Ray McCallum’s play could leave Sacramento with tough choices

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LAS VEGAS — The Sacramento Kings are set at the point guard spot.

They traded for Greivis Vasquez to become the pass-first point guard that gets DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore going. Behind him off the bench they can bring in score-first Isaiah Thomas to spark the second unit. That pair makes for a good one-two punch. Plus, Jimmer Fredette thinks he is a point guard, too.

Ray McCallum is playing well at Summer League and could throw a wrench into the entire plan.

McCallum, the Kings’ second round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, attacked the paint and had 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting Monday night in the Kings loss to Golden State. He had one assist (although part of that was guys didn’t finish his passes), he had six steals and he was clearly the guy in charge of the team. For the second game in a row, McCallum looked good.

“The thing about Ray is he is an extension of the coach on the floor,” Kings coach Mike Malone said after the loss. “Great feel for the game.”

McCallum is baby faced but he is the son of a coach — he played for his father in college at Detroit — who spent three years playing the college game. He shows a real basketball IQ and maturity on the court, he does the little things that are too often missing for rookies at Summer League. For example, when he has the ball and feels pressure out top he doesn’t turn his body to shield the ball and limit his driving options, he stays square and has the skills to know if the defender makes the play for the ball he can pull it back and go by them.

And go by them he did Monday — he attacked the paint ferociously. He was 5-of-5 in the restricted area on the night and got to the line a dozen times (including bouncing back from one hard foul that should have been a flagrant call).

“Tonight early on he got caught dribbling around a lot, kind of pounding the ball too much,” Malone said, he also personally chewed the entire team out at the half for their effort. “Second half he was much more efficient with making plays, getting to the rim and putting pressure on the defense. He’s a terrific athlete and he showed his athleticism by making plays to the rim and finishing them.”

“Honestly I was just trying to be a little more aggressive,” McCallum said of his effort in his second Summer League game. “I watched the film, and a lot of times coming off the ball screen I could have attacked a little bit more and that’s something I tried to do tonight. Get in the paint, not necessarily just looking for my shot but just getting in the paint and trying to look for one of my teammates.

“Tonight the lane opened up for me a lot so I was able to get in there and get to the hole and try to get to the line. That’s something that’s in my game and I was just trying to be aggressive.”

McCallum was impressive. You want to be careful reading too much into Summer League success but after a couple games this much is clear — he can play at the NBA level.

Which leaves the Kings with some potentially challenging choices.

Traditionally NBA teams only carry a couple point guards on the roster and the Kings have two good ones, plus Fredette who is more of a combo guard but likes the ball in his hands. Carrying those three and McCallum on the roster is not going to be easy.

“He’ll come in, there’s nothing set in stone,” Malone said of McCallum’s role. “You know it’s going to be a healthy competition having three point guards and Ray’s kind of shown his ability here so the cream will rise to the top.”

McCallum’s game is more like that of Thomas than Vasquez, meaning it is possible if the Kings like McCallum enough they could see what the trade market is for Thomas.

McCallum need not be worried about getting his NBA shot. When I mentioned the Kings backlog at the point to a front office person for another team his reaction was “if they don’t want this kid we’ll take him, he can play.”

Just a few games into Summer League, it is certainly clear McCallum can play. Which is a good problem for the Kings to have.

Report: LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball have deal to play professionally in Lithuania

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This feels like a publicity stunt. Whatever the under/over is on how long it will last, bet the under.

That said, the two younger brothers of Lonzo Ball — LiAngelo, 18, and LaMelo, 16 — have reached a deal to play for a team in the highest level of the Lithuanian league. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony of ESPN (before the signing became official).

LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball are in serious discussions to sign professional basketball contracts with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, sources told ESPN.

The club plans to decide in the next 24-to-48 hours whether to finalize agreements with the two American teenagers, sources told ESPN.

If signed, the franchise has hopes that the Balls – including their father LaVar — could be a marketing boon for the fledgling franchise, sources told ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports the deal is done.

Lithuania is a hoops-mad Baltic country of an estimated 2.9 million people who has three players currently in the NBA — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis. You might remember the Lithuanian National Team wearing Grateful Dead inspired uniforms and taking the bronze medal in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics.

This is a country that takes its basketball seriously, and the Balls are a traveling circus and reality show. This could be a real culture clash, the kind of thing that ends quickly and spectacularly poorly. Here is some insight into the team from FIBA’s Lithuanian hoops writer.

Don’t expect the Ball children to play much, especially not at first.

The pay at this level is reportedly north of $1,500 a month, but that could be higher if the brothers are seen as a draw. With the report of the tight financial squeeze, this is likely a gambit on the coach’s part to boost revenue (in Europe, coaches are the CEOs of the organization, much more akin to the power top college coaches have than an NBA coach).

This is a league where men play and the game is taken seriously, it has produced not only Lithuanian players but Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes played there. This team apparently does not run the (suprisingly standard in Europe) two-a-day practices on non-game days, but their practices are longer and harder than most American versions. There are a lot of quality players — former American college/D-League guys, as well as good Europeans — who would love a shot like this. Who deserve a chance like this. If the younger Ball children do not perform and do not take this seriously, it will turn on them quickly.

