Posts Tagged ‘Marcus Thornton’

Ainge says he’s not enjoying Riley’s pain


VIDEO: David Aldridge reports the latest on LeBron

ORLANDO – Three decades ago, they were on opposite sides of the NBA’s longest-running blood feud — Lakers vs. Celtics.

For the past decade they’ve held similar positions in Boston and Miami, dueling for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.

But Celtics general manager Danny Ainge says he’s taking no joy in watching Heat president Pat Riley on the horns of the free-agent dilemma with LeBron James.

“I don’t take any pleasure in anybody’s pain,” Ainge said Thursday at the Orlando Pro Summer League. “This is a tough business and free agency is part of what we all go through. I certainly don’t take any joy in seeing great players leave organizations that have been good to them.”

Never mind that Ainge might have helped grease the skids for James’ departure from Miami by aiding the Cavaliers in their bid to clear out salary-cap space.

The three-team trade also involving the Nets that sent guard Jarrett Jack to Brooklyn and guard Marcus Thornton and center Tyler Zeller to Boston along with a first-round draft choice became official at the end of the free-agent moratorium.

Ainge says his only motivation is to help the Celtics improve for the upcoming 2014-15 season, though he is known to be still searching for a way to swing a deal that might land Kevin Love in Boston. At this point, the Love scenario is a very long shot, because the Celtics simply do not have the goods to interest Minnesota in a trade. But that doesn’t mean he won’t continue to try.

In the meantime, Ainge and Celtics coach Brad Stevens both see Thornton and Zeller as contributors to their team right away.

“Ty Zeller is a big strong center that can also stretch defenses with his skill and really run the floor,” Stevens said. “I thought it was all positive from our standpoint.

“First and foremost, he’s a great transition rim runner, can really get out and fly up and down the court. He showed that at North Carolina. He’s got skill and can score on block. He handles and is savvy and can play facing basket.”

“Marcus can bring scoring, probably as a bench scorer,” Ainge said. “He can get hot. He had a 42- point game last season and can shoot from the 3-point line.”

Ainge’s only comment on the James affair was to say: “Wherever LeBron goes, the team’s a contender. That’s how good a player he is.”

Stevens was hired just days ahead of summer camp a year ago and was still learning which door to walk through when he arrived in Orlando. Now he is getting his first up-close view of the entire free-agent process.

“I’m probably more knowledgeable about our situation than maybe I sound, but don’t understand it to Nth degree,” he said. “As far was watching free agency, it’s hilarious. I just sit back and enjoy it.”

Jack trade boosts Cavs fans’ hopes


VIDEO: The latest buzz surrounding LeBron and the Heat

Now “The Return” isn’t just wishful thinking or idle speculation. The notion that LeBron James might sign a free-agent deal to play again for the Cleveland Cavaliers is getting propped up with real, tangible maneuvering, in this case a reported three-team trade that would move Cavs guard Jarrett Jack as the first step in opening serious salary-cap space for James.

That makes James’ decision to go back to Cleveland a legitimate possibility, as some insiders see it.

It also makes the opportunity for heartache and a sense of being played – again – all the greater.

Are the Cavaliers and their fans ready for that sort of repeat hangover, four years removed?

A case can be made for moving Jack, a disappointment acquisition last summer to the Cavs’ young backcourt (Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters), and the two years, $12.6 million left on his deal regardless of its impact on a pursuit of James. The deal, first reported by ESPN, is a three-teamer that will send Jack and Sergey Karasev to Brooklyn. Boston will receive Nets guard Marcus Thornton, Cleveland center Tyler Zeller and a future Cavs first-round pick.

Cleveland, if it takes back only picks rather than guaranteed salaries, would be freeing up an extra $9.5 million and, ESPN reported, have $21.7 million in cap space to dangle in James’ direction.

Everything is on hold, of course, for the rest of Wednesday until the NBA’s moratorium on signings and trades lifts at midnight Eastern Time. By then, James reportedly will have met again with Miami president Pat Riley, owner Micky Arison and teammate Dwyane Wade in Las Vegas to discuss his immediate future, which many still think keeps him in south Florida. Riley, after all, has agreed to deals with Charlotte forward Josh McRoberts and Clippers forward Danny Granger, two pieces who make sense in both basketball and financial terms only if the Heat’s championship core returns.

