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.

Kevin Durant already tired of free agency rumors: ‘Don’t ask me every time you see me’

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It’s going to be one of the most discussed undercurrents of the NBA season:

Is this Kevin Durant‘s final season with the Golden State Warriors?

He can opt out next summer of his $31.5 million deal, and sources from multiple teams around the league think he may be ready to bolt the Bay Area and have his own team. Teams are already preparing for it and getting their pitches ready, and the Warriors are privately bracing for him to leave. The Knicks, Clippers, and maybe a dozen other teams are rumored and want to make their case. (The Lakers are in that group, too, but is Durant going to leave being in a team culture Stephen Curry created to being in LeBron James‘ shadow and culture? You thought he took flack for joining a championship Warriors team, imagine the reaction if he joins LeBron?)

Durant almost certainly does not know what he’s going to do next summer, staying with Golden State is a real possibility, but as rumors have their own life around the NBA this is going to be a topic all season long. People are going to try to read the tea leaves with everything Durant says and does.

Durant has been there before, and he’s already tired of it this time around, as he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

“I just want people to focus on basketball,” Durant told Yahoo Sports after posting 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists. “Focus on what goes on the court. I know it’s hard to keep up with it. I know it’s easy to look at that type of [expletive] because it’s the entertainment side. But wait until the season is over with to analyze [free agency]. I know it’s your job and it’s hard to say that, but try to shift some of your focus to the court, too. I know you have to still do your job and check on stuff like that, but every day? Every city I go to? Come on, man. I said what I had to say at media day. I understand your job, but let’s come to a little agreement. Don’t ask me every time you see me. If it’s the first time I’m seeing y’all, I don’t mind answering. But every time? Come on, bro.”

It’s easy to appreciate Durant’s “just focus on the games” sentiment, but the simple fact of the matter is that is not what fans want — it’s not what they read, watch, and consume. We all want to play fantasy GM and player movement is of far bigger interest to fans than the game itself. Coverage of the league reflects that taste now.

Which means the questions are going to keep coming. How is Durant going to handle that?

“It depends on how I feel that day,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “If I’m in a [expletive]-up mood, you’re going to see. Ask me that question and you’re going to really see what mood I’m in.”

No contract extension for Kristaps Porzingis, is that a problem? Depends…

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Most teams, when they get a franchise cornerstone player, lock him up with a max contract extension as soon as humanly possible. Minnesota did that this summer with a big offer to Karl-Anthony Towns (which he eventually signed). Before that Philadelphia did it with Joel Embiid, New Orleans with Anthony Davis, and on down the list.

Kristaps Porzingis is that kind of player for the Knicks.

But there was no contract extension for KP this offseason. This has nothing to do with the torn ACL that will have him out most if not all of this season (which tips off tonight for the Knicks at home against the Hawks).

The reason is cap space — not giving Porzingis an extension now frees up $10 million extra to go big game hunting in free agency next summer. After that, the Knicks can sign him after to that max contract. It’s what the Spurs did with Kawhi Leonard (and the problems between those two sides that led to Leonard being a Raptor were not about that contract).

It all works if the player understands this is not a “snub” but rather a strategic salary cap move designed to put a better team around him. The player has to be good with the move or it can create bad blood.

Does Porzingis and his camp know and understand all this? Knicks GM Scott Perry hinted yes, but was a little vague, via Ian Bagley of ESPN.

Is this a good move by the Knicks? Depends. The extra money is helpful next summer. Perry and team president Steve Mills are smart men who have made good decisions (mostly) so far, and it sounds like they have been clear to Porzingis and his people about what they are doing and why. That’s important.

The question is, did Porzingis fully buy into it? That we do not yet know. We won’t know until we see what Porzingis does next summer (his actions will speak louder than any words when he returns).

In theory it doesn’t matter, the Knicks control Porzinis’ rights as a restricted free agent next summer and they would match any offer. He’s not leaving NYC. However, in practice what the Knicks don’t want to do is create bad blood, something that festers and becomes an issue when this contract is up (Porzingis could sign an offer sheet with another team that is shorter than the max the Knicks want to throw at him).

I expect we will see Porzingis back with the Knicks this season, but not until the last 10-20 games of the season. He’s not coming in as a savior to get the team to the postseason, rather just getting his legs under him and shaking off some rust before another long summer of work. It’s the following season that he will be targeting.

We will see if the Knicks can use that extra $10 million in cap room to get another star to be with him that season.

Nets’ DeMarre Carroll has ankle surgery on eve of season

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NEW YORK (AP) — Brooklyn Nets forward DeMarre Carroll has undergone right ankle surgery and will miss the start of the season.

The team says Carroll had a right ankle arthroscopy. It was performed Tuesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

Carroll started 73 games at forward for the Nets last season, averaging 13.5 points and 6.6 rebounds.

The Nets say updates regarding Carroll’s return will be issued as appropriate.

Brooklyn opens its season Wednesday at Detroit.

 

PBT Extra: Five players to watch in NBA’s MVP race

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It was difficult to limit this list to just five.

The NBA’s race for the MVP award seems wide open this season. LeBron James is the favorite of the Las Vegas books (thank Lakers’ fans for that) and James Harden has been first or second three of the past four years, so he cannot be counted out. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have each won it before, although they tend to cancel each other out on the same team.

This year feels like we could see new blood winning the award. Maybe Anthony Davis of the Pelicans. Maybe Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks. Maybe Kawhi Leonard is back to form in Toronto and we shouldn’t count him out. Joel Embiid is touting himself in Philly.

I make my prediction and talk about the players to watch in this new PBT Extra video.