Isaiah DeMarcus

Kings players want Isaiah Thomas to start; don’t know what they’re running on offense

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If you’ve caught yourself watching a Sacramento Kings game lately and thought to yourself, ‘this can’t get any worse’ only to see it get much, much worse – you’re not the only one.

As it turns out, the Kings players themselves are having a real hard time understanding the train wreck they’re a part of on the court every night.

“They know that they’re playing terrible basketball right now,” said one source close to the players. “But they’ve thrown their hands up trying to figure out Keith Smart.”

Smart is in his fourth year as a head coach in the NBA. He had an interim stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002-03, and then took a job as an assistant for Don Nelson in Golden State until he was elevated to head coach after Nellie’s retirement prior to the 2010-11 season. He took a roster primed for improvement to a 36-46 record, but the Warriors’ new ownership opted not to keep him.

The reason team insiders overwhelmingly pointed to for his departure was his handling of franchise player Stephen Curry, who Smart benched nightly for out-of-the-NBA guard Acie Law.

Smart could never clearly articulate to the press what Curry wasn’t doing to please him, and while Curry could have played more defense or taken better shots he was twice the player that Law was. Curry’s benching cost the team games and it cost Smart respect in the locker room and within the organization.

The same thing is happening in Sacramento all over again, but this time Smart has the backing of general manager Geoff Petrie – who appears to be more interested in promoting his free agent acquisitions and draft picks than he is in playing the right guys.

Namely, sources close to key Kings players have told ProBasketballTalk that they are frustrated with the fact that point guard Isaiah Thomas isn’t starting and acting as the team’s floor general. Thomas finished seventh in last season’s Rookie of the Year voting, but arguably could have finished as high as second place when one compares his numbers to that of Ricky Rubio, who held that spot.

Thomas boasted shooting lines of 47.7/40.6/84.1 while averaging 14.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 2.0 turnovers in 31.6 minutes per game in 37 starts, which compare favorably to Rubio’s shooting lines of 35.7/34.0/80.3 with averages of 10.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 3.2 turnovers in 34.2 minutes per game in 41 starts.

Independent of that comparison, Thomas played well against the league’s best guards, holding Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, and Rajon Rondo to 26-of-76 (34.2%) combined shooting for a stretch while being considered by scouts to be an above average defender at his position. Despite standing 5’ 9” tall without shoes, his strength and leaping ability made him a surprising plus-defender in the post.

Being the team’s best player at times down the stretch of last season, Thomas was able to win the starting point guard position, but the Stephen Curry treatment continued. On a team that has lacked ball movement in recent years, one would think that a playmaking point guard with charisma on and off the court would be a high priority. But the window to develop Thomas last season was lost, and separate from the Kings’ off the court struggles, the window to create a cohesive team approach is rapidly closing this season and Kings players are frustrated with it.

Perhaps the team didn’t have faith that Jimmer Fredette could turn into a competent NBA player, or maybe it was Petrie’s well-documented quest to obtain Aaron Brooks, but the Kings took a big step toward destroying their continuity at the position when they signed Brooks over the summer. He was a cheap acquisition after playing and talking his way out of Houston and Phoenix, and with Fredette looking like he couldn’t dribble the ball up the court most Kings analysts were okay with adding depth at the position.

Unfortunately, nobody in Sacramento fully understood Smart’s history with point guards, nor did they fully appreciate the impact Thomas could have to rally the team and rally the city toward a product they could be proud of. Immediately Thomas’ role was questioned by team-friendly media sources, despite the fact that Brooks had lost backup duties to Zabian Dowdell in Phoenix before spending a season in China.

Meanwhile, Thomas spent an offseason organizing team workouts, building camaraderie, and eventually he and his teammates would be tasked with learning a tough new Triangle offense.

The Kings started off slow and the resulting confusion and losses gave Smart and Petrie the window they needed to get Brooks in a starting role, which was aided in part by Thomas pressing just like Curry did in Golden State, albeit in a much more dysfunctional situation.

That offense has since been scrapped according to player sources, and right now “they don’t know what they’re running.” The Kings turned to the old failed strategy of Tyreke Evans left and Tyreke right, with random excursions to the hoop by DeMarcus Cousins, high-post offense initiated by Chuck Hayes, and the occasional Jason Thompson post-up.

When on the court, Thomas has been sent to the corner to watch the carnage unfold, because like last season the team refuses to run a pick-and-roll based offense featuring him as the primary or even secondary decision-maker with the ball.

With Kings players in an utter state of confusion nightly, they have reverted to one-on-one ball and rank dead last in assists per game (18.2) and that number has dipped in the last three games to 15.3. This is a far cry from the days of when Thomas was piling up between 5-10 assists per game in 17-of-23 outings to finish last season despite being a second, third or fourth option handling the ball.

Since moving Brooks into the starting lineup, Smart and Petrie have also put a premium on playing their bad contracts, giving heavy minutes to Francisco Garcia, John Salmons, and Travis Outlaw while Thomas and an improving Fredette ride the pine. It’s crazy, because the only time the team looks coherent on the court is when the Mighty Mite lineup of Thomas and Fredette is on the court – even if Fredette can’t cover a rocking chair and shoots nearly every time he gets the rock.

The players already know, and Cousins even took to wearing an IT jersey for the press the other day, but even casual observers can see that the Kings need to get their high basketball IQ guys on the court. While Brooks’ scoring ability has never been in dispute, he knows only one way to impact a game, and too many times that’s with poorly conceived jump shots and flailing drives to the hoop. More importantly he can’t make it through screens and is responsible for more points on defense than he scores. Evans is the same type of player and is a physical freak, but his inconsistent jumper and bad shot selection in a standstill offense negate any gains he could possibly provide. Marcus Thornton has been dealing with very real off the court issues due to his mother’s health, but his deployment within the non-existent offensive structure has bordered on laughable for one of the league’s best big-time shot-makers. Cousins still takes bad shots, but it’s hard to fault any of these guys when there is no plan, their best playmaker has been sidelined, and the team is making playing time decisions from the Smart and Petrie handbook.

