This Kings offseason looks too much like last Kings offseason

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One year ago right now, the biggest concern for Sacramento Kings fans was that the team’s owners — the Maloof family — were going to pack up and move the Kings as soon as they could. That issue overshadowed the on the court questions about the young core of the team and how they would mesh and play together. There were questions if the coach was the right man for the job. But it all came back to the Maloofs, money and relocation.

The summer of 2012 is going to feel a lot like the summer of 2011 in Sacramento.

Some things have changed — an arena plan came together then was blown up by the Maloofs, DeMarcus Cousins emerged as a cornerstone — but the core question remain the same.

Specifically, are the Kings staying in town?

Right now, in the absence of a new arena plan, the Maloofs are discussing upgrades to the existing Power Balance Arena. Something they themselves said could not work a year ago. Nobody thinks that is the end game for the Maloofs. It’s the latest plan to stall, to win the PR battle. While the Maloofs keep saying they are not filing for relocation, it’s hard to believe anything they say anymore. Not after a they pushed back on a deal they not only shook hands on but stood at center court and celebrated with Kings fans.

Over at Cowbell Kingdom Rob McAllister does great work going into the groundwork being laid by the family and the lawsuits that are likely coming in the fight over relocation. There is a fight coming to move this team, it is clear. A fight that will involve other NBA owners and the courts.

It’s too complex a problem to be simply summed up here, but when you look at the Maloofs actions and not their words it is pretty obvious what is coming. They will try to move the team.

That cloud hangs over everything. From the AP:

“This year, everybody wasn’t really on the same page,” said rookie Isaiah Thomas, one of the team’s few bright spots. “The lockout, new coach, arena talk, all things like that. It was tough.”

The new coach was Keith Smart, who took over for Paul Westphal when the Kings started 2-5 and he had run ins with DeMarcus Cousins. Westphal tried to make a stand, the franchise sided with the player.

Smart stepped in and changed things. First, he had a connection with the players that was lacking before. They played hard for him. They also played fast as he tried to get the Kings out and running — it was a better strategy that worked some nights, but it was  not a great one because the Kings just don’t have a lot of talent.

The brightest spot for the Kings on the court is that Cousins developed into a star, the guy the team can build around inside. He averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds a game, he became the focal point of the halfcourt offense under Smart. Plus, Thomas developed into the point guard of the future, a guy who pushed the team in transition and maybe could make the All-Rookie team (problem is that point guard in Cleveland was pretty good, too).

But there are a lot of questions that remain. Like what to do with Tyreke Evans, the former Rookie of the Year whose game has stagnated, the Kings cannot seem to find a fit for him. Smart tried him at the three in his up-tempo offense, but that didn’t work. Evans shows up in a lot of trade rumors and the Kings will shop him around. They also would listen to offers for John Salmons or frankly anyone on the roster not named Cousins. There is a lot of work to do with this roster.

But how much can be spent to bring in players? It comes back to the owners — they have no goodwill in the community and that is going to hurt ticket sales, sponsorship sales and other revenue sources. The Maloofs will run the team on a shoestring because of that and… well, you can see the cycle.

I’m not sure how that cycle is going to end. There are a lot of questions out there about the Kings and what is next. But in the end it comes down to Maloffs, money and whether the other owners will vote to allow them to move the team.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.

Playoff losses wearing on LeBron James: ‘I lose sleep’

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost one game before reaching the NBA Finals. The season before that, two. The season before that also two. In Miami before that, the last couple of years they went to the Finals the Heat lost three and four games before reaching the Finals.

This year, the Cavaliers have lost five games already and find themselves down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics heading into Game 3 Saturday night in Cleveland.

The losses do weigh on LeBron, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I mean, I lose sleep,” James said after shootaround Saturday morning. “I mean, at the end of the day, when you lose any game in the postseason, [you lose sleep], so it’s never comfort. Playoffs is never comfort. There’s nothing about the playoffs that’s comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer.

“So, for me, it’s always [a] day-to-day grind to figure out ways that you can be better.”

Cleveland has a lot to figure out to win the next two games because if they don’t and go down 3-1 in this series, it’s hard to envision how LeBron can drag this roster back to the Finals (what would be his eighth straight trip).

Offensively Cleveland has to get consistent play from guys other than LeBron (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Love) — J.R. Smith has been awful and needs to find a rhythm at home, George Hill needs to make some plays, Kyle Korver needs to get open and knock down some looks, and some help from the bench is needed.

But that’s not even the end of the floor that is the Cavs real problem. Defensively the Cavaliers recognition and communication has been dreadful, and the passing and player movement of the Celtics has carved them up. Cleveland has outscored teams and not defended all that well for a long time now — that’s how they made the Finals a season ago — but it’s not enough now. The offense and LeBron can’t carry them all the way.

We’ll see after Game 3 if LeBron is going to be able to get any sleep Saturday night.