Posts Tagged ‘Keith Smart’

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

HANG TIME, Texas – It’s not very often that 13 different teams decide to change coaches during one offseason. It’s a sign of these impatient times in which we live, especially when six of those teams finished last season with winning records.

It used to be “what have you done for me lately?” Now it’s “what have you done in the last 10 minutes?”

Of course, not every new coaching situation is the same. No one expects a pair of newcomers like Brad Stevens in Boston and Brett Brown in Philly to perform water-into-wine miracles with stripped-down rosters.

Doc Rivers goes coast-to-coast to show a 56-win Clippers team how to take the next step while Mike Brown returns to Cleveland with a roster full of young talent ready to bloom.

However, not everybody gets to settle in comfortably. Here are the five new coaches who’ll find that seat warm from Day One:

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies – Sure, he’s paid his dues and learned his craft in the minor leagues and as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NBA. All he’s got to do now is take over a club that is coming off the best season in franchise history, including a run to the Western Conference finals. While that means the Grizzlies have a contending core in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley and a supporting cast to repeat their feat, it also means that every decision, every move that Joerger makes from the first day of training camp through the end of the playoffs will be judged against his predecessor Lionel Hollins, who evidently could do everything except make his stat-driven bosses appreciate him. In a Western Conference that just keeps getting stronger, it will be tough enough survive, let alone thrive with a ghost on his shoulder.

Larry Drew, Bucks — After spending three seasons in Atlanta, where he always had a winning record but could never get the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, Drew moves to a Bucks franchise that overachieves if it climbs into the No. 8 seed to play the role of punching bag for the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has turned over its backcourt from an inconsistent pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a spotty trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has size, athleticism and a bundle of talent. But he’s only 18 years old and the question is whether Drew will be given the opportunity to stick around long enough to watch him grow. The Bucks are one of two teams with plenty of space under the salary cap, but have no real intention of spending it except to get to the mandated league minimum. This is a Bucks franchise that doesn’t have a sense of direction and that hardly bodes well for a coach. It’s not even a lateral move for Drew and could make getting the next job that much harder.

Brian Shaw, Nuggets – After waiting so long to finally get his opportunity to become a head coach, Shaw steps into a situation that is almost the opposite of Joerger. The Nuggets let 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl walk along with Masai Ujiri, the general manager who built the team, and then blew a gaping hole in the side of the 57-win, No. 3 seed in the West roster by letting Andre Iguodala get away, too. Shaw still has Ty Lawson as the fire-starter in the backcourt, but one of these seasons 37-year-old Andre Miller has got to run out of gas. As if the rookie coach didn’t have enough to juggle with the mercurial JaVale McGee, now he’s got Nate Robinson coming off his playoff heroics in Chicago with that ego taller than the Rockies. It’s never a good time to be stepping into a new job when management seems to be pulling back.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats – He’s another one of the longtime assistant coaches that has paid his dues and was ready to slide down the bench into the boss’s spot. But Charlotte? That’s more like the ejector seat in James Bond’s old Aston Martin. The Bobcats have had six coaches in the seven years that the iconic Michael Jordan has been head of basketball operations and then majority owner. From bad drafting (Adam Morrison) to bad trades (Ben Gordon, Corey Maggette), through constant changes of philosophy and direction, the Bobcats simply go through coaches faster than sneakers. Now it’s general manager Rich Cho calling the shots, but that didn’t stop the firing of Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford gets veteran big man Al Jefferson to anchor the middle of the lineup, but he’d better have his seat belt fastened tight and watch out for those fingers on the ejector button.

