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Kings make neither friends nor progress

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The good news for the Kings this offseason: They could do nearly no wrong (with one big exception). The bad news for the Kings this offseason: They could do nearly no right (with one big exception).

Yet, even in that stuck position, they still found ways to agitate a lot of people this summer.

Sacramento has been cripplingly impatient during its 12-year playoff drought, repeatedly falling for get-good-quick schemes that fell flat and left the team even less prepared to build up later. Among the worst was a 2015 salary-dump trade with the 76ers that cost the Kings their unprotected 2019 first-rounder (and forced Sacramento to swap the No. 3 pick with Philadelphia’s No. 5 pick last year).

But that mismanagement was also liberating this summer. The Kings will almost certainly be lousy again next year, but they can aim to be as good as possible without negative consequences. Signing hamstringing veterans like they did last offseason would have been far more reasonable this year. So would prioritizing youth despite not receiving the bonus tanking benefit. It’s all whatever.

Sacramento didn’t have a quiet offseason, though – at least not to those crossing paths with the combustible franchise.

The most consequential move was draft Marvin Bagley III No. 2 over Luka Doncic, seemingly the preferred choice among Kings fans. I would have picked Doncic, and I definitely wouldn’t have picked Bagley. Sacramento’s understood rationale – Bagley wanting to be there – is especially discouraging.

Maybe Bagley will turn out better than Doncic. Even picks made for poor reasons sometimes turn out. But I’m not a believer, and I sure don’t envy Kings fans trying to talk themselves into Bagley after getting their hopes up for Doncic.

Sacramento also signed Zach LaVine to a four-year, $78 million offer sheet that – fortunately for the Kings – Chicago matched. The deal will likely be a thorn in the Bulls’ side, but they probably weren’t eager to lose a key piece of their Jimmy Butler-trade return for nothing.

From there, Sacramento moved onto players who already agreed to terms with other teams, poaching Nemanja Bjelica from the 76ers and Yogi Ferrell from the Mavericks. Those defections reflect worse on the players, but this sure wasn’t a way for the Kings to endear themselves around the league.

Guaranteeing a 30-year-old Bjelica $13,325,000 over the next two years with a third season unguaranteed at $7.15 million seems about fair. It’s not certain he’ll hold positive trade value, but he might, and Sacramento didn’t necessarily have a better use for that money.

I like the Ferrell signing more. The Kings had plenty of room to get value while out-bidding the absurdly team-friendly contract he agreed to with Dallas. Sacramento will pay him $3 million next season and got an unguaranteed season tacked on.

Between all their incitement, the Kings provided comic relief by trading for Ben McLemore – whom they once drafted No. 7, never significantly developed, never traded then let leave in free agency without even a qualifying offer extended. It was actually part of a larger trade that worked well for Sacramento, netting a 2021 Grizzlies second-rounder for Garrett Temple, an overpaid but still productive 32-year-old. Temple, McLemore and the other involved player – Deyonta Davis – are all are on expiring contracts. The second-rounder helps the Kings far more than Temple would’ve. McLemore returning to Sacramento is just a humorous side effect.

Even funnier: Vlade Divac declaring the Kings are a “super team, just young.” It’s hard to see a super team – present or future – in Bagley, De'Aaron FoxBogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry GilesSkal Labissiere and Justin Jackson.

But that won’t be judged yet, and Bagley was the only core player added this summer. It’s especially too soon to evaluate him fully. In these grades, I’m reluctant to assign much credit or blame for draft picks who’ve yet to play in the NBA.

They took an adventurous route, but in an offseason where the Kings had the No. 2 pick and little else to change their fortunes, the Kings used essentially only the No. 2 pick to change their fortunes. We don’t yet what that’ll mean, but this grade reflects at least a little bit of my Bagley skepticism.

Offseason grade: C-

LeBron James on Lakers clinching No. 1 seed: ‘They said I couldn’t do it’

Lakers star LeBron James
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

LeBron James, via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

“They said I couldn’t do it.”

“I’ll enjoy this one,” James said, nodding as he grinned. “They said I can’t do it.”

