Posts Tagged ‘Jimmer Fredette’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 9


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving insists right ankle is fine | LeBron’s brand value rises $10M | Wizards slowly working Nene into mix | Fredette making early impression for Pelicans

No. 1: No worries about Irving’s ankle — Cleveland Cavaliers fans everywhere were likely a little anxious yesterday when news started circulating on Twitter and so forth that All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving was seen in a walking boot after practice. But as The Plain Dealer‘s Chris Fedor and ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst report, Irving was in the boot merely as a precautionary measure. Both the team and Irving insist he will be fine:

Here’s Fedor’s report:

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving was sighted in Brazil wearing a walking boot on his right foot Wednesday but is not worried about the injury.

“It’s not serious,” Irving told Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Chris Haynes shortly after the news broke. “I will be fine. Just a little sprain.”

Irving tweaked his ankle in Tuesday’s practice before the team left for Rio de Janeiro. He received X-rays and an MRI, both of which came back negative.

Still, the team is taking extra precaution by having Irving wear the boot. He will also be receiving treatment while in Brazil.

And here’s Windhorst on the injury, too:

Kyrie Irving suffered a right ankle injury during practice before the Cleveland Cavaliers traveled to Brazil for their preseason game with the Miami Heat.

Irving had X-rays taken, and he underwent an MRI on Tuesday before the team charter left. Both tests were negative, and he’s considered day-to-day.

His status for Saturday’s preseason game is uncertain. Irving was using a walking boot as he left with teammates for sightseeing on the team’s day off.

Irving tweeted Wednesday afternoon that his injury wasn’t serious.


VIDEO: The Cavs take in some of the sights in Brazil

(more…)

Thomas seeks relevancy with Suns

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Suns.com talks with Isaiah Thomas about his move to Phoenix

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – About one month into the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, a new basketball movie trailer burned up the Internet. A documentary, it chronicled mostly unknown 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas‘ improbable path from a junior in college all the way to the NBA.

The title of the of the film was “Mr. Irrelevant,” the name bestowed upon the last pick of the NFL Draft. Thomas, a Tacoma, Wash., product and a terrific scoring guard for the Washington Huskies, was the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. No. 60. The Sacramento Kings made him “Mr. Irrelevant.”

Over three seasons, Sacramento never seemed to believe he could be much more, even as Thomas’ production and tenacity became impossible to ignore — and to keep out of the starting lineup. As a rookie he badly outplayed the Kings’ No. 10 overall pick, Jimmer Fredette.

In 2012-13, the Kings tried to unseat Thomas with Aaron Brooks and Toney Douglas, not exactly Allen Iverson and Damon Stoudemire, but still, Thomas refused to be overtaken. Last summer, Sacramento traded for 6-foot-6 point guard Greivis Vasquez and immediately penciled him into the starting lineup. In December, Vasquez, a solid player to be sure, was traded to Toronto. Thomas, a pound-the-rock, take-you-off-the-dribble, finish-at-the-rim point guard went on to average 21.1 ppg and 6.5 apg (plus a career-high 1.3 steals), improving in both categories for a third consecutive season.

It is one of the greatest statistical seasons ever compiled by a player under 6-foot. His PER (player efficiency rating) checked in at 20.5, well above the league average (15.0) and again was one of the all-time best marks for a player of his stature.

Yet the Kings, even after revamping the front office, never viewed Thomas through the same prism as he viewed himself: as a 5-foot-9 playmaker, scorer, starter and leader. Sacramento, seemingly suggesting it wanted more of a facilitator at the point, signed free-agent journeyman Darren Collison to a three-year, $16 million deal on July 10. It was a hefty raise for Collison, a backup last season with the Clippers, but much less than what Thomas, 25, felt he deserved in line with his production.

“They went after Darren Collison, which they felt was a better feel for whatever direction they’re going in,” Thomas said. “I just felt like I needed to go somewhere where I was wanted and Phoenix was a place where they wanted me for who I was. They wanted me for being 5-9. They wanted me for being a scoring point guard.”

Thirteen days after signing Collison, the Kings signed Thomas to a four-year, $27-million contract and traded him to the Suns.

“I’m not surprised just because every year it was somebody new,” Thomas said. “Every year I felt like I proved to them that I was a capable starter and I proved to them I was a pretty good basketball player. More than anything I was consistent, but I wasn’t surprised.”

Thomas spoke to NBA.com about his opportunity for relevancy in Phoenix, an upstart last season that won 48 games and missed the playoffs by one game in coach Jeff Hornacek‘s first season.

NBA.com: Do you think the Kings viewed you as irrelevant, in the sense that you don’t fit into a tidy description of a point guard and therefore you never could be their answer at the position?

Thomas: I guess. I guess because I’m 5-9 and I’m not the prototypical point guard they just kept trying to find … which every year I would beat out the guy. Like I tell people, it’s a business and I know where they’re coming from, but three years in a row it happened. I mean, it’s definitely not going to happen a fourth year so I was kind of fed up with that and that’s why I wanted a little change. I wanted to be somewhere where I was wanted for, like I said, being who I am, being 5-9 and being a scoring guard.

NBA.com: To be clear, you never asked to be traded did you?

Thomas: No, I didn’t. I never asked. I was always professional about every situation. I always came in with my hard hat on willing to do whatever is best for the team. When they signed Darren Collison, I knew I was going in a different direction. (more…)

Morning shootaround – June 21


VIDEO: David Aldridge with the latest NBA news

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron the next Rocket launcher? | Joel Embiid out 4-6 months | Love on the rocks | President Obama calls Pop | Lakers want Klay Thompson

No. 1: Rockets aiming for strike at LeBron — The Rockets still haven’t made it out of the first round 2009, but they’ve become very good at winning the summer. Two years ago they traded for James Harden and last summer signed Dwight Howard. Now they are reportedly prepared to chase hard after four-time MVP and two-time champion LeBron James if he opts out of his contract with the Miami Heat. How could the Rockets possibly afford another max salary? Howard Beck of Bleacher Report delivers the goods:

Given the extreme constraints imposed by the 2011 labor deal, it will be nearly impossible for any franchise to replicate the Heat’s roster-building feat of four years ago.

However, one franchise is quietly plotting to at least try to revive the Big Three model. And before you dismiss its chances of doing so, consider the fact that it’s the same team that stunned the NBA in each of the last two summers.

Now, Rockets officials are aiming for the trifecta, with their sights set on the biggest prize of all: LeBron Raymone James.

A long shot? Perhaps. But the Rockets have defied expectations before.

League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.

The competition for James’ affection will be fierce, but Houston’s pitch may be tough to beat.

The Rockets already have the league’s best guard-center tandem (Harden-Howard), solid young role players (Chandler Parsons, who is set to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones) and an owner (Les Alexander) who is willing to spend. Houston also has all of its first-round picks for the next couple of years as well as a knack for finding talent late in the draft.

Like Florida, Texas has no state income tax, negating Miami’s advantage on that front and giving the Rockets a big selling point in their pursuit of Anthony. (A player pays about 10 percent more in taxes in New York than in Texas.)

