Kurt Helin

51Q: Can Dave Joerger get DeMarcus Cousins, rest of Kings on same page?

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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season. Today:

Can Dave Joerger get DeMarcus Cousins, rest of Kings on the same page?

This season is a crossroads in Sacramento.

In two weeks the Kings will play their first preseason game in the beautiful new downtown building that kept the Kings in Sacramento. It’s the season that owner Vivek Ranadive desperately wants to see end with a trip to the playoffs — it would be the first time the Kings made the postseason in 10 years. It is the season the Kings need to show that they are developing a basketball culture that can win, which matters because it is the last chance to convince their All-NBA, gold medal winning center DeMarcus Cousins that this is a franchise headed in the right direction and he should want to stay. (Cousins is a free agent in the summer of 2018, if the Kings can’t get a commitment from him after this season the team has to consider trading him;, they can’t afford to lose him for nothing.)

That’s a lot on the shoulders of new coach Dave Joerger.

Considering the roster he was given, and the timeline to meet, maybe too much.

Joerger was brought in to work with GM Vlade Divac and turn the Kings from a laughingstock organization to something respectable — a team that wins consistently. The kind of franchise where it’s star player doesn’t tweet things out on draft night about how much he hates the picks (but sure, he tweeted about hot yoga).

Joerger had a lot of success in Memphis building on the “grit and grind” culture that Lionel Hollins had established. He’s a strong Xs and Os coach who puts players in good positions, playing to their strengths. Joerger had good relationships with some challenging personalities on that Grizzlies roster (Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol at times, and others). It’s why Sacramento wanted him, management saw someone who could handle their roster and start building a culture.

A new coach in a new building for a new day.

Joerger seems to have passed the one big summer test — he and Cousins get along. At least so far, before Joerger calls him out on a missed defensive assignment or gets in his face over effort getting back in transition. This summer Joerger has been seen golfing and speaking with Cousins, trying to build a bond between himself and the elite center who is not always trusting of coaches. To put it kindly. At least this summer we have seen no snake in the grass tweets from Cousins, it’s been all good.

Cousins is coming off winning an Olympic gold, and while he never figured out FIBA officiating — which is not all on him, FIBA officials have all the consistency of Jim Carrey’s acting career — players coming out of the ultra-competitive, high-level Team USA practices and environment often have one of their best seasons.

The Kings are going to need that from Cousins, and a culture from Joerger that catches on quickly, because they have some other serious hurdles to overcome this season if they are dreaming of the playoffs.

• Their starting point guard is Darren Collison, and the Kings were better with him on the court last season than Rajon Rondo. Collison looks for his own shot first but is an efficient scorer who can get into the lane or hit the three. This all sounds good except for one problem: He is going to be suspended to start the season. Collison pled guilty to a domestic violence charge and the last player to do that was suspended 24 games (Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor). That’s a quarter of the season where Ty Lawson and Jordan Farmar (with maybe some Garrett Temple) will run the point for the Kings, and that is a considerable step down.

• Their starting three is Rudy Gay, an inefficient isolation scorer who loves to shoot from the midrange — a guy who doesn’t fit in the modern NBA. And a player who has said he is leaving as a free agent at the end of the season, so the Kings are shopping him around. That will be a distraction.

• Can a bench of Kosta Koufos, Omri Casspi, Matt Barnes, Anthony Tolliver and a few others keep the team close in a deep Western Conference?

And that’s not even getting into the questions of Willie Cauley-Stein‘s fit, Ben McLemore‘s development, Skal Labissiere‘s development (I think he could become a quality stretch four next to Cousins in a couple of years), why Georgios Papagiannis was drafted that high (a Cousins’ replacement?), or what Arron Afflalo has left in the tank?.

I believe Joerger can build the kind of culture and — with some roster tweaks — team that can make the playoffs and start to turn things around in Sacramento. But it is going to take one thing:

Patience.

Which has never been owner Ranadive’s strong suit. Last time he had a coach who got along well with Cousins and understood how to build a culture, Ranadive fired him mid-season because Cousins got sick and the owner wanted a faster style of play.

Plus, the Kings don’t have much time to win Cousins over, assuming that can still be done (the conventional wisdom around the league is that it is too late and he is gone, the only question is how much the Kings get in return). Sacramento is not going to make a rash decision here, they are going to keep Cousins in Sacramento the full season in the new building and work to make him want to stay. But next summer, if there is no commitment from him, the team has no choice, it needs to get something for him before he walks.

I see the Kings as a 35-win team this season, give or take a couple. About where they were a year ago, but with a foundation being put in place for the future.

That may not be enough, or at least fast enough.

It’s a lot to ask of Joerger. He’s walked into maybe the most challenging coaching job in the NBA. Good luck.

Timberwolves confirm that Nikola Pekovic out for entire season

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Timberwolves’ owner Glen Taylor said this exact thing last week, which is a pretty good sign that it’s going to happen. Taylor writes the checks.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have confirmed that Nikola Pekovic — who played 12 games last season due to foot injuries — is out for the coming season.

Taylor mentioned buying out Pekovic, but that seems unlikely. Pekovic is owed $23.7 million over the next two seasons, and I’d be hard-pressed to think of a reason he would take a penny less. The more likely outcome is the Timberwolves waive him and then come January (one year after his last game) apply to the league to have his salary excluded. (This would require a doctor approved by both the league and players’ union say that he is physically unable to play in the NBA ever again. If the doctor said that Pekovic would still get paid, but the money would not count against the salary cap for the Timberwolves).

