Posts Tagged ‘Mike Malone’

Hawks well represented, except one


VIDEO: Coach Mike Budenholzer talks about the Hawks’ success

NEW YORK— The Big Apple is Atlanta North for the weekend with Hawks all over the place, competing in events on Friday, Saturday and finally Sunday when four players and the entire coaching staff will represent the East in the All-Star Game.

“It’s awesome to have everyone here,” said Hawks forward Al Horford. “When we get on the bus, almost half the bus is Hawks. I’ve been here before at the All-Star Game but never has it been to this magnitude, mainly because we have a number of players and our coaches here with me.”

Well, there is one notable absence. Somewhere in Atlanta, the person who put the Hawks together is observing from a distance, to say the least. Danny Ferry took a voluntary leave of absence after the events of this summer, when he read a scouting report that was viewed as racially if not culturally insensitive, and has been a ghost while the Hawks surprisingly soared to the top of the East.

Ferry was responsible, either directly or indirectly, in every member of the Hawks’ All-Star contingent with the exception of Horford, whom he inherited when he became GM three years ago. Ferry matched an offer sheet to keep Jeff Teague, signed Paul Millsap, traded for Kyle Korver and signed coach Mike Budenholzer. That’s one-third of the East team, plus the coach.

The question now is, will Ferry ever get to enjoy the benefits of his hard work from a point-blank range, instead of his TV set?

Well, all indications say that will be up to the next owners of the Hawks, whenever they’re sold, which might not happen until this summer or fall. If left up to the players, however, there’s a pretty clear consensus.

“He brought us all together,” said Teague. “I don’t think anyone would be against it.”

Millsap: “I would welcome him back. We still don’t know the truth as far as everything that’s going on or everything that happened. I try to stay out of it. But we had a great relationship before all of this happened. I’m not going to let one day throw that relationship down the drain. People make mistakes.”

Remember, Ferry wasn’t told to stay away by the league or even the fractured Hawks ownership. He took it upon himself. And technically, he could return on his own accord, although there probably would be some awkward moments if that happened. In any event, one of the groups trying to buy the Hawks is led by Grant Hill. They both attended Duke and remain friends, so you can guess what might happen should Hill’s team win. If another group wins, then all bets are off.

“He’s definitely a great GM,” said Millsap. “And I’m sure this must be tough for him.”

Elsewhere around All-Star Weekend:

Melo will play at least one more game:

Carmelo Anthony will play in the All-Star Game. Otherwise, that’s all he would guarantee.

There’s bait of controversy surrounding the Knicks forward. On one hand, Melo has complained about a chronic left knee problem, which forced him to miss games. But he felt fine enough to play in London in the Knicks’ game against the Bucks, and has played since, leading up to the All-Star Game.

Therefore: With the 10-43 Knicks comfortably out of the playoff hunt and three months to go, will Melo suddenly feel unfit to play once the All-Star Game is over?

It looks that way, and can you blame him? Melo felt he had a responsibility to suit up in London, if only because he was clearly a drawing card, and also serve as host of the All-Star Game since it’ll be played at the Garden.

“I really want to embrace that,” he said. “This will be a moment I’ll never forget. New York won’t forget. I want to be a part of that moment.”

Melo added: “It’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. Because if I said I’m not participating, I would’ve gotten backlash about it. I’m saying I’m participating, I get backlash. It’s here in New York, the fans voted me in and I’m going to play in the game.”

DeMarcus is good with Karl:

There won’t be any push-back from DeMarcus Cousins when George Karl begins coaching the Kings next week, so says DeMarcus Cousins.

“He’s a good coach,” said Cousins. “I haven’t really had a chance to talk with him, so may things were going on when they brought him in. I’m excited to see him and move forward.”

Cousins dismissed the idea that he was against the hiring of Karl and insists he has no voice in major decisions. If Karl can help the Kings return to a level of respectability they had under Mike Malone, Cousins is fine with that.

“I didn’t want them to fire Mike Malone,” he said. “That wasn’t my doing. And this hiring wasn’t my doing. But I’m fine with it. Look, everybody needs to be on the same page. That’s been the biggest issue so far. We were a team above .500 when Malone was there. Things happen for a reason and there are things beyond our control as players, beyond my control.”

Cousins did say one thing will continue: If the Kings sleep-walk through games, they will hear about it from him.

