Harry Giles

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Three questions the Sacramento Kings must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 32-50, missed the playoffs for the 10th straight season.

I know what you did last summer: Their “summer” really started last February at the trade deadline when they moved DeMarcus Cousins for Buddy Hield. The Kings had an active summer, and that included moving on from a lot of guys on the roster: Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, Tyreke Evans, Arron Afflalo, and Ben McLemore among others were gone. To replace them they drafted De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, rolled the dice on Harry Giles, the Kings finally got Bogdan Bogdanovic to come over, then in free agency landed some solid veteran free agents in George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter.

THREE QUESTIONS THE KINGS MUST ANSWER

1) How do the Kings balance the minutes between their best young players and their veterans? George Hill is clear and away the best point guard option on the Kings, but they just drafted the speedy and talented De’Aaron Fox. Zach Randolph, while his skills are fading, is a solid four coach Dave Joerger can trust, but Skal Labissiere could become the most skilled power forward on this roster. Kosta Koufos is a solid veteran big who will not beat you with mistakes, but the Kings are trying to season the talented Willie Cauley-Stein at center.

It’s the biggest question coach Joerger has heading into the season, how to balance out the minutes and opportunities for the veterans on this team vs. the best young prospects on the Kings’ roster. It’s easy to say “George Hill is there to develop guys like Fox and Buddy Hield” but that doesn’t mean Hill is just another coach riding the pine most of the time. The Kings aren’t going to win a lot of games, but veterans like Vince Carter can show young players how to compete (Carter, who has been in the league since roughly the Taft administration, may well be the best three on this roster still). The hope has to be that as the season goes along, as the young players get minutes and good developmental coaching, their role grows as the veterans take a step back, but will it work out that way?

Tied to this: How long are these veterans going to be Kings? Part of the reason for bringing in a guy like Hill is that at some point a team hurting at the point guard spot due to injuries or whatever reason come calling. These teams will want Hill, and in return the Kings can get a quality young prospect or a good pick. The question is how long before the calls come, and how much demand will there be (especially for the aging Randolph and Carter)? It may happen this season, at or before the trade deadline, or it could be next summer, but expect the Kings to make a move.

2) Which young players on this roster develop into quality NBA players? The Kings have eight guys on rookie contracts plus a couple other young players — they have 10 players 25 and younger. The Kings are in the player development business now, and the question is which ones will find their way to become NBA players of some level — stars, starters, rotation players, whatever?

There are interesting questions up and down the young roster. Harry Giles will be out until at least January (if not the season), but can he get healthy and if so how much can he contribute? Skal Labissiere showed promise at the end of last season, can he build on that (he didn’t at Summer League)? Can Justin Jackson get stronger, develop his shot and become a rotation player at the three? Just how good is Willie Cauley-Stein? Same question for Malachi Richardson? A lot of these questions could get answered on the Reno Bighorns, which is where some of these players will go to get run.

For me, the most interesting battle to watch is at the two. The Kings got Buddy Hield back as the main piece from New Orleans in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, and in 25 games with the Kings he averaged 15.1 points per game and shot 42.8 percent from three. However, the Kings are also very high Bogdan Bogdanovic, who Vlade Divac called the “the best player in Europe” and he is going battle for that starting spot. Which one of these two develops into a starter and takes the job, and who does not. We’ll see how Hield develops, but watching him as a rookie — and his both lack of understanding and interest on defense — and I saw a sixth man. A gunner in the Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford mold — which is not a bad thing, those guys have had good careers and helped a lot of teams. Is Hield on that path, or can he develop into something more?

3) Can management and ownership be patient? The Kings have a good plan in place. They have young players with potential — De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, and more — and some veterans were brought in to mentor them and set a tone. Whatever you think of the young talent (I like the potential) or how many veterans they brought in (more than I would have) it’s a solid rebuilding plan. One that’s not going to yield a lot of wins short term (they retain their first round pick next draft) but is a respectable and reasonable path.

The problem is the Kings have never stuck to a plan long enough to let it play out. Look at it this way, since they drafted Cousins in 2010 the Kings coaches have been Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Mike Malone, Ty Corbin, George Karl, and Dave Joerger. That’s not counting the three different GMs and a change of ownership. With each successive move the plan shifted, and with that, the roster and the style were never settled.

This falls to owner Vivek Ranadive — he has to be patient. It’s not in his nature, but he needs to be. I don’t know that I would have chosen Vlade Divac to run my team, but now that Ranadive has let the basketball people make the basketball decisions. Divac and the staff there have planted a garden, let it start to grow and blossom, and know that it’s going to take years to bear fruit. The biggest mistake the Kings could make right now would be to at the All-Star break (or next summer) change plans, bring in a new GM and coach, and completely change directions.