No Pekovic and no Kevin Garnett, but it doesn’t impact the Timberwolves as training camp opens. Minnesota has Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill up front, plus developing young players Nemanja Bjelica and Adreian Payne. Garnett and Pekovic were not going to play much anyway.

Dwyane Wade ready for his Chicago challenge

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MIAMI (AP) — It’s not like Dwyane Wade has never dealt with change before.

He played for three head coaches in 13 seasons with the Miami Heat, helped orchestrate one of the most scrutinized free-agent hauls in NBA history when LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to play alongside him, and had 112 teammates along the way.

So going into a new locker room doesn’t figure to overwhelm him.

Wade’s first official day of work with an NBA team other than Miami comes on Monday, when he goes to media day on the eve of his first training camp with the Chicago Bulls – the team he grew up rooting for, a club he has faced off against 64 times as an opponent and now the franchise he’ll be asked to help lead.

“It’s going to be difficult, 100 percent. I’m fine with it, though,” Wade said in an interview with The Associated Press. “For me, it goes back to the whole challenge thing. It’s not like I haven’t done this before. At the end of the day we’re all wearing the same jersey right now and we have to come together, just like any team. And that’s going to be tough.”

Wade left Miami this summer in a move that shocked the Heat. He took a two-year deal worth about $47 million from the Bulls, who came in offering a bit more than what the Heat were able to promise. He leaves Miami has one of two players who were on all three Heat championship teams – Udonis Haslem is the other – and as the franchise leader in points by an enormous margin.

But now he changes addresses, changes colors and in many ways is starting over. So are the Heat, who won’t have him and will go into the season without Bosh – still sidelined by the blood-clot problem that ended each of his last two seasons, an issue that now seems to be putting any plans he has for a return to the court in major jeopardy.

Wade said he still wants the very best for Bosh. He’ll just have to send those wishes from afar now, while he gets ready to embrace his own challenge of meshing with Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and the rest of the Bulls.

“When I don’t have anything else left to prove, then I don’t need to play the game of basketball,” Wade said. “I want to prove I’m out of my comfort zone. I’m in a totally different environment, a totally different system. This is a challenge for me, at this stage of my career. Leave it up to me to put myself in a challenge and not just fade to black in the comfortableness of Miami.”

Wade turns 35 in January, and answered plenty of questions about his supposed durability issues last year. He played in 74 games for Miami, got lighter and leaner to take pressure off his knees and hamstrings, averaged 19 points a game and was an All-Star for the 12th consecutive season.

He’s not the Wade who led the league in scoring in 2009, or was NBA Finals MVP in 2006.

He does, however, think he’s smarter than ever.

“There’s no risk for me,” Wade said. “It’s basketball. It’s just a sport, man. And I’m pretty good at it. I know the game and I’ve put in so much work in this sport, everything right now is just the cherry on top of the whipped cream.”

Nerlens Noel calls Sixers crowded center situation “silly,” adds it “doesn’t make sense”

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He’s right. And Philadelphia management knows it.

At the center position, the Sixers have the athletic and defensive minded Nerlens Noel, the offensive-minded Jahlil Okafor, and the untested player who may be the best of the group in Joel Embiid. Elton Brand is on the roster as well.

That’s a lot of talented young players and not enough minutes to go around. Nerlens Noel called the situation out as “silly” speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Keith Pompey. At least he didn’t go so far as to request a trade.

“I think it’s just silly . . . this situation that we are in now with three starting centers,” Noel said on the eve of the Sixers’ media day. “With the departure of [former general manager and president] Sam Hinkie, I would have figured that management would be able to get something done this summer…

“I feel like it definitely needs to be figured out,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, again, you have three starting-caliber centers. And it’s just not going to work to anybody’s advantage having that on the same team. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated….

“Don’t get me wrong. We all get along great on the court and off the court,” Noel said. “But at the end of the day, it’s like having three starting quarterbacks. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The Sixers wouldn’t officially comment, but this summer they did try to get something done — Okafor and Noel were on the trade block. The problem is all the offers that came in were low ball. GM Bryan Colangelo has said he didn’t want to go into the season with this situation at center, but he also wasn’t going to give away one of these three for pennies on the dollar. Colangelo wanted a fair deal.
We saw last season that Okafor and Noel can’t play together, and now the Sixers need to see which ones of these three can play well with No. 1 pick Ben Simmons, who will be a point-forward much of the time.
Expect a deal to get done to move one of the three centers — and it very well could be Noel, he drew the most interest from other teams. It could happen during training camp, or maybe closer to the trade deadline. Maybe this stretches into next season.
But the Sixers know this doesn’t make sense, they just haven’t been able to remedy the situation. Yet.

Enjoy 50-best circus shots of last NBA season

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As of tomorrow, training camps around the league open, and all the focus goes to the 2016-17 season.

For fun, let’s look back one more time at last season — the 50 top circus shots of last season.

Stephen Curry driving the lane and throwing up prayers once he draws contact (and hitting them), there is Russell Westbrook throwing the inbounds pass off an opponent’s back, and so much more. Enjoy. Then let’s get on with next season.