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.

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).

Report: Isaiah Thomas could return to Nuggets right before All-Star break

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The Denver Nuggets have shown off their depth this season. Three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — have missed a chunk of time and yet until a few days ago the Nuggets were the top seed in the West, and they are still a clear second.

And all of that without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest name reserve. He has been recovering from hip surgery last March.

The Nuggets are hoping Thomas will make his debut next month, right before the All-Star Break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Thomas has been gathering momentum in his rehabilitation process from hip surgery in March, and there’s hope among Thomas and the Nuggets organization he could return as soon as a Feb. 11-13 homestand against Miami and Sacramento, sources said.

There’s strong confidence that he will return no later than the first game after the All Star break on Feb. 22 in Dallas, league sources said….

The final hurdle for Thomas remains playing full 5-on-5 scrimmages. He is expected to start that process soon.

Thomas was playing well and playing through pain in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and pulling that team into the postseason, before his hip injury caught up with him. He tried to recover without surgery playing for the Cavaliers and Lakers last season, but that never really worked like he hoped. He had the surgery and signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets.

Thomas could provide a playmaking guard off the bench, although Monte Morris has filled that role for the Nuggets so well he gets mentioned as a most improved player candidate. Coach Mike Malone will need to finesse the minutes to get both of them touches and involved. How much Thomas can help the Nuggets in the playoffs depends on how he recovers (he has always been a defensive liability because of his size, which factors in as well).

If Thomas can show he would have value as a bench player he will have teams calling next July about a much bigger contract. He has motivation, and he’s popular around the league — people want to see him succeed. But is he fully healthy and does he still have the lateral explosiveness that made him so hard to stop on drives to the rim? We should find out the final couple months of the season.

Report: Kings’ Buddy Hield in 3-point contest

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Players who’ve attempted more than seven 3-pointers per game while making more than 40% of them this season:

Sharing company with only the greatest shooter of all-time will earn Hield a spot in the 3-point contest.

Carmichael Dave of KHTK Sports 1140:

Sacramento getting three players into the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year speaks to the team’s nice collection of young talent. Bogdan Bogdanovic (who won MVP last year) and De'Aaron Fox return to the game. No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III replaces Hield, who ages out.

Hield has a chance in the 3-point contest, though the league is better from beyond the arc than ever. He’ll certainly have plenty of competition.

PBT Extra: Five players to watch heading into the NBA’s trade deadline

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It’s going to be a slow NBA trade deadline this year.

The reason it will be relatively quiet on Feb. 7 (the deadline day) this year is reflected in the five players to watch talked about in this PBT Extra. The bottom line: There are far more buyers than sellers.

Take Trevor Ariza in Washington, for example. A number of playoff teams are looking for wings on expiring contracts to help them out — the Rockets and Lakers are at the front of that line — but Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said the team the team will not tank, so is Ariza even available.

Or, what about Terrence Ross in Orlando? Another wing a lot of teams have interest in, but is Orlando selling?

And while the Dallas Mavericks have made public overtures about reconciliation with Dennis Smith Jr., sources tell me the plan on both sides is still to find a trade, it’s just right now the offers are lowball ones (because the Mavs have no leverage and there will be good young point guards such as Terry Rozier and D'Angelo Russell available in July as restricted free agents, and teams like them better).

Still, there will be trades. These are the guys to watch.