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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.

Three questions the San Antonio Spurs 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: 61-21, advanced to the Western Conference Finals, where Kawhi Leonard rolled an ankle (thank you Zaza Pachulia) and they got swept by the Warriors.

I know what you did last summer: They kept the status quo going. The Spurs re-signed Patty Mills (probably overpaying, but they had to with Tony Parker injured to start the season). Pau Gasol opted out and re-signed, again for maybe more than the market would have given him. The Spurs brought back Manu Ginobili. They signed Rudy Gay, who is coming off an Achilles injury. The losses were solid bench players Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons.

THREE QUESTIONS THE SPURS MUST ANSWER

1) Is Kawhi Leonard healthy, and can he stay that way? We saw in the playoffs last season what happens to this team when Leonard goes down, and it’s not pretty. Leonard is a top five NBA player who is both the focal point of the Spurs offense and the best perimeter defender in the NBA (that’s not just my opinion, the NBA GMs voted him that). The Spurs ask a lot of Leonard and he answered last season with an MVP-level performance.

That’s why it raised a few eyebrows that Leonard is sitting out the preseason to rest his right quadriceps tendinopathy (an inflammation of the tendon just above the kneecap in the thigh), especially after Gregg Popovich said it was something he battled last season. Is Leonard going to miss time at the start of this season because of it? Will it require him getting more rest days during the season?

We know what the Spurs are going to do — defend well, move the ball, not beat themselves. San Antonio is going to have a hard time getting near that 61 win total of a year ago in a loaded West, but without the full Kawhi Leonard treatment they could slide a little further down the board. Nobody is betting on the Spurs to collapse, but did the Rockets and Thunder pass them by?

2) Is playing big the antidote to a league going small? It seems like the entire NBA is going smaller, trying to emulate the Warriors and their death lineup. Cleveland will be starting Kevin Love at the five this season. Houston will play fast and small.

“Golden State is an anomaly, with the group of players they have,” Popovich said last preseason. “And they’re a monster. Definitely the toughest team in the league to guard. But the rest of us poor fools, 29 of us, are kind of a hybrid. Everybody tries to be flexible. Not team is going to be all big or all small. Every game, teams play small for a while, they play big for a while. That’s the way it is. That’s the truth.”

The Spurs zigged when the league zagged — they are a big team that starts Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge up front and have real size in their defenders such as Leonard or Danny Green. This is not an accident. The Spurs have some versatility, but they want a lineup that can give small lineups trouble and push them around a little. It worked last regular season, and we didn’t get a real chance to see how it would have worked against the Warriors in the playoffs. But as those big men age and get a little slower, will going big still work as well.

3) Can the Spurs bench again be the NBA’s best? Or, to put that another way, what guy we don’t recall them drafting is going to come out of nowhere and impress us this season?

Once again last season the Spurs bench was the best in the NBA, outscoring teams by 8.9 points per 100 possessions over the course of the season. That is a key reason they win 55+ games every season — their bench comes in and executes at a high level, extending leads.

This season that bench will be a little thinner without Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons, two guys who brought real athleticism off the bench. Still they have the legend that is Manu Ginoboili, Rudy Gay (who is playing in the preseason but may be slowed for a bit coming off an Achilles injury), plus guys like Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans, and now Joffrey Lauvergne. For the Spurs to keep on winning like we expect, Popovich needs to work his magic and turn these guys into one of the league’s most formidable benches. Again.

Five teams with the best shot of knocking off Golden State

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Jeff Van Gundy thinks the Warriors are going to run away with this NBA season.

NBA GMs think the Warriors are going to run away with this NBA season.

One of the things we love about sports is — like life — it rarely follows the script. This NBA season may not either. Maybe the Warriors get challenged — during the regular season, during the Finals, but there will be obstacles in their way. Maybe the Warriors fall. I wouldn’t bet on it, but it’s possible.

If the Warriors are knocked off, who does the deed? Here are the five teams with the best shot of dethroning the champs.