The Lakers entered the season fifth in the West in over-under wins (behind the Rockets, Clippers, Jazz and Nuggets).

But nobody credible thought the Lakers couldn’t get the No. 1 seed. With LeBron and Anthony Davis, the Lakers obviously had that type of upside. Their championship odds were far more favorable. The main doubts stemmed from how seriously LeBron would take the regular season.

That said, in the age of social media, players hear both more praise and more criticism than ever before. LeBron surely heard from haters who ruled him out. Crowning himself the Washed King, LeBron probably internalized that fringe opinion.

Many players find slights to use as motivation. It worked for Michael Jordan. It works for LeBron.

But it does sound silly when an exalted player like LeBron talks this way.

Report: Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers owner Herb Simon and executives Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird, and Kevin Pritchard
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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Paul George said he left the Pacers because they weren’t willing to spend enough.

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president in 2017, citing a desire to do more things outside basketball. Yet, he also reportedly had another reason.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Indiana is a small-market team that consistently has not gone out and paid big money. We know that this was something that frustrated Larry Bird, who is a legend in the state of Indiana and elsewhere, I might add. It frustrated him enough that he stepped aside.

Pacers owner Herb Simon has a certain way of doing things. Indiana hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2006, the first year the tax line was set before the season.

Despite that, the Pacers have been pretty good. They’ve qualified for the playoffs nine of the last 10 seasons, peaking with appearances in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

Still, Indiana has lost in the first round four straight years. Another first-round loss appears the most likely outcome for this season.

That’s not exactly satisfying for players who want to win championships. Spending big isn’t absolutely necessary to compete on the highest levels. But it helps.

Pacers star Victor Oladipo is approaching 2021 unrestricted free agency. He’s a competitor who’ll evaluate, among other things, whether his current franchise matches his ambitions.

It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Simon can decide his own limits. But there are consequences of his spending restraint – especially as perception grows about his relative thriftiness.

J.J. Redick describes thought behind meme: ‘I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing’

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J.J. Redick has made the playoffs all 13 of his previous NBA seasons.

The Pelicans have put that streak in jeopardy.

New Orleans lost its first two games in the bubble, a nail-biter against the Jazz and a rout against the Clippers. During that loss to L.A., cameras captured Redick – on the floor exercising his back while out of the game – with a distant stare that became an instant meme.

Redick on ESPN Daily:

I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing, and I think my face summed up that first half pretty well.

There’s so many circumstances you could apply the emotions that I was going through in that moment.

Redick is right: That meme fits many occasions, which gives it staying power.

However, it has plenty of competition. Though the feelings displayed aren’t the exact same, Redick didn’t even have the best reaction inside the bubble by an exasperated NBA player. That belongs to Nuggets star Nikola Jokic:

At least Redick got reason to perk up. The Pelicans beat the Grizzlies yesterday to gain ground in the playoff race.

Darren Collison says talk of him playing for Lakers was “overhyped”

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Darren Collison shocked the NBA last summer when he walked away from the game at age 32 — and a likely contract in the four-year, $70+ million range — and retired. His reasons were legitimate, he wanted to focus on his religion — “While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith,” Collison said at the time — but the league has seen a lot of players say they were walking away for good reasons only to come running back.

The rumors about a Collison return started just after January 1 and spun out of control in Los Angeles when he sat with Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss at a game.

Collison stayed retired, and told the “Minute til 6” podcast it wasn’t even close. He was never coming back.

“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing. Like, I wasn’t even thinking about coming back.”

That game he went to? He just came to watch his friend Russell Westbrook.

“I just wanted to come watch the game as a fan.”

Collison also is smart enough to know how him sitting with Buss would be perceived.

Collison was wanted. The Lakers run LeBron James at the point but could have used the veteran Collison in the role Rajon Rondo filled as a secondary playmaker (Rondo is currently out with a thumb injury). Collison was rumored to the Clippers as well, and Doc Rivers can always find a way to use more guard depth.

Collison, however, seems at peace with his decision. If he wanted to return, he would have done it last summer for 10 figures a season, not for the minimum in January.