That hasn’t deterred some unbridled enthusiasm in Cleveland. The Cavaliers removed from their Web site this week the emotional, vitriolic open letter penned by owner Dan Gilbert in the angry moments immediately after James’ “The Decision” TV farewell.

Cleveland fans might be having more trouble un-burning their LeBron jerseys, but plenty of them have gotten their hopes up while James lingers in committing anywhere for 2014-15 and beyond. Now this move – an update and half-twist from Mike Brown‘s firing and Byron Scott‘s hiring as a (futile) attempt to please James in 2010 – is being taken by some as proof of a remarkable reunion.

Good luck, Cleveland. But just remember the axiom, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …”


VIDEO: Stu Jackson discusses LeBron’s decision

Game 2 could answer questions on Brooklyn bench

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Through the Lens: Nets vs. Raptors Game 1

TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors will go into Game 2 of their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) knowing that they will likely get better games from starting wings DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross than they did in Game 1.

Ross and DeRozan, each playing their first career playoff game, combined to shoot 4-for-17 (1-for-8 from 3-point range). The Nets’ defense had a lot to do with their struggles, but first-game jitters were also a factor.

That’s the glass-is-half-full view for Toronto. But Brooklyn has one too, because the Nets know that their bench can’t play much worse than it did on Saturday.

Alan Anderson, Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic and Marcus Thornton shot a combined 6-for-22, missing all 12 of their 3-point attempts.

Anderson helped on the other end of the floor, but if Teletovic and Thornton aren’t making shots, they’re not helping much (beyond providing floor spacing). The Nets outscored the Raptors 55-37 in 23 minutes with at least four starters on the floor and were outscored 50-39 in 25 minutes with at least two reserves in the game.

Those numbers make Andrei Kirilenko‘s DNP all that more curious. Kirilenko can give you something on both ends of the floor and doesn’t rely on shot-making to make an impact. The Nets were 25-9 when Kirilenko played at least 14 minutes in the regular season.

But the Nets are a deep team and Jason Kidd came closest of any other coach to mimicking Gregg Popovich‘s minutes distribution. Only Joe Johnson (32.6), Deron Williams (32.2) and Brook Lopez (who played just 17 games) averaged more than 28 minutes a game in the regular season.

If Kirilenko would have played on Saturday, somebody who played at least 1,200 minutes would have sat. And Kirilenko’s on-off-court numbers don’t jive with that 25-9 record. Brooklyn was better both offensively and defensively with Kirilenko on the bench this season. While he’s a great off-ball cutter and brilliant passer, he shot just 5-for-31 from outside the paint and seemed to lose all confidence at the free-throw line after the All-Star break. With Shaun Livingston and Mason Plumlee, there are already two guys in the Nets’ rotation who can’t shoot beyond 15 feet.

Interestingly, the Nets are now 3-0 against the Raptors when Kirilenko doesn’t play and 0-2 when he does. Kidd will have to decide whether or not that’s a coincidence. He said Sunday that one DNP for Kirilenko “doesn’t mean that he’s not going to play any of this series.”

D-Will getting stronger as Nets surge

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Deron Williams scores 28 to lead the Nets past the Suns

DALLAS – Following Sunday night’s inspired overtime win, a relieved Deron Williams walked deliberately — limped is more like it — on delicate ankles toward the Texas barbecue buffet Mavericks owner Mark Cuban provides visiting teams after games.

As Williams stacked brisket, sausage and potato salad onto his to-go plate, the Brooklyn Nets point guard, who grew up 30 minutes up the highway, had no intention of discussing his physical state. Not that that’s anything new for the ornery Williams, who’s known to grow testy when interrogated about the difficulty of playing on bad wheels.

“It is, but what can you do?” Williams said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. I feel great right now. We just got a win, I’m happy about that, and I want to get one [tonight]. That’s my concern.”

The Nets, now 37-31 and just 1 1/2 games behind Atlantic Division-leading Toronto, have won 11 of 13 and seek a fifth consecutive win tonight at New Orleans (8 p.m. ET, League Pass).

