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.

Gregg Popovich shows off some handles, and a midrange game (VIDEO)

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This is where you insert your “if one more player drops from USA Basketball” joke…

Team USA has flown to Australia for a series of FIBA World Cup tuneup games — two against Australia, one against Canada — and they are practicing there for a few days prior to those games. At one of those practices, USA (and Spurs) coach Gregg Popovich showed off a little behind-the-back dribble and midrange game, and Donovan Mitchell caught it on his camera and posted it.

Just as a reminder, Pop did play. Never in the NBA, but he was one of the last cuts of the 1972 USA Olympic team.

That said, I think the coaching gig worked out pretty well for him.

Team USA will play Australia on Aug. 22 and 24, then face Canada on Aug. 26. From there the USA flies to China where its first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

Atlanta Hawks promote, extend contract of GM Travis Schlenk

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Trae Young. John Collins. Kevin Huerter. De’Andre Hunter. Cam Reddish.

The Atlanta Hawks have quietly built one of the more intriguing young teams in the NBA the past couple of years, trading up and down in the draft to compile a young roster with a lot of potential. They moved on from Mike Budenholzer (he landed on his feet just fine, thanks) and brought in player development specialist in Llyod Pierce as coach. All that has yet to translate to a lot of wins, but it will — the trajectory of the Hawks is going to take off like a rocket.

Travis Schlenk, the Hawks general manager and architect of all of it, earned the contract extension and new title he was given, something announced by the team on Monday. Schlenk is now Atlanta’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager.

“We are extremely pleased with the direction that Travis and our entire basketball operations team has us heading as a franchise. He has used the draft to build an impressive young core, hired one of the NBA’s top young coaches in Lloyd Pierce and positioned us to have the cap space, draft picks and financial flexibility needed to have long-term success in the NBA,” Hawks Principal Owner Tony Ressler said in a statement announcing the move.

Schlenk had been an assistant GM in Golden State before coming to Atlanta, and also had spent time in the Miami and Orlando organizations. He’s been in the NBA front office game for a couple of decades.

This is a smart decision by the Hawks. When things are going well, when you have good people in place, keep them there and get ownership out of the way. Let the basketball people do their jobs. Atlanta has figured that out.

The Hawks won 24 games during Schlenk’s first year and 29 last season, but expect that number to jump as the young talent on this roster continues to mature and get added to.

NBA’s Steph Curry helps Howard U. start Division I golf team

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WASHINGTON (AP) Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry is helping Howard University launch a Division I golf program.

The Golden State Warriors star guard and the school announced the six-year partnership Monday.

The specifics of his contribution were not disclosed.

Howard officials say they plan to have women’s and men’s golf teams for the 2020-21 academic year.

The school had a Division II golf program in the past, along with intercollegiate and intramural club teams.

The 31-year-old Curry, who has won three NBA championships with the Warriors, says he decided to get involved after meeting a Howard student who had been trying to get the university to have a golf team.

Curry says “it’s tough” to hear about students “who have the talent but don’t have a fair shot at the game.”

Cameron Reddish quadruples Zion Williamson’s vote total for ‘best career’ in NBA rookie survey

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Zion Williamson is the NBA’s most-hyped rookie – for good reason. He was incredibly productive at Duke, and his jaw-dropping athleticism should help his game translate with the Pelicans. He wasn’t just the consensus No. 1 pick this year. He was viewed as the best prospect in years.

His peers seem less enamored.

Williamson tied for fourth in the NBA’s annual rookie survey when rookies were asked which member of this class would have the best career. The full results:

1. Cam Reddish, Atlanta — 19%

2. Ja Morant, Memphis — 16%

3. De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta — 11%

4. R.J. Barrett, New York — 5%

Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans — 5%

Coby White, Chicago — 5%

Zion Williamson, New Orleans — 5%

Others receiving votes: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans; Jarrett Culver, Minnesota; Carsen Edwards, Boston; Darius Garland, Cleveland; Rui Hachimura, Washington; Keldon Johnson, San Antonio; Mfiondu Kabengele, LA Clippers; Romeo Langford, Boston; Cody Martin, Charlotte; Eric Paschall, Golden State; Tremont Waters, Boston; Dylan Windler, Cleveland

Reddish – the No. 10 pick – is a surprising top choice. He has plenty of talent and fluid athleticism, but he really struggled at Duke last season. That was a dispiriting development that wouldn’t happen to most players bound for NBA stardom.

I wouldn’t read too much into these results. Of the 42 polled rookies, 81% picked someone other than Reddish.

Still, it’s jarring to see Reddish so far ahead of Williamson.

Williamson didn’t get a majority of votes for Rookie of the Year prediction either, though he at least led that category:

1. Zion Williamson, New Orleans — 35%

2. Ja Morant, Memphis — 27%

3. R.J. Barrett, New York — 5%

Cam Reddish, Atlanta — 5%

Others receiving votes: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans; Goga Bitadze, Indiana; Brandon Clarke, Memphis; Carsen Edwards, Boston; Darius Garland, Cleveland; Kyle Guy, Sacramento; Rui Hachimura, Washington; Romeo Langford, Boston; Coby White, Chicago; Grant Williams, Boston

It’s close between Williamson and the field for Rookie of the Year. But if picking only one player, how do you pick someone other than Williamson?

Not every rookie takes these questions seriously. Clearly. Here, I think there’s especially an element of wanting to be different. Williamson is such an obvious answer to these questions, I bet many players gave their next answer. When too many do that, it looks silly.

At least the rookies chose Williamson as most athletic. In the only question where someone got a major of votes, Williamson topped 87% of the ballots.