Author: Aaron Bruski

George Karl

Sources: Kings prefer George Karl, not serious about hiring Mark Jackson


The Sacramento Kings shocked many in the NBA world when they abruptly fired head coach Mike Malone last week. Malone is respected in league circles and most rival scouts, coaches and executives believe he had been doing a good job coaching the team. He was also popular in the Kings’ locker room, particularly with star DeMarcus Cousins.

Almost instantly after the move landscape-changing rumors of the long-term replacement hit the wire seemingly every other day — George Karl, Mark Jackson, even Vinny Del Negro — leaving Tyrone Corbin in a lame duck situation. We reported last week Karl was considered the early front-runner.

Now sources tell PBT that though the team is still very interested in hiring Karl, they are hesitant to pay an expected asking price in the range of $5 million per year or more.

In the meantime they have allowed themselves to be connected to former Warriors coach Mark Jackson, staging a not-so-secret meeting at Sleep Train Arena following Thursday’s nationally televised game that Jackson called for ESPN.

Sources tell PBT that Jackson has “no chance” of being the Kings’ next coach, adding that the meeting was both personal in nature and mutually beneficial for all parties – sending Karl a message at the negotiating table and for Jackson, keeping his name in the news as a future head coaching candidate.

Karl has made it no secret that he would like to coach the Kings, and the team would appear to have a way out of their coaching mess if they can strike a deal.

Hiring Karl can be sold to a frustrated locker room and fan base as an upgrade, albeit a very messy one that’s going to leave a mark if not dealt with soon. It should be no surprise that the Kings’ locker room has grown tired of the ongoing circus surrounding this front office decision, made by Pete D’Allesandro and signed off on by owner Vivek Ranadive and advisor Chris Mullin.

Had Malone been doing a bad job – on or off the court – there wouldn’t be quite the urgency to find a replacement. But with the collective head-scratching going on in the locker room and on both sides of the wall surrounding the royal kingdom, the lack of action on Plan B is going to continue being a distraction. While reports have said Corbin will get to finish out the season, a hiring sooner than that would help stabilize the situation.

Pistons, Mavs, Lakers and Heat looking hard at restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas

Sacramento Kings v Golden State Warriors

Sacramento Kings starting point guard Isaiah Thomas has beaten the odds for his entire basketball career and now he’s set to get his first big payday.

The Kings recently extended a qualifying offer to Thomas making him a restricted free agent, and league sources tell PBT that as many as five teams have expressed interest in making an offer to steal away the point guard.

The Pistons, Heat, Lakers, Mavs and Suns have all expressed interest, with the Pistons showing the most interest to date and numbers starting in the three-year, $24 million range. Talks with teams in playoff contention have started in the $6-7 million per-year range.

Thomas averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game last season while hitting 45.3 percent of his shots. He ranked second for the Kings in win shares with 7.7, just behind DeMarcus Cousins at 7.9 and ahead of Rudy Gay at 4.5, with the rest of the team far behind the trio.

Last season, Thomas also became the 29th player in league history to have averaged 20 points and six assists in a year with a 20.0 Player Efficiency Rating (PER). The Kings were 3.9 points per possession better defensively with Thomas on the floor last season.

Sacramento approves new Kings arena in final vote


Years and even decades of struggles came to an end on Tuesday, when the Sacramento City Council voted 7-2 to approve a new Entertainment and Sports Center that the Kings will call home as soon as the 2016 season. This is the final vote on the arena and demolition of a failed mall at the new arena site in Sacramento’s downtown will commence immediately.

Tuesday’s vote was marked by all-day celebrations including appearances by owner Vivek Ranadive, point guard Isaiah Thomas, and a host of local figures that were instrumental in keeping the team in town.

Sacramento had tried for years to come to an agreement on an arena with the intransigent Maloof family, who lost the means to own an NBA team and desperately sought to relocate as a solution to their financial woes.

The team was eventually sold to Ranadive after Seattle billionaires Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer tried to cut a quick deal with the Maloofs, which the league rejected because of its preference to keep the team in Sacramento. The Maloofs begrudgingly sold the team to Ranadive after it was clear that they had no other choice.

Kings fans have dealt with relocation threats for many years and their grassroots efforts to keep the team were well-documented. Their local politicians and business leaders made a concerted effort to keep the team in town. That support was the difference between keeping the team and suffering the fate of other cities like Seattle that did not want to play ball on the issue of public funding for state-of-the-art arenas.

While the topic of public funding for arenas is controversial, what isn’t in doubt is that Sacramento put its time and money on the line and the city deserves tremendous credit for keeping its team. Tuesday’s vote leaves just one last step in a long journey – opening night.

Did Roy Hibbert break out? No, but Indy may have found a way to help him out

Roy Hibbert

It hasn’t been pretty, but the Indiana Pacers ‘survived’ to advance to the second round of the playoffs and in the process Frank Vogel has stuck with Roy Hibbert in his starting lineup.

Given the big man’s struggles on both sides of the floor, it wouldn’t have bothered most Indy fans if Vogel had made a change to tap Ian Mahinmi into the starting unit.

Prior to Game 2, Vogel let Hibbert play more than 20 minutes in just 3-of-8 playoff games, but the increasingly embattled coach has been clear that he won’t nail the coffin shut on his big man’s fragile psyche.

