NBA season preview: Sacramento Kings

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Last Season: More of the same, for a club that has been truly terrible for the last six seasons. Paul Westphal was run out of town mid-season in favor of Keith Smart, who thus far has had much greater success relating to the team’s young players. DeMarcus Cousins showed significant improvement, and the speedy rookie Isaiah Thomas was a nice surprise. But the wins were once again lacking, and with the spectre of relocation hanging over the franchise, it could be another very tough season for the fans in Sacramento.

Key Departures: None that would be considered “key.”  Terrence Williams is gone, now in camp with the Pistons after averaging 8.8 points and 4.1 rebounds while appearing in just 18 games for the Kings last season.

Key Additions: Aaron Brooks was added for some point guard depth, and the team selected forward Thomas Robinson out of Kansas with the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. Sacramento also traded for James Johnson, who was productive in Toronto but will now be part of a seemingly crowded frontcourt rotation.

Three keys to the Kings season:

1) DeMarcus Cousins: All-Star? Despite the poor attitude label that Cousins has had since entering the league, the reality is that he’s developing into a monster NBA talent. He finished last season tied for fourth in rebounding at 11 per game, with only perennial dominators of the category in Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, and Andrew Bynum in front of him. But in terms of total rebound rate, only Howard in that group was higher. All of this is to say that Cousins is a beast on the boards, and combine the skill he shows there with the fact that he’s unafraid to sacrifice his body defensively and plays with a chip on his shoulder that teammates love and opponents hate, and you’ve got a player primed to make a significant jump if he shows even a hint of improvement offensively.

2) Development of the core players: In addition to Cousins, there is talent present on the Kings’ roster. Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton are legitimate scoring threats at the guard spot, and Aaron Brooks may provide some depth there, as well. There should be minutes available for rookie Thomas Robinson off the bench, and the team made an investment in Jason Thomson, keeping him in place by signing him to a new five-year deal. Tyreke Evans is still around, but is floating positionally between the two-guard and the small forward spots. It will be up to Keith Smart in his first full season as head coach to develop this team and if nothing else, create a cohesiveness with the starters that the club can build upon moving forward.

3) Ignore the noise and just play. As tough as it will be at times for both the fans and the players, everyone needs to focus on improving the product on the court, wherever that court may eventually be in seasons to come. The relocation chatter will come and go, but it won’t be a surprise at this point, so the team needs to ensure that the distraction is kept to a minimum.

What Kings fans should fear: Relocation of the franchise. Because unlike Seattle which had its team taken from them, it’s tough to see Sacramento as a market attractive enough for the NBA to return to in the future if the Kings indeed end up eventually skipping town.

Prediction: If Cousins continues his progression and Keith Smart is the real deal, the Kings could be improved enough to see their win total creep up into the high 30s. Beyond that, again, the team is just looking for something to build upon for the future — one which, hopefully, will continue to be in Sacramento.

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.