Harrison Barnes

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De’Aaron Fox on Kings: ‘I see myself being here. I want to be here.’

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The NBA restart in Orlando — however long it lasts for the Kings — will be the end of the third season for De'Aaron Fox, which means its time to talk about him getting paid.

Except nobody is talking about that because we are all trying to adjust to his new hairstyle:

However, we should be talking payday. The end of his third season makes eligible for a contract rookie extension this offseason — which always brings up talk of “does this player want to stay?” The Kings have yet to make the playoffs in his tenure, and are a longshot to end that playoff drought in Orlando.

Fox has been clear: He wants to stay and build something with the Kings. The coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the season does not change that, he said during a media conference call this week (via James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s all the same, it’s all the same, I don’t think there’s much to say about that,” Fox said. “I see myself being here. I want to be here. Obviously, you know we want to win and right now, I think last year, we put ourselves in a good position. This year, we’re sort of in the same position to still make the playoffs. So that’s what we all want and then continue to take the next step forward.”

The Kings see him as a franchise cornerstone. Fox is not going to turn down a max — and he expects the 25% of the cap max — rookie contract extension. He’s going to grab the bag. Expect a deal to get done.

The questions Sacramento should ask: Is Fox the point guard they want to build around? If so, are they building out a roster that maximizes his talents?

Fox averaged 20.4 points and 6.8 assists a game for the Kings this past season playing at a near All-Star level. The Kings’ offense was +5.2 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court. However, Fox is not a great defender, and he took a step back and shot 30.7% from three this season. He doesn’t space the floor, what he does do is attack the rim — 59.4% of his shot attempts came within 10 feet of the rim. He is a blur in transition and finished 63% of his shots at the rim, so this works for him.

Fox’s attacking style fits well with Buddy Hield at the two, but how it will mesh with Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley III (who missed a lot of time due to injury this season) are the bigger questions. Do they all fit in Luke Walton’s slower offensive system? How the whole plan comes together in Sacramento remains to be seen.

But whatever it becomes, Fox wants to be part of it.

Coronavirus exposes NBA’s late-season tanking wasteland

NBA lottery
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The Knicks won one game – one game! – in all of March 2019. So, they certainly proved their losing bona fides entering an April Fool’s Day matchup with the Bulls. But Chicago had a perfect counter: A starting lineup of Walt Lemon, Wayne Selden, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Robin Lopez. The Bulls fell behind by 20 in the first quarter. Though New York gave 41 minutes to Damyean Dotson and used just three reserves (including Lance Thomas playing 31 minutes), it was too late.

The Knicks had been out-tanked.

***

These types of all-too-common ugly games are the subtext to the NBA’s coronavirus-crisis plans.

The league could resume by jumping straight into the playoffs or some enhanced postseason – either a play-in tournament or group stage – with 20-24 teams. All 30 teams returning has been discussed only as a cash grab. Continuing the regular season at all has been favored only as a ramp up to the playoffs.

But everyone finishing the regular season because it actually matters?

That’s a non-starter.

***

Sam Hinkie – who oversaw “The Process” with the 76ers – has become the face of tanking in the NBA. He took Philadelphia through an ambitious multi-year plan to lose a lot and reap the rewards.

In response, the NBA reformed its lottery. Now, there’s less incentive to finish with the league’s very-worst record.

But a team setting out to tank multiple seasons was incredibly rare.

The far more pervasive problem: Teams that enter a season trying to win, fail then pivot into tanking.

At that point, what is there to lose by, um, losing? Once out of the playoff race, the lure of a high draft pick is just too tempting. Even minor improvements in lottery odds come with the upside of a young franchise-changer. Additional wins carry minimal tangible value.

***

The NBA has spent more effort fighting discussion of tanking than tanking itself.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver defines tanking by its most narrow terms – players and coaches actively trying to lose games. But tanking manifests in other ways.

General managers trade away quality players. Teams become beyond cautious with injuries. Raw young players get more playing time. Coaches experiment with odd lineups. A general malaise sets in as everyone sees the true goal.

That’s why I define tanking as anything a team does intended, at least in part, to improve draft position by losing.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when each team begins tanking. But official elimination from the playoff race is a generous starting point. Most tanking teams adopt the approach even earlier.