“As leader of my team, I’m supposed to voice my opinion about how we’ve been playing. I should be in that position.”

Boogie Barks Back:

Cousins also had some harsh words for Charles Barkley. The two aren’t exactly friends; Barkley has criticized Cousins on-air (although Barkley did say Cousins deserved to be on the All-Star team) and Cousins took exception to it then, and now.

“I mean, that’s Charles being Charles, man,” he said. “A lot of people don’t really know the real story about it. I never really had anything to do with it in the first place. It ain’t personal. I mean, I really respect the guy but at the same time I don’t really care what he thinks either. I don’t respect him and I don’t care what he thinks.”

Curry ready for prime time:

You come to New York expecting to see LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony dominating the billboards. But … Stephen Curry?

Curry is splashed on a huge neon billboard overlooking Times Square, as the spokesman for Express, the men’s casual sportswear company. And others are featuring Curry in ads. And Curry, the leading vote-getter in the West, finds it … amusing if not overwhelming.

“Two years ago I wasn’t here,” said Curry, meaning on the All-Star team. “Now, to have all of this support, from all over the world, fans of the NBA and fans of myself and how I play the game, I feel very humbled to know that we have an impact on so many people.

“There are guys here who are MVPs and who have won championships. That’s what I’m striving for. To know that along the way these kinds of acknowledgments happen, it’s encouraging to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Wade gives thumbs-up to Korver:

Dwyane Wade won’t play in the All-Star Game because of a lingering hamstring injury but he almost pulled another muscle when he was approached by his replacement, Kyle Korver.

Korver was extremely apologetic and Wade was caught off-guard.

“It’s funny,” Wade said. “He had this look on his face like, ‘I’m sorry that you’re not able to play, but really I’m not sorry.’ It was hilarious. So, I’m happy for him to get his All-Star nod.”

Wade added: “Obviously, we came in the league together. So it’s cool that he’s getting his nod. And they deserve it, man. When you play the way they’ve played all year, you deserve to be represented and showcased.”

Davis says Pelicans are all in:

The race for playoff pole position in the West is fierce, with the Suns and Thunder, separated by a half-game, largely considered the favorites for the eighth spot. But Anthony Davis believes the Pelicans are in the picture for the long haul.

“I believe so,” he said. “It’s easy to kind of count us out because of where we’re at in our development, but everyone on the team thinks the playoffs is in our reach. So, yeah, we’re going for it.”

New Orleans has lost 3 straight games and fell a game behind OKC, which is trying to recover from losing Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant for a chunk of the season due to injuries. Still, the Pelicans recently managed a split with OKC and Davis is having an MVP-like season.

“We’re not going to give up,” Davis said.

As for OKC?

Durant: “Man, I’m not even thinking about that right now. I just want to enjoy this All-Star Weekend.”

Awkward media/player interview exchange:

Reporter from Europe: “Chris Bosh, you are elegant.”

Bosh: “Thank you.”

 

 

Report: George Karl agrees to deal to become Kings coach


VIDEO: Karl, Kings agree on framework of deal

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — The Kings are ready to crown a new leader. After several days of rumors, the Sacramento Bee reports that longtime NBA coach George Karl will be the next coach of the Sacramento Kings.

As Ailene Voisin writes in the Bee

After several days of intense negotiations, George Karl has agreed to take over as Kings head coach after this weekend’s NBA All-Star break, The Bee has learned.

An official announcement is expected within the next few days. Terms of the deal were not available, though Karl was seeking a four-year contract in excess of $4 million per season.

An introductory news conference will be held next week in Sacramento. Team executives are postponing the formal media session to avoid detracting from center DeMarcus Cousins’ All-Star debut Sunday in New York.

Karl’s first game will be next Friday, Feb. 20, against Boston at Sleep Train Arena.

The Kings fired coach Mike Malone on December 15 after starting the season 11-13. The Kings began the season 9-5, but went 2-8 while All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins was out with meningitis. Malone was replaced by Tyrone Corbin, who has since gone 7-20.

Karl last coached in Denver in 2013, when he was named Coach of the Year. His career regular season record is 1131-756, and his postseason record is 80-105. The furthest a Karl team has gone in the postseason was when he took the 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals, where they lost the Chicago Bulls.

