51 Q: Can Cousins, Rondo, Karl all just get along?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Can DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, and George Karl get along well enough to lead Sacramento back to the playoffs?

The last time the Sacramento Kings took part in a playoff game, you were walking around singing “So Sick” from Ne-Yo and were meeting your friends to see “Phat Girlz” at the theater. Well, maybe not because nobody really went and saw Phat Girlz at the theater. But you get the idea, it’s been a while. Nine seasons to be specific.

On paper, the Kings have the talent to keep that from becoming 10. DeMarcus Cousins is the best traditional center in the game today, he’s a beast who averaged 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds a game last season. Rudy Gay is a 20 point a game wing player. Rajon Rondo is a former All-Star point guard who even last season led the league in assist chances per game — he can still dish the rock. There are quality rotation players such as Marco Belinelli, Darren Collison, Kosta Koufos, Caron Butler, and Omri Casspi, plus an intriguing rookie in Willie Cauley-Stein. All coached by one of the winningest coaches in NBA history, George Karl.

Or, the entire thing could blow up.

There seems to be no middle ground with the Kings this season — either they are a playoff team (or close to it, the West is deep), or things get ugly fast.

It all comes down to one simple question: Can some headstrong players and a stubborn coach all get along?

Kings players were bonding all summer (Cousins even went to Israel with Casspi), and a lot of that was done without Karl around. Sources around the Kings think the players have started to bond, in part over their dislike of Karl — and that could bring them together and make it all work.

There’s the other simple fact of NBA life: Winning solves a lot of chemistry problems. If the Kings can get there.

Cousins has been understandably frustrated with ownership’s constant changing of directions in recent years. Last season he formed a great bond with coach Mike Malone, who had changed the culture in that team’s locker room. Then Malone was fired mid-season, reportedly because owner Vivek Ranadive wanted to run more. They got Karl to put in that up-tempo system.

Karl and Cousins have already had a feud because Karl reportedly pushed to trade Cousins (something Ranadive and GM Vlade Divac oppose, so don’t expect it). Cousins responded on Twitter calling Karl a “snake in the grass.” Now the two have sat down and talked, but the underlying tension has not gone away.

“All our guys are hungry for winning, but Cuz is our best player, most talented kid,” Karl told PBT this summer (before he met with Cousins). “We need him to feel like there’s a commitment from both sides. He to us and us to him.”

Then there is a headstrong point guard in Rondo who likes to call his own plays — just ask Rick Carlisle — trying to mix with Karl, a coach who has feuded with more than one of his former stars. Add in the fact Rondo is on a one-year contract, so he could have an eye on his numbers, not just the win column.

“He’s a very basketball high IQ guy,” Karl said of Rondo. “He’s going to challenge us as coaches because I think he knows the game and he’ll have some things; we’ll probably some give and take on. But this kid’s an All-Star, he’s a triple-double machine when he’s playing well. He likes to lead teams, he leads teams with a spirit that has some toughness to it.

“He’s a pass-first point guard, which I think is important. In the end, he and Darren (Collison) really excite me. We’re going to have two guys who can take control of the team, play together, and keep the pace of the game where we can play with a lot of freedom and creativity, and also play without turnovers…

“I think it’s going to be fun coaching (Rondo). I think he wants to lead our team, but he also wants to be a part of the decision making. That can be somewhat combustible, but that also can work at a high level.”

Combustible is a good word for these Kings.

These Kings could use that combustible fuel to jet higher up in the standings than anyone expects, or they could just explode.

In recent years, Sacramento has not been the kind of stable environment you want for handling volatile compounds. It leads to doubts about how good this team will be; there’s a feeling that things could just be shaken up at any time. Or, maybe the Kings have started to figure it out — they have to prove that, but maybe.

The bottom line, because they are combustible, they are must watch TV.

NBA 2K20 ratings released, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard earn 97s to lead way

NBA 2K20
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How do NBA players measure respect? There are a few ways, with the size of the paycheck being at the top of the list. Awards and accolades fit in there.

However, few things rile guys up like their NBA 2K rankings. Most play the game, and their ranking (out of 100) is seen as a measure of status among fellow players and fans.

2K Sports unveiled the top rankings for NBA 2K20 in a live-streamed show on Monday night, and LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard got the top honors. Here’s the top 20:

1. LeBron James 97
2. Kawhi Leonard 97
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo 96
4. Kevin Durant 96
5. James Harden 96
6. Stephen Curry 96
7. Anthony Davis 94
8. Paul George 93
9. Damian Lillard 92
10. Joel Embiid 91
11. Kyrie Irving 91
12. Nikola Jokic 90
13. Russell Westbrook 90
14. Klay Thompson 89
15. Karl-Anthony Towns 89
16. Jimmy Butler 88
17. Kemba Walker 88
18. Donovan Mitchell 88
19. Rudy Gobert 88
20. Blake Griffin 88

The highest-rated rookie: Of course it was Zion Williamson (81).