What the Rockets don’t have is salary-cap room. But they could clear about $19 million by unloading a few players, starting with Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, who are taking up a combined $16.7 million in cap space.

However, their contracts are unique and potentially difficult to move: Asik and Lin are each due a massive $15 million balloon payment next season, although they count as $8.37 million each for cap purposes. Then again, their contracts expire in 2015, so the commitment is minimal.

Sources say the Rockets are confident they can trade both players to teams with cap room and thus take back no salary in return.

 

***

No. 2: Joel Embiid to miss 4-6 months after surgery — Now there is a timetable. Joel Embiid, the one-and-done center out of Kansas, who missed the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments with a back injury, will need four to six months to recover after having two screws inserted into the navicular bone of his right foot during surgery Friday. The injury has seemingly thrown the entire portion of the draft into chaos. Embiid was expected to be the No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now he is expected to drop, with possible trade rumors also cropping up. ESPN.com provides more details on Embiid’s recovery:

Embiid’s agent, Arn Tellem, said in a statement that the former Kansas star underwent the procedure at Southern California Orthopedic Institute.

The surgeon, Dr. Richard Ferkel, said that Embiid “tolerated the surgery without difficulty” and claimed that the 7-foot center should “be able to return to NBA basketball.”

“Two screws were inserted into the navicular bone in Joel Embiid’s right foot,” Ferkel said in the statement released by Tellem. “The surgery went very well and I’m confident that after appropriate healing he will be able to return to NBA Basketball. Joel tolerated the surgery without difficulty and will begin his rehabilitation in the near future.”

Embiid is not attending Thursday’s NBA draft because he can’t fly for 10 days to two weeks post-surgery, Tellem said Thursday. Embiid was projected by many to be the first pick before the announcement of the surgery.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid already was dealing with health questions regarding his back, which forced him to miss the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments this past season.

He worked out earlier this month for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and sources said he fared well and that the medical testing also came back without much concern.

Embiid also participated in a one-on-none workout in front of NBA teams in Santa Monica, California. He was scheduled to work out for the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the second overall pick, later this week.

Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks this past season as a freshman at Kansas.

If Embiid slips significantly in the draft, he wouldn’t be able to recoup the money he’d lose. His total disability insurance policy was purchased through the school, according to Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director at Kansas.

Marchiony confirmed that the school purchased a $5 million policy, the maximum allowed under the NCAA insurance program, through the NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund, which allows schools to apply for need-based assistance on behalf of its players.

The policy purchased through the NCAA program does not allow for loss-of-value insurance, a rider attached to insurance policies that permits athletes to collect if they fall far enough in the draft from their projected position at the time they sign the policy. Athletes can get loss-of-value policies, but they have to go outside the NCAA program to do so.

***

No. 3: No clear path for Love — Clearly Kevin Love is no longer in love with the Timberwolves. And Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders is not necessarily in love with the bounty teams are offering for the All-Star power forward. While it seemed Minnesota might trade the double-double machine before the draft, they might keep him around and wait out better offers around next season’s trade deadline. Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com fleshed out the ongoing saga:

For Minnesota these talks are in a negotiation phase and they are in no rush to move on to the next steps.

Kevin Love’s agent Jeff Schwartz is serious and pushing to get his star moved sooner rather than later and to a destination Love wants to be long term. That’s where the pressure comes from. But it’s not just me saying Saunders doesn’t feel rushed.

Part of that is spin — the guy with the strongest positioning at any bargaining table is the guy willing to just walk away. Saunders wants everyone to think he will get up from the table. For now.

The only thing that has become clear is that Minnesota would prefer established players to picks and prospects — they don’t want to just rebuild, they want players who can help now.

Saunders is milking this as best as he can. In what are fluid talks with Golden State the Warriors had been hesitant to include Klay Thompson in a deal (although they should because it could be crippling against the cap for them to pay him what he’ll make on the open market). There is no deadline yet no reason to agree to anything right now. If the Warriors are offering David Lee and Thompson, ask for Draymond Green too. Or Harrison Barnes.

Saunders should do the same things with Denver and Boston and Chicago and anyone else interested in getting Kevin Love in a trade.

And if Saunders doesn’t get everything he wants on draft night, he can wait.

***

No. 4: President Obama congratulates Popovich — Here’s another interesting tidbit when it comes to the Spurs’ success under coach Gregg Popovich: He took a congratulatory phone call Friday from President Barack Obama, the third U.S. president since San Antonio won its fifth title since 1999. Bill Clinton was in office when the Spurs started their run and they made three trips to the White House to visit George W. Bush following championships in 2003, ’05 and ’07 championships. The San Antonio Express-News has details of Obama’s call:

President Barack Obama gave coach Gregg Popovich a ring on Friday to laud the Spurs after crushing Miami in the Finals for their fifth NBA championship, the White House announced.

This afternoon, the President called San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to congratulate him on his team’s resounding victory in the NBA Finals. The President praised the selfless teamwork, clear focus, and steadfast determination displayed by the Spurs and noted how impressed he was by the record-setting scoring by the team. The President called Popovich one of the nation’s finest coaches and a role model for young men across the country, and he is looking forward to hosting the team at the White House.

It was no doubt a warm conversation given that Popovich contributed to Obama’s last campaign. As noted, the two will meet in person during the upcoming season when the White House hosts the Spurs.

***

No. 5: Lakers offer No. 7 for Thompson — The Lakers, desperate to engage in a quick rebuild around Kobe Bryant, are interested in prying shooting guard Klay Thompson away from the Warriors in exchange for the No. 7 overall pick in the Draft. The proposed deal would be part of a bigger three-way trade that would send Minnesota’s Kevin Love to Golden State. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has the story:

The Lakers are interested but the deal has been put on hold because of a difference in opinion within the Warriors’ organization whether or not to keep Thompson while trying to obtain Love.

The Lakers are debating what to do with the pick if they hang onto it. They have sold or traded every first-round pick they’ve had since 2007 and do not have one next season because of the Steve Nash trade.

They are pondering whether to go with a power forward or point guard. They have narrowed their focus to big men Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh or point guards Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton.

When free agency begins July 1, the Lakers will have only three players making guaranteed money next season — Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. Point guard Kendall Marshall has one year left on a non-guaranteed contract.

A player on the rise such as Thompson would obviously provide more immediate return than an amateur player with no NBA experience.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Greek team Panathinaikos to make run at Jimmer Fredette? … Lakers would consider drafting EmbiidAndray Blatche opts out of his contract with Nets … Clippers assistant coach Alvin Gentry will join WarriorsClippers trio will opt out of final year … DeMarcus Cousins urges Rudy Gay to opt in and stay with Kings.

Morning Shootaround — March 2


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Mar. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ariza’s huge game | McHale approves of age limit | Fredette joins Bulls | Jennings thinks Cheeks deserved more time | Cuban favors D-League over college

No. 1: Ariza’s huge game – Trevor Ariza took over in the first quarter of Saturday’s game between the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers. He scored 24 points with six three-pointers to help the Wizards open up a 13-point first quarter lead against a sold-out Philadelphia crowd. Ariza finished with a career-high 40 points, with eight three-pointers, and helped teammate John Wall collect his own career-high of 16 assists. J. Michael from CSN-Washington has more on Ariza’s career-night:

Trevor Ariza left the floor early during warmups at Wells Fargo Center because it was too cold. An NHL game had taken place earlier and several players, including Andre Miller and Chris Singleton, could be seen blowing into their hands and rubbing their arms in an attempt to generate heat.