LiAngelo Ball had gone to UCLA to play basketball this season, but after being suspended for shoplifting in China, his father LaVar pulled him out of college, designed a “Gelo 3” signature shoe for his son from the Big Baller Brand, and started looking for a professional contract. I’m not sure LiAngelo belongs at this level. As one scout told me last summer, LiAngelo was only at UCLA because Lonzo was a top recruit and LaMelo had a lot of potential. That scout wasn’t sure LiAngelo could stick in Europe.

LaMelo is a generally highly-rated recruit, a guy with crazy shooting range for a high-school Junior, but scouts had a lot of questions about his defense and the rest of his game outside of just shooting. LaMelo put up 70 points in an AAU game, but he cherry-picked the entire time, and the sense is there is a lot of that in his game. His father LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School this season after a new basketball coach said he was going to push his guys to play within a system on both ends. How well LaMelo adapts to a very different culture on and off the court at his age is a big question.

Maybe this works out. Maybe the Ball children are more mature in personality and game than I think, maybe this is the financial boost that Prienu Vytautas needs and it works for them. It’s possible. I just don’t expect it.

Matt Barnes announces retirement from NBA after 15 seasons

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When too many fans think of Matt Barnes, they think of the guy who tried to fight Derek Fisher, the nightclub incident in New York, the guy who was a pest on the court and racked up more than his share of technicals and fines in a 15-year NBA career.

Ask Barnes former teammates about him, and they loved him — off the court and on. He was the quintessential guy you wanted on your team and hated to play against.

Barnes announced Monday on Instagram that his 15-year NBA run was over.

Barnes won an NBA title with the Warriors last season, and he played well for the team after signing in Golden State — Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury and Barnes stepped up his role and play. He earned that ring. However, this season there seemed to be no fit for him in the league.

Barnes was drafted in the second round out of UCLA by the Memphis Grizzlies and went on to play for nine teams during his career. He was the guy teams turned to for a spark off the bench — both because he could shoot the rock and because he played a fiery, emotional game. Barnes finished his career averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

I’m going to miss him. While he had a rough exterior and was plenty chippy on the court, off the court he was one of the more thoughtful basketball interviews out there — ask him about the game and he gave smart, calm, intelligent answers, not just clichés. He was active with charities and gave of his time and money, it wasn’t just a tax write off. I wish him the best and know he’ll enjoy life after basketball.

Shaq on free throws: ‘I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand’

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Rick Barry famously made 90% of his free throws while shooting underhand.

Shaquille O’Neal infamously shot just 53% on his free throws, inspiring hack-a-Shaq.

Why didn’t Shaq use Barry’s technique?

Shaq, via Emmanuel Ocbazghi, Noah Friedman and Graham Flanagan of Business Insider:

Shaquille O’Neal: Because it’s boring.

Business Insider: But it’s been proven to be somewhat effective.

O’Neal: No, it’s not. It’s not proven. Just ’cause a couple guys did it doesn’t mean anybody can do it.

I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand. I’m too cool for that.

O’Neal is somewhat trying to protect his larger-than-life, jokester image. But he’s also speaking to truth.

Barry would have been a good free-throw shooter overhand, too. Shooting underhand wasn’t necessarily going to fix Shaq’s problems at the line. Just because it worked for Barry doesn’t make it a “proven” technique.

Yet, every poor free-throw shooter – from Shaq to Andre Drummond to Andre Roberson – has been pestered about shooting underhand. It might be the right form for some players, but it’s no silver bullet.

Report: George Hill unhappy after Scott Perry promised him, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter that Kings would compete for playoffs

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After a recent Kings loss, George Hill tweeted:

Reading too much into vague tweets is often folly, but Hill hasn’t looked happy in Sacramento. Despite signing him, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter last summer, the Kings are 8-18.

Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune:

These are vets brought in to help a young team, and according to sources, were brought in with the promise of a team aiming to be playoff competitive.

But that promise was made to them by Scott Perry, who since left Sacramento and now makes personnel decisions for the New York Knicks. So the direction of the franchise has shifted since Perry left. An organization that brought in veterans aiming to win now is aiming to lose.

Not surprisingly, Hill isn’t happy, according to multiple sources

The Kings aren’t bad because they shifted direction after Perry left for the Knicks. They’re bad because they lack talent.

This team was mostly assembled by the time Perry departed, and it looked lousy. To whatever degree Sacramento is emphasizing youth post-Perry – Garrett Temple, Randolph and Hill rank in the top four in minutes – the won-loss record wasn’t changing much.

If Hill, Randolph and Carter didn’t know that, they have nobody to blame but themselves. Smart veterans like them should have understood the bargain they accepted.

Hill ($40 million guaranteed over two years), Randolph (two years, $24 million) and Vince Carter (one year, $8 million) took the money. In exchange, they’re stuck on a bad team. And that’s fine. Many of us prioritize salary in career decisions.

But now they’re dealing with the downside of that arrangement – grinding through a long, losing season. It’s disingenuous to sulk and blame Perry (though, if Perry pledged a team realistically competing for the playoffs, he overpromised).

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Sacramento isn’t making rapid improvement overnight. So, something might have to give with Hill’s mood.