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.

Zhou Qi’s China edges Jordan Clarkson’s Philippines at Asian Games

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) The Philippines was vastly improved with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson added to the team to face China at the Asian Games.

Just one problem.

Although the U.S.-born Clarkson led all scorers with 28 points, he had to sit out much of the fourth quarter with a cramp in his right thigh. That was the opening China needed, winning 82-80 in Tuesday’s Group D game.

Clarkson returned to play the last few minutes of the quarter, and the Philippines Paul Dalistan missed a 3-point shot with about five seconds left, which could have sealed an upset against the tournament favorites.

“After he cramped, Jordan couldn’t play his 100-percent best,” Philippines coach Joseller Guiao said. “But even without him in there we still played well.”

Despite the loss, Philippines should reach the quarterfinals with China heavily favored to beat Kazakhstan on Thursday.

Houston Rockets young center Zhou Qi led China with 25. The 2.17 meter (7-foot-1) blocked a half-dozen shots for the vastly taller Chinese. China’s other NBA player, Dallas Mavericks small forward Ding Yanyuhang, had seven points.

Clarkson, whose mother has Philippines heritage that earned him a passport, arrived in Jakarta just a few days ago after the NBA finally agreed to let him play.

He hit the third of three straight 3-point shots to tie the game at 55-55 late in the third quarter.

The Philippines led 78-75 late in the game, but couldn’t hold on with Clarkson unable to play at full speed.

“We have to keep moving on and hope we get to play them (China) again in the tournament,” said Philippines guard Gabriel Norwood.

Clarkson skipped post-game interviews, walking directly past reporters to get his leg treated.

“I don’t see this as a loss,” Guiao said. “We formed this team only two weeks ago, and Jordan just flew in five days ago. He was able to get into the flow quickly. We’re a lot better with Jordan Clarkson.”

Hornets PG Tony Parker says he’ll retire with Spurs

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Just four players in NBA history have spent their first 15 seasons with a single franchise then played for another team:

  • Karl Malone (Jazz then Lakers)
  • Hakeem Olajuwon (Rockets then Raptors)
  • Patrick Ewing (Knicks then SuperSonics and Magic)
  • Paul Pierce (Celtics then Nets, Wizards and Clippers)

Tony Parker will join the club. After playing a Hall of Fame-worthy 17 seasons with the Spurs, he signed with the Hornets this summer.

But he still wants his career to end in San Antonio.

Parker in a Q&A through Hupu (as translated via Google):

Is it possible that you will retire as a Spurs player in the future? Just like Paul Pierce. No matter how you wish you all the best in the new season!

A: Yes, I will retire as a Spurs player.

Pierce signed a one-year unguaranteed contract with the Celtics after he finished playing with the Clippers. Then, Boston waived him that same summer. It was purely ceremonial.

Parker doesn’t explicitly say he’ll follow the same course with the Spurs, but that seems most likely. Still, maybe he envisions actually playing for San Antonio after his Charlotte contract ends.

The Spurs have moved onto Dejounte Murray as their starting point guard, but they might welcome Parker to the end of their bench on a minimum contract for one more season. They clearly respect what he has meant to the franchise.

Kobe Bryant in Big3 next year? One league co-founder jokingly says yes.

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Ice Cube — the hip-hop legend, actor, and co-founder of the Big3 — knows Kobe Bryant, because he’s Ice Cube and everyone wants to know him. Cube has said every time he sees Kobe he tries to get the former Laker to join the Big3, and every time Kobe shoots him down.

But Friday, Big3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz said jokingly said expects Kobe will play in the league next year.

During a conference call to promote the Big3 title game (this Friday night in Brooklyn, broadcast live Fox at 8p.m.). Myself and other media on that call did a double take (if you can do that on a phone call).

A reporter asked if they expected Kobe to join and this was what followed.

Ice Cube: “We have a list of people that we would love to see, I think the fans would love to see. The fans would love to see Kobe, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce. Anybody who still has the passion to play. We don’t want you if you don’t have the passion to play. If Kobe doesn’t have the passion to play at this level, then it’s better for him to watch on tv. If he has the passion, then here we are.”

Jeff Kwatinetz: “I did hear from a credible source that Kobe is going to be playing next year. That’s something, but it may be nothing.”

Ice Cube: “That would be amazing.”

The league’s executives have a running banter of jokes that run between them during these conference calls, and this was more in that tone that serious.

This came after last weekend when a reporter asked Stephen Jackson if Kobe could handle the Big3, to which Jackson offered to slap the reporter for dare suggesting Kobe couldn’t handle it, then Jackson basically begged Bryant to join the league

Don’t bet on it happening.

This year more name stars did jump in — Amar’e Stoudemire, Nate Robinson, Metta World Peace — but Kobe would be another level (or three). As Cute said, the league would love to land him (or Kevin Garnett, or Paul Pierce) but so far that level of recent star has eluded the Big3. Someday that likely will change.