1) The Cleveland Cavaliers. They top the list for two reasons. First, they are the best team in the East, they are likely to reach the Finals, and that gives them the best shot at the Warriors (who could be beat up and worn down after at least two tough series just to get out of the West). The other reason is LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (I will listen to your Kevin Durant arguments but still choose LeBron). He raises his game, and the games of everyone around him, in the playoffs. However, for the Cavaliers to have a real shot at the Warriors a lot of things need to come together. Most importantly, as a team they need to defend better. Isaiah Thomas needs to return and get back to close to 90% of his last-year self. The Jae Crowder/Kevin Love starting front line needs to work. The Derrick Rose, Tristan Thompson, and either Dwyane Wade or J.R. Smith bench rotation (however it shakes out to be) has to give the team quality bench play. Things have to go just about perfectly, but because they likely will get their chance in the Finals the Cavaliers have the best shot at dethroning the Warriors.

2) The Houston Rockets. The Rockets had the second-ranked offense in the NBA last season, and they got there with a style of play that can hang with the Warriors. Throw Chris Paul into the mix — once he and James Harden develop some on-court chemistry — and the Rockets are the one team that can score with Golden State. The challenge will be on defense, which was pedestrian last season. CP3 certainly improves the defense out top, plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute to the roster. Those wings are all about matching up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston may be the team best positioned to beat the Warriors, but we need to see all of it work over the course of a season before we give them much hope.

3) The Oklahoma City Thunder. Like the Rockets, if this team comes together maybe they have a shot at the Warriors. For the Thunder, everything starts on defense — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams), and they added an excellent wing defender in Paul George. Nobody stops the Warriors, but the Thunder have the players to make them work more for their points. On offense, if George and Russell Westbrook can integrate with Carmelo Anthony and figure out how to make the needed sacrifices and play well off each other — making this team a Top 10 offensive squad, too — they have a shot. We need to see the team in action, but maybe.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs had the best defense in the NBA last season, and they have an MVP-level player in Kawhi Leonard. We know how this is going to go, the Spurs are going to defend, execute and make plays. Pau Gasol will impress. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench (once he gets healthy), plus we know Gregg Popovich will throw guys we don’t know out there and they will shine. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, and because of that for years the Spurs have set the bar in the West. They will be that again, but the Warriors and maybe another team or two can clear that bar.

5) The Boston Celtics. I think Boston will be a bigger threat next season and beyond, but maybe things come together faster than expected. Plus, they are in the East, so get past the Cavaliers and they get to take a swing at the Warriors. The Celtics have quality players all over the floor, Kyrie Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint, plus good role players such as Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and now Jayson Tatum. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations than he has seen in the past. The question in Boston is defense — they are not going to be terrible, but after trading away Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder this summer they will not be as good. Can the Celtics get enough stops to stick on this list?

NBA GMs overwhelmingly pick Warriors to win title, LeBron MVP

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NBA GMs seem to agree with Jeff Van Gundy — this season belongs to the Golden State Warriors.

The NBA released its annual survey of league general managers and they overwhelmingly picked the Warriors to repeat as champions. GMs picked the Warriors at a higher rate than any team in the history of the survey.

They also picked LeBron James to win MVP in a crowded field, Lonzo Ball to be Rookie of the Year (but Josh Jackson to be the best player from this class in five years), Kawhi Leonard as the best defender in the NBA, and Gregg Popovich as the best coach in the game. This survey has certainly not been 100 percent accurate over the years (they picked LeBron to win the MVP last year, too) it’s been pretty reliable.

Here are some of the results of the NBA GM survey for 2017 (when the percentages don’t add up to 100%, there were other teams/players receiving one vote).

Which team will win the 2018 NBA Finals?
1. Golden State – 93%
2. Cleveland – 7%

GM’s ranked the top four teams in the East (in order) as Cleveland, Boston, Washington, Toronto. In the West, it was Golden State, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City.