Ariza didn’t take long. He just went to the locker room and waited until the opening tip in Saturday’s 122-103 rout of the Philadelphia 76ers when he scored a career-high 40 points, 24 coming in the first quarter when he made his first six three-point attempts. A free agent after the season, each time Ariza swishes a three it should come with the sound effects of a cash register.

“It was cold early but the fans and the excitement and all the things that was going on here made me feel a little bit warmer,” said Ariza, alluding to the sellout crowd that was primarily there to witness the retirement of Allen Iverson’s No. 3 jersey at halftime. “The flamethrower was out there.”

“You want to see the guy that has put in work, doing the extra sacrifice to help our team, guarding the best players on any given night, to have one of those big nights,” said Wall, who tied a career high with 16 assists. “You try to reward him for that. That’s what I wanted, for him to get a 40-point game.”

Marcin Gortat had another double-double with 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Even he wasn’t impressed by his own performance. He could only talk about Ariza.

“It was a one-man show,” Gortat said. “My rebounds and John’s assists, I don’t think they count.”

***

No. 2: McHale approves of age limit – Houston Rockets coach and Boston Celtics great Kevin McHale agrees with new NBA commissioner Adam Silver that the NBA should enforce an age limit to help avoid college one-and-dones. Sam Amick from the USA Today has more:

The Houston Rockets coach has a unique vantage point on this front. He spent four seasons at the University of Minnesota before beginning his Hall of Fame NBA career and later transitioning to a post-playing career as an executive (Minnesota Timberwolves) and head coach (Timberwolves, Rockets). McHale could see this situation from all sides, it would seem, and so it was that Silver went seeking his counsel leading up to his February ascension into former commissioner David Stern‘s seat.

The advice, which McHale reiterated this week in an interview with USA TODAY Sports, was to push hard for the end of the one-and-done era.

“I’m totally against it,” McHale said. “I understand (the argument) that it’s America and everybody has a right to work. I understand that. But the guys aren’t ready. (When) you’re 16 years old or 15 years old, they don’t put you into doggone smelting or anything. Man, the NBA is a man’s league, and I think a lot of these young guys come in early and their careers would prosper if they stayed (in college).

“I’d like to see us do the three years out of high school or 21 (years old), like football. I just think it would help the colleges. I think it would help the kids. And I know they don’t think so, because they want to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get in the market. I’ve got to make all my money and all that stuff.’ But you don’t make money if you have a three-year career, if you come in at 18, 19, and you’re not ready.”

As Silver said at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, the owners’ proposal to raise the league’s minimum age from 19 to 20 was negotiated with the players during the 2011 lockout but ultimately tabled as a B-list item to be resolved at a later time. Silver argued in a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports that owners and players alike would reap the benefits of increased profits as a result of raising the minimum age.

McHale, not surprisingly, agrees. What’s more, he thinks players would approve of the change in a vote.

“Why would a bunch of NBA players vote to say, ‘Yeah, I want guys coming in to take my job?’” McHale continued. “They would say (have a minimum age of) 28 if you’re an NBA player, you know what I mean? So 21? I just think it would make it a better product, and I think it would help the kids. I really do.

“I think they’d learn leadership. I think they’d learn more responsibility. … When you get in the NBA, this is your job and you have to be really professional. But a lot of guys who come in just aren’t ready for that. It’s hard to do a man’s job when you’re 19.”

***

No. 3:  Fredette joins Bulls – Jimmer Fredette has not experienced a smooth transition from college to the NBA. He struggled to find playing time in Sacramento and many have already written off the 10th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft as a bust. But after clearing waivers, he now has a chance to start fresh in a much more developed system in Chicago. Teddy Greenstein of The Chicago Tribune has more:

Fredette officially cleared waivers Saturday and has agreed to sign with the Bulls for a prorated portion of the veteran’s minimum contract, sources said. Fredette is shooting a career-best 49.3 percent from 3-point range and is expected to attend Sunday’s matinee against the Knicks.

The Bulls hope Fredette will provide them with what they desperately need: scoring.

“The more shooting you have, the more it opens up the floor,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We want to open things up to attack off the dribble, with our cuts, things of that nature. We feel that is an area of need.”

Fredette, seeking to revive his career heading into free agency, can point to how the Bulls helped resurrect D.J. Augustin, whom the Raptors dumped. Since joining the Bulls, Augustin is averaging 13.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in 30.6 minutes.

“There are a number of guys who are good, and sometimes, as you see with D.J., it’s an opportunity to step in and add to what a team may need,” Thibodeau said. “Whoever we sign, if we do sign someone, we want to play to their strengths and cover up their weaknesses.”

The 6-foot-2 Fredette is not a strong defender, but the last time he got extensive minutes, Feb. 12 at Madison Square Garden, he torched the Knicks for 24 points on 6-for-8 shooting from 3-point range.

Guard Kirk Hinrich said adding a top-flight shooter such as Fredette would make defenses “play honest.”

The Bulls entered Friday night 27th in 3-point shooting (34.1 percent), 28th in field-goal shooting (42.7 percent) and last in scoring (92.7 ppg).

***

No. 4:  Jennings thinks Cheeks deserved more time – The Detroit Pistons (23-36) have struggled this season after an offseason which saw them sign Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to large contracts. Another part of their offseason overhaul was the hiring of Maurice Cheeks to be head coach. This job proved to not be secure as Cheeks was fired after just 50 games, which was not a decision Jennings agreed with, reports Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

Although there would certainly be some Pistons players who weren’t unhappy to see former coach Maurice Cheeks go, Brandon Jennings isn’t one of them — and Cheeks isn’t out of sight, out of mind for the starting point guard.

“I don’t have a problem with John (Loyer), just with the whole thing of changing coaches was one of the more difficult things for me,” Jennings said at Houston’s Toyota Center, while nursing a sore right big toe that caused him to miss the second half of Wednesday’s game in San Antonio.

“John was our assistant, so I know a lot about him. It was just a personal problem with Mo leaving.”

Jennings and Cheeks would often watch film together, and Jennings had a coach who could teach him the nuances of playing the position, given Cheeks’ stellar career.

Cheeks was fired on the morning of Feb. 9, mere hours after Jennings posted perhaps one of his best games as a pro, certainly atop the list in efficiency — 35 points and 12 assists with only two turnovers against the Denver Nuggets.

He echoed literally the thoughts of most folks who believe 50 games was nowhere near sufficient time to judge a coach, let alone one with Cheeks’ experience. It came as a shock to many around the NBA and Jennings’ head is still spinning.

“You give a coach half a season with new faces and new chemistry, that’s not enough time,” Jennings said. “I felt like he was in a losing situation. We were winning and now we’re playing like the old Pistons, in the beginning.”