Mike Malone, Kings — Not that anyone expects Malone to be under immediate pressure in terms of wins and losses. What the Kings need now that they have a future in Sacramento is to re-establish a foundation on the court. Of course, the multi-million-dollar question is whether that base will include the talented and petulant DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody knows that he’s physically got what it takes to be a dominant force in the league. But the jury is still out when you’ve played three years in the league and you’re still getting suspended for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Paul Westphal and Keith Smart couldn’t get through to Cousins to make him somebody the Kings can rely on and were spat out. Now as the big man heads toward a summer where he could become a restricted free agent, the franchise needs to know if sinking big bucks in his future is an investment or a waste of time. That’s the intense heat on Malone and the clock will be ticking immediately.

The Kings Nearly Stopped The Streak

HANG TIME WEST – Of course they think about it.

The Kings had a very good chance to beat the defending champions on Feb. 26, in Miami and everything. That in itself ranks the missed opportunity pretty high on the regret scale. But now the Heat have 24 consecutive wins, have amassed the second-longest winning streak in NBA history and have the record of 33 in a row by the 1971-72 Lakers within range, and it’s the Kings, of all teams, that had the best chance to end the Miami express.

“It’s crazy to think that we could have been that team to break the streak,” power forward Jason Thompson said.

The Cavaliers had the Heat on the ropes Wednesday in Cleveland, leading by 27 points before Miami asserted itself for a 98-95 victory. Two nights before that, the Celtics were up 17 in Boston and the visitors responded for a 105-103 win. But the Kings. Oh, the Kings.

Sacramento went into the game with a 19-38 record but built an eight-point lead in the first half. It was within 112-110 after consecutive 3-pointers from Marcus Thornton. And after Dwyane Wade missed two free throws with 20.8 seconds remaining in regulation, the Kings capitalized when DeMarcus Cousins put back an offensive rebound with nine seconds to force overtime.

That five-minute extra period ended at 124-124. Sacramento got off the ride there – the Heat opened the second overtime with an 11-3 run and went on to a 141-129 victory, tying a Miami team record for single-game scoring as LeBron James had 40 points, 16 assists and eight rebounds while Wade went for 39 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

“We still weren’t in the caliber of that basketball team,” Kings coach Keith Smart said some three weeks later. “Close, but we didn’t get the ultimate prize.”

The win.

“I thought we had it, yes,” Smart said. “But until it actually goes in the bucket, you walk in the locker room and say, ‘Man, it was real close.’ But I thought our guys played the right way. For the most part, our team has played pretty well against a lot of teams. There’s been only a handful, if a handful, of games where we just couldn’t do anything and were really blown out. But overall, these guys have competed and played at a high level and worked every day like you were playing for it all. That’s all you can ask for a team. With all the other issues that have gone on with our basketball team, nevertheless these guys still come in with a working mentality and we’re going to keep going until our opportunity comes. And it’s coming.

“That game is in the books until the next time we play the Miami Heat, which is next year. You move on. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s great for basketball right now. It’s great for our fans and fans of basketball that are kind of watching this and kind of looking.”

That night at AmericanAirlines Arena extended the Heat winning streak to 12, which seemed pretty impressive at the time. In the new perspective of 24 in a row and counting, it is an infant moment in the serious run at history that almost never happened.

The New DeMarcus Cousins Watch

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HANG TIME WEST – Welcome to the new DeMarcus Cousins Watch, the one about whether he plays in the fourth quarter, unlike the one tracking suspensions and technicals, or the one measuring his foul troubles, or the one gauging the mood of the locker room being brought down by behavior issues of its best player.

Cousins has been benched for most of the fourth quarter each of the last two games, and the fourth quarter of close games at that time in a season (OK, a decade) when Kings’ victories are at a premium and opportunities cannot be wasted. But there he sat Tuesday against the Nuggets at Sleep Train Arena and Wednesday against the Warriors at Oracle Arena, and that takes it from one-time occurrence on bad nights to possible emerging trend.

That, in turn, makes the Suns’ visit to Sacramento tonight unexpectedly interesting, this new twist in the three-season saga of Cousins vs. his demons that has held the Kings hostage. He remains too talented to dump for nothing and too emotionally fractured to reach his All-Star potential and build around, and now he is also sitting in favor of Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes when the Kings twice have chances to beat opponents bound for the playoffs.

