Can the Kings fight the Lakers for a playoff spot in the West this year?


It’s hard to figure out what to make of the Western Conference this year. Yes, the Golden State Warriors appear to be knocked off of their throne now that they lost another Finals… and Kevin Durant. They also will start the season without Klay Thompson, but that doesn’t mean the best conference in the NBA is weak. Teams like the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, and New Orleans Pelicans have all added players to their roster in anticipation of a moor wide open west.

Of course, the Sacramento Kings want to be in that race, too. A surprising upstart last season, the Kings finished ninth in the West. But that place belies the reality of how far Sacramento has to go. They were a full nine games back of the eighth spot in the Western Conference, and they finished two games under .500 in 2018-19.

Last season, Sacramento was in the middle of the pack in terms of both offense and defense, and they didn’t particularly defend the rim all that well. According to Cleaning the Glass, they ranked 25th in at-rim percentage on defense, wiping out the good done by their 8th-best rating against the 3-pointer.

This issue near the hoop also plagued Sacramento on offense. A reasonable 3-point shooting team, the Kings ranked 17th in at-rim percentage last year. This also seemed to negate the good that De’Aaron Fox and the rest of the team did in transition, where they were one of the best running teams in the NBA.

Worryingly, the team also lost some of its best players in terms of on/off numbers. Ben McLemore now plays for the Houston Rockets, and Willie Cauley-Stein is on the Golden State Warriors. Truthfully, Kings fans might not exactly lament the loss of those two players, whose time with the team was largely marked with unfulfilled expectations. More concerning is the reliance Sacramento will have on some of its burgeoning players who have not yet proved themselves to be net positives.

Both Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley will see increased weight put upon their shoulders this year. Bagley was a breakout star, and a potential Rookie of the Year candidate last season for Sacramento. But as it stands now, it’s not clear how the Kings will fill the gaps they need in just one year with largely the same core in place.

Sacramento has done some work to ease the load on its stars, including adding Trevor Ariza, Cory Joseph, and Dewayne Dedmon. Those players — coupled with a summer of experience on the part of Bagley and Fox — are where the Kings have laid their hopes for raising the baseline of performance in Sacramento.

This is not to say that the Kings cannot be a playoff team this year. The Oklahoma City Thunder are without Russell Westbrook, and the six seed in last year’s playoffs could very easily miss the postseason in 2019-20. If Sacramento strengthens itself, there might also be a dip in how either the Portland Trail Blazers or the Houston Rockets perform.

But the real competitor when it comes to the playoff picture out west is the Los Angeles Lakers. If we are going to conservatively project that there will be one open playoff spot from last season, it would naturally be the choice of many to choose LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

But health and resiliency is a major factor for L.A., not to mention depth. The players on the Lakers roster outside of James and Davis just flat-out aren’t very good, and as we’ve seen from teams like Utah, Denver, Portland, and San Antonio, depth can often trump superstars when it comes to playoff eligibility.

New head coach Luke Walton shouldn’t have a problem motivating the young players on his team. Before all the LeBron drama, Walton was building something interesting in Los Angeles. He should be able to do the same with perhaps an even better core this time around. Fox is a budding superstar, and with some guidance and defensive concentration, he should be able to lead to some kind of jump in results.

So this is where we land in Northern California: The Kings want to take the next step, and their spunkiness has everyone wishing them well. But they can’t be expected to rely on bad health breaks for their rivals. Walton will need to focus on finding a way for them to finish strong inside and defend at a rate which allows them to leap up into the playoff picture for 2020.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

2023 NBA Playoffs - Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
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Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.

Phil Knight says he still wants to buy Trail Blazers, still waiting for team to be available

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Mens Championship: Duke v Purdue
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Phil Knight — not a man known for his patience — is waiting.

The Nike founder still wants the chance to buy the Portland Trail Blazers to ensure they stay in Portland, reports Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the team remains unavailable. More than a year ago Knight and Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky reportedly offered more than $2 billion to buy the Trail Blazers. Jody Allen, who currently runs the team on behalf of her late brother Paul Allen’s estate, said there is no plan to sell the team right now, and it could be years.

Knight continues to try and buy the team, the Journal reports.

So Knight and Smolinisky tried again, according to a person familiar with their plans. On numerous occasions, including earlier this year, they made it clear to Jody Allen that they still wanted to make a deal. They indicated that they realized the price had gone up and that they were willing to pay more than their initial offer, this person said. Again, Knight’s calls to Jody Allen were diverted to Kolde [Bert Kolde is the Executive Vice President of Sports Strategy at Vulcan Inc., which owns the Blazers and Seahawks], and nothing came of the brief discussions.

