What the Kings should do when the lockout ends…

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This is the next installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Today it’s the Sacramento Kings. You can also read up on the Lakers, Timberwolves and Mavericks as we start to work our way through all 30 NBA teams.

Last Season: So much for all that dazzling promise. The Kings were like that horse who showed such great potential as a colt, came from good stock, and looked ready to take the race by storm, then just stood there for twenty seconds in the chute, defecated, then fell forward onto its face. DeMarcus Cousins was great… when he wasn’t getting ejected or refusing to work on defense. Tyreke Evans got hurt with the worst possible ailments for a player of his ilk. Nothing came together, the coaching staff was pretty much teetering on pink slips the entire year, and oh, yeah, ownership tried to yank the team out from under the fans. Last year was about as much fun as root canal surgery for everyone in Sacramento, only instead of a dentist, a drunken toddler was the one with the drill. In short: things did not go well.

Changes since we last saw the Kings: Things are different, we’re just not sure if they’re better. The Kings have Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton (assuming they keep Thornton in restricted free agency). Surely they went after a small forward or a point guard to move Evans to SF, right? No no! This is GONZO DRAFT. The Kings traded for… wait for it… John Salmons… and then drafted… Jimmer Fredette. So a team with an abundance of shots and no distributor added two scorers… who don’t distribute! It’s like that song. SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS. Then they whipped popular wing Omri Casspi to the Cavaliers for J.J. Hickson, because what you really need when you have DeMarcus Cousins is a volatile undersized big man. It was a…. weird early summer, let’s put it that way.

When the lockout ends, the Kings need to… Go see a shrink. Collectively. Because this team needs to find itself. Maybe instead of counseling it should take a roadtrip. Get out and see the country, do some pondering on the highways and byways of this great land. (Just don’t head to Anaheim. That could go badly.) The Kings need to figure out who they are and what direction they’re headed. Do they want to win now? Because if so, they should recalibrate to get some defense in the house. Are they a young team? In that case, John Salmons as got to go. Are they a Warriors-like offensive team? Someone’s going to have to handle the ball and run the offense, even if it is a Gonzo exploration of shot selection. (In this scenario, the part of Dr. Thompson will be played by Donte Green.

They’ll need to re-sign Thornton, of course, and the amount that takes may clear up some of the direction in terms of the shooting guard, unless they want Thornton to play the Jason Terry role. It’s probably time to figure out which of their 700 bigs they want to keep and it might be a good idea to find a center, since Samuel Dalembert may go ring chasing. In that case, they’ll need to resist the urge to play Jimmer at center, which is a joke but also kind of not since I have no earthly idea how he fits in with this team.

But again, mostly they need to find a direction. They’re drifting right now. In-between cities, not really in Sacramento, definitely not in Anaheim. In-between stages, not really on the rise, but not really rebuilding. Everything hinges on Tyreke Evans. Can he become a distributor, a playmaker, can he understand he doesn’t have to score? Can Jimmer Fredette stun everyone and take that role? Can DeMarcus Cousins get his head out of his backside long enough to consistently dominate through a season like he’s more than capable of? The Kings have a lot of questions. Next season isn’t about using the answers. They have to find them first.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

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Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.