Cousins was terrible in Oakland, making two of 10 shots and managing five points and four rebounds, although also four steals, in 20 minutes against Andrew Bogut working his way back from two injuries. It’s being kind to say Cousins appeared disengaged. Off that night, he deserved the bench.

Except that it wasn’t just that night. Some 24 hours earlier, Cousins was equally AWOL on offense with one basket in 12 tries. But he had five blocks. He had 13 rebounds. And coach Keith Smart took him out with 10:15 left and the Kings down 10. When Sacramento rallied with the smaller lineup, getting within 101-97 with 5:36 remaining, Smart kept Cousins on the bench.

Against the Warriors, it was the entire fourth quarter as the Kings again played well enough to threaten a better team, this time leading by a point in the final minute before losing 87-83.

“I think he’s engaged,” Smart said. “But I think he’s in a slump right now. It’s the last two games, a couple games, he’s not getting what he wants. But that’s what happens. You’ve got to learn how to grow out of these. You’ve got to learn how to play out of them. You’ve got to figure out, ‘Is it how I’m on the floor playing,’ or ‘Get back into my working game and work on some of the things, get back in the film room.’ Do all those things. I look at the games that we’re playing here on out. He’s still got to do everything he’s supposed to do as if this is game number five. You don’t change. You still come in and work on your game. This is all our players. This isn’t going to be a DeMarcus Cousins show. This is for all our guys. You keep working on your game until the final horn sounds. That’s how I approach it and I want those guys to approach it.”

Cousins conceded he is not in a good shooting rhythm and that he isn’t getting to the spots he wants for the shots. But he said he has not clocked out of the season five or six weeks ahead of schedule.

“Am I disappointed?” to not play in the fourth quarters, he said, repeating the question after the Warriors game. “Yes. But I can’t really control it.”

Are you surprised?

“You just kind of expect anything here.”

Has Smart said anything to you about why you are being benched in crunch time?

“Uh-uh.”

Do you try to talk to him?

“Not at all.”

What do you mean by expecting anything around the Kings?

“Just what I said.”

Tonight against the Suns will be a good test, on whether Cousins can’t break out of the shooting slump and, in the bigger picture, whether Smart will rely on him if it’s close in the fourth.

Who’s Sitting On A Hot Seat Now?


HANG TIME, Texas — Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

In the NBA that familiar line from the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” has a different twist.

Every time the bell rings a head coach gets his walking papers and a handful of others start looking over their shoulders.

It’s a tenuous life.

Of course, this season has already been quite unusual with Mike Brown fired by the Lakers after just five games. But now that the schedule has reached the one-third mark and claimed Avery Johnson, it’s time to look at some others down around the bottom of the standings.

Randy Wittman, Wizards (3-23) – No, he hasn’t had John Wall all season. Yes, he’s had to play at times without Nene and Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. But the Wizards are the only group in Washington that makes Congress look competent by comparison. After a recent 100-68 thumping by the almost-as-hapless Pistons, even Wittman seemed to have enough. “That was an embarrassment, and I apologize to our ownership and to our fans,” he said. “I especially apologize to anyone who watched that entire game. I would have turned it off after the first five minutes.” It would seem to be a matter of when, not if.

Monty Williams, Hornets (6-22) – It’s hard to see the Hornets turning right around and cutting Williams loose just months after giving him a four-year contract extension. There has been the matter of Eric Gordon’s injury and the fact that No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis was on the shelf for 13 games. But there are rumblings in New Orleans about his constantly changing rotations and collapse of his defense, which ranks 29th.