Considering the Pistons have lost six of eight since Cheeks’ firing — albeit against better competition — Jennings doesn’t buy into the school of thought of Cheeks being the problem with their season.

“To be honest, I don’t think the team is tripping. It’s still the same,” Jennings said. “Not much has really changed, if you ask me.”

The two have talked a couple times since the firing, and Jennings hasn’t flourished under Loyer, although it doesn’t appear as if his responsibilities have changed too much. Aside from the first game following Cheeks’ firing, Jennings hasn’t shot over 40 percent in a game — and has three games where he hasn’t scored in double figures, including Wednesday, when he played only 13 minutes.

“I think I have been thinking too much,” Jennings said. “That’s with everything. Dealing with the coaching change and everything going on. Now, we keep slipping out the playoff race and you get worried.”

Jennings was open and candid about the high expectations that have given way to the disappointment surrounding the team to date. He thought his arrival in Detroit would mean the mediocrity from his days in Milwaukee was long gone, but clearly, there’s something missing with this team.

“If we don’t make the playoffs, it’ll be very disappointing and kind of embarrassing,” Jennings said. “The fact that myself coming here, Josh (Smith) coming here, we make these big moves and we don’t get it done — it’ll be real disappointing.”

***

No. 5:  Cuban favors D-League over college – Mark Cuban has rarely been afraid to speak his mind, so it’s no surprise he has a unique view on the age limit discussion. Unlike Kevin McHale, Cuban believes players would be better trained with a year in the NBA Development League over a year in college. Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas has more:

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban believes it’s in the best interests of elite prospects to play in the NBA Development League instead of spending one season in college.

“I think what will end up happening — and this is my opinion, not that of the league — is if the colleges don’t change from the one-and-done, we’ll go after the one,” Cuban said. “The NCAA rules are so hypocritical, there’s absolutely no reason for a kid to go [to college], because he’s not going to class [and] he’s actually not even able to take advantage of all the fun because the first semester he starts playing basketball. So if the goal is just to graduate to the NBA or be an NBA player, go to the D-League.”

Under the NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement, players must be one year out of high school and 19 years old to play in the league. However, the minimum age for the D-League is 18.

Cuban would like to see the NBA take steps to make the D-League a more attractive alternative to players who intend to spend only one season playing college basketball. While Cuban said he hasn’t analyzed the situation enough to make a formal proposal, he envisions the NBA working with nearby universities to provide straight-out-of-high school players an opportunity to pursue a college education while playing in the D-League.

Cuban suggests guaranteeing college tuition for such players, whether or not they pan out as NBA prospects, as an incentive.

“We can get rid of all the hypocrisy and improve the education,” Cuban said. “If the whole plan is just to go to college for one year maybe or just the first semester, that’s not a student-athlete. That’s ridiculous.

“You don’t have to pretend. We don’t have to pretend. A major college has to pretend that they’re treating them like a student-athlete, and it’s a big lie and we all know it’s a big lie. At least at most schools, not all. … But we can put more of an emphasis on their education. We can plan it out, have tutors. We can do all kinds of things that the NCAA doesn’t allow schools to do that would really put the individual first.”

Cuban’s biggest concern about one-and-done prospects is that they’re often not mentally, emotionally and psychologically prepared for the NBA after spending only one season in a college environment.

He believes the D-League could provide a better atmosphere for freshman-age players to develop on and off the court.

Mark Cuban believes it’s in the best interests of top prospects to play in the NBA D-League instead of spending one season in the “hypocritical” NCAA.

“You have to develop some level of maturity, and that has to be part of the process,” Cuban said. “You don’t want to bring kids in and just abandon them. That’d be the worst thing we could do.

“We’d have to make it so where there’d be very strict policies and rules so that, even if you’re not going to go to [college] class, there’s going be life [skills] classes — how do you deal with the world? — and you have to attend those. You have to keep up with those. We’d have very strict [rules] on why you’d be suspended if you didn’t live up to them. Things that should be done to student-athletes in college and are just not. Or not always.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joakim Noah wasn’t happy with Tony Snell‘s celebration. … Yao Ming believes he would struggle in today’s NBA. … Isiah Thomas is reportedly being considered to replace Joe Dumars in the Pistons’ front office. … Derrick Williams continues to try to find his footing in the NBA.

ICYMI of the Night: It appears some of Chris Paul‘s passing ability may have rubbed off on teammate Blake Griffin. Example? This behind-the-back pass from Griffin to Matt Barnes:


VIDEO: Play of the Day – Blake Griffin

Buyout Business: Where They Fit Best




VIDEO: Caron Butler lights it up off the bench for the Bucks, where will he do it next?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Last week’s NBA trade deadline was just Phase 1 of the late-season player grab for contenders looking to upgrade in certain areas and give themselves a push in the right direction with the playoffs on the horizon.

Phase 2 is the buyout market, when teams lock up veteran help at an area of need when teams start purging their rosters of players that were moved last week or veterans on lottery-bound teams in search of work with a contender. And that means we switch our focus from superstars who were rumored to be traded (yes, you Rajon Rondo and Pau Gasol) to those players who were actually moved or probably should have been (guys like Danny Granger and Caron Butler, headliners in the buyout market).

Now it’s just a matter of matching the right player with the right team …

DANNY GRANGER TO THE … LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

The Pacers didn’t have any use for Granger with a younger and much cheaper option available in Evan Turner, but plenty of other teams are interested in adding him to their mix for the remainder of the season and playoffs. He reportedly spoke, via phone, with five different teams Thursday, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports. Granger explored the possibilities with the Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls. A free agent-to-be this summer, Granger knows that the work he does between now and June, should it last that long, is as a temp. He’ll have time to find the long-term fit in the summer, which takes some of the pressure off right now.

ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne has more on why Granger picked the Clippers:

Former All-Star forward Danny Granger has decided to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks all made a run at Granger, but ultimately he chose the Clippers late Thursday night because they offered him the best opportunity to play meaningful minutes for a contender.

Granger hopes to play Saturday when the Clippers host the Pelicans, a source said.

By signing with the Clippers, he will become the second veteran player coach and senior vice president of player personnel Doc Rivers has recruited to the team in a week. Last week Rivers outrecruited several other teams to sign forward Glen Davis, after he was bought out by the Orlando Magic. Davis played for Rivers in Boston, where they won the 2008 NBA championship and lost in the 2010 Finals.

The Clippers traded Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison last week to create roster spots to pursue players such as Granger and Davis, who were likely to be bought out. They also backed out of late trade discussions with the New York Knicks for injured swingman Iman Shumpert and guard Raymond Felton. Both decisions look prescient a week later.

The unique thing for Granger is he’s going to get work with the Clippers the same way he would have gotten it with the Pacers, off the bench as a veteran scorer-for-hire. Granger coming off of that Clippers’ bench alongside Jamal Crawford and others is a dangerous proposition for the opposition. And if J.J. Redick‘s injury issues linger, Granger could always work as a starter alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, giving Rivers a boost no one saw for the Clippers before Granger was sent to Philadelphia at the final hour of last week’s trade deadline.

