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.

Report: Knicks would like to trade for pick in 2016 draft

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Greenburgh, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Derek Fisher was fired as New York Knicks coach Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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The rebuilding New York Knicks are without one of the key pieces needed to rebuild in today’s NBA — a draft pick. The Knicks have zero in this year’s draft. None. Nada. Zip. You get the idea. This sis not the fault of current team president Phil Jackson, he inherited a situation where this year’s picks were in the wind (the first rounder gone as part of the Andrea Bargnani trade).

Jackson would like to find a way back into this draft, reports Ian Begley at ESPN.

The Knicks plan to acquire a pick in June’s draft. The best-case scenario would probably be a late first-round pick but second-round is more likely. The club has shown interest in several players in recent weeks, including Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell, who has a workout scheduled with the club next month. New York also interviewed Kansas guard Wayne Selden at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago and has expressed interest in him as the draft approaches, according to league sources. Selden, a 6-6 guard, would fit the mold of the big guards Phil Jackson used in his Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Laker teams.

Of course he would like to trade into the draft. He’s also like to lure Kevin Durant to the Knicks. Snagging a draft pick is far, far more likely, but the question remains who does he have on the roster to trade that teams would be willing to give up a pick for? Jose Calderon? Getting into the draft requires assets and — as has been the challenge for Jackson since he agreed to the job — the previous regime stripped this team of assets.

Still, expect Jackson to come up with something. But it’s not going to be a game changer; he’s going to have to win in free agency to get that.

Report: Sixers to explore trades for Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Jahlil Okafor #8 and Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers play in the game against the Utah Jazz on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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The Sixers are on schedule to have 7-foot Joel Embiid suited up for them next season at center. They may have 6’10” Dario Saric in from overseas (if not next season, the one after). They are about to draft 6’10 forward Ben Simmons with the No. 1 overall pick.

Where does that leave the two guys who were the core of the Sixers’ front line last season, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel?

Possibly on the trade block, according to Chad Ford and Marc Stein of ESPN.

The Philadelphia 76ers will explore trading Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel in the buildup to the NBA draft on June 23, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN that the Sixers are determined to gauge the trade market for both Okafor and Noel and are increasingly likely to move at least one of them in conjunction with the draft, in which Philadelphia holds the No. 1 overall selection for the first time since selecting Allen Iverson in 1996.

Ford said more on a 97.3 ESPN Philadephia radio interview, via the 700 Club at CSNPhilly.com.

“I think that they’ll gauge the interest of both players. I think that there might be a slight preference for Noel, to keep him around with the Sixers, and I think you might be right, there might be a slight, better value for Okafor out on the market, but I think everyone agrees that that combination of those two players doesn’t necessarily work. The Sixers needs to pick up assets, especially if they’re gonna go ahead and do a Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram with the first pick in the draft. Then they’re gonna need those assets to start to fill out their backcourt, because the 24th pick and [the 26th pick], you’re not finding starters.”

I doubt they would move either for another pick. Remember that “the process” is dead in Philly — the Sixers want to start winning more now under the Colangelos. How far they are willing to go down that road — and what pieces they may be willing to sacrifice — remains to be seen, but here is what GM Bryant Colangelo told NBC Sports after finding out his team got the No. 1 pick.

“I’ve been quoted as saying you can only have so many developing players in your fold,” Colangelo said. “There’s a lot to consider to finding a balance… I think there needs to be a blend of young talent and veterans on your roster, there needs to be a balance.”

Okafor is what he is — he can score in the paint, he can rebound, he will get you some buckets, but he’s not much of a defender and he’s not an explosive athlete. He has a real place, a real value in the NBA, particularly while still on his rookie contract. The question is will the Sixers get good enough offers to make a swap.

Kevin Love sparked by Channing Frye phone call

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: J.R. Smith #5, Matthew Dellavedova #8, Kevin Love #0, Channing Frye #9, LeBron James #23 and Tristan Thompson #13 of the Cleveland Cavaliers look on from the bench late in the game against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 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.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND (AP) As the shots dropped, the score widened and the head-banging Cleveland crowd screamed louder, threatening to rip off the arena’s roof, Kevin Love raised his arms and gestured for fans to do more.

Usually, it’s the other way around.

Shaking off two miserable games in Toronto, Love, whose two seasons with the Cavaliers have ebbed and flowed like Lake Erie’s tides, scored 25 points in just three quarters of Game 5. Cleveland pummeled the Raptors 116-78 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Love’s performance, which began with him knocking down a turnaround hook in the lane and finished with him going 8 of 10 from the field, restored his confidence, quieted detractors and showed his teammates he can deliver when needed. It also prevented the Cavs from facing a win-or-else situation in Game 6 on Friday night in Toronto, where they are 0-4 this season.