But not with Kobe.

Kobe was as well prepared for life after basketball as any NBA player ever can be. He’s got other interests and threw himself into those — he won an Oscar — plus has kept his toes in the NBA waters talking to and working out with young players such as Jaylen Brown. Also, he’s done a film breakdown series for ESPN. He’s spent more time with his family. All of which is to say, he may miss basketball but he’s got a full plate.

Ice Cube will keep asking Kobe, and one should never say never. But until Kobe comes out and says he’s in, don’t bet on seeing this happen.

 

Marcus Morris smoked marijuana to deal with anxiety while with Pistons

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When the Suns traded Marcus Morris to the Pistons, he called it “betrayal.”

It wasn’t that, but it’s also worth understanding why he felt that way – and what it means in a greater context.

Marcus signed a below-market contract extension to stay with his twin brother Markieff Morris in Phoenix. That was foolish, because it made Marcus more tradable – and the Suns dealt him. Marcus just didn’t understand enough about how the NBA operated.

Why did he make that error? At least in part because he was blinded by a very understandable loyalty to Markieff.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

When the twins were in high school, their house burned down with their family cat trapped inside. Their mother, Angel, moved them and their brother Blake into a small home in Hunting Park with their maternal grandparents, a tight squeeze for teenage boys who would grow to be nearly 6-foot-10. They lived in the basement and slept on a mattress, with no heat and a ceiling that was only 6½ feet high, which made it impossible for them to fully stand up. Yet they were grateful, because at least they had family who cared. Only one in 20 of their friends had a father around — the twins’ dad was nowhere to be seen, either — and their mother worked long hours so she could pay for their basketball shoes and something to eat at supper. The twins leaned on each other for companionship, solace and courage.

“We were just trying to survive every day,” Marcus says. “As a kid, it’s fun for a minute. You don’t see yourself in any danger. Once you become a teenager, you’re unprotected. Now you’re a target. If you’re wearing some Jordans, they’re coming for you. There were plenty of times I had to protect myself. You walk out the door every day looking around, watching your back, just trying to stay out of the line of fire.

“You see shootings, pistol whippings. One wrong decision, one wrong word, and it escalates so quickly into a full-blown war. It’s like that in Philly. You’re trapped in a box. Your opportunity is so small, so once a person gets ahold of something, they protect it with their life. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t lived it.

“We just walked out stressed all the time. I said to my brother once, ‘You know, this is no way to live.'”

The Morris’ situation is unique, but it’s not totally atypical. The black experience in America has always been subject to large amounts of violence. Redlining continues to keep black people in more violent neighborhoods with more poverty, worse schools and harsher policing – elements that continue the cycle.

Those stressors contribute to mental-health issues, and if the NBA – whose players are predominantly black – is concerned about mental health, it can’t ignore this greater context.

The Suns didn’t sound like they empathized. Marcus began his pro career in Houston, and it didn’t sound like Rockets general manager Daryl Morey – who doesn’t have the best track record of discussing mental health – knew how to relate to Marcus, either. MacMullan:

That summer, he refused to go to Houston for offseason workouts and wouldn’t answer calls from the Rockets’ staff. “[Rockets general manager] Daryl Morey is telling me, ‘You’re hurting your career,’ but I was thinking, ‘Well, you guys are hurting my career,'” Morris recalls. “I didn’t trust them. I didn’t trust anybody.”

The results weren’t better in Detroit, either. MacMullan:

Morris couldn’t sleep because his mind was racing all the time. The Pistons tried to make him feel welcome, but he wasn’t very responsive. He was often up all night replaying a missed shot or a mistake on the floor, and his play was suffering. He seriously considered quitting, but what would he do? Go back to Philly? That notion led to more anxiety, more stress. He tried sleeping pills. He smoked marijuana. Nothing granted him peace.

I’m very curious how this will be received. White coaches Steve Kerr and Phil Jackson admitted to smoking marijuana to help with pain after back surgeries, and people were generally understanding. Black player Larry Sanders – trying to cope with anxiety, depression and mood disorders – essentially got run out of the league for using marijuana and espousing its benefits.

White people get more benefit of the doubt on drug use. Physical pain is taken more seriously than mental pain.

Marijuana isn’t the answer for everyone dealing with anxiety and stress, because there is no single answer for everyone. But criminalizing marijuana – banned legally in many places and by the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement – isn’t the answer. The appropriateness of marijuana for NBA players should be explored.

Perhaps it will be as we remove the stigma around mental health. Players like Marcus Morris opening up about their issues is a huge step forward – and especially important one considering the NBA’s majority-black demographics.

It sounds as if Morris is getting far better help from the Celtics. I highly recommend reading MacMullan’s full article for more on that and how mental health and race intersect as it pertains to the NBA.