Byron Scott, Cavaliers (7-23)
— The Cavs are likely headed to their third straight trip to the lottery under Scott, but that doesn’t mean that he’s headed to the exit. The key to his previous success at New Jersey and New Orleans was having a top-notch point guard and Scott has an excellent relationship with maybe the next great thing in Kyrie Irving. This was always a long, heavy lift from the moment LeBron James bolted and that has not changed.

Mike Dunlap, Bobcats (7-21)
– What a difference a month makes. After beating the Wizards on Nov. 24, the Bobcats were 7-5, had matched their win total from last season and their rookie coach was getting praised. Now 16 straight losses later, Dunlap is preaching patience with his young core of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens and Jeffery Taylor. He has earned that. A dozen of Charlotte’s 21 losses have come by 10 points or less, a dramatic change from the historically horrible last season when the Bobcats were rolled in one-third of their games by 20 points or more.

Lawrence Frank, Pistons (9-22)
— Frank insists that his Pistons are a better team than they were a year ago. The record — identical then and now — does not back that up. He says that his club now is more competitive, but just doesn’t know how to finish games. Some of the players have grumbled that there is also a failure of coach to make the right calls and adjustments when games get late. When push comes to shove, it’s the coach that gets nudged out the door.

Dwane Casey, Raptors (9-20)– Another one of those seasons when the Raptors were supposed to turn things around and make a push for the playoffs in the lesser Eastern Conference has gone south. Injuries to Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and Linas Kleiza. Amir Johnson gets suspended for throwing his mouthguard at a referee. G.M. Bryan Colangelo says the talent is there, but the Raptors lack focus and attention to detail. The Raps’ offense is mediocre (ranked 17th) and their defense just bad (27th). Even in Canada during the winter, that all puts Casey on thin ice.

Keith Smart, Kings (9-19) – Smart got the job to replace Paul Westphal specifically because of what was perceived as an ability to work with the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins. So he turned Cousins loose last season, let him do just about anything he pleased and got enough results to earn a contract extension. Now that Cousins has abused his free-rein relationship with his coach and another season is sinking fast, it would be easy to just blame Smart, which the Kings eventually will do. But this is a bad team with a knucklehead as its centerpiece and ownership that can’t tell you where they’ll be playing in two years.

Alvin Gentry, Suns (11-18) — It was at the end of a seven-game losing streak when Suns owner Robert Sarver told ESPN.com that Gentry’s job was safe. “We’ve got confidence in our coaching staff and we’re not considering making changes,” he said. Of course, that usually means start packing your bags. It was all about starting over in this first season post-Nash in the desert. He’s changed lineups more than his ties and the result is usually the same. Gentry is a good bet to last out the season, but it’s probably going to take a big finishing kick to return next year.

Cousins’ Routine…Ba-Dump…Old Joke

 

HANG TIME, Texas – Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A priest, a rabbi and DeMarcus Cousins are sitting on a bench…

Yeah, it’s getting to be the kind of stale old joke that sounds like it came out of the Catskills in the 1950s.

Cousins is at the center of another flap. This time the Kings’ leading scorer and rebounder was left in the locker room at halftime Friday night following a verbal run-in with coach Keith Smart.

As a result, Cousins has been suspended indefinitely for unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team,” according to Kings president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie.

Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee delivers the details that were available:

“It was conduct detrimental to the team and we left it at that,” Smart said without elaborating.

Smart did not say if Cousins would play Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

“I’m going to focus on (Friday night),” Smart said. “And then I’ll move forward to the next day.”

Cousins said he “was in the wrong” during halftime.

“What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room, but I was wrong,” Cousins said. “But what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.”

Cousins then was asked what he could do to avoid further situations where attention was on his actions off the court.

“Don’t talk back,” Cousins said. “That’s the thing. I shouldn’t have responded back. Should have accepted what was said and stayed quiet.”

Of course, nobody has ever questioned the raw talent and ability that Cousins possesses, only the maturity and professionalism that he doesn’t.

As a potential foundation-type player on the front line, it was understandable that Kings management sided with Cousins and gave Paul Westphal the ax when the two of them couldn’t get along.