Karl to the Kings has been discussed for several weeks. When asked about the rumors this weekend, Cousins said, “I ain’t pumped up. I’ve just got a lot on my mind,” he said. “The crazy thing about it is, I’ve just got a question for y’all: How you gonna stop God’s plan? How you gonna do that? How you gonna do that? That’s all I want to know. How you gonna stop God’s plan? The marathon continues. I’m out.”

Report: Kings, Karl inch closer to deal


You might think that Vivek Ranadive, owner of the Sacramento Kings, would trust his basketball executives, learn from the team’s recent history and just get on with it. Firing Mike Malone as head coach two months ago hasn’t exactly worked the way Ranadive intended so a big step back by the owner would seem overdue.

You might hope that DeMarcus Cousins and his so-called “camp” would welcome anything that might pull the Kings out of their dreary nosedive since Thanksgiving. The Kings, after winning nine of their first 14 games, have won just nine of their last 36 and only twice in the past 29 days.

And you might expect George Karl, if he truly is as close to being hired by the Kings to replace Tyrone Corbin as reports Monday afternoon made it seem, would stop pushing for every last dollar and contract concession if his life’s desire at age 63 truly is to get his hands on one more NBA team with games to be won.

The bottom line to all this, of course, was that the Karl-to-the-Kings story that gained momentum rapidly Monday was in the sausage-making stage. While the actual event had moved into its third day, the back stories were dominating, with none of the constituents looking particularly good in the wrangling.

There was a lot more smoke than hire as NBA action tipped off Monday evening. The most authoritative came from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

Others tracked the unfolding events, as the sides inched closer:

Even those who relate to Karl as a two-time cancer survivor were watching and waiting for an actual resolution to the coach’s and the team’s slow-paced dance, with the Twitter account Cancer Daily @Cancrdaily providing updates.

The Yahoo! report offered the most specifics, while reminding readers that Ranadive hadn’t done a lot for his credibility – already frayed when he talked of using 4-on-5 defensive strategies to station cherry-pickers at the other end of the floor for fantasy easy baskets – when he insisted that Malone be fired. The Kings were 11-13 when the second-year coach was sent packing, to the chagrin of multiple players. They have gone 7-19 under Corbin heading into Tuesday’s game in Chicago.

Karl, after basically campaigning for another opportunity, looked to be on the verge of adding to his 1,131-756 NBA coaching record (with 22 playoff appearances in Cleveland, Golden State, Seattle, Milwaukee and Denver). So he would seem to have his priorities jumbled if he was going to let the dollars in the deal, or the disposition of the contract’s final year (team option vs. guaranteed), get in the way of what he claims he really wants to do again.

As for Cousins, any resistance to any particular coach would seem to be a grave mistake. The Yahoo! piece reported that the Sacramento center’s agents – Dan Fegan and Jarin Akana – primarily were concerned that the Kings, what with all these coaching changes, pick a direction and stick to it. And that’s fine. But any suggestion that Cousins might disapprove of Karl specifically – lest he be asked to work hard or take some criticism – would reflect poorly on the player, who still has potential to be tapped.

Bottom line: This is a deal that make sense for all involved, and the sooner Ranadive, GM Pete D’Allessandro, Cousins, the agents and Karl all get that through their heads – and do whatever’s necessary to get on with the business of basketball rather than business – the better off they’ll all be.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 181) dollars and sense

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Go ahead and scan the top 10 players on the salary list of your favorite sport and ask yourself, who belongs and who does not?

In the NFL it’s easy to spot the impostors (you know who you are .., Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan and others) the guys who have collected $100 million contracts without so much as changing the culture in their respective locker rooms, let alone the franchise that lavished those sorts of riches upon them,

The NBA’s top 10 is a much tougher list to decipher. Kobe Bryant, the third leading scorer in the history of the game, sits atop the list. And even though he’s playing on a woeful Los Angeles Lakers team this season, few can argue that he’s worth the what he’s being paid based on the box office draw he is at home in LA and everywhere else he goes.

Dollars and sense is the topic on Episode 181 of the Hang Time Podcast, who and what makes sense and at what price? We also dig into the Sacramento Kings’ firing of Mike Malone and what that means for the immediate and long-term future of the franchise.