Then again, the Maloofs might just be making Major League 4: The Search for More Money, which makes any conversation about basketball a moot point.

PBT Podcast: What does Magic’s return mean for Lakers, with Mark Medina of the LA Daily News

In this Aug. 23, 2016, file photo, former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony for a stadium which will be home to the Los Angeles Football Club in Los Angeles. Johnson is returning to the Los Angeles Lakers organization as an adviser to owner Jeanie Buss. The Lakers announced the reunion Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, with Johnson, one of the most beloved players in franchise history. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
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Magic Johnson has a statue outside Staples Center.

He’s now also in control of the product inside it — Magic is head of the Lakers’ basketball operations after Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were let go on Tuesday. The shakeup was expected, although the timing caught the league off guard.

It also raises questions about how the Lakers’ front office will now operate with Magic and former agent Rob Pelinka in charge, and what direction do they want to take a team with a quality young core?

Mark Media, the Laker insider and beat reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News joins me to break down all the questions around the Lakers moves, from why now to what next. He has some great insight into where the Lakers are headed.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Rockets making push for Iman Shumpert, teams ask Rockets about Patrick Beverley

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers jokes during warmups prior to the game against the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The moves you see teams make at the NBA trade deadline are the best indicator of what they think their chances are come the playoffs. Do they stand pat and decide to wait a year, or are they aggressive going for win-now moves?

Based on that, the Rockets think they can make a deep run this season. They have already traded for Lou Williams from the Lakers, who should thrive in Mike D’Antoni’s system and add scoring punch to the bench.

But the Rockets may not be not done, they have been talking to the Cavaliers about Iman Shumpert, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

LeBron has been asking for depth at the point guard spot, Beverley would be a great fit for them. He could shoot the three and score, plus he defends very well.

He’d be a great fit for a lot of teams, which is why the Cavaliers are not the only team with their eyes on Beverley, reports Calvin Watkins who covers the Rockets for ESPN.

According to a source, several teams have expressed interest in Rockets guard Patrick Beverley. Chicago, New York and Cleveland are the main suitors. Rockets front office and coaches value what Beverley brings to the team and that’s being noticed by others. Beverley, according to a source, has a desire to remain with the Rockets.

The Rockets have played have played much better defense since Beverley returned from injury, and they should be hesitant to move him. Watkins tweeted this:

How much of that is a bluff trying to drive up the price and how much of that is serious remains to be seen. The Rockets like Beverley and don’t want to move him, but there is a price for everyone in the league and if some team comes in over the top the Rockets have to listen.

I just don’t think Shumpert is far enough over that top.

Reports: Cavaliers to work out Larry Sanders Wednesday

Larry Sanders
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Let this be a reminder: If you are 6’11” with impressive athleticism, you are going to get second (and third, and fourth, and…) chances in the NBA.

Larry Sanders has been out of the NBA for a couple of seasons after a mutual parting of the ways with the Bucks, a buyout of his contract that let him get away from basketball. He had personal demons to deal with and checked himself into a hospital program for anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.

He’s said now he wants to make a comeback, and the Cavaliers are going to at least take a look, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

A solo workout implies this is not going to lead to him being signed soon, it’s just more of a progress check. Sanders reportedly has looked in some previous settings like a guy who has been out of the league for a couple of years.

Sanders averaged 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game, which led to him getting a big extension with the Bucks (and that’s the Sanders teams hope to see in workouts). Sanders wrote later he struggled with the pressure and how to cope with it after signing that deal, which led to things such as a nightclub brawl left him with an injured thumb in need of surgery, being charged with animal cruelty, and being suspended a couple of times by the league for marijuana use.

 

Hopefully, Sanders has found the balance he sought in his life. He’s trying to turn that into a return to the NBA.

Report: Clippers, Thunder may make run at Nuggets’ Wilson Chandler

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 20:  Wilson Chandler #21 of the Denver Nuggets looks on from the bench during the second half of a game against the LA Clippers  at Staples Center on December 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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As teams return from the All-Star break, the Denver Nuggets are holding on to the eighth seed in the West. They have an underperforming Trail Blazers team two games back, and a Pelicans team two-and-a-half back that just added DeMarcus Cousins.

Which leads to the question, how eager will Denver be to move players that can help them hold on to the eight seed? There have been trade rumors around veteran forward Wilson Chandler for a couple of seasons, but will they move him at the deadline?

At least a couple of teams are interested, the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video about trades (video below).

“Watch both of those teams with Denver’s Wilson Chandler. Oklahoma City had been very much in pursuit of Rudy Gay before his season-ending injury. They’d love to get a four-man, a versatile forward, as would the Clippers. Both teams think that kind of player maybe gets them over the hump in a first-round series.”

The Thunder simply need more playmakers and guys who can score around Russell Westbrook. Chandler can do that, he’s averaging 15.6 points a game playing 30 minutes a night in Denver, he has to be respected from three, can score inside, and overall he’s a slightly above-average (or above replacement level, if you will) NBA forward who can play the three or the four.

For the Clippers, he could slide right into the three, which has long been a weak spot in their rotations.

Of course, the real question is what does Denver want in return? And this is where it gets tricky because the Nuggets want to win and Chandler is part of that, so the price has gone up for him in Denver’s estimation. Neither the Clippers or Thunder have obvious players that they would be willing to move that the Thunder likely want, and would either team give up a future first rounder for Chandler?

This trade may well not happen, but it’s something to watch.