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: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.