The Inbounds: Can Keith Smart save the Kings’ soul?

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My favorite B-movie of all time is “Killer Clowns from Outer Space.”

It is as terrible and ridiculous as the title suggests, an outright cavalcade of campy horror bathed in absurdist light. To try and watch it is to recognize that sometimes, there are things which should not be made, and yet you will watch it anyway. It’s entertaining, but only if you let it be, and only if you’re OK with watching a few scenes which just blow your mind that anyone would write, let alone produce, direct and film.

That’s a lot like the Kings this year.

I’m not going to get into the toxic sludge that is the current owners’ shenanigans in their attempts to try and fleece a great NBA town of its team so they can go rake in the big-market dough, except to say that if allowing the Sonics to be ripped from Seattle was the worst thing David Stern has ever done as commissioner, he’s rapidly getting his karma back in his Gandalf-like stance against the Maloofs. (“You shall not pass to Anaheim!”) I just want to focus on the basketball for a minute, because the Kings are beautiful and horrible and a lot of other things all at the same time.

Their best player is a malcontent volcano of immaturity whose teammates are often in open revolt of him. Their second-best player was Mr. Irrelevant in his draft class and is under six feet tall. Their 2010 Rookie of the Year who accomplished something only four other players in history did is trade bait, their star pick in this year’s class had a miserable Summer League, their great white hope it turns out really is just Ron Howard, and they have Aaron Brooks now for some reason.

They added James Johnson in the offseason just to add to the number of totally perplexing players you can never figure out if they’re great or belong in the D-League, Travis Outlaw, Chuck Hayes, and John Salmons will all get significant minutes on this team, and have I mentioned that Marcus Thornton is on this team?

Jimmer-Thornton-Salmons-Johnson-Cousins is an actual lineup that can happen. So is Thomas-Reke-Johnson-Thompson-Hayes.

What is that?

I’m not even saying they’re going to be bad. There are about a million scenarios where this can work out and the Kings can be somewhere between decent and a playoff team. But it’s such a bizarre concoction it’s hard to see what, if anything, is going on on the team.

And that’s Keith Smart’s job.

Smart took over last season for Paul Westphal and managed to do something thought unreachable: connect with the team. They started to formulate an identity. It’s somewhere between a juggling act and advanced chemistry for Smart, who has to get DeMarcus Cousins to remain engaged, keep the trigger fingers of Brooks and Salmons in check, and try and figure out where to put Tyreke Evans. It’s a pretty tough job that doesn’t have a whole lot going for it and that’s before the expectations that come with Jimmer Fredette.

The Kings didn’t have a strong identity on the floor under Smart, but they did have something of a team concept in the locker room. They started to trust one another and to have a sense of identity. It was like basic NBA theory and the Kings had to crawl before they could walk.

The Kings are in large part expected to be one of the worst teams in the league next year. Was Isaiah Thomas a figment of our imagination (as he apparently was to the All-Rookie voters)? Is Cousins the modern incarnation of Barkley or just another knucklehead? Is Tyreke Evans going to be on the roster on opening night and if so, at what position? Can Marcus Thornton be a star? Is Thomas Robinson going to bring balance to the Force, and by Force I mean Cousins?

And what is Aaron Brooks doing there?

There’s no shortage about the Kings next season, but if Smart somehow manages to get a finger on the pulse and guide the blood flow where it needs to go for this team, there’s talent in place to do something unexpected, if not meaningful. And with what the fans have gone through there, that’s more than enough to feel alive for.

Wembanyama scores 37 Scoot Henderson 28, both make case to go No.1

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The NBA league office hates tanking — the action, the word, the mere suggestion of it.

But there is going to be some serious tanking in the NBA this season, and anybody who watched the Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson game Tuesday (also known as the G-league Ignite vs.  Metropolitans 92 from France) knows exactly why.

What. A. Show.

Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, showed why he is a true 7’4″ unicorn who can do seemingly anything. He finished the game with 37 points, hitting 7-of-11 from 3, with five blocks, showed off some handles and even brought the ball up court a couple of times.

This play sums him up well: at 7’4″ Wembanyama is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, looks smooth, and when the defender goes under the pick casually drains a 3.

Scoot Henderson, expected to go No.2 in the next draft, flashed his explosive athleticism to the tune of 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

Ja Morant was impressed.

There was a lot for fans, scouts, and GMs to be impressed with.

For all his shooting an offensive game, Wembanyama was just as impressive on defense. His length and mobility forces players to change their driving angles to the rim. He also showed a fearlessness in going after the big block.

Henderson showed high-level athleticism and an ability to get to the rim at will, but he also set up teammates and an improving shot. Henderson is a dynamic athlete and a season playing against the men of the G League is only going to sharpen his skills.

Henderson made his case Tuesday to be the No.1 pick — scouts say he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone point guard, a top-10 player in the league, and he looked it in this game. He showed no fear, even going at Wembanyama a few times.

However, Wembanyama will go No.1 because he just breaks the mold, there is nobody like him. Anywhere. He looks like a generational talent, even if there is some work to do to realize it. Wembanyama started to show that Tuesday night.

These two teams face off again on Thursday night in Henderson, Nevada.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?

Collin Sexton expects to start for Jazz once he gets back to full speed

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After the blockbuster trade that was centered around Donovan Mitchell sent Collin Sexton to Utah, the immediate expectation was that he would start for the Jazz and have the ultimate green light.

However, that wasn’t the case in their first preseason matchup with Toronto on Sunday. In 18 minutes off the bench, Sexton finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) to go along with one rebound, two assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

It came as a bit of a surprise to most viewers that Sexton didn’t get the starting nod, but he told Sarah Todd of Deseret News that he expected to come off the bench for this game. He acknowledged that it was because he hasn’t played much since his meniscus surgery, but he expects to start once he gets back to full speed.

Utah hit the reset button by dealing away four of their five starters from last season. They’ve ushered in a new era that is centered around Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a ton of first round picks. Sexton has talked about wanting to improve on his assists numbers this season, which we should definitely see him get the opportunity to do.

The Jazz have cemented their place in the center of the Victor Wembanyama race, so they’ll have no problem letting their young guys learn through trial and error. Sexton averaged 4.4 assists per game for Cleveland just two years ago. However, he won’t be playing alongside another young guard like Darius Garland, so Sexton should have the ball in his hands more than he ever has in the NBA.

Ben Simmons looks fine in return, is ‘grateful just to be able to step on that floor’

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Ben Simmons played in an actual, live basketball game on Monday night.

It’s preseason, sure, but the Nets rolled out their likely starting five — Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and Nic Claxton — and had Simmons initiating a lot of the offense early.

The results were not bad. Fine. Good in flashes. Simmons ran the floor well and finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. He missed both free throws he took and all three of his makes were at the rim, his three missed shots were all in the paint and included an ugly skyhook-like thing and a turnaround that missed. There was clear rust.

The Nets got him a lot of touches, having him initiate the offense early. Whether that is something that carries over into the season remains to be seen, the offense moved better with the crisp passing and decisions of Kyrie Irving.

Simmons sounded comfortable after the game, quotes via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

“That’s the one thing, I thought I was going to be nervous,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

Simmons pushed for a trade off these 76ers a year ago, then sat out all last season due to mental health concerns. Having him back on the court for 19 minutes over a couple of shifts was enough for the Nets.

The 76ers sat Joel Embiid and James Harden for the night, but Tyrese Maxey was the best player on the floor with 20 points in 14 minutes and showing a confident 3-point stroke.

Furkan Korkmaz, another player coming off an injury, added 15 His play will add depth to the Sixers roster.

Claxton ran the floor hard and finished with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting (all at the rim), while Durant led the way with 13 points.