We go off the rails early and often, like always, on Episode 181 of the Hang Time Podcast … Dollars and Sense …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the new best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant’s career milestones

Morning shootaround — Dec. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sacramento fires Mike Malone | Kobe more like Mike than ever | Stephenson on the move already? | Cavs getting healthy at the right time

No. 1: Sacramento fires Mike Malone — Christmas promises to be interesting in Sacramento, where the coaching search is on now that Mike Malone has been fired and replaced by Ty Corbin just 24 games into this season. The production on the floor (11-13) apparently did not meet the internal expectations for a team that was trying to dig its way out of the lottery mix in the Western Conference. TNT and NBA.com’s very own David Aldridge provides some context:

The Kings, 11-13 and losers of eight of their last 10 games, had high expectations of making the playoffs this season, having signed free agent point guard Darren Collison last summer, giving forward Rudy Gay a contract extension and building around Cousins, who got a max deal from owner Vivek Ranadive last summer. Ranadive and management believed Sacramento could compete now for a playoff berth.

Sacramento got off to a good start this season. But after Cousins came down with the ailment late last month, the Kings slumped. They are currently a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the west.

Sources indicated management was not happy with the team’s style of play or the direction of the team under Malone, who was hired in 2013 and went 28-54 in his first season.

***

No. 2: Kobe more like Mike than ever — The pursuit of Michael Jordan, at least on the all-time scoring list, is over for Kobe Bryant. He handled that business Sunday in Minnesota, pushing past MJ for third on the list with a 26-point outing in a win over the Timberwolves. After years of fighting the comparisons, Kobe is looking more like Mike than ever, so says Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times:

It wasn’t as climactic as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook to make him the league’s all-time scoring leader. It wasn’t as uncontroversial as Karl Malone’s steady stroll to second on the list, one pick-and-roll at a time.

It wasn’t even guaranteed to be the biggest Bryant news event of the past week, his “soft like Charmin” rant at practice taking plenty of spins in the national sports cycle a few days earlier.

But it finally happened, 1,269 regular-season games into a career that began with a trade, Charlotte to Los Angeles, and filled with individual visions of topping Jordan in championships and accolades.

“He knows how much I’ve learned from him, from the other legends, and him in particular,” Bryant said after dunking his feet into his postgame ice bath. “That’s the most important thing to me, I think, is playing for the respect of the greats and feeling like I’m a part of that culture, part of that brotherhood.”

***

No. 3: Hornets’ Stephenson on the move? — Independence day for NBA teams eager to fix free agent mistakes has come. Today marks the fist day teams can move players signed to new contracts over the summer. And the player whose name has surfaced prominently in those discussions is Lance Stephenson. The Hornets’ swingman could be on the move, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, who reports that the Hornets are exploring all of their options:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Hornets, just 23 games into the Stephenson era, have already begun the process of searching for potential trade partners that would be willing to take the talented but enigmatic former Indiana Pacer off their‎ hands.

Although sources say no deal involving Stephenson is imminent, Monday is the first day that players signed to new contracts in July are eligible to be dealt, which typically triggers what teams leaguewide regard as “trade season” over the next two months leading into the annual February trade deadline.

One factor that could ultimately lead to a deal, despite Stephenson’s ragged and discouraging start, is the fact that the three-year, $27 million deal he received over the summer from Charlotte owner Michael Jordan is only guaranteed through next season. The third year of the deal is not guaranteed, which theoretically enhances Charlotte’s chances of finding another team willing to gamble ‎on the mercurial swingman.

Sources say that the Hornets are not in a move-him-at-all-costs mode with Stephenson but made it clear that Charlotte is ready now to abandon the experiment if a palatable deal presents itself.

Stephenson has quickly proved to be a poor fit alongside the Hornets’ established core twosome of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, shooting 38.9 percent from the floor overall and 8-for-48 percent on 3-pointers during Charlotte’s 6-17 start.

***

No. 4: Cavaliers getting healthy at the right time — The Cleveland Cavaliers are getting better and better, literally. They are getting healthy at just the right time. The Christmas rush is upon us all and this is important a time for contenders as any in the early part of the NBA season. The Cavaliers struggled with different injuries, bumps and bruises to kick off this season. But now they are on the mend and ready to chase that top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, writes Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

All but one player fully participated in Sunday’s practice. LeBron James — having missed the Oklahoma City game Thursday with a sore left knee — said he went through the entire practice with the exception of the final drill.

Coach David Blatt pulled him out of that as a precaution.