Who will win the 2017-18 MVP?
1. LeBron James, Cleveland – 50%
2. Kevin Durant, Golden State –29%
3. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio – 11%
4. James Harden, Houston – 7%
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State – 4%

If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be?
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota – 29%
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee – 21%
3. LeBron James, Cleveland – 18%
4. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio – 14%
5. Kevin Durant, Golden State – 11%

Which player forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments?
1. LeBron James, Cleveland – 48%
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State – 21%
3. James Harden, Houston – 14%
4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City – 7%

Which player would you want taking a shot with the game on the line?
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State – 55%
2. Kevin Durant, Golden State – 34%
3. Kyrie Irving, Boston – 7%
4. LeBron James, Cleveland – 3%

Which player is most likely to have a breakout season in 2017-18?
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota – 21%
2(T). Kristaps Porzingis, New York – 14%
2(T). Myles Turner, Indiana – 14%
4. Jusuf Nurkic, Portland – 10%
5. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota – 7%

Who is the best point guard in the NBA?
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State – 62%
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City – 28%
3. Chris Paul, Houston – 7%
4. John Wall, Washington – 3%

Who is the best shooting guard in the NBA?
1. James Harden, Houston – 83%
2. Klay Thompson, Golden State – 10%

Who is the best small forward in the NBA?
1. LeBron James, Cleveland – 61%
2. Kevin Durant, Golden State – 32%
3. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio – 7%

Who is the best power forward in the NBA?
1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans – 41%
2. LeBron James, Cleveland – 28%
3. Kevin Durant, Golden State – 17%
4. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota – 7%

Who is the best center in the NBA?

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota – 28%
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans – 24%
3. Marc Gasol, Memphis – 21%
4. DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans – 14%

Which team made the best overall moves this offseason?
1. Oklahoma City – 43%
2. Boston – 25%
3. Minnesota – 14%
4. Houston – 11%
5. Golden State – 7%

Which one player acquisition will make the biggest impact?
1. Paul George, Oklahoma City – 59%
2. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota – 17%
3. Chris Paul, Houston – 10%
4. Kyrie Irving, Boston – 7%

What was the most underrated player acquisition?
1. Paul Millsap, Denver – 24%
2. Avery Bradley, Detroit – 17%
3(T). Jimmy Butler, Minnesota – 10%
3(T). Jae Crowder, Cleveland – 10%
5(T). Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento – 7%
5(T). Rudy Gay, San Antonio – 7%

Which team will be most improved in 2017-18?
1. Minnesota – 69%
2. Philadelphia – 17%

Who will win the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers – 62%
2. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia – 24%
3. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas – 7%

Which rookie will be the best player in five years?
1. Josh Jackson, Phoenix – 24%
2(T). Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia – 21%
2(T). Jayson Tatum, Boston – 21%
4(T). Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers – 14%
4(T). Ben Simmons, Philadelphia – 14%

Which rookie was the biggest steal at where he was selected in the Draft?

1. Dennis Smith Jr. (9), Dallas – 37%
2. Kyle Kuzma (27), L.A. Lakers – 22%
3(T). Donovan Mitchell (13), Utah – 7%
3(T). Caleb Swanigan (26), Portland – 7%

Who is the best international player in the NBA?
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee – 69%
2. Nikola Jokic, Denver – 14%
3. Marc Gasol, Memphis – 10%
4. Kristaps Porzingis, New York – 7%

Who is the best defensive player in the NBA?
1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio – 62%
2. Draymond Green, Golden State – 21%
3. Rudy Gobert, Utah – 10%

Who is the best perimeter defender in the NBA?
1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio – 72%
2. Avery Bradley, Detroit – 14%

Who is the best interior defender in the NBA?
1. Rudy Gobert, Utah – 66%
2. DeAndre Jordan, L.A. Clippers – 24%

Which is the best defensive team in the NBA?
1. Golden State – 55%
2. San Antonio – 34%
3. Utah – 7%
4. Oklahoma City – 3%

Who is the best head coach in the NBA?
1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio – 82%
2. Steve Kerr, Golden State – 11%

Which head coach makes the best in-game adjustments?
1. Rick Carlisle, Dallas – 34%
2. Brad Stevens, Boston – 31%
3. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio – 24%
4. Stan Van Gundy, Detroit – 7%
5. Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta – 3%

Which active player will make the best head coach someday?

