NBA Season Preview: Sacramento Kings

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Last season: 24-58, second to last in the West.

Head Coach: Paul Westphal

Key Departures: Beno Udrih, Omri Casspi

Key Additions: Jimmer Fredette, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons, J.J. Hickson

Best case scenario: Continued development of Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, and dramatic improvement in the team’s offense.

The Kings will need to see some serious progression from the two players they have chosen to build the team’s foundation upon, Evans and Cousins. The good news is, there’s nowhere to go but up for the pair with unlimited potential, especially on the offensive end of the floor. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann explains:

Whether or not Cousins and Evans have chemistry is a question that probably can’t be answered yet. Each was a more efficient scorer when the other was on the floor, but both did most of their work on their own.

Only 27 percent of Evans’ field goals were assisted, the seventh lowest rate in the league among players who attempted at least 500 shots last season. And among players 6-foot-6 or taller, only two other players were assisted on a lower percentage of their field goals than Cousins. Their names? Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Sharing the basketball must be a bigger priority for the team this year, and getting more balanced scoring will be equally important. Hopefully, help is on the way in the form of rookie Jimmer Fredette, who should be able to provide a punch off the bench at the two-guard spot. Marcus Thornton was solidified as the team’s starter in that role, after the club awarded him a new contract worth $31 million over 4 years. If Thornton can continue to put up the numbers he did with Sacramento in the final 27 games of last season — averages of 21.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.7 steals per game — it will be money well spent.

For that to happen: Health and maturity would appear to be the only things holding back Evans and Cousins (respectively) from continuing to improve. Evans was limited to just 57 games a season ago due to battling a plantar fasciitis injury to his left foot for most of the season, and Cousins, while putting up excellent rookie numbers of 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, had plenty of issues along the way. He argued with his own coaches, was fifth in the league in technical fouls, and even managed to receive a technical foul in a streetball game over the summer.

The raw talent is clearly there with Cousins, and the only thing that will prevent him from turning into something special is his own emotion.

More likely the Kings will: Show some marked signs of improvement on both ends of the floor, but not enough to compete for a playoff spot just yet in the extremely deep Western Conference.

Prediction: 25-41, last place in the Pacific Division.

Steve Nash on Kevin Durant: “I plan to use him in all five positions”

Kevin Durant
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What makes the Brooklyn Nets potentially dangerous next season is not just the elite talent on the roster — talent coming off injuries, but championship talent nonetheless — but the versatility of it. Kyrie Irving has handles as good as anyone in the league, won the Three-Point Shooting Contest seven years ago, and can create looks with the best of them, but he also is dangerous off the ball. Caris LeVert can play anywhere on the wing and even some small-ball four in a pinch. Spencer Dinwiddie can play on- or off-ball.

And then there is Kevin Durant, as versatile a player as the league has seen.

New Nets coach Steve Kerr has plans for him, as JJ Reddick’s The Old Man and the Three podcast (hat tip to SNY).

“Kevin, with his length, is a matchup problem for everyone,” Nash said. “Kevin can play all five positions, and I plan to use him in all five positions.”

That’s smart — and that’s what the regular season is for. Coaches need to experiment with lineups and test ideas during the season, even if it costs them games, to be better prepared for the playoffs.

With Durant, Irving, LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and a roster filled with whatever other offseason moves the Nets make, the Brooklyn roster will have talent and versatility. Will the key players be healthy enough — and will they stay healthy — will be the bigger question facing Nash and his team.

76ers rumored to be looking for new top man in basketball operations

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Two years ago, the Philadelphia 76ers kept Brett Brown as coach and searched for a new top man in basketball operations, someone who could work collaboratively with others. They settled on Elton Brand as GM, just a couple years after the end of his playing career.

That collaboration, that order of hiring — coach and then GM — did not work.

Philadelphia is now looking for a new coach after firing Brown. Still, while a coaching search goes on, the franchise is considering bringing in a new head of basketball operations, reports Keith Pompey of The Inquirer.

League sources have said the Sixers are inquiring about the possibility of hiring a president of basketball operations. One source said that Portland Trail Blazers president of basketball operations/ general manager Neil Olshey might have some interest in the Sixers, but that’s only if he has total power, as the president and general manager.