***

CARON BUTLER TO THE … OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

The race for Butler’s services has turned into a battle between two teams that could very well end up battling for the ultimate prize this season. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, are the leaders for Butler. They both have a need for a quality veteran to help work on the perimeter. Butler’s career began in Miami and he has institutional knowledge of how to operate in the Heat’s system. He could slide right into the mix with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and crew and fit in well. But the chance for more meaningful minutes might actually come with the Thunder, where Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could use another wise vet with a championship ring (Butler won his with Dallas) to help with some of the heavy lifting.

Butler was not on the active roster when the Mavericks won that title in 2011 (and the Mavericks went through both the Thunder and Heat to snag the Larry O’Brien trophy that year). Butler would bring some balance to the Thunder’s attack and his ability to defend on the perimeter would also take some pressure off of Durant, depending on the matchup, in critical situations. He’s a good fit in both place but needed more in Oklahoma City.

***



VIDEO: Jimmer Fredette works his magic against the Knicks

JIMMER FREDETTE TO THE … CHICAGO BULLS

The rumblings of a Fredette move to the Bulls started early Thursday, courtesy of a report from ESPN’s Marc Stein. It would be an odd marriage considering the Bulls’ defensive-minded focus and Fredette’s allergy to anything defensive during his time with the Sacramento Kings. But if Fredette wants to continue his playing career in the NBA and not abroad, proving himself as a contributor and key component for a rugged playoff outfit coached by Tom Thibodeau would do wonders for his cause.

The Bulls need the scoring help, particularly on the perimeter and from a shooter with Jimmer’s range. And he’ll get a chance to learn the fine art of true team defense playing for a coach and a team, led by All-Star center and defensive backbone Joakim Noah, that could very well save the No. 10 pick from the 2011 Draft.

***

METTA WORLD PEACE TO THE … SAN ANTONIO SPURS

World Peace has nine NBA lives. Who’d have thunk it a decade ago when his career was hanging in the balance? This is admittedly more of a guilty pleasure exercise for us than it is a necessity for the Spurs, but the potential World Peace and Gregg Popovich chemistry experiment is one that would keep social scientists up at night trying to figure out how it works. Metta proved during his run with the Lakers that he was capable of folding himself into the fabric of a championship outfit. He could do it again with the Spurs and Pop, who has made an art form of integrating veteran role players into the right spot in the rotation.

Seemingly every contender on both sides of the conference divide need help at the three, so Metta could see the interest in his services pick up when Granger and Butler make their decisions. He’s not necessarily a great fit in Miami or with the Clippers, but he’d be an intriguing fit with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs.


VIDEO: Danny Granger shows that he still has some bounce left in those legs

Jimmermania 2.0 Set To Begin

Jimmer Fredette's time with the Kings appears to be ending. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

Jimmer Fredette’s time with the Kings appears to be coming to an end. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

The Kings and Jimmer Fredette appear to have moved their breakup date up about four months. Reports say that the sides are nearing a buyout agreement that would make him an unrestricted free agent on the spot instead of July 1 and give him another chance to jump start the career that reportedly began in 2011.

Nothing changes except the calendar, in other words. The Kings actually cut Fredette loose when they declined the 2014-15 extension in a clear sign he had no future with the organization. General manager Pete D’Alessandro had previously tried to trade Fredette, who was played only 11.3 minutes in 41 of a possible 56 games. Sacramento couldn’t get a late-first for him the first few months, couldn’t package Fredette in the four deals it made since opening night, and by the trade deadline last week couldn’t give him away.

That is the painful, indisputable fact as Fredette tries to build a career with an inordinate amount of attention for a No. 10 pick that didn’t work out. Hard worker, quality guy, enough of a threat at 47.5 percent overall and 49.3 on 3-pointers (though unable so far to make the qualifying minimum)… and unable to win a starting job with any of three coaches in Sacramento or make himself a valued commodity around the league. The Kings close the books on the 2011 draft debacle of moving back from seven to 10 and taking on John Salmons as part of a three-team trade, then choosing Fredette one pick before Klay Thompson and five before Kawhi Leonard. But this just became all about what Jimmer does with a fresh start.

His phone will ring with immediate attention as a free agent from teams looking to add shooting and he will draw interest as a free agent again in the summer, assuming there is no deal now that carries into 2014-15. Being so much as a decent perimeter threat, not even the BYU sensation with limitless range, means something for a club lining up a long playoff run.

But put it this way: The Kings acquired Jason Terry last Thursday, then announced he would not join the team while (cough, cough) rehabilitating a knee injury, an alternative to a buyout that gives Sacramento the flexibility of trading him in summer or early next season a an expiring contract. That would be the same Terry who was able to break 20 minutes in three games for the Nets since Feb. 7 alone. With Fredette, the Kings took the minimal savings on a late buyout to part now, understanding hopes of getting anything from a sign-and-trade in the offseason would have been a long shot at best.

The End Of Jimmermania In Sacramento


VIDEO: Jimmer Fredette makes steal and finishes strong in 2013 preseason play

HANG TIME WEST – Jimmer Fredette never had a fair start. He joined the NBA in the lockout season of 2011-12, so no summer league and a training camp on fast forward, played for two coaches as a rookie, Paul Westphal and Keith Smart, and another, Michael Malone, in his third campaign. The Kings tried to make him a point guard, then moved Fredette to shooting guard.

“I’ve been given chances at times,” he said.

The hope that shooting 51.6 percent overall and 60 percent on three-pointers in 22.1 minutes of exhibition play would finally become a prominent role has instead whiplashed into his harshest days yet: The Kings did not pick up the option on his 2014-15 contract by the Oct. 31 deadline, he has sat three of the four games and logged all of three minutes in the other and Malone is being frank that Fredette should not expect real minutes anytime soon.

This is a team breaking up with a former lottery pick in a very public way. Not keeping him under contract for next season is the Kings officially saying they don’t see a future – it’s not us, it’s you – although they can always try to re-sign Fredette in the summer as an unrestricted free agent if they see something over the next five months. Not playing him now, not playing him more than three minutes when they were desperate for any sign of life against the Warriors, is Sacramento saying it doesn’t see a present.

The question is whether he finishes the season with the Kings or is dealt to allow the new administration to recoup something, anything, from the initial investment. There is no automatic answer – decent offers don’t exactly roll in for players who can’t get off the bench for lottery teams, it sometimes makes more sense for management to let players walk for nothing rather than take on an unwanted contract in trade, and there was skepticism in some front offices long before this whether his star turn at BYU would translate to the pros. Meanwhile, there is also Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore ahead of Fredette at shooting guard and Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas at point guard.

As Malone said when asked if any minutes are left for Fredette: “Right now, no. I think it’s impossible to play three point guards, it’s impossible to play three two-guards. The decision, which was a tough decision that I made, is to start Greivis, bring Isaiah off the bench, to start Marcus and to bring Ben off the bench. My challenge to Jimmer is, ‘I know this isn’t the news that you wanted. You did some good things for us in the preseason, but you’re a pro and I need you to stay ready because anything can happen.’ There’ll be games, like we did last game, we played a lot of small ball. We had Isaiah and Greivis out there together. Right now, he’s not in the rotation. But as we all know, in this business, anything can happen on a given night and he may be forced into minutes. I know he’ll be ready, willing and able to contribute at a high level.”

