New Orleans a brief lead with his fifth alley-oop dunk of the game on a fast-break lob from Holiday with 1:10 to go. Wade had 16 points, while Richardson and Tyler Johnson each scored 15 points.

Neither team was able to build a double-digit lead during game which riveted a boisterous crowd with its fast pace and array of highlights on both ends of the floor. There were 13 ties and nine lead changes.

New Orleans scored 37 fast-break points. Davis threw down seven dunks. He converted one alley-oop while being fouled and also turned a steal into a fast-break layup as he was fouled. And the All-Star wasn’t the only one blocking shots for New Orleans. Emeka Okafor, now in his second 10-day contract after being out of the league for four-plus seasons, had five blocks.

After trailing much of the second half, the Pelicans appeared to be seizing control with a 10-0 run during which Holiday scored eight points, giving New Orleans a 104-99 lead with 2:51 to go.

But the Heat rallied to tie it at 106 on Wade’s free throws.

Davis hit a jumper with 23 seconds left and Wade missed on the other end, but a rebound contested by several players fell to Dragic in the paint, and he hit an uncontested layup to tie it again.

The Pelicans had 14 seconds to set up a winning shot, but Davis’ drive was cut off along the baseline and his awkward layup attempted missed and the game went to overtime after Miami was unable to get a shot from an inbounds play with .8 seconds left.

 

Jimmy Butler leaves game with apparently serious right knee injury

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The Basketball Gods have not been appeased, and apparently have dealt the NBA another serious injury to a star player.

Jimmy Butler — Minnesota’s leader, an All-Star, and a guy having a fringe of the MVP ballot NBA season — went down grabbing his knee on this play against the Rockets Friday night.

Butler reportedly said “it’s torn” while being helped off the court.

After the game, Tom Thibodeau said it was a right knee injury that would be re-evaluated with an MRI tomorrow.

This is a non-contact injury that has the appearance of an ACL tear (hope that is not the case). Butler had ripped an offensive rebound away from Nene and was making a move to go back up when he went to the ground grabbing his knee.

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game. He was selected an All-Star but chose to sit out that game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, has a reputation for running players into exhaustion with heavy use (ask Joakim Noah) and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other elite programs trying to keep players fresh.

This is troubling for a Timberwolves team looking to end an 11-year playoff drought — Minnesota is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. While tied for the three seed going into Friday night, Minnesota is just four games from falling out of the playoffs in a competitive West.

Jimmy Butler to Lou Williams on All-Star snub: put up $100K for 1-on-1 game

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Jimmy Butler earned his spot on the All-Star team — he’s had an All-NBA, bottom of the MVP ballot level season. He deserved the trip to Los Angeles.

But when he got there, Butler didn’t play in the All-Star Game itself, saying he needed to rest. That frustrated a few All-Star snubs, and Lou Williams called him out on it.

Butler fired back before the Timberwolves took on the Houston Rockets.

“My thing is this, to Lou or anyone else who thinks they’re an All-Star, with all due respect, LeBron and them got $100,000 for winning, so if you got $100k to put up, you guard me I guard you, I’ gonna show you why. All this talk, put $100,000 up and I’ll show you why and where I’m at.” (That may have been paraphrased)

Butler earned his spot, he deserved to be there. He can do as he sees fit.

But if you’re not going to roll out there for even five minutes (LaMarcus Aldridge played four and nobody is saying anything to him), then give the spot up to someone else. You don’t need the $100K that badly.

Kevin Durant no fan of one-and-done, says he would have come straight to NBA

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With the money funneled to future NBA players through agents in the spotlight thanks to a FBI investigation (one that doesn’t even get into the money from boosters and shoe companies), the one-and-done rule the NBA has for players sending them to college for a semester of cakewalk classes one year has come back in the spotlight.

The league and players’ union are discussing changing the rule — with some input from the NCAA. If they want Kevin Durant‘s advice, scrap the whole thing — he would have come straight to the NBA if he could have.

“You want these players to go out there and play on the biggest stage. The Final Four is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, in sports, and they don’t get a dime for it. I don’t think it’s right

“If they want to come out of high school, it should be on them. You know what I mean? You can’t control everything. So if they feel as though they’re ready, that’s on them. They want to make a decision on their life, that’s on them. If they don’t get drafted, it’s on them. You can try to control it, but you’re still not really doing anything.”

Would Durant have come out from high school rather than spend a season at Texas?

“Yeah, probably. I needed the money.”

The NBA is discussing changes, and they want to see the recommendations from Condoleezza Rice’s NCAA commission. But the league’s owners are not all on the same page.

“In terms of the NBA, we’re conflicted, to be honest…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said All-Star weekend. “And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA.

“On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? Are we better off bringing them into the league when they’re 18 using our G League as it was designed to be as a Development League and getting them minutes on the court there? And there is also recognition that for some of these elite players, there is no question that they can perform in the NBA at 18 years old.”

There seems to be some momentum toward a “baseball rule” compromise — players can come to the NBA straight out of high school, but if they go to college they have to stay for at least two years. Unlike the last time high schoolers were rushing into the NBA, most teams are far better prepared to develop young players and be patient with them. There will still be busts — there are even with guys who spent years in college — but teams are in better positions to make it work.

The other thing I would want to see: If a player signs with an agent out of high school, does not get drafted, give him the chance to go to college still. Some young men are going to get terrible advice (from family, AAU coaches, friends, a whole lot of people) and they deserve a chance to choose a better path.