Front-office change, Tyrese Haliburton give Kings hope in long road ahead


NBC Sports’ 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.

Point guard De'Aaron Fox is the Kings’ franchise player. They did well to sign him to max contract extension that keeps him under team control for the next six years.

Sacramento also drafted Tyrese Haliburton, who’s usually listed at point guard, No. 12.

“First and foremost, he was the best talent available to us,” new Kings general manager Monte Nair said. “And we don’t pass up talent.”

I doubt McNair was taking a subtle swipe at his predecessor Vlade Divac, though that type of in-fighting wouldn’t be out of place in Sacramento. But it’s impossible to ignore the Divac connection.

Divac infamously drafted Marvin Bagley III over Luka Doncic, at least in part, due to fit concerns with Fox. Doncic looked like the better talent at the time and has certainly proven to be.

That mistake will cast a shadow over the Kings for at least decade.

But they started to creep their way out of the darkness this offseason – mainly by replacing Divac with McNair and drafting Haliburton.

Divac was in completely over his head when he took over Sacramento’s front office. Though he made moderate progress throughout his tenure, Divac still left his post as arguably the NBA’s worst lead executive.

McNair is more of an unknown. He came from the Rockets, has a background in analytics and is running a front office for the first time. He also isn’t Divac. For now, that’s good enough.

Drafting Haliburton is a promising start. The Iowa State product rated No. 3 on my board. I also think he’s miscast as a point guard and should thrive with Fox. If the Kings – recently known as “basketball hell” – convinced Haliburton to steer his way to Sacramento, that reflects even more favorably on the new regime.

Losing Bogdan Bogdanovic to the Hawks in restricted free agency stings. If they weren’t going to match a perfectly reasonable and predictable four-year, $72 million offer sheet, the Kings should have traded him last year. Of course, Divac probably would have matched. In an overall front-office upgrade, this was a transition cost.

Donte DiVincenzo would have been a nice, easy return for Bogdanovic. But the sign-and-trade with the Bucks fell apart, leaving Sacramento with a difficult choice.

Bogdanovic might retain positive value throughout this contract. Might. But matching definitely would’ve been costly to the Kings – in money owed to Bogdanovic, in further depleting Buddy Hield‘s value and in making the team too good next season.

Sans Bogdanovic, Sacramento looks even more likely to finish near the bottom of a stacked Western Conference. That’s not so bad, considering the top of the 2021 draft looks loaded and the Kings likely would’ve failed even if they tried to make the playoffs. I don’t know how long owner Vivek Ranadive will remain patient with a rebuild, but the timing is right for a step back this year.

Still, Sacramento signed ostensible win-now players in Hassan Whiteside (31), Glenn Robinson II (26) and Frank Kaminsky (27). But those are minimum-salary contracts that could hold positive trade value at the deadline.* The Kings could boost their collection of picks/young players.

*However, Robinson not even getting his minimum contract fully guaranteed suggests there’s more than meets the eye with his situation.

Drafting Robert Woodard and Jahmi'us Ramsey in the second round look like small steps in the right direction. Overall, Sacramento got the Nos. 3, 26 and 31 players on my board with the Nos. 12, 40 and 43 picks.

But there’s A LOT more work ahead for the Kings.

At least they have a new general manager undertaking the project.

Offseason grade: B-

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return


Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.