With 15 points on 3-for-9 shooting and three assists, Williams didn’t play his best game in the 107-104 come-from-behind victory against the hometown team he spurned as a free agent two summers ago to instead lead the Nets out of New Jersey and into the promised land of Brooklyn. Still, Williams logged a team-high 42 minutes and stuck with it long enough to drop a 3-point dagger, the only one he’d hit on five attempts, to give the Nets, who turned to solid defense on a poor-shooting night, an eight-point cushion with 1:26 to go.

The workload was his highest since Feb. 13 and well above the 33.2 mpg Williams has averaged since returning on Jan. 20 from more ankle issues that sidelined him for nearly three weeks. In early January he received a cortisone shot and platelet-rich plasma injections in both ankles.

“I think he’s getting to where he wants to be,” teammate Joe Johnson said. “I can see that pop coming back. He’s playing aggressive, getting to the rim, so that’s what we need out of him. He’s working, man, everyday, coming in, getting his shots up, doing whatever it takes to be effective. I think he’s getting there.”

Williams, 29, might never again challenge Chris Paul for point-guard supremacy in the league, but a physically and mentally sharp Williams is the Nets’ only hope for making a long playoff run that seemed improbable, if not impossible, just two months ago. Jason Kidd, a close friend of Williams’ before he became his coach over the summer, has preached patience.

“We spent a lot of time through practices and games and spend some time together off the court,” Kidd said. “The biggest thing for an athlete or anybody at that level, health is the first thing. He wasn’t healthy and now he’s starting to get healthy. He feels good and you can see his play, he’s playing at a high level.”

With the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Williams averaging 14.9 ppg and 5.9 apg since his latest return, with Paul Pierce engaged, Joe Johnson continuing to be clutch, a boost from deadline acquisition Marcus Thornton and general good health beyond Kevin Garnett, the high-priced Nets have at least made themselves a threat to potentially challenge Indiana or Miami if they can get out of the first round.

“If you’re in the East looking at them in the first round or second round,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said, “you wouldn’t want to play that team.”

Kidd, one of the league’s most durable players throughout his 19-year career, knows his team’s fortunes depend on good health. He’s done a terrific job of utilizing his bench and spreading minutes to ease wear-and-tear on the veterans he’ll lean on in the playoffs. Johnson leads the team logging just 32.8 mpg. Williams, at 32.0 mpg, by far the lowest of his nine seasons, is the only other Nets player averaging more than 30.0 mpg.

Williams said early season criticism of Kidd was unfair because of the onslaught of injuries to key players. Since Jan. 1 they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the league, going 27-10.

“We’re healthy, that’s the biggest thing,” Williams said. “At the beginning of the season we were injured. We were injured and that’s tough on him [Kidd], not having guys at full strength and not having his guys out there, so that made it difficult. And now we’re still not whole, but we’re more healthy, we’re playing with more confidence.

“A lot of it is us. He was doing a great job earlier, we were just not, I don’t want to say not buying in, we were buying in, it just wasn’t clicking like it is now. It took us a little longer than we thought to learn what he wanted and get on the same page.”

Thornton keeps cooking for hot Nets

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Joe Johnson, Nets storm back to stun Mavs in overtime

DALLAS – The Brooklyn Nets delivered an improbable road win on coach Jason Kidd‘s 41st birthday, but it’s reserve guard Marcus Thornton, acquired at the trade deadline, who is the gift that keeps on giving.

Brooklyn rallied from a 14-point deficit in the third quarter, forced overtime, took control and then held on for a 107-104 win over the stunned Mavericks on their home floor. Thornton was in the thick of the Nets’ fourth consecutive victory with 20 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes. He scored 11 in the fourth quarter, dropping three of his four 3-pointers to push the Nets into the lead.

“He’s been great for us,” said Joe Johnson, who scored six of his 22 points in overtime. “I can’t even count how many games he’s been clutch for us and got us back in the game or won games for us, so we need a guy like that.”