Anthony Davis is on the cover of NBA 2K20, which will be released on Sept. 6. Sorry, you’ve got to wait until then to play it, but here is an early teaser video.

Report: Chris Paul trade to Miami hung up on picks moving with him

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Chris Paul is making a stopover in Oklahoma City. The Rockets sent him there for Paul George, but the competitive 34-year-old point guard doesn’t want to be part of a long rebuilding project. He wants to be traded again before the season starts.

His preference? Miami, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN. There, CP3 would team up with Jimmy Butler. Miami is open to the idea, but what has hung the entire thing up is the discussion of picks, Windhorst said on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Monday night (hat tip NESN).

“When you talk about him potentially going to the Miami Heat, which is his preference, one thing I’ve been told in the talks; the fact that the Thunder hold the two of the Heat’s first-round picks in the future — unprotected 2021, protected 2023 — makes this a difficult conversation because the Heat want those picks back,” Windhorst said. “The Thunder have expressed an interest in giving one of those picks back but they would want another pick farther off into the future. So I do think that these teams have a lot to talk about.”

Oklahoma City is rebuilding and the mountain of picks they have compiled through trading George and Westbrook — 16 potential first rounders through 2026, including their own, enough to make Danny Ainge think they have too many picks — is at the heart of that plan. While the Thunder can afford to give one or two up, they don’t want to.

Miami is saying that to take on Paul’s remaining three-years, $124 million, they want a sweetener. Which is what every team would ask for.

Which brings us to another problem for the Thunder: There is not much of a market for Paul. Miami is the only name really mentioned in negotiations. There is speculation about other potential landing spots, and no doubt some feeler calls have come into Sam Presti in OKC, but the Heat seem to be the only team going down the road of serious talks.

There are other challenges to getting this trade done. For example, the Thunder would love to shed salary (they are still $3.7 million into the tax) but the Heat are hard-capped after the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade and cannot absorb any more salary.

The Heat may be the place Paul ultimately lands but finding a deal that works could take some time to bring together.

Brandon Clarke named Summer League MVP, leads Grizzlies to Vegas title

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Brandon Clarke made his mark in Las Vegas.

The No. 21 pick in June out of Gonzaga, he averaged 14.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game in leading the Grizzlies to the championship game, and for that he was named the Las Vegas Summer League MVP.

(That award has been won by Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin and John Wall, but also Josh Shelby and Glen Rice Jr. Most winners of the award had good careers as role players — Randy Foye, Jerryd Bayless, whatever Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart become — but it’s a mistake to think it’s a precursor of NBA dominance.)

Clarke wasn’t done, he had 15 points and 16 rebounds in the championship game, leading the Grizzlies past the Timberwolves 95-92. Memphis is your 2019 NBA Summer League Champions.

Memphis raced out to a 15-point lead early in the title game.

In the end, it was a balanced attack that won Memphis the game. Grayson Allen led the way 17 points, but Clarke, Bruno Caboclo, and Dusty Hannah’s all had 15 points, while Tyler Harvey added a dozen.

Minnesota was led by Kelan Martin with 19 points.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban fined $50,000; Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta $25,000

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The first rule of NBA ownership: Don’t talk about NBA ownership.

Or the business you do as an owner until it becomes official, even if by then everyone else has known for days and already moved on from the topic.

Monday was an expensive day for two of the NBA’s owners of teams in Texas. Mark Cuban was fined $50,000 for leaking information from the league’s Board of Governor’s meeting about the new coach’s challenge  — even though everybody knew what was going to happen — before the meeting officially ended. Tim MacMahon of ESPN reported this story and had maybe the best quote of the summer to go with it.

The NBA office fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $50,000 after he admitted to leaking information from last week’s Board of Governors meeting to a reporter, sources told ESPN…

“I appreciate the irony of your reporting on a fine that someone should, but won’t, get fined for leaking to you,” Cuban told ESPN.

Sources said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive expressed concern that information about the vote to allow coaches’ challenges was being reported while the meeting was still in session. Cuban immediately admitted that he had leaked the information, sources said.

Well played, Cuban.

This is a letter of the law fine, but was it a big deal that this got out? The vote was all but assured, a formality, but Cuban gets fined for telling people? Thanks, Vivek.

From the same “is this really a big deal” file we have the fine Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta got on Monday, $25,000 for talking about the Russell Westbrook trade before it was official. Even though everybody was talking about it. From Mark Stein of the New York Times.

Here is the oh-so-damaging quote:

Again, I get Fertitta crossed the official line because the trade had not gone through yet, but does that line really need to exist in these cases? It feels like the silly hat thing at the NBA Draft.

Damaging or even interesting information was not divulged in either case. The fines were not steep because of it, but the NBA’s process of what is and is not allowed around trades and free agency — and the odd Board of Governors meeting — seems behind the times.