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.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey on Warriors signing DeMarcus Cousins: ‘It’s a little bit hard on paper to figure out how to make it work’

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DeMarcus Cousins picking the Warriors sent shockwaves through the NBA. You know they were felt in Houston, where Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is admittedly obsessed with beating Golden State.

Morey on The Dan Patrick Show:

I was really curious. Bob is really good at his job, and he likes to take smart gambles like I do. So, I understood the move. But it’s gonna be interesting. Coach Kerr is one of the best, too. So, it’s a little scary. They’ll probably figure out how to make it work, but it’s a little bit hard on paper to figure out how to make it work. But we do that well and so do they, obviously. They’re gonna be a tough out again, obviously. They’re arguably the best team in NBA history. They’re on their path to maybe be able to make that argument.

Cousins isn’t a seamless fit with the Warriors.

They like to run, and Cousins doesn’t always sprint up court – even before his torn Achilles. Their offense is predicated on quick ball movement, and Cousins likes to survey the floor. They have more efficient scoring options in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, and Cousins is used to being a focal point. They like to switch defensively, and Cousins isn’t as comfortable guarding on the perimeter.

But Cousins is so talented, and the Warriors can afford to be patient as he recovers from his injury. They’re elite already.

I also believe Golden State will slow its tempo and play more traditional defense as its core ages. Cousins might fit better with next season’s Warriors than previous iterations of the team.

So, I think Morey is spot on. Golden State general manager Bob Myers was targeting wings for a reason. The Warriors didn’t exactly need another center – especially a slow-paced, ball-dominant, offensive-minded one. But when Cousins fell into their lap, signing him was well worth the relatively low cost.

Rumor: Pelicans will try to trade for wing help, likely around deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans look like a playoff team (or at least a potential one in the deep West). They have the superstar in Anthony Davis, and he’s part of a well-fitting front line with Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle. The Pelicans also are strong at the point guard spot with Jrue Holiday starting.

Where New Orleans need help is the wing. They had hoped Solomon Hill could be the man there, but he has not stayed healthy or panned out. E’Twaun Moore filled in for him, but was overmatched covering larger players at the three. Darius Miller can give them minutes but is not the answer. Pelicans GM Dell Demps wanted to make a move this summer, but up against the salary cap they didn’t have to room to chase quality free agents.

So look for them to try and pull off an in-season trade, reports Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Advocate.

History (and several league sources) indicates Demps is waiting for a midseason trade to strike. As teams around the league see their postseason prospects dim, and grow eager to exchange a quality player for expiring salaries or the Pelicans’ always-endangered first round pick, there’s opportunity to shore up their most glaring weakness.

It’s exactly what Demps did to acquire Cousins from Sacramento in 2017 and Mirotic a year later from Chicago. Both are impactful veterans who were added without surrendering foundational players.

Various sources and several reports said the Pelicans were active in trade talks this summer, notably with the tanking Atlanta Hawks for Kent Bazemore. But with so few teams eager to dump quality players before opening tip, hoping to make a playoff run of their own, the cost was too steep.

Demps know the Pelicans are on the clock — Davis has this season and one more on his contract (there is a player option for a third season, but he almost certainly will opt out at that point). The Pelicans can offer him the “super max” contract at that point, and Davis has said he wants to stay and win in New Orleans, but if the team struggles and/or he gets a sense that ownership is not all-in on winning, he could choose to look around as a free agent.

Which means Demps and the Pelicans will do what it takes to win now, and a move at the trade deadline is possible. The Hawks still will listen to offers for Bazemore, and other wings will become available. It’s just something to watch as we head into the season.

 

Paul Pierce: ‘There is no loyalty to a franchise anymore … That’s the generation we live in’

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After Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Paul Pierce criticized players for changing teams to win.

Now, Pierce is providing an assessment of players just changing teams generally.

Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal:

To be fair, Pierce doesn’t criticize players for not being loyal to franchises. In fact, he brings up that players are exercising their power.

But it’s still hard not to infer at least some disapproval from Pierce.

Why should players be loyal to franchises, though? Top players are assigned to teams through an anti-labor draft, the least successful teams getting the highest priority of selection. Those players are kept on an artificially low wage for five years can’t unilaterally leave the team for five years. If he plays well enough, his original team has a huge financial advantage in keeping him for up to 14 years. In this system, teams exercise far more control than they earn loyalty.

Players have such short careers. They should chase whatever they want. Money, winning, role, location, even steadiness with a franchise – if they choose.

Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but let’s not forget:

Pierce asked the Mavericks to trade for him in 2005 so he could play with Dirk Nowitzkion a team one star away from contending. In 2007, he reportedly told the Celtics to trade him if they didn’t add a second star. Boston, of course, traded for Ray Allen and then convinced Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause. In 2013, Pierce helped engineer a trade to the Nets. He and Garnett joined Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopezin Brooklyn and Pierce said, “We’re all about winning a championship and Brooklyn, we feel, gives us the best opportunity.” After stints with the Nets and Wizards, Pierce signed with the Clippers, which he described as a super team.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss: ‘I have complete faith in Magic Johnson … I have patience’

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Shortly after she hired Magic Johnson as team president last year, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said she’d be heartbroken if the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star in 2018, when the game was in Los Angeles. Her urgency was apparent.

Of course, the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star last season. None came close.

But then they signed LeBron James this summer, and Buss has changed her tune.

The Rich Eisen Show:

Buss:

I have complete faith in Magic Johnson in terms of his ability to be a leader, to know how to put together a winner. And I have patience. And I think what he’s done has exceeded my expectations, how quickly they’ve kind of turned around the roster.

Johnson has done a great job running the Lakers. He cleared cap space while maintaining plenty of assets and convinced LeBron to sign.

The degree of difficulty on that is… debatable. Perhaps, LeBron just decided to join the Lakers and didn’t need much convincing.

What’s next for Johnson?

Maybe Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee will fit well with LeBron. Maybe Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are ready to compete deep into the playoffs.

I’m skeptical, which means Johnson’s next steps will be tricky. He has more than earned Buss’ faith, and her patience gives him even more latitude to build as he sees fit.

Still, it’s a bit odd to see a team acquire a 33-year-old superstar then shift into a more-patient approach. LeBron’s prime won’t last forever.

It’s on Johnson to maximize it.