A few months ago, Smolinisky even sent a handwritten letter to Jody Allen seeking common ground and saying he and Knight would love to discuss the Blazers with her, according to a person familiar with the matter. In response, Smolinisky received an email from someone replying on Jody Allen’s behalf with a familiar message: Paul Allen’s sports teams aren’t on the market.

Paul Allen died of cancer in 2018 and some reports say his will requires the Trail Blazers — as well as the NFL’s Seahawks — must be sold within 10 years of that date, with the money from the sales going to a variety of charitable causes. We are halfway into that window.

In the case of the Trail Blazers, it would be wise to wait until the new national broadcast rights deal — which is expected to double, at least, the league’s television revenue — is locked in, raising the franchise value. Values have already gone up, with the Phoenix Suns being valued at $4 billion when Mat Ishbia bought them last December.

In the short term, the Trail Blazers and their fans are focused on the NBA Draft, where they have the No. 3 pick but are reportedly open to trading that for the right veteran to put next to Damian Lillard.

Coaching updates from around NBA: Stotts to Bucks, Young paid to stay with Suns

2021 NBA Playoffs - Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets
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In the 24 hours since the last time we put together a list of coaching updates from around the NBA a lot of things transpired, some expected, some not.

Here’s an update on the NBA coaching carousel.

• As was rumored to be coming, former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts will join Adrian Griffin’s staff with the Milwaukee Bucks. This is a smart hire, putting an experienced coach known for creative offense next to the rookie coach on a contending team. With the Bucks getting older and more expensive quickly — 35-year-old Brook Lopez is a free agent this summer — the Bucks don’t have time for a rookie coach to figure things out on the job.

• Kevin Young will stay in Phoenix on Frank Vogel’s staff after new owner Mat Ishbia made him the highest-paid assistant in the league at $2 million a year, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Devin Booker reportedly backed Young to get the head coaching job, although how hard Booker pushed is up for debate. Keeping Young on staff — likely in an offensive coordinator role — next to the defensive-minded Vogel could be a good fit.

• Former Hornets coach James Borrego was in the mix for several jobs but has settled in New Orleans, where he will be on Willie Green’s staff. This team is stacked with offensive talent — Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum — if they can just stay on the court.

• There is now just one head coaching vacancy open around the league, the Toronto Raptors, and they are entering the final interview stages, reports Josh Lewenberg of TSN. Among the finalists for the job are Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez and highly-respected European coach Sergio Scariolo (the head coach of the Spanish national team and Virtus Bologna of the Italian league).

• The makeover of the Celtics coaching staff could go even deeper than expected because Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser and Garrett Jackson are all leaving Boston to join Ime Udoka‘s staff in Houston, reports Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

• Former Pacers player Shayne Whittington is now a part of Rick Carlisle’s coaching staff in Indiana.

Hawks’ Trae Young plans to shoot more 3s… is that a good thing?

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six
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Quin Snyder wants his teams to shoot 3-pointers. A lot of them. In his final season as coach of the Utah Jazz, they took 10 more 3-pointers a game than his new Atlanta Hawks team did last season after he took over.

Trae Young has heard his coach and is ready to get up more than the 6.3 attempts a game he took last season.

That’s a good thing… but only if they are “good shots.” It’s good only if Young hits more than the 33.5% he shot from 3 last season.

While he has a reputation as a 3-point marksman, Young is a career 35.1% shooter from 3 and has been below that 35% number in three of his five NBA seasons. (Also concerning for the Hawks and Young’s fit with Dejonte Murray, he shot just 20% on the less than one catch-and-shoot 3 he took a game last season.)

Young has had better years, he shot 38.2% in 2021-22 and he is an offensive force as a creator capable of doing that again. That is the Young Snyder needs.

He also needs Young to buy into his system of ball and player movement more. Last season, 45% of Young’s shots came after he had at least seven dribbles — he pounded the ball into the ground and jacked up a shot without getting teammates involved far too often (77.9% of his shots came after at least three dribbles). Young shot 33.3% on the 3s he took after those seven dribbles, and less than that percentage on 3-pointers taken after three dribbles or more, which were the majority of his attempts.

This coming season will be an important one for Young, who has proven he is an All-Star who can put up numbers and drive an offense — he’s made an All-NBA team for a reason. The question facing him is whether he will fit into a team system that balances multiple shot creators, off-ball movement, willing passers and selflessness — what you can see in the two teams playing in the NBA Finals. Snyder will call pick-and-rolls, he wants his team to hunt mismatches at times, but there has to be more of a flow to what is happening. There can’t be many shots after seven dribbles (and that’s not touching on the defensive concerns around Young).

The Hawks will evolve over the next couple of seasons under Snyder. Where Young fits in that will be something to watch.

But we will see more 3-pointers.