ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Sacramento Kings

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Last season: After Kings fans and mayor Kevin Johnson banded together to save basketball in Sacramento, new owner Vivek Ranadive brought in a new coach (Mike Malone) and a new GM (Pete D’Alessandro) and signed DeMarcus Cousins to a four-year max extension. The Kings proceeded to have a season that looked a lot like their last several — a lot of losing. A midseason trade for Rudy Gay rejuvenated the veteran forward’s career after a disappointing stint in Toronto, but it didn’t do much for the win column. The Kings finished 28-54.

Signature highlight from last season: In the most disappointing announcement-turned-April Fool’s-joke in NBA history, Cousins did not actually record an R&B album under the name “Boogie Smooth.”

Key player changes: The Kings took sharpshooter Nik Stauskas with the No. 8 pick in the draft and parted ways with point guard Isaiah Thomas, who went to Phoenix. They replaced Thomas by giving Darren Collison a three-year, $16 million deal, and signed veterans Ramon Sessions and Ryan Hollins on the cheap.

Keys to the Kings’ season:

Which of the young wings will pan out? The Kings have drafted a shooting guard in the top 10 each of the last two years. Ben McLemore was inconsistent in his rookie season and Stauskas, while a great shooter, could take time to develop other aspects of his game. In order for the Kings to progress, at least one of them has to become a dependable starter.

Will Boogie make “the leap”? Cousins played for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup this summer, and there was plenty of talk about his maturation as a leader. Plenty of players take gigantic leaps forward after playing in international competitions. Think Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and Kevin Durant after the 2010 tournament. Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Kenneth Faried are expected to do the same this year, and so is Cousins. This Kings team is still rebuilding but it’s easier to do that when you have a superstar to build around.

What, exactly, is the plan here? This team is not untalented. Cousins is an All-Star-caliber player, Gay is a proven scorer, and Collison and Sessions are competent NBA point guards. Derrick Williams may still be salvageable, and second-year point guard Ray McCallum has some upside. What the Kings lack is cohesion, or any sense of what the direction of the franchise is. Obviously, Cousins is the building block, and they’d like to re-sign Gay if he keeps performing like he did after being traded to Sacramento. But other than that, so far it seems like a lot of just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks.

Why you should watch the Kings: There’s a reasonable chance Cousins could go for 30 points and 15 rebounds or get himself ejected (or both!) on any given night.

Prediction: 27-55. The Kings play in a division with at least two and maybe three playoff teams and don’t have a lot of proven talent or a roster coherent enough to make them a playoff threat of any kind. But at least they won’t be as bad as the Lakers.

PBT Podcast: Talking “Top 50 players in five years”, players 26-50

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Starting this week, NBCSports.com’s NBA team is rolling out it’s “50 best players in five years” project, trying to project what the NBA will look like in five years, the summer of 2024. Who will be the game’s best players? The All-Stars, the guys on the cover of 2K24, the guys with signature shoe deals?

In this podcast, Rob Dauster from NBCSports.com’s college basketball page joins me to talk about players 26-50 on our list, which includes up-and-coming high school players such as James Wiseman and Emoni Bates. The back half of the list also includes a lot of current stars who will fade in five years — Klay Thompson, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, and more — but the question is how much do those stars fall off? It’s a fun discussion about the NBA’s best and how they will fit into an evolving league.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Kawhi Leonard to give away 1 million backpacks to kids in Southern California

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Kawhi Leonard is back in his home area of Southern California, and now that he’s a member of the Los Angeles Clippers he’s decided to get into the swing of charitable giving.

Leonard recently decided to team up with the Clippers organization to give out one million backpacks to children in need as a way to relieve some of the pressure from low-income families as students head back to school in the fall.

The Clippers and the NBA star worked with Baby2Baby, an organization that provides for low-income children from ages 0 to 12 for basic necessities. This week, Leonard started giving away backpacks to the Moreno Valley Unified, Los Angeles Unified, Inglewood Unified school districts. Leonard went to school in the Moreno Valley system as a kid.

Via the OC Register and Twitter:

“Going to the NBA, this is what I wanted to do; I wanted to give back to my community,” said Leonard, who started his day in Moreno Valley, where he brought backpacks to Cloverdale Elementary, his old school. “That’s why I’m so happy to be back home.”

“With the Clippers, just want you to know we got you guys’ back, as long as you work hard and have a goal set,” said Leonard, who Tuesday was working to fulfill one of his own.

“That’s a goal of mine for this year, being great on and off the court,” he said. “And I felt like this was a great way to start.”

This is an extremely cool and directly effective way to give back to the community. Helping disadvantaged kids in need directly has a ripple effect on their lives, and anything players like Leonard can do to help is a huge win for the children in these districts.

Clippers reportedly add Tyronn Lue to coaching staff

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Tyronn Lue will be coaching in Los Angeles this upcoming season, but it won’t be for the Lakers.

News broke on Tuesday that Lue had accepted a job on Doc Rivers’ staff with the Los Angeles Clippers. Lue is yet another big-name addition to a squad that already added players Kawhi Leonard and Paul George this offseason.

Lue was a championship-winning coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, and he has an innate understanding about how to deal with star players in the NBA.

Via Twitter:

It’s also important to understand what kind of culture Rivers, Steve Ballmer, and the rest of the Clippers front office is trying to build in Los Angeles. In addition to their proposed new stadium in Inglewood, the Clippers are trying to take over L.A. one big-name at a time. That includes everyone from players to coaches, even ones who won championships as the head honcho.

There’s no doubt that Los Angeles is striving for the Finals this season, and adding a guy like Lue to the bench is yet another reiteration of that fact.

Rumor: Stephen A. Smith is coming to ESPN’s NBA broadcasts

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National NBA broadcasts are about to get a little bit different this upcoming season.

We already got word that Michelle Beadle would not be on NBA Countdown on ESPN for the 2019-20 NBA calendar year. In her place will be Rachel Nichols, a favorite of most thanks to her work on The Jump, and Maria Taylor. And apparently ESPN’s studio show is about to get an analyst boost as well.

According to the big lead, Stephen A. Smith will be added to the analyst panel for ESPN studio show, likely on Wednesday nights. The bombastic First Take host will give his NBA takes either to the delight or dismay of fans nationwide.

Via The Big Lead:

Stephen A. Smith is in ESPN’s plans for NBA studio coverage this upcoming season, The Big Lead has learned from multiple people with knowledge of the situation. An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment on the news.

Our sources indicate that Wednesday night is the most likely time for him to be involved, but cautioned that plans are not yet set in stone.

People lost their collective minds on Twitter this summer when it was announced that ESPN had given another huge contract to Stephen A. to continue to do… whatever Stephen A. does. Namely, yell and act incredulous in a way so insincere it’s hard to believe anyone is entertained by it, much less could take it at face value.

No doubt Smith will fill the role, aesthetically, that Charles Barkley does for TNT. He’ll talk in big, wild soundbites that get Twitter all riled up, thereby allowing some VP at the network to pitch his superiors about “leverage” and “engagement” from Smith’s appearances.

Good luck to everyone watching the NBA on national TV this year. Maybe locate where the mute button is on your remote now so you know where it is come autumn.