The 6-foot-4 shooter spent the first four-plus seasons of his career on losing clubs, first playing near his hometown of Baton Rouge with the then-New Orleans Hornets and then for the past two-and-a-half seasons in Sacramento. A month ago he got the call that he’d been traded to the Nets. In 14 games since swapping the black-and-purple of Sacramento for the black-and-white of Brooklyn, Thornton has had five games of least 19 points. He had five in 46 games with the Kings.

“It’s been huge, man, it’s been huge,” Thornton said of the trade. “I’m starting to find myself again and get back to being the player that I was a couple of years ago.”

For the first time in his career Thornton, a second-round pick out of LSU by the Miami Heat in 2009, is surrounded by hardened veterans on a team that’s surging toward the playoffs. Those guys have taken to calling him “The Microwave,” the nickname synonymous with longtime Detroit Pistons sixth man Vinnie Johnson, known for coming off the bench and lighting it up.

“K.G. [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], Joe, D-Will [Deron Williams], they all have championship standards,” Thornton said. “Being able to be a sponge around them has been great.”

Thornton, who has been a serious upgrade from the man he replaced, aging sixth man Jason Terry, is averaging 12.5 ppg with Brooklyn while shooting 46.3 percent overall and 40.6 percent from beyond the arc.

“When you get in the postseason there’s going to be some nights the first five may not have it,” Johnson said. “You need a guy that can come in and get hot, and get hot quick.”

On Sunday, Thornton did just that and in the process mopped up the Mavs (42-29), who fell for the second time in overtime in their first four games of a franchise-long eight-game homestand. The loss dropped them behind Memphis and into eighth place. The race tightened at the other end, too, as Phoenix rallied to beat Minnesota and is now just one-half game behind Dallas — and even in the loss column — for the final playoff spot.

With Pierce and Williams struggling to find their range, really until the overtime period, Thornton put up eight points in the second quarter and had nine in the first half to keep the cold-shooting Nets within striking range, 48-41. He jump-started their charge in the fourth quarter with consecutive 3-pointers to open the period and whittle the deficit to 72-71. His third 3 of the final quarter came at the 7:47 mark and put Brooklyn ahead 79-75. And with 5:54 left, his putback of an Andray Blatche miss made it 81-77 in favor of the Nets.

“How we stick together through adversity” is what Thronton said most impresses him about his new club. “We could have easily gave up when we went down 12, 15 points, however many points it was in that third quarter, but everybody kept their heads up and we kept playing.”

The Nets (37-31) needed it, too, on this first stop on a three-game road trip. They win kept them 1 1/2 games out of the Atlantic Division lead after Toronto won earlier in the day.

“Yes, yes, winning, man, winning,” Thornton said. “This is my first year in five years being able to say I have a chance to go to the playoffs. That alone in itself is a blessing.”

Now Thornton returns to friendly territory as Brooklyn heads to New Orleans for another important game on Monday night.

“Go back home, see my mom and all my friends,” Thornton said. “Been getting ticket requests since two weeks ago so got to deal with that. But I love going back and playing at home.”

Almost as much as he’s loving this fresh start with the Nets.

Nets Keep Looking To Spend, Improve

Brooklyn acquired guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

Brooklyn picked up guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The first trade of deadline week went down Wednesday afternoon, with the Brooklyn Nets acquiring Marcus Thornton from the Sacramento Kings for Reggie Evans and Jason Terry.

The deal adds about $700,000 in salary and $2.7 million in luxury taxes to Brooklyn’s books this season. Next season, when all three guys are still under contract, it adds about the *same amount.

* More salary, less tax, because, at this point, Brooklyn is only in the third of five tax-payment tiers for ’14-15. Give ‘em time, though.

So, it’s a bit of an investment for Mikhail Prokhorov. But in theory, it should help the Nets continue to move up the Eastern Conference standings.

Brooklyn is 14-6 since Jan. 1, a stretch in which they’ve gone from 10th to seventh in the East. They’re just 2 1/2 games out of a top-four seed and need to keep moving up to avoid playing the Pacers or Heat in the first round and have a decent shot at the conference semifinals.

After all the money they spent last summer, anything less than the second round would be a colossal failure. So hey, they might as well spend a few more million if it can make them better.