1. Chris Paul, Houston – 39%
2. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio – 14%
3(T). Stephen Curry, Golden State – 7%
3(T). Garrett Temple, Sacramento – 7%

Which team is the most fun to watch?
1. Golden State – 90%
2. Houston – 7%
3. Denver – 3%

Which team has the best home-court advantage?

1. Golden State – 76%
2(T). Oklahoma City – 7%
2(T). San Antonio – 7%

Which player is the most athletic?
1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City – 62%
2. LeBron James, Cleveland – 14%
3. Zach LaVine, Chicago – 10%

Which player is the best pure shooter?
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State – 71%
2. Klay Thompson, Golden State – 25%
3. Devin Booker, Phoenix – 4%

Which player is the fastest with the ball?
1. John Wall, Washington – 48%
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City – 45%

Which player is the best passer?
1. LeBron James, Cleveland – 36%
2. Chris Paul, Houston – 32%
3(T). James Harden, Houston – 7%
3(T). Ricky Rubio, Utah – 7%
3(T). John Wall, Washington – 7%

What bench player makes the biggest impact when he enters the game?
1. Andre Iguodala, Golden State – 41%
2. Eric Gordon, Houston – 24%
3. Jamal Crawford, Minnesota – 10%
4. Lou Williams, LA Clippers – 7%

Who is the most versatile player in the NBA?
1. LeBron James, Cleveland – 55%
2(T). Kevin Durant, Golden State – 14%
2(T). Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio – 14%
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee – 10%
5. Draymond Green, Golden State – 7%

Which player has the best basketball IQ?

1. LeBron James, Cleveland – 64%
2. Chris Paul, Houston –14%
3. Stephen Curry, Golden State – 11%

Report: Andre Iguodala nearly left Warriors for Rockets

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Remember those mid-June rumors about Andre Iguodala already agreeing on a salary to re-sign with the Warriors?

The tide sure changed in a hurry.

Iguodala put out word that he was open to leaving, pressuring tax-conscious Golden State. He met with the Lakers, Spurs, Kings and Rockets.

Houston particularly intrigued him despite reportedly offering just four years, $32 million. The Rockets could have offered $37,658,880 with the mid-level exception, though they wanted to save a sliver to give Zhou Qi a four-year deal – and that still would’ve fallen short of other offers. They also discussed signing-and-trading for Iguodala, but they pitched him on a defensive unit that included him, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza. What else would Houston have intrigued the Warriors with?

And would Iguodala really have left Golden State, an all-time great team that positioned him to win 2015 NBA Finals MVP and a team that played near Silicon Valley?

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

The Warriors had been in the dark for a day and a half and contacted representatives of free-agent small forwards Rudy Gay and Gerald Henderson as a contingency plan. But Myers immediately hopped on a plane from the Bay Area and Kerr was already in Los Angeles, having recently visited with free agent Nick Young. They didn’t know it, but Iguodala’s objective in sitting down with them was to personally say goodbye, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.

Myers and Kerr came prepared to offer him a fully guaranteed, three-year deal worth $45 million and reiterated that their latest offer still wasn’t indicative of what they believed to be his true worth. Their hands were just tied.

There was little hope for a resolution at this point. Iguodala wasn’t budging from his request to make at least $16 million per year. If the Warriors didn’t improve their offer, he was signing with the Rockets, sources said.

After an hour, both sides departed and a breakup appeared likely. Iguodala’s camp proceeded to discuss their options. The Warriors’ top reserve was inching closer to becoming a top reserve for the Rockets. But before Rosenthal was to call Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Antonio and Golden State to notify them of his client’s decision, sources said Iguodala elected to make his final, most defining move yet: calling Golden State one more time.

That of course ended with the Warriors stepping up with a three-year, fully guaranteed $48 million contract, which Iguodala signed.

I recommend reading Haynes’ captivating look into Iguodala’s free agency in full. But keep this in mind: Iguodala won his negotiation with Golden State, and it’s in his best interest to continue a harmonious relationship with the organization. That means, if he were bluffing about leaving in order to secure a bigger offer from the Warriors, he’s incentivized not to show his cards now. He’s better off keeping up the story, making the Warriors believe they didn’t pay more than necessary to keep him.