Fredette said he didn’t know what to expect with the contract, and that is possible even after years of strong hints he has a limited future in Sacramento. Maybe a fresh regime, from owner to general manager to coach, meant a fresh start? The Kings got McLemore in the draft – hint, hint – but Jimmer’s exhibition play had to encourage the new bosses enough?

No. And no.

“It’s just something that they made a business decision that they thought was best for their team, and the best that I can do is to keep working hard and not focus on it, just make sure you’re doing the best with your time and know that your career’s not over,” Fredette said. “You’ve just got to keep playing and keep working hard to get where you’re supposed to be.

“It’s tough at times to not play. As a competitor, you want to be out there. It’s always tough to watch others play and know you’ve put in the time, you’ve put in work. But at the same time, you have to support them. You’re a teammate and you have to be the best teammate you can be and go out and continue to better and hopefully you get an opportunity. And when you do get the opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”

He said his confidence is not shaken after the last week, not to mention the last years. “Not even a little bit.” But this isn’t even Fredette at a crossroads with the Kings any more and needing to make something good happen. This is Fredette unable to get on the court and out of the long-term plans. This is Fredette, who never had a fair start, coming to the end in Sacramento.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Anthony wants to retire in N.Y. | Hayward, Jazz fail to reach deal | Suns pass on Bledsoe extension | Fredette to be a free agent; Kings don’t extend Vasquez | Adelman promises to give Williams a chance

No. 1: Anthony: ‘I want to retire in New York’Yesterday, we told you in this space that Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and GM Steve Mills had come to an agreement to not discuss a possible contract extension for Anthony during the season. During last night’s Knicks-Bulls game on TNT, Anthony opened up about his plans for the future, going as far as to say he wants to ‘retire in New York.’

“I think a lot of people jumped the gun when I said I wanted to be a free agent,” he said. “And yeah, I want people to come play in New York. I want them to want to play in New York. I want New York to be that place where guys want to come play.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony on his desire to stay with New York

***

No. 2: Hayward, Jazz fail to agree to contact extension — Contract extension were doled out to several members of the 2010 Draft class during the offseason and training camp including John Wall, Larry Sanders, Paul George and Derrick Favors. Jazz forward Gordon Hayward and his representatives had been in talks with Utah’s front office about a deal, but nothing materialized before yesterday’s deadline. Sam Amick of USA Today has more on why the deal fell through and what’s next:

When it comes to NBA extensions, it’s a calculated risk any way you slice it. The only thing that changes is the side that’s rolling the dice.

So it was that the Utah Jazz and small forward Gordon Hayward couldn’t reach an agreement before the midnight ET deadline on Thursday night …

As veteran agent Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports and Entertainment explained it after months of talks with Jazz officials regarding Hayward didn’t pay off, it’s a tough task to pull off when both parties know that the now-or-never moment doesn’t happen until the offseason. The evidence supports that claim, as only six players from the draft class of 2010 signed extensions in the latest go-round: Indiana small forward Paul George, Milwaukee center Larry Sanders, Washington point guard John Wall, Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins, Utah forward Derrick Favors, and Memphis guard Quincy Pondexter.

“The most difficult deals to do are extensions — other than the max,” Bartelstein told USA TODAY Sports by phone just before the deadline passed. “When someone is offering you a max, then it’s easy. Those are easy. Other than that, they’re difficult because … there’s not a marketplace, so the teams sometimes have a view of wanting to get something for doing it early, and the player wants to get what he perceives his value to be, so they’re hard to do.”

As it pertains to Hayward, there were strong signs in the days leading up to the deadline that he was leaning toward taking the restricted free agency route. The Jazz were clearly hoping to secure Hayward after agreeing to terms with Favors on a four-year, $49 million deal, but they’ll now have the chance to match the highest bidder this summer when the 23-year-old may be the leading man among the younger class of free agents.

Bartelstein was quick to compliment the Jazz for their handling of the negotiations, and dispelled any notion that this is a sign that Hayward is looking to head elsewhere.

“The main thing is that the Jazz put in a tremendous amount of time and effort into wanting to get something done, and we put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to get it done,” Bartelstein said. “It was not due to a lack of trying. That’s for sure. There was a lot of time and a lot of energy spent the last few months in working at it, but sometimes you just can’t come up with something that both sides feel good about. That doesn’t change at all — at all — how Gordon feels about the Jazz.”

***

No. 3: Suns, Bledsoe can’t come to extension agreement — Suns guard Eric Bledsoe had an impressive preseason and led Phoenix to a victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in their season-opener. Those games represent all of Bledsoe’s career to date in Arizona and although the 2010 draftee was eligible for a contract extension up until last night, the Suns were have a hard time determining what, exactly, to pay him if they offered him such a deal. That lack of time together may have been one of the tipping points in the Suns’ decision to not offer Bledsoe an extension, writes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

The Suns and Eric Bledsoe have been talking about a possible contract extension that could have locked up the point guard through 2018.

They could not find common terms by Thursday night’s deadline but the Suns still intend for Bledsoe to be part of their future.

“There is no rookie extension with Eric but that doesn’t in any way suggest that we are not excited that Eric is a Sun and we look forward to Eric being a Suns for a long time,” said Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby, who has been engaged in extension talks over the past month with Mark Termini, the former agent who works as a negotiator for Bledsoe’s agent, Rich Paul.

“It’s a hard thing to do. We had numerous conversations over the past few weeks. We had a good, professional exchange of ideas.”

The task of extending Bledsoe was a challenging one, especially with Bledsoe logging one game as a Suns before the 9 p.m. deadline struck Thursday night. Bledsoe has been a backup for his first three NBA seasons with the Clippers but surely will increase his value this season as a starter and focal point for the Suns. He is only 23 and was highly sought when the Suns made a trade to acquire him from the Clippers in July.

“Both sides are trying to make projections on what Eric’s performance and new role are going to be,” Babby said Thursday night. “Those projections are not necessarily precise and, from the Suns’ perspective, it needs to be considered from the context that Eric will be a restricted free agent in the summer, which gives us matching rights. In the end, it seemed prudent to wait until July. In the meantime, we will be rooting for Eric to have a great season.”

Babby would not characterize how close the sides came in negotiations. The parties assumedly were talking about a four-year deal, rather than the option of a five-year deal for a designated player to get a maximum-salary contract.

The dilemma of what to pay Bledsoe was spelled out previously here.

It appears that the talks did not turn contentious, which is a danger in such situations.

“It was completely professional, not acrimonious,” Babby said. “Everyone understood the task was a difficult one because of the nature of the circumstances and the context of restricted free agency.”

No. 4: Kings decline to pick up Fredette’s option, pass on Vasquez extension — Back during the 2011 Draft, the Kings took part in a three-team deal that, in part, helped them land former BYU sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette. Since landing in Sacramento, though, Fredette’s playing time has been inconsistent and when it came time to decide to pick up his option for 2014-15, the Kings passed on it. As well, new starting point guard Greivis Vasquez, whom Sacramento acquired in the offseason in the Tyreke Evans trade, was eligible for a contract extension, but the team passed on that, too. Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee has more on the moves:

Those who have wanted the Kings to “Free Jimmer” might get their wish.

