It’s a head-turning number — $52 million for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. A good player, a player on the rise, but also a player with plenty of question marks. In the NBA of three years ago, $13 million a year for that would be a terrible move by the Charlotte Hornets.
But times change quickly. In the new normal of an NBA about to be flooded with television money, this is a good gamble by the team.
We told you a four-year, $52 million extension was coming for Kidd-Gilchrist and on Wednesday morning the Hornets made the deal official.
“Michael is a huge part of what we are trying to build here in Charlotte,” Hornets GM Rich Cho said in a released statement. “He has dedicated himself to improving and expanding his game. Michael continues to develop on both ends of the court and has become a key piece of our team. We are thrilled that he is a Charlotte Hornet.”
What we know MKG brings is elite defense — both on-ball and help. He is the guy assigned to the opponent’s best perimeter player every game. Kidd-Gilchrist is also a good rebounder for his position, and he plays with an infectious, relentless energy. He’s simply fun to watch because of it.
The question has always been his raw offense. He’s okay if he has driving lanes and can get to the rim (and in transition), but if he has to shoot a jumper things got ugly. That said, he’s improving, working last summer with then assistant coach Mark Price to rework his form. Last season he shot 50 percent last season between 10 and 16 feet. There’s still a long way to go (he didn’t even attempt a three last season), but there have been strides.
The Hornets are betting on bigger, better strides to come — and if he made those strides this season and then hit the market as a restricted free agent next July, the Hornets would have paid more. MKG gets some financial security out of the deal.
This size deal is the NBA’s new normal. Get used to it.
Another testing issue for Deandre Ayton.
This one comes at a terrible time for the Suns.
Phoenix is trying to complete a longshot run to the playoffs and playing the Thunder in a key game today. But Ayton arrived late to the arena after missing a coronavirus test yesterday.
Shams Charania of The Athletic:
Like many Suns, Ayton has played well in the resumption. Phoenix doesn’t have another big-man option like him, especially with Aron Baynes sidelined. The Suns started Dario Saric in a small lineup today.
Ayton arrived to the arena and is warming up on an exercise bike. He could still get into the game and make a difference.
Already locked into the 4-6 range in the Western Conference and perhaps trying to keep its top-20-protected first-round pick, Oklahoma City is playing without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schroder. None of those will players will make a late entrance into the game.
Also: It’s ridiculous this wasn’t publicly disclosed sooner. The NBA continues to tout transparency while trying to draw more gambling revenue. Yet, a major lineup issue like this remains secret? That opens the door for some bettors to get inside information, which would be so damaging to the league’s integrity.
The Kings’ 2018-19 season ended with optimism.
Facing a meager over/under of 25.5 wins, Sacramento surged to 39 wins – its best record in 13 years. Under Dave Joerger, the Kings played a fast and fun style. De'Aaron Fox made historic improvements. Buddy Hield broke out. Several other young players showed promise.
Sure, the Kings missed the playoffs for a 13th straight season – matching the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history. But they were on track to end the skid soon enough.
Except, of course that’s not how it went in Sacramento.
The Kings were eliminated from the postseason chase yesterday, ensuring a 14th straight season outside the playoffs. That alone is now NBA’s the second-longest-ever postseason drought, breaking a tie with the Timberwolves (2005-17). Only the Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers’ 15-year non-playoff streak (1977-91) is longer.
Here are the longest postseason droughts in NBA history:
The Suns could still reach 10 straight years outside the playoffs, but they’re still in the race this season.
The Kings might not be far from climbing this list, either.
Their future looks far bleaker than a year ago. Sacramento fired Joerger to hire Luke Walton, who has underwhelmed. Buddy Hield signed a lucrative contract extension then had a rough season. Fox progressed, though he didn’t make the desired leap into stardom. Other young players had ups and downs. Luka Doncic casts an even larger shadow from Dallas. The Kings’ organizational turmoil continues.
This was a feel-bad season in Sacramento, anyway. All the preceding losing only adds to the misery.
The Kings enter next season with one last chance to avoid the longest playoff drought in NBA history, and they do have a chance. But there’s only pessimism now.
Damian Lillard was making everything yesterday.
Lillard, who scored 51 points in the Trail Blazers’ win over the 76ers, even got a bucket on this wild pass off Tobias Harris.
Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s even better to be both.
LeBron James has played to overflowing gyms and arenas since he was a sophomore in high school. There is always a crowd around him to watch him play. Or a massive crowd of reporters around him after the game. Or throngs of fans when he travels through China on a shoe tour. LeBron has always packed the house.
Until now. There are no crowds, no fans at the NBA’s restart at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. It’s now games in a stripped-down, made-for-television gym. And LeBron admitted to reporters after the latest Lakers’ loss he is still adjusting. Via Mark Medina of the USA Today.
“I am getting more and more used to being out there. It’s a very weird dynamic. I haven’t played in an empty gym in a very, very long time,” James said following the Lakers’ 116-111 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. “It’s been a very long time since no one has been watching me play the game. I’m just trying to find that rhythm and lock in…
“I’m getting more and more comfortable playing in an empty gym,” James said. “Just having the backdrop here is a lot different from playing in a high school gym or a college arena where you’re playing in the summer time, whatever the case may be. It’s very dark, extremely dark. You can literally hear a feather hit the ground. I’m just getting more and more comfortable playing with my game here in the bubble.”
LeBron has still been very good in the bubble — 21.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists a game — but he has not been quite the otherworldly, MVP candidate level player he was before the shutdown. His true shooting percentage of 51.9 at the restart is down from 57.7 before the break (and it has been below the league average since the restart). The Laker offense overall has scored less than a point per possession in the bubble and has been the worst offense in Orlando (leading to a 2-4 record so far). It’s not all LeBron, the Lakers as a team have struggled to get their pre-hiatus traction back, the chemistry is not quite right. But we know who leads this team.
LeBron and company also know they need to find that rhythm soon. They will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and face and eight seed — likely Portland or Memphis — that had to battle its way into the postseason. That team, whoever it is, will come in battle-tested and motivated.
The fans will not be there to pick up LeBron and the Lakers.
“I definitely love playing in front of the fans. The fans are what make the game,” James said. “Without the fans, I wouldn’t be who I am today. To all the fans out there that come watch me play, I miss you guys and hopefully someday I can get back to that interaction.”
Someday we all hope for that.
In the short term, LeBron and the Lakers need to find their groove in a fanless world.