***

When the season was halted, 259 regular-season games remained. Far too few of those will be missed.

From the same point last year through the end of the season, 47% of games included a team already eliminated from the playoff race.

It was even worse the prior season. In the same time frame, 50% of games included a team already eliminated from the playoff race.

At best, eliminated teams have already traded their draft picks and have no incentive to lose. Even then, those teams have shown minimal desire to win.

At worst, teams are aggressively chasing better draft position. In 2018, an owner reportedly berated his coach for winning. George Karl said he had a similar experience while coaching. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has repeatedly trumpeted tanking. Travis Schlenk acknowledged the Warriors tanked to get Harrison Barnes. Bryan Colangelo admitted the Raptors tanked under his watch.

Fans – wisely – feel let down when their already-lousy team wins to hurt it’s draft position.

That’s an awful setup.

***

Every so often, the NBA is forced to confront its annual tanking epidemic.

After the Pelicans denied Anthony Davis‘ trade request and kept him past the trade 2019 deadline, they had a standoff. Davis wanted to play. The Pelicans wanted to sit him. They preferred to tank for a better draft pick and protect their superstar asset in a lost season. Eventually, the NBA threatened to fine New Orleans, and the sides struck an imperfect compromise.

The year before, the NBA warned the Bulls to stop resting healthy players.

But coronavirus has shined a much brighter spotlight on the problem

It’d be practically criminal to force bad teams to quarantine, live in an isolated environment, risk injury after a long layoff, risk contracting and spreading coronavirus… just for games they want to lose, anyway. Damian Lillard put voice to the issue, saying he wouldn’t play if the Trail Blazers can’t make the postseason this year. The already-eliminated Warriors have made clear they prefer just to be done.

It’s obviously far more tolerable to play these games in normal times.

But the NBA ought to reconsider a system that creates so many games of awful product.

***

I still believe a draft that rewards losing teams is good for the NBA. It’s important to engage every fan base. If fans of a bad team can’t enjoy wins, at least they’ll have hope.

But the league should strike a better balance.

I’ve advocated for a system that improves draft position with early losses and late wins. Most teams enter a season trying to win, and those that fail would get draft help. But teams – from the top down – would also be incentivized to remain competitive throughout the season. Intentionally losing early then winning late would be a nearly impossible needle to thread.

There’s plenty to sort out – how to value early losses vs. late wins, when to flip the switch, etc. I’m even open to including a Silver favorite – a play-in tournament (that also boosts draft position for teams that win).

But, please: Do something to reduce the large number of late-season tank games.

This situation shows how frivolous they are.

Rumor: James Wiseman on top of Warriors draft board

Wiseman Golden State
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If the NBA cancels the rest of the regular season, the Golden State Warriors would have the worst record in the NBA. Even if the league tries to play a few more regular season games (something Steve Kerr does not expect), it’s highly unlikely we will see enough games played to change the Warriors Draft Lottery odds.

The Warriors will have a 14 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick.

If that happens, they have James Wiseman on top of their draft board, reports Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report.

A league source said the Warriors have Wiseman at the top of their draft board; understandable considering forward Dragan Bender, a late-season addition via two 10-day contracts, is the only 7-footer on the roster and 6’9″ Kevon Looney is the only listed center. But none of the executives surveyed put Wiseman in the category of Dwight Howard or even Deandre Ayton, big men capable of playing a significant role on Day 1.

“Does Wiseman change the game for them, the way they play?” the lower-level Eastern Conference talent evaluator asks. “No. He doesn’t play hard enough. But he makes sense. They don’t need him to be great. If he goes some place and has to be Trae [Young] or Ja [Morant], he’s not that. But if [the Warriors’] top four are back, he can be Harrison Barnes, a good fifth player.”

While Wiseman might be a good fit eventually — if he will accept that role, which is a question with him — it would not be for a couple of years. Wiseman is not ready to help a team with title aspirations right now or even help a top-four team in the West, which a healthy Warriors team likely would be. He has potential as a pick-setting rim runner, but he is raw and it will take time to get there. The Warriors are a win-now team with aging stars; they don’t have years to wait.