The Kings on Thursday declined to pick up the fourth-year option on guard Jimmer Fredette’s contract for the 2014-15 season, which would have paid the 2011 first-round draft pick a little more than $3 million. The deadline to do so was Thursday at 9 p.m.

Therefore, Fredette will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Kings could re-sign him at a reduced salary, but the decision likely means this will be Fredette’s final season with the team.

It also means Fredette probably would bring more value in a trade because his expiring deal would create salary cap space for next summer’s free-agent class. The trade deadline is Feb. 20.

During the offseason, the team drafted Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum and acquired Greivis Vasquez from New Orleans. The Kings’ front office likes Isaiah Thomas, and Marcus Thornton has two years left on his contract.

A huge crowd greeted Fredette at Sacramento International Airport when he arrived following the draft, and he remains extremely popular, even though his playing time with the Kings has been inconsistent.

Thursday also was the deadline to reach agreement on contract extensions for 2010 first-round draft picks.

The Kings had two players eligible for deals, Vasquez and forward Patrick Patterson. Neither landed an extension.

Sacramento can make both players restricted free agents after his season, giving the Kings the right to match an offer from another team and retain them.

***

No. 5: Adelman promises Williams will get his chance — Since being taken with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2011 Draft, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams has had a wildly inconsistent role on the team. Last season, he played in 78 games, starting 56 of them, and saw his averages in scoring (12.0 ppg), rebounding (5.5 rpg) and shooting (43.0 pct) hit career highs. Then came the season-opener on Wednesday night in which Williams failed to get off the bench despite being healthy. Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and Williams addressed the player’s role after Thursday’s practice and Adelman vows that Williams will eventually get his chance, writes Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune:

Wolves coach Rick Adleman had a couple things to say about Derrick Williams. First, the third-year forward will get his chance to play. Second, we should all calm down on the issue.

“I don’t worry about him as much as you guys do,” Adelman said after Thursday’s practice. Williams, who works at both forward positions, did not play in Wednesday’s opening-night victory over Orlando.  A former second-overall pick, Williams’ playing time has fluctuated since he joined the team.

“He’s going to get a chance to play when it looks like there is a good opportunity for him,” Adelman said. “But there are other guys, too. Right now Robbie Hummel’s played very well, the whole month he’s been here. It could be one of those guys. It could be (Shabazz Muhammad), who has played well. Nobody has separated himself. (Williams’)  best spot is the four spot, and it’s almost impossible to get him minutes at the four spot.”

Williams, asked about his situation, said he wasn’t disappointed. “No, we won, you can’t be disappointed when we win,” he said.

But on the matter of patience? “I’ve been patient two years now,” he said. “So we’ll see. I don’t know.’’

Interestingly, Williams retweeted an item originally tweeted by Los Angeles Clippers forward Jamal Crawford Wednesday night. “Watched a bunch of games tonight,” Crawford wrote. “One thing that is clear. Situation, and opportunity has a lot to do with success in the NBA.’’

“That’s all the NBA is, opportunity,” Williams said. “That’s why I retweeted it.”

But when will his come? The power forward position is where Kevin Love plays, and Dante Cunningham is usually his backup. That leaves the small forward position. And for Williams to play there, Adelman said he needs to see the right matchup.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards guard John Wall got a warning about floppingJ-Smoove is enjoying the start to his career in Detroit so far … The Magic are readying for their home opener and the official kickoff to their 25th anniversary season … The reviews are in for Pierre the Pelican, and they’re not pretty

ICYMI Of The Night: We’ve got to imagine Clippers TV play-by-play man Ralph Lawler is a little horse after these three straight alley-oop jams by Blake Griffin


VIDEO: Blake Griffin converts three straight alley-oop jams

Vegas Chips: Kings, Cousins Rising? Goodwin A Keeper? Brown At Home?

 

LAS VEGAS – Not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. OK, that does. But these don’t:

KINGS FIND ‘GOOD-LUCK CHARM?’

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The most remarkable comment I heard during Summer League came from new Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone about DeMarcus Cousins after he watched the final game from the bench with the summer Kings searching for their first win, which they got: “I told him he was our good-luck charm.”

Wow. When Cousins is suddenly deemed a good-luck charm, you know things aren’t the same old same old. This guy was like the Grim Reaper in Sac, delivering seriously bad vibes wherever he wandered. But maybe, just maybe, new ownership, a new front office and a new coaching staff is breaking through the darkness (74-156 during Cousins’ three seasons) and getting through to the immature-yet-wildly talented big man.

Throughout the game, Cousins was encouraging rookie Ben McLemore to remain confident with his shot and the former Jayhawk went on to score 27 points with nine rebounds.

“I went to Alabama and spent some time with him and his family (this summer),” Malone said. “I thanked him for coming to this game and I’ll come back up (to Las Vegas) and spend some time with him with USA basketball. But I told him he was our good-luck charm. All our other veterans came, we couldn’t win a game. DeMarcus came and we got a win, so we needed that presence on the bench.”

Nothing wrong with doting on Cousins. Malone will give The 6-foot-11, 270-pounder who turns 23 next month — yes, it’s difficult to remember how young he still is — equal parts coddling and hard coaching. Cousins, entering his fourth season, is working on his third coach for a franchise that has operated at the height of dysfunction since he was drafted fifth overall after one season at Kentucky.

Even so, Cousins, despite rampant childish behavior, ejections and fines, has put up impressive numbers thus far. His career averages? Try 16.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 0.9 bpg in 29.8 mpg. Want to do a little comparison? Here’s Dwight Howard‘s numbers after his first three seasons: 15.1 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg in 35.4 mpg. If you extrapolate Cousins’ numbers to per-36 minutes, his totals jump to 19.1 ppg, 11.8 rpg and 1.1 bpg.

It’s why new ownership and management believe if they can straighten out Cousins upstairs, they’ll have a foundation block and the face of the franchise they desperately want. That’s a notion that even Cousins says he can now envision. Continuing to compete with the game’s other young stars at Team USA workouts as he is this week can only benefit Cousins and the Kings.

“I believe I mature after every season,” Cousins told reporters Monday’s workout. “I believe people forget I am just 22. At the same time I’ve got a big responsibility. It’s going to take me time, and I’m still learning. But I believe I do improve every year.”

How much can the Kings improve this season? It’s not time to call them a playoff contender in a stacked Western Conference, but they finally appear to be headed in a positive direction. The Kings acquired emerging 6-foot-6 point guard Greivis Vasquez (career-highs 13.9 ppg, 9.0 apg last season) from New Orleans in the Tyreke Evans trade. Marcus Thornton will likely start at shooting guard, with rookies McLemore and Ray McCallum, who had an impressive Summer League (12.6 ppg, 4.0 apg), adding intriguing depth. Blue-collar forward Carl Landry is back in town and defensive-minded Luc Mbah a Moute joins a front line that includes Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and Jason Thompson.