There may also be legitimate reasons to question whether Smart (73-134 career record) has the right stuff to be a successful coach in the NBA. But the main reason he was brought in to replace Westphal and had his contract extended was because he could supposedly relate to Cousins and steer him correctly and now that plan seem to have jumped off the tracks.

Already this season, Cousins has been suspended two games for confronting Spurs broadcaster Sean Elliott after a game, suspended another for whacking the Mavs’ O.J. Mayo in the groin and ejected in the third quarter of one more game for arguing calls by the refs. Now this.

More from Jones:

“We’re trying to set a standard for all of our players and all our guys who are here,” Smart said after the game. “When guys don’t fall in line to that we’ve got to move on.”

Smart intends to maintain this stance, too. You have to assume that means penalties will escalate if the behavior does not change.

Smart wouldn’t address whether Cousins would play in Sunday’s game against Portland. If he does, another blowup could mean suspensions for conduct detrimental to the team.

Cousins doesn’t believe Friday’s incident will be held over his head and that he and Smart can move past the incident.

“It happens all the time between players and coaches,” Cousins said. “I believe we’ll talk about it, get past it and we’ll move forward.”

Cousins can only hope. All of these shenanigans are overlooked if he were delivering like the punchline in the Kings’ lineup. But after a breakout season a year ago, Cousins has not only reverted to troublesome form with his behavior, but his play has deteriorated as well, not concentrating on defense and taking far too many bad shots.

Could Cousins simply be tiring of the losing atmosphere in Sacramento and trying to force the Kings to ship him out of town?

We can only assume that he knows the rest of the NBA gets LeaguePass. The offers coming in at this point for a mediocre malcontent would hardly make the Kings want to jump at this point.

So DeMarcus Cousins walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder…

You’d think at 22, he’d be too young to become an old joke.

Faried Already A Positive Example

Kings coach Keith Smart mentioned something strange the other day. He said Thomas Robinson, the rookie from Kansas, is being shown clips of Denver’s Kenneth Faried as a player to emulate.

Both are young power forwards, both needing to develop offensive games, both relying on enviable amounts of athleticism. It’s easy to see Smart drawing a straight line from one to the other.

Faried, the No. 22 pick in 2011 — a spot in the draft where most are just trying to crack the rotation in their second season — is barely getting started with his career and an opposing coach is telling a lottery pick and projected foundation of Sacramento’s future to be like the guy who has yet to play an 82-game schedule. That’s a special compliment and a sign of how far Faried has come. At 10 rebounds a game in just 29.5 minutes — relatively limited time for a starter — he has already blown past the expectations of a lot of teams who passed on him in the draft as too small at 6-foot-8 or too one dimensional with a lacking offense. But, look, he is a key part of an offense after all.

The mid-range game he has worked to improve is still very much a work in progress, so Faried is still only a threat close to the basket. Yet there he is, the No. 4 scorer on the Nuggets, at 12.3 points a game and 53.1 percent from the field, even with a slight cooling in December.

“There’s no play in the book for him, but every night he’s going to end up with 10, 15 and sometimes 20 points because of the effort he gives,” Smart said. “Pushing the ball up the floor, he runs with those guys. He gets out on the break and finishes up a lot of those breaks.

“Those are hustle points. That’s where you get to a point where a coach can write it down: ‘Tonight, no play call, and I can [still] put down 10 to 15 every night.’ I know I’m going to put that in a little file cabinet and every single night, maybe seven out of 10 times, he’s going to have those numbers. That’s what he does.”

Faried has already established himself far beyond what some teams would have imagined a year ago at this time, when Faried’s rookie season was just about to begin without a summer league or much of a training camp. If he starts dropping in 14-footers and gets up to 16 or 17 points a game, along with the double-digit rebounding, then a lot of video departments will be burning a “Kenneth Faried mix” to hand out to young players.