“Just a bounce-back for him,” said LeBron James. “He knew he didn’t play his style of basketball or how he wanted to play to help us win in Toronto. He wanted to make a different outcome of it, and he did that. He’s a true professional.”

This was Love in peak form, an inside-outside threat and completely opposite from the player who made just 5 of 23 shots and was benched in the fourth quarter of Game 4 for Channing Frye. This is the Love the Cavs will need to finish off the Raptors and make a second straight appearance in the NBA Finals.

This is also the Love who along with James and Kyrie Irving completes Cleveland’s Big 3, a trio dependent on each third doing its part.

Love returned from Canada in a shooting slump and personal funk. He felt as if he had let his teammates down in Games 3 and 4. Love’s body language, the subject of constant speculation since he arrived from Minnesota in 2014, appeared that of a bruised, if not beaten, man.

His spirits were dragging. His teammates picked them up.

Love spoke to coach Tyronn Lue and then received a phone call Tuesday night from Frye, the savvy, 11-year veteran who has provided both points and perspective for his younger teammates.

“He basically just told me that no one’s immune to the NBA playoffs,” Love said of his pep talk from Frye. “These types of things happen and you have to keep fighting through it in order for us to win. He said I needed to be aggressive, and I give him a lot of credit for staying on me and staying vocal.”

Love was in attack mode from the outset in Game 5. He demanded the ball, taking advantage of a mismatch against Raptors forward Luis Scola. Love scored Cleveland’s first basket and nine of the first 17 points. And after knocking down a 3-pointer – he made his first six shots – to give Cleveland a 27-16 lead, he summoned Cavs fans to bring the noise.

The game plan was to get Love some early touches near the basket and let his game expand.

“We always run plays to start the game for Kevin, hope he draws fouls or makes an easy shot down low in the paint,” Lue said. “That kind of frees it up for him. When he starts inside-out, he’s able to do more on the floor.”

Lue said the support – OK, the love – that Love felt from his teammates since Game 4 made a difference. They know what he means to their title hopes, and weren’t going to abandon him.

Love, too, didn’t want to lose his teammates’ trust. So he pushed himself.

“He works hard every day, sometimes too hard,” Lue said. “But he’s constantly in the weight room. He’s constantly doing conditioning, constantly working and shooting. That’s why when he misses a couple shots, it doesn’t bother me because he puts the time and puts the work in. Some nights he’s just not going to make shots.”

Love didn’t want to make too much of his Game 5 turnaround. But considering the stakes, it was colossal for the Cavs.

“More than anything, I just wanted to respond,” he said, “just wanted to help us win in any way that I could. I don’t care if I went 0 for 30 and we got a win. Any way that we can win and I can help, I’m going to do it.”

Report: Pat Riley ‘quietly detests’ Dwyane Wade-LeBron James friendship

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 14:  U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with National Basketball Association 2012-2013 champion Miami Heat player LeBron James after welcoming the team -- including President Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade and others -- during an event at the White House January 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. This is the second year in a row the team won the championship and made a trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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LeBron James and Dwyane Wade share a very close friendship.

LeBron and Pat Riley – who signed LeBron and Wade to the Heat in 2010 – have a much more complicated relationship.

Riley seemingly challenged LeBron entering the 2014 offseason, and LeBron left Miami to return to the Cavs. Then, Riley couldn’t stop telling everyone how surprised he was LeBron left. After LeBron departed, Riley noted how the Heat had “no more smiling faces with hidden agendas.”

So, about the intersection of the LeBron-Wade friendship and Riley-LeBron relationship…

Pablo Torre of ESPN:

On-court effort, after all, isn’t really why Heat president Pat Riley quietly detests the Wade-James friendship.

as coach of the Heat, Riley kept the spirit of the ’80s alive by reportedly instituting a $1,500 fine for any player who helped an opponent up off the floor.

Riley wasn’t complaining when LeBron’s friendship with Wade helped lure the star forward to Miami. Riley wasn’t complaining when LeBron led the Heat to two championships, either.

But I at least understand where Riley is coming from. His old-school sensibilities don’t allow for friendships across teams, and there are legitimate reasons to draw a line.

Wade addressed this well with Torre in a feature on the LeBron-Wade friendship that’s well worth reading in full. Wade:

“You’re talking about two guys who went to the Finals together, four years in a row,” Wade says. “My job and his job was to get as close as possible, to know everything about each other and get on the same page as two leaders on the team. And then he goes elsewhere and you ask us to hate each other! It’s ridiculous.”