There’s also a budding camaraderie. Point guard Isaiah Thomas, Thornton, Thompson and Jimmer Fredette made appearances in Vegas and even worked out with the summer team.

“From Jason Thompson to Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer, Marcus Thornton, even DeMarcus, them coming around, sensing the change in the ownership and the commitment from ownership, our front office staff, our coaching staff, they know it’s a new day in Sacramento,” Malone said. “I think they’re all excited, looking forward to the change that’s ahead.”

It’s a welcome change for a beleaguered franchise that just months ago was on the brink of bolting for Seattle.

LATE FIRST-ROUND SLEEPER?

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One-and-done Kentucky point guard Archie Goodwin was advised to stay in school. His Summer League performance might have been the start of showing why he did not. A lanky 6-foot-5 with long arms, Goodwin finished third on the Suns in scoring (13.1 ppg). More impressive, he shot 50 percent from the floor (26-for-52) — significantly better than his 44 percent as a college freshman — and made eight of his 14 3-point attempts for 57.1 percent (he was 17-for-64 at Kentucky).

“I know what I’m capable of and I just wanted everybody else to know that I can be something they had question marks on,” Goodwin said.

Most impressive was Goodwin’s last game in the inaugural Summer League tournament championship game against eventual-champion Golden State. Yes, it’s only Summer League, but the stakes and pressure were at their highest in a very competitive atmosphere. Goodwin scored 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting. He also had games of 22 and 20 points and scored in double figures in five of the seven games.

He consistently outplayed 2012 lottery pick Kendall Marshall, who averaged 5.6 ppg and 4.0 apg while shooting just 38.7 percent overall, although 40 percent from beyond the arc. (As our own Scott Howard-Cooper reported, Marshall was on the trading block in Phoenix even before Summer League began.)

Goran Drajic has the starting point guard job locked down along with newly acquired shooting guard Eric Bledsoe. Shannon Brown is a veteran presence off the bench and Malcolm Lee was acquired via a Draft-day trade with Golden State that netted Goodwin.

First-year coach Jeff Hornacek, a salty combo guard in his playing days with Phoenix and Utah, coached the Suns’ summer squad and aid Goodwin’s talent and athleticism are obvious. Now it’s a matter of how much he improves and learns through training camp, Hornacek added.

“I’ve learned just about how to play the game,” Goodwin said of playing under Hornacek. “He’s taught me a lot of things. Before we came here I was with him working out. He taught me things on my shot, taught me how to read situations, when to kick the ball, when to attack, things like that. So he’s been really good for me.”

BROWN IN CLEVELAND COMFORT ZONE

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It’s a little weird for a coach to go back to the team that fired him, unless he’s Billy Martin. But, Mike Brown is doing just that, returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after being fired after the 2009-10 season and before LeBron James‘ decision to bolt. Cleveland hired Byron Scott to replace Brown and now Brown, fired last season by the Lakers after a 1-4 start, replaces Scott.

Brown, 43, is a bit older and wiser after his experiences as the only man to coach both James and Kobe Bryant. Maybe he was out of his element in post-Phil Jackson Lakerland (and who wasn’t last season?), but Brown said he wouldn’t change his approach if he had it to do all over again.

“I don’t know if there’s any one thing. I feel like I’m going to be the same coach,” Brown said. “If I was able to go through the same experience again, I’d probably do it the same way. I felt like I worked hard. I felt like I had a plan. It felt like in time the plan would have been executed in the right way, so I enjoyed my time there. But just like any other business that you’re in, when you go through trials and tribulations, whether it’s positive or negative or whatever, you grow in all types of ways. So I feel like I’ve grown. I feel like I’ve matured, not only on the floor as a coach, but even off the floor, too. So a lot of positives I take from that situation.”

Brown said he and his family always loved living in Cleveland, in fact, they were moving back even before the job offer came along. And, by the way, he has a pretty nice roster to work with, including a rising star in Kyrie Irving, as Brown tries to lead the Cavs back to the playoffs for the first time since he and LeBron left town.

McLemore Ends Summer With A Showcase

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LAS VEGAS – The knee-jerk crowd was already worked up about Ben McLemore and his shot that had gone wonky. Relax folks, it’s just Summer League and in Friday’s finale, the kid who was one-and-done at Kansas put on a show that should again pump up the hype machine.

McLemore scored 19 of his game-high 27 points in the third quarter to lead the Kings to their first and only summer win, 93-87, over the Atlanta Hawks in the consolation bracket of the tournament.

“What I liked more than his shooting tonight was he had nine rebounds,” said new Kings coach Mike Malone, who has been in Vegas running practices with the summer team and observing games while assistant Chris Jent handled the bench duties.

Through the five games, McLemore might have gone just 26-for-78 from the floor (33.3 percent) and he’ll have to figure out the NBA 3-point distance after going just 7-for-36 (19.4 percent), but he also scored 26 points in a game against Toronto to go with Friday’s 27 on 10-for-21 shooting. Take away his errant 3-ball and and he was 8-for-13 from inside the arc.

At 6-foot-5 — and he’ll beef up his 195-pound frame — McLemore has the size coaches love at the 2, and he showed off his ability to run the floor and finish with thunderous jams that lifted special guest DeMarcus Cousins out of his seat on the bench. More impressive was the patience he showed on offense to put the ball on the floor and maneuver to get his shot. He and impressive second-round pick, point guard Ray McCallum played well together with several of McCallum’s 11 assists (with 12 points) went to McLemore.

“He’s a great kid and he’s working his butt off,” Malone said. “He’s given great focus and he’s willing to learn. At breakfast with him [Thursday], the big thing was keep your head up, don’t get down on yourself; we still love you, we still believe in you and I wanted him to come out here the last game and just be aggressive and play confidently, and he showed that in the third quarter.

That’s when McLemore completed a flurry of plays that left little doubt as to why the Kings nabbed the athletic shooting guard last month at No. 7. Allow the Kings’ official twitter feed to provide the highlights:

“Ben is just not a shooter,” Malone said. “He’s an all-around basketball player. If your jump shot is not going, you’ve got to find different ways to affect the game and I thought he did that tonight.”

McLemore got plenty of encouragement from Cousins on the bench, as well as throughout summer league as the Kings veterans Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette made stops in Vegas, with Thomas and Thornton participating in a couple of practices.

McLemore has a chance to be an instant contributor for a club that suddenly has a refreshed attitude and renewed  hope since the sale of the team, the change in the front office and on the bench. The trade that sent Tyreke Evans to New Orleans likely puts Thornton in the starting lineup with McLemore behind him.

“Even if they didn’t make that trade, I know I was going to come in and work my hardest and work for a spot,” McLemore said. “At the same time it’s a great opportunity for me.”

So great that the native of Wellston, Mo., will spend much of the offseason in Sacramento working on his game, preparing for the increased speed and intensity levels of the game and the decreased spacing on the floor, the great shifts from college to the NBA that he already discovered in Vegas.

“I’m going to work on my all-around game, ball handling, keep shooting, get a lot of shots up, and just work on a lot of things I need to improve on,” McLemore said.