“I don’t think I’ve come that far yet,” Faried countered. “I think I’ve still got more to go.”

But he also has quickly earned an important spot on a playoff team.

“I’m excited I [have],” Faried said. “But I’m not content. I think I have more in me. I can bring more. One day – I believe it, I’ll say it – I can become an All-Star.”

He will have to settle for shining example for now.

Smart Trying To Refine Cousins’ Game


DALLAS – Call DeMarcus Cousins what you will — lazy, uninspired, hot-headed — and maybe Spurs analyst Sean Elliott did. But Sacramento Kings coach Keith Smart has no choice but to view Cousins as an undeniably skilled, high-reward project.

It’s why Smart recently introduced the fifth overall pick in 2010 to the jump hook. Cousins has got to find something to perk up his 42.4 shooting percentage that droops to an abysmal 28 percent in the key — the painted part outside the “restricted area,” which is the area within the arched line located below the rim.

The hook didn’t go down for Cousins Saturday night in a win over Portland when he went 6-for-17 from the floor, but still finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Afterward Cousins was discouraged with the hook.

“That’s new territory for him because after that he said, ‘I’m probably not going to work on that shot any more,’ ” Smart said. “I said, ‘You’re right at the middle of the rim. You can’t get anything better than that.’ It looked like a real NBA shot of a big man trying to put the ball in with a jump hook. And now we’ve just got to refine that.”

Cousins followed up Monday with one of his best shooting nights of the season, going 10-for-17, although there was no sign of the jump hook. He scored 25 points, but it was inconsequential after the Kings fell behind the Dallas Mavericks by 28 points in the second quarter and lost 119-96 to end a three-game win streak.

It would seem difficult for a 6-foot-11, 270-pound man not to shoot a high percentage from so close to the basket, especially inside the “restricted area.” Yet entering Monday’s game, Cousins only made 71 of the 124 shots (57 percent) there, in part because he loves to take his man off the dribble from the elbow like a dynamic wing player might. But his big body gets caught in the air and he’s left to toss up an off-balance scoop shot or finger roll.

A couple of those attempts Monday against Mavs center Chris Kaman flew over the rim and hit the other side of the backboard. Another time, though, he spun beautifully around Elton Brand to the baseline and got fouled.

“The player at the moment doesn’t see himself as a big man,” Smart said of Cousins. “This guy can handle the ball just as well as some guards in our league. I don’t like him to do it a lot, but he can do those things and he doesn’t see himself in that frame of mind [as a big man].”

Push him out of the “restricted area,” but still in the key, where a jump hook might come in handy, and that’s where Cousins is shooting an almost impossible 28 percent (14-for-50). Take him out of the paint and out to the 3-point arc where he fancies himself a jump shooter and is especially fond of his fadeaway, and he’s shooting 31 percent (26-for-85).

Still, he’s the Kings’ leading scorer at now 17.2 points a game. And averaging 9.9 rebounds, he’s a would-be walking 20-10 player if only the Kings could post him up more. Smart is trying to get Cousins to commit to a go-to move that “you can count on every single night.”

It’s a daily struggle. But one Cousins must commit to. He said he had a back-to-the-basket game, but that he’s drifted farther and farther out during his time in the league.

“It’s just getting back to it,” Cousins said. “I’m basically kind of re-learning it again.”

His poor shooting percentages are not new and he’s made little progress from his first two seasons when his percentages in the paint were 29 percent and 30 percent, respectively. His best overall shooting percentage was last season’s 44.8.

“We’ve got to spoon feed a few of them [post-ups] down there for him to keep growing,” Smart said, “so we can keep that film in front of him to show him that along the line we can continue to develop other parts of his game as well.”

Smart said Cousins wants to be great, but that he wants it all to happen overnight, just like his frustrations when the jump hook didn’t immediately drop. Smart said, contrary to the beliefs of some, that Cousins is also willing to be coached.