Former Atlanta Hawks president of basketball operation/GM Danny Ferry’s name keeps popping up as a possible candidate. But the Sixers keep shooting that down.

A source also believes the Sixers will attempt to inquire about Houston GM Morey and Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard. The source, however, believes it’s unlikely that they would be interested.

As with everything 76ers the past couple of years, things seem a bit confused. The front office could use a shakeup, but the expectation had been Brand would have the power and there would be more voices to consult with him. Maybe a strong No. 2 who could bring a new voice and organizational skills to the table.

The names mentioned in this report — Olshey, Ferry, Morey, Prichard — are established top men who will demand complete authority. And, they will want to hire their own coach.

It’s unclear what direction the 76ers are going with their front office — and, by extension, coaching search — but there is not a lot of time to make a call. The 2020 NBA Draft is in two months and the 76ers will want their front office set well before that.

Lakers saw what happened to Jazz, Clippers, say they will not let up vs. Nuggets

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — With one comeback after another in the playoffs, the Denver Nuggets showed themselves to be a team that falls down but doesn’t stay down.

The Los Angeles Lakers noticed.

They watched the Nuggets repeatedly rally from big deficits against Utah and then the Los Angeles Clippers – and, obviously, are aware that the Jazz and the Clippers are no longer in the NBA bubble because of Denver’s comeback abilities.

So the Lakers knew that when it was their turn to face Denver, there would be no letting up no matter what the scoreboard said.

Game 2 is Sunday night. The Lakers know the job is far from over.

“No lead is safe with this team, in the game or in the series,” Lakers star Anthony Davis said. “They have proven that they are a second-half team, where they come out and just destroy teams in the second half and prove that even if they are down a series, they are a team that’s going to be resilient and keep fighting no matter what the score is, what the situation is.

“When we have a lead, we have to lock in even more.”

The Lakers did that in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, turning an 11-point halftime lead into a 27-point bulge in the second half before easing to a 126-114 victory.

“That’s a historic type of resilient team,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve got to understand that, both with the series lead 1-0 right now and wherever it goes, but also within games.”

Denver reached the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2009 by becoming the first team in NBA history to erase two 3-1 deficits in one postseason. The Nuggets trailed by 15 points in Game 5 against Utah in their first game facing elimination, then were down 16, 19, and 12 in the final three games against the Clippers.

The Nuggets are the first team with three 15-point comebacks while facing elimination in one postseason since play-by-play began being recorded digitally in 1997.

“This is an opponent we all greatly respect,” Vogel said. “Save for the comebacks, we respect what they are capable of doing on both ends of the floor.”

It won’t matter how resilient the Nuggets are if they don’t make things tougher for the Lakers defensively.

Davis shredded them so easily on his way to 37 points that the Lakers didn’t even need much scoring from LeBron James, who took only 11 shots and had 15 points and 12 assists. Los Angeles got plenty of opportunities in transition and in the paint, which were areas of emphasis for Denver.

“We were giving up layups after we scored baskets ourselves. So that indicates to me that our sense of urgency to get back was not anywhere remotely close to where it needed to be tonight,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the game.

When the Nuggets do get back, they need to do a better job of defending without fouling. They sent the Lakers to the line 24 times in the second quarter – Denver shot only 28 for the entire game – and both Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray had to go to the bench with three fouls in the period.

“We’ve just got to be better,” Murray said. “We’ve just got to be on point. We’ve got to talk more, talk earlier, point, whatever we’ve got to do.”

This is the first time in this postseason the Lakers will take the lead into Game 2, having dropped their opening games against both Portland and Houston. They didn’t lose again in either series.

Going into Sunday, the Lakers will have the second-best record in the postseason at 9-2, trailing only Miami. It’s a big turnaround for the Lakers, who struggled at times during the seeding games in the bubble – but, as James’ teams tend to do in the postseason, are hitting their best stride when the games matter most.

Denver is also used to playing from behind – much further behind. So even though things looked bad Friday, the Nuggets have been in much worse spots in the bubble and found their way out of them.

“We have proven it time and time again that we can learn from our losses and figure out what we need to do better going into the next game and give ourselves a much better chance to win,” Malone said.

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

Gordon Hayward birth of son
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When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason — he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.