If the Warriors land the top pick, expect them to try hard to trade down. Warriors owner Joe Lacob said as much recently, and it’s what others around the league expect.  When asked what he would do with the No. 1 pick if he were the Warriors GM, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster said trade down to picks four through six, and likely land a player such as Obi Toppin, Isaac Okoro, or Deni Avdija — players who should not go No. 1 but are better poised to help immediately.

The problem for the Warriors, or whoever lands the top pick, is this is a weak draft at the top — Dauster described it this way: the top three picks in this draft would go 6-10 most years — so there may not be much return in sliding down. Still, the Warriors would explore it as their first option. They need a veteran or someone who can help now more than a project.

The NBA Draft Lottery is scheduled for May 19, the Draft itself June 25. Because the league has yet to cancel games officially, it has not moved either of those dates, but expect both to be pushed back in the coming weeks. The league calendar remains in flux as the NBA tries to figure out if it can salvage some form of this season and postseason.

Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell headline televised NBA video-game tournament

Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell
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The NBA season isn’t returning any time soon.

So, the closest thing you’ll get to live basketball on television is a video-game tournament between NBA players. The bracket has been revealed.

The Boardroom:

1. Kevin Durant (Nets)

2. Trae Young (Hawks)

3. Hassan Whiteside (Trail Blazers)

4. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)

5. Devin Booker (Suns)

6. Andre Drummond (Cavaliers)

7. Zach LaVine (Bulls)

8. Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)

9. Domantas Sabonis (Pacers)

10. Deandre Ayton (Suns)

11. DeMarcus Cousins (previously Lakers)

12. Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)

13. Rui Hachimura (Wizards)

14. Patrick Beverley (Clippers)

15. Harrison Barnes (Kings)

16. Derrick Jones Jr. (Heat)

I have questions:

  • How does Hassan Whiteside have the same rating as Donovan Mitchell and a higher rating Devin Booker?
  • Does being extremely online bode well for Kevin Durant?
  • Is Donovan Mitchell, who spent his coronavirus isolation playing video games, in the best game shape?
  • Will Zach LaVine redeem himself?
  • Will players use their own teams? If so, will Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton both use the Suns, Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley both use the Clippers? If not, the most interesting aspect of this tournament – to non-esports aficionados – could be reading way too much into which teams players pick.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, Suns, Kings

Mock NBA expansion draft
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division and the Central Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Pacific:

Golden State Warriors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: The Warriors have their core together with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Ky Bowman, Marquese Chriss, Damion Lee and Eric Paschall provide value on minimum contracts. That’s all the Warriors need to protect.

Golden State wouldn’t mind seeing Kevon Looney or Jordan Poole selected to get the salaries off the cap sheet. The rest of the players are ones the Warriors won’t lose any sleep over if they’re drafted.

L.A. Clippers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: L.A. has its main guys with four starters under contract. They aren’t being exposed here. The other three players are key bench contributors on good contracts. And Kabengele and Mann were just drafted. Easy decisions across the board for the Clippers.

L.A. could lose Green as a free agent. The Clippers also bet he does undrafted and could return. Rodney McGruder makes too much money for his role.

Los Angeles Lakers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: The Lakers and Anthony Davis will work out that he’ll opt out before the expansion draft, which makes him ineligible. The rest of the players are role players that Los Angeles would rather keep around LeBron James than risk losing.

Los Angeles won’t be upset to see Quinn Cook or Rajon Rondo selected. They’re both replacement-level players for the Lakers at this point.

Phoenix Suns

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Phoenix keeps it simple and protects all the guys who are part of its core. The Suns could have left Dario Saric unprotected, but by protecting Saric, they keep the flexibility to re-sign him as a restricted free agent. The rest are all easy decisions.

Of the unprotected players, none of have established themselves as NBA rotation players. If any are selected, Phoenix won’t lose any sleep over it.

Sacramento Kings

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Kings will protect their five starters and three key reserves. Cory Joseph is a decision-point, but considering De’Aaron Fox’s injury issues, Joseph is too valuable to let walk away.

Sacramento won’t mind if Jabari Parker is selected, but they aren’t going to pay anyone to do it. Justin James has been an interesting prospect, but the Kings won’t stress if he gets selected.