And as good as the Nets have played in 2014, they still have plenty of room for improvement. They rank 15th offensively and sixth defensively since Jan. 1. Given all their talent, they should be better at putting the ball in the basket.

That’s where Thornton comes in. Since Jan. 1, the Nets have scored 108.3 points per 100 possessions with Deron Williams on the floor (a rate which would rank fifth in the league in that time) and just 100.6 with him on the bench (a rate which would rank 25th). Though Williams hasn’t been at his best, he’s still the most important offensive player on his team.

Shaun Livingston has been one of the Nets’ bright spots and has worked well with Williams in the starting lineup, but the Nets’ second-unit offense could use a boost. Terry has been a disappointment, Alan Anderson‘s production has dropped off and, as brilliant as Andrei Kirilenko has been, he’s made two shots outside of the paint all season.

The problem is that Thornton has been having the worst shooting season of his career, with an effective field goal percentage of just 45.7 percent. That’s worse than Terry was shooting.

So, the hope for Brooklyn is that Thornton can find his shot again. It was less than a month ago that he tied a career high with 42 points (shooting 7-for-15 from 3-point range) against the best defense of the last 37 years.

While he’s been rather inefficient this season, Thornton gives the Nets a higher ceiling and more potency than they had with Terry. If he plays well, he certainly fills a need.

The same could be said about Jordan Hill, if the Nets can get him from the Lakers for their disabled-player exception. In the same way that their offense takes a hit when their Williams sits, their defense falls apart when Kevin Garnett goes to the bench.

But you wonder how Hill would fit in a second-unit frontline that already includes Kirilenko, Andray Blatche and Mirza Teletovic. Each of those guys brings something to the table, the Nets have outscored their opponents by 21.5 points per 100 possessions in 115 minutes with the three of them on the floor together, and at least one of them would see a decrease in minutes if Hill was brought on board.

And then there’s the money. The Nets wouldn’t be sending any salary to L.A. in exchange for Hill, so he would cost them about $1.3 million in salary ($3.5 million prorated for the remainder in the season) and a whopping $16.6 million in luxury tax, bringing their total tax bill to more than $98 million. Add that to their salaries and they’d be a $200-million team.

That’s a lot of dough for a squad that doesn’t stand much of a chance of reaching the conference finals. But you can’t say that the Nets aren’t afraid to make a move or spend some money to address their needs.

One Team, One Stat: Post-All-Star Improvement From The Kings

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next is the Sacramento Kings, who showed some signs of life (at least on one end of the floor) in the second half of last season.

The basics
SAC Rank
W-L 28-54 25
Pace 96.3 7
OffRtg 103.0 13
DefRtg 108.6 29
NetRtg -5.6 26

The stat

6.6 - More points per 100 possessions the Kings scored after the All-Star break (107.3) than they scored before it (100.7), the biggest improvement in the league.

The context

The Kings ranked 18th offensively at the break, but were the seventh best offensive team after it, better than the Rockets, Lakers, Warriors, Spurs and six other playoff teams. They were still pretty terrible defensively, of course. That’s why they went just 9-19.

But the offense was a breath of fresh air. The offense finished the season ranked 13th, the highest ranking in seven years.

Their free-throw rate and rebounding percentage went down after the break, but they did a better job of taking care of the ball and shot better from both inside and outside the arc.

Kings’ offense, 2012-13

Timeframe 2PT% Rank 3PT% Rank OREB% Rank TmTOV% Rank FTA Rate Rank
Pre-break 46.4% 23 35.0% 17 27.4% 13 15.6% 13 .278 12
Post-break 49.4% 13 38.1% 6 25.0% 21 14.0% 5 .258 20
Total 47.4% 20 36.3% 12 26.6% 16 15.0% 9 .271 14

OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TmTOV% = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA/FGA

Two other stats are important. First, the Kings went from 10th in pace (95.2 possessions per 48 minutes) before the break to No. 1 in pace (98.5) after it. And that increase clearly suited them better. They played better both offensively and defensively in their fastest-paced games last season.