Kings will keep rookie Harry Giles off court until January to strengthen knee

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When last year’s draft class was done with its freshman high school season, Harry Giles was on top of early recruiting/draft lists. He had everything a team could want in a potential No. 1 pick – size, athleticism, skill, motor. Then the injuries came — ACL, MCL and a meniscus tear in his left knee that have required a couple of surgeries, plus another surgery on his right knee last year.

The Sacramento Kings drafted him at No. 20 out of Duke (via a trade with Portland), and it’s a good gamble in that spot — if he can get anywhere near his previous form this is a steal.

Sacramento is taking the cautious route with Giles, announcing Friday they are going to keep him shut down until at least January, “while he and the Kings training staff focus on a measured and sustained progression plan designed to improve physical strength in his surgically repaired knees,” according to the release. He will remain with and continue to practice with the team, but will not play.

This is not due to a new injury or setback in rehab, a source familiar with the situation told NBC Sports. Rather, this is the Kings taking a page out of the book of other teams rehabbing injured rookies (think Sixers) — better to be cautious than push him back too quickly and set the stage for another injury. Remember, the Kings new assistant GM Brandon Williams came from the Sixers, where this was the norm. Recovering from ACLs and major knee injuries can take years, and the Kings see Giles as a 19-year-old that they are betting on down the line, not for this season. Better for them to focus on getting it right.

Giles wasn’t going to get a lot of run anyway. The Kings will start Skal Labissiere at the four, and after the way he finished last season they want to give him every chance, then will bring Zach Randolph in off the bench. While in theory Giles could play some at center the Kings have Willie Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos, and Georgios Papagiannis in that rotation already.

Better to be patient. Maybe Giles never makes it all the way back, but the Kings should be patient and give him the best shot at a full recovery and opportunity.

Kings extend Vlade Divac contract, pick up option on coach Joerger

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It’s good to have the trust of the owner. Not a lot of coaches and front offices coming off a 32-50 season feel secure.

Sacramento  GM Vlade Divac and head coach Dave Joerger get to.

The Kings announced Wednesday the organization has extended the contract of Divac and picked up the fourth-year option on coach Dave Joerger, keeping both of those men in their positions through 2020.

Divac has been taken his share of criticism as a GM — plenty of it deserved, he was learning on the job and it showed — but this is a smart move. It’s good to see Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadive trying to add a little stability to the franchise rather than making changes again out of frustration. Those constant changes — in roster personnel, in coaches, in style — are part of why it’s been a decade since the Sacramento Kings made the playoffs. Now they are on a rebuilding plan and they need to draft well and stick with it (they had a pretty good summer, although they brought in more vets than I would have preferred). They need to solidify a new culture, something that is not easy and takes time. We can debate if Vlade is the guy to head that effort, but tearing the playbook up and starting over right now would be a setback.

“I am so excited to continue to build this team with incredible partners and want to thank Vivek and the entire Sacramento Kings organization for their support. Together, from ownership to the front office to Dave and his team, we’re unified in our vision for the future of this franchise,” Divac said in a statement.

“It is a great time to be in Sacramento and I’m thrilled by the opportunity to continue working alongside Vlade and the entire Kings organization. Together, we are bonded as a group focused on working hard and developing our team,” Joerger said in the same statement.

It’s up to the Kings and Jaeger to develop a lot of young talent on this roster. There are guys already in a Kings jersey such as Buddy Hield, Skal Labissiere, and Willie Cauley-Stein, plus some interesting rookies — De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Divac and Joerger wanted solid veterans around that group and added guys such as George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter. Jaeger has to balance getting those vets minutes and touches, letting the young guys get their run, teaching that young core, and letting them learn from their mistakes. Keeping the morale up on a team that will lose a fair amount of games — they are not playoff bound in the ridiculously deep West — will not be easy.

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?

Report: Final season of George Hill’s Kings contract just $1 million guaranteed

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I wasn’t a big fan of the Kings giving George Hill – a 31-year-old with a history of nagging injuries – a three-year, $57 million contract.

But the deal won’t necessarily be as costly as it initially sounded.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

The Kings still had to outbid the market for George. Nobody is rushing to Sacramento for less than top dollar.

But this contract is far more manageable than one that would have guaranteed Hill $20 million at age 33. He’s far more tradable, or – if his production declines in the next couple years – waivable.

I still question the wisdom of the Kings, who also signed Zach Randolph and Vince Carter, pushing in this year. They owe their unprotected 2019 first-round pick to the 76ers or Celtics. So, this season was Sacramento’s last chance to tank before their young players developed too much for that to be a viable strategy.

Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Malachi Richardson, Georgios Papagiannis, De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Bogdan Bogdanovic form a nice young core. It’s not one strong enough to bank on, and I think a higher lottery pick this year would go further than Hill’s veteran mentorship.

Maybe Hill plays well enough to be traded for value. Maybe he leads a surprising upstart into the playoffs sooner than expected.

Those are narrow targets to hit, but at least the Kings are trying with Hill’s contract being less of a long-term burden.