“He’s coachable. You know, you might have to spend a little bit more time coaching him, but it’s good because he’ll take criticism,” Smart said. “He and I have a good relationship because I can come at him pretty hard and then he’ll respond and not talk for a day, and then we’ll come back around again. I think he respects me and he understands that I’m trying to get him to become one of those guys that he wants to become.”

Evans Working Through The Drama





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We made a lot of assumptions about how the Sacramento Kings feel about Tyreke Evans based on the fact that they reportedly did not intend to offer the former Rookie of the Year a contract extension from his rookie deal.

Evans himself apparently did not.

Despite being mentioned in trade rumors and various other rumblings with free agency on hand, Evans continues to grind away on his game, and per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee, raise eyebrows while working through whatever drama comes his way:

The Kings certainly aren’t acting like a team trying to trade Tyreke Evans.

Unlike last season when Evans spent much of the summer in Southern California working out, Evans has been in Sacramento working out with basketball president Geoff Petrie and other Kings staff.

Rumors persist involving Evans being traded, the latest being another proposed deal sending him to Houston that no one in our outside of the Kings has validated the proposed deal.

(more…)

The Other DeMarcus Cousins





HANG TIME WEST – This is why the Kings have steadfastly waved off serious trade talks. This is why they have refused to sell low to cut their losses. The last 4 ½ weeks are why.

DeMarcus Cousins is on a rebounding tear. He’s moved up to No. 5 in the league at 11.2 a game, despite playing fewer minutes than  anyone in the top 10. Cousins always has had the talent that projects him to be an All-Star center. In case there were any doubts, there were the 20 boards Saturday and the 14 two games before that and the 15 two games before that.

Cousins has posted at least 13 rebounds in six of the last nine games and has topped 15 boards in a game five times in January and the early days of February. Plus, he is at 15 points a game. Beneath the immaturity, through the inability to show up to camp in proper shape both years as a pro, this is what was always possible.

His recent tear is not, however, a chain reaction to Paul Westphal being fired on Jan. 5, four days after the Kings wrongly allowed the release of a Westphal e-mail statement that took Cousins to task. Cousins is many things. He is not (so far) a coach killer, though. Westphal got the gate primarily because his team was getting blown out on a regular basis. If being on the opposite side of Cousins’ flash temper was the standard for employment, half the organization would have pink slips.

(more…)

They Can’t Escape This





SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The final, insignificant moments of a blowout that had been decided before halftime were not so insignificant after all: coach Keith Smart played two Kings starters, Jason Thompson and Jimmer Fredette, all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter of the fourth game in six nights, and two others from the opening lineup, Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, eight and seven minutes, respectively. They made “the mess,” as Smart called it, so they could stay around to clean it up.

“I want them to understand,” Smart said. “You can’t escape this…. You can’t go hide on the bench.”

It was so bad Wednesday night at Power Balance Pavilion, staying in the game was a punishment. It was so bad, it was as historic as could be proven.

The Nuggets scored 92 points in the paint alone – ninety-two! – as part of embarrassing the Kings 122-93, the most in the league this season by 20 and the most, period, since the statistic began being kept in 2000-01. Denver made four baskets outside the paint, according to Sacramento tracking, a pair of three-pointers and a pair of twos.

It’s not like the Nuggets have an overpowering interior presence either. Kosta Koufas opened at center, alongside Nene. The usual starter, Timofey Mozgov, was with his wife for the birth of their son. Also, two key Denver wings, Arron Afflalo and Rudy Fernandez, did not play because of injury, and Ty Lawson logged just 15 minutes before getting hurt.

The Kings offered no resistance to perimeter players getting into the lane or to power players. The worst indictment? They made such a little effort to stop anything that for all the time the Nuggets spent in the paint with the ball, Denver shot just 25 free throws.

The Kings couldn’t be bothered with trying to distract them.

What a mess.