Secondly, the Kings increased their assist rate (AST/FGM) from 54.0 percent to 57.7 percent. That’s not a huge increase and, league-wide, there’s no correlation between assist rate and offensive efficiency. But it’s certainly notable when it’s the Kings, who have ranked in the bottom five in assist rate each of the last six seasons.

The highlight of the Kings’ second half was a 116-101 win over the Clippers on March 19, in which they assisted on 25 (68 percent) of their 37 baskets. Watch how, on seven of the 14 threes they hit that night, guys made an extra pass for a better shot…


Hockey assists galore. If their uniforms were white and black instead of white and purple, you might think that was the Spurs. The Kings have had some decent offensive talent, guys that can hurt a decent defense, over the years. But they’ve never really worked together or made the most of what they had.

In that Clippers game, guys were looking for each other. The ball sought the open man and it didn’t stop until it found him.

Marcus Thornton led them with 25 points in that game and was their most improved shooter after the break. His effective field-goal percentage went from 48.3 percent before the break to 57.4 percent after it. Isiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans also improved their shooting and efficiency.

Cousins went from having only 43 percent of his baskets assisted before the break to having 60 percent of them assisted after. If he can permanently cut down on the face-up isos, he might start living up to his potential.

Of course, the Kings made big changes this summer. Evans is gone and Greivis Vasquez – a real point guard – is in his place. Mike Malone is the new coach and brings with him a new system. He’d be justified to start from scratch with this team. But he also might want to show them how good they can be when the ball moves.

Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

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.

Rick’s Tips: 5 Players Whose Value Looks To Increase Soon

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I don’t know about you guys, but my inbox is flooded with trade offers in my four leagues. It would be great if any of the deals were better than Goran Dragic and Klay Thompson for Carmelo Anthony. Yawn. Unfortunately, most of the offers are 2-for-1 deals where I’M the one giving up the best player. The idea is to consolidate depth into a better starter, so make sure you are getting the best player in any proposed deal.

In order to get out in front of the Feb. 21 trade deadline, I’m back with several players to pick up and stash with the hope that a deadline deal will improve their fantasy value.

Kris Humphries, Nets: With the Nets talking to the Hawks about Josh Smith, Humphries could be heading to Atlanta, where he would play starter’s minutes and get back to average a double-double. Suffice to say, if the Nets are going to reunite Josh with Joe Johnson in Brooklyn, the Hawks better get a lot more than Humphries in return.

Derrick Williams, Timberwolves: When you see Williams soaring through the air for alley oop dunks and stopping on a dime for long threes, you think he might be about to realize the potential that made him a #2 overall pick. Problem is, the more you watch Williams, the more you see how weak his motor is. There’s a reason why he can’t stay on the floor even when Kevin Love is out. That said, I want to give Williams one change of scenery before I label him a bust. Not sure where he’s going, but my guess is that Williams will be dealt in the next 7-10 days.

Marcus Thornton, Kings: After his trade from New Orleans to Sacramento in 2010-11, Thornton averaged 21.3 points in his first 27 games as a King. Last year, he averaged 18.7 points in 35 minutes. This year, Thornton barely plays, averaging 11.4 points in 24 minutes. I realize he’s shooting only 40 percent from the field, but I’m confident that percentage would rise with more consistent playing time—right along with his threes and steals. The Kings are usually good for a deadline deal or two, which could increase Thornton’s fantasy value.

Enes Kanter, Jazz: Speculation entering the season was that the Jazz were going to trade Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson to open up playing time for Kanter and Derrick Favors. As we approach the trade deadline, I am even more confident that one of Utah’s veteran bigs will be dealt. As such, beat the rush and pick up Kanter now because he may be playable as early as next week.

Moe Harkless, Magic: If the Magic decide to trade JJ Redick, then the rookie out of St. John’s will play more minutes and take more shots. Redick recently missed three games with a shoulder injury and Harkless averaged 41+ minutes during that stretch. Then Redick returned on Sunday against Portland and Harkless played only 30 minutes, racking up 4 points and 4 rebounds. If Redick goes to Chicago or anywhere else, the Magic will take a longer look at their potential small forward of the future. Harkless is a defensive stat stuffer, going for at least one steal in 6 of the last 7 games, and at least one block in 4 of the last 5.