This paid off in a big way in Game 2 Wednesday night when Hibbert finally caught some breaks in a 28-point, nine-rebound performance, though when we go back to the tape it wasn’t nearly the breakout game that many are making it out to be.  The Wizards still targeted him relentlessly in the pick-and-roll and continued to rain jumpers over him at an alarming rate, going 10-of-16 for 20 points on shots created against Hibbert in space.

Offensively, the Wizards are fine with the way the Pacers entered the ball into Hibbert, who hit 42 percent of his shots in the post this season.  He’s not bending the defense and the Wiz will welcome anything to keep Paul George and Lance Stephenson from snapping out of their 16-of-55 shooting start.

Wednesday’s result was more about everything working in the big man’s favor on offense, with an early long-range hit setting the tone for a fortunate night.  Between teammate penetration, better positioning and some lapses by Washington, Hibbert took what the defense gave him and got the monkey temporarily off his back.

The good news is that Hibbert showed a different gear playing defense on the interior, which was still a mixed bag, but he changed a number of shots, fought for position and grabbed nine rebounds after securing four or less in 6-of-8 games before the Pacers’ Game 2 win.

Now in perhaps the most evenly matched series remaining, the question for Indy isn’t so much if Hibbert is back on the offensive end (that question falls on George and Stephenson against athletic wings Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal).  The question is whether or not Hibbert can hold his own on the defensive end, and Vogel might have tipped his hand on how he plans to assist in that development.

Here you see Marcin Gortat, a primary screener for the Wizards, is set to head up to familiar territory to execute the high pick-and-roll with Bradley Beal. But seeing that he is covered by David West, he motions for Nene to execute the play instead.


As noted, Hibbert has been a defensive liability on this action not just in the playoffs but for the second half of the year.  Typically, the Pacers have chosen to deal with the consequences rather than change who they are, and in the playoffs when teams expose weaknesses this has been their undoing.

But here, the Pacers decide to change things up.  Instead of following Nene up to the top of the pattern, Hibbert and West switch with the Wizards applying no pressure on the exchange:


Beal runs the pick-and-roll against a more mobile West, who keeps the action in front of him long enough for George to recover, and Stephenson pinches in to give help when the ball is passed back to Nene:



Nene arguably can take the 18-footer but it’s going to be contested, so he instead decides to put the ball on the ground and go to the hoop.  Instead of West securing the paint, the Pacers have their seven-foot rim protector waiting in the lane:


Typically, looking at a still showing Hibbert going straight up like this is going to result in a miss or a block, but Nene made the conversion.  In fact, the three times the Pacers made this switch the Wizards were able to convert.  But as coaches constantly say, it’s the process that matters and not the result.

Having West handle pick-and-roll duties in space or forcing Nene to take contested jumpers on the perimeter makes a whole lot more sense than watching Hibbert feebly chase players that are half his size. When the switch results in keeping Hibbert anchored in the paint it’s a no-brainer.

It’s unclear if the adjustment is a realization on Vogel’s part or a card that he felt pressured to play when facing the prospect of an 0-2 start.  Should Vogel continue to go this route, the Wizards will need to find a way to keep Indy from switching the big men without a penalty, and Randy Wittman and his group aren’t known for their imagination or late-game execution on the offensive end.

Vogel can keep this card in his back pocket as a change-up or he can play it right away, but he needs to do something to mask Hibbert’s deficiencies and keep him in a position to defend and clean the glass.

If that doesn’t happen, Hibbert can score all that he wants and it’s not going to make a difference.


Kevin Johnson not interested in NBPA job, but he would be the best man for the job


One of the best opening playoff rounds in recent memory got turned on its head when TMZ released audio on Friday allegedly containing several terrible, racially-charged remarks that Clippers owner Donald Sterling made to his girlfriend.

The next day in Memphis, a somewhat overwhelmed Adam Silver held his first presser under duress as the NBA’s head man, just as news of the death of former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley hit the wire.  The commissioner spoke in his usual lawyerly style, which was proper as the NBA tip-toes through a minefield of legal issues.

To date, the NBA Players Association has worked alongside Silver to ensure that due process is followed, that things don’t get out of hand from the players’ standpoint, and most importantly from their point of view that the NBA does everything it can to deal with the Sterling situation with the heaviest hand possible.

Part of why the players and the NBA have worked well together so far has been the familiar face of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.  Johnson has been in the process of finding a new executive director for the beleaguered union, but he was called upon by Clippers point guard Chris Paul to get involved with the players’ response to this issue.

Sources close to Johnson tell ProBasketballTalk that he is not interested in the union’s head job, despite round applause from people around the league for his handling of the Sterling situation so far.

Johnson was a driving force behind Sacramento’s success in keeping the Kings in town last year.  He worked alongside the league, David Stern and Adam Silver to secure a qualified owner and new arena with the Maloof family wanting out of the league.  The Maloofs knew they needed to create a bidding war in order to get the highest sales price possible, and they struck a controversial deal with Seattle billionaires Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer to sell the team.  The deal was designed to quickly put pressure on Johnson and Sacramento to deliver a qualified response, and from Seattle’s point of view the strategy was to create an air of inevitability among decision-makers and media that Sacramento had a shaky proposal.

It was amidst this backdrop that Johnson methodically used his political background to outmaneuver his opponents and convince owners to reject the Kings’ relocation to Seattle.  His team boasted political heavyweight and crisis consultant Chris Lehane, and his network of contacts extend all the way up to President Barack Obama.

The NBPA would certainly love to have Johnson in their top spot because he would be the best man for the job, but they’ll have to settle for him finding the next best thing.