“It’s OK,” James said of his knee after practice. “It responded well to the flight back home so I’m happy about that. I’ll get my treatment tonight and get my treatment tomorrow [before] the game.”

Guard Dion Waiters participated in Sunday’s practice, but Matthew Dellavedova wasn’t ready. He was relegated to light shooting and movement drills. On Friday, both players became ill in New Orleans and were held overnight for tests.

Waiters had abdominal pain and Dellavedova an extreme case of vomiting.

“We don’t know whether it was a virus or food poisoning,” Blatt said. “But the effect of it we know, and it was not pretty.”

The team is listing Dellavedova as questionable for Monday’s home game against Charlotte.

Mike Miller is close to returning to action after sustaining a concussion during the road win over the Knicks on Dec. 4. He is in the fourth of five stages in the league’s concussion recovery protocol.

“We were able to get him out there today for some 3-on-3 here after practice,” Blatt said. “And tomorrow we’ll evaluate his response to that and know where to go for the next step.”

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Kevin McHale has nothing but love for Trevor Ariza … The Wizards are as good as they’ve been in a decade, in so many ways … Warriors needed overtime for Sweet 16 … Tobias Harris has emerged as the Magic’s go-to-guy …  Chris Bosh calf injury is latest blow for injury-riddled Miami HeatDerek Fisher says Knicks players are more focused on the future than this season? … Steve Kerr says the Warriors are not chasing a 72-win season …

Report: Kings fire Mike Malone

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Mike Malone was 39-67 during his tenure in Sacramento (Photo by NBAE via Getty Images).

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — In a rather bizarre move, the Sacramento Kings fired head coach Mike Malone Sunday night, according to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Kings were the surprise team of the first few weeks of the season, going 9-6 before losing star DeMarcus Cousins to what eventually turned out to be viral meningitis. They’ve gone 2-7 without Cousins, having lost to both the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons in the last six days.

The Kings have outscored their opponents by 11.1 points per 100 possessions with Cousins on the floor and have been outscored by 8.8 with him off it. He’s been critical to both their offense and defense.

Still, the Kings were 1/2 game out of eighth place in the West when they lost Cousins. And right now, the Kings are still 1/2 game out of eighth place. Basically, the Phoenix Suns have been just as bad as they have over the last 2 1/2 weeks.

But apparently, Kings management expected more. And now they turn to Tyrone Corbin, whose Jazz ranked 20th or worse defensively in each of his four seasons as their head coach.

Malone was in his second season in Sacramento. Despite Cousins’ absence for nine of their 24 games, they were improved in both offensive and defensive efficiency from last season.

NBA coaching in the time of social media

One by one they arrive, each man pulling up in his elegant sedan, sports coupe or luxury SUV and, for all intents and purposes, bringing his family, his friends, his fans — his peeps — and his digital world along with him.

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

In the locker room, where they dress and tease and bond and strategize, it’s all about chemistry. Except when it’s about technology.

“Say we have a shootaround or a team meeting that starts at 9:30. Guys start trickling in at 9:15,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said the other day, talking about these modern times. “We used to come in and sit around and talk to one another face to face. Now these guys have their devices and they’ll all be sitting at a table and nobody’s saying anything to anybody. They’re just punching buttons and looking down, and there’s no interaction.”

That novel about Love in the Time of Cholera? The men who oversee NBA teams are coaching in the time of social media, which might just be trickier.

Red Auerbach never had to worry about some tabloid photographer popping out of a darkened doorway to snap a photo with his date. Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson barely stuck around long enough for cell phones. Coaches today face the full arsenal of gadgetry, as far as where their guys might turn to lose themselves or what a civilian might use to catch players unawares. TMZ, remember, pays real folding money and, after all, 15 minutes of fame is better than none.

“It’s a big challenge coaching now,” said Shaw, who  — when he was an NBA rookie in 1988 — needed a quarter and a glass booth if he wanted to fiddle with a phone at the Boston Garden. “There are so many more options for them, so many more things to take their attention away from what you’re trying to do as coach. You have to constantly bring them back in and keep them engaged.”

Twenty years have passed since Magic Johnson, in his unsatisfying 16-game stint as Lakers coach, threw Vlade Divac’s cell phone against the wall after it rang during a team meeting.

Sounds quaint now.

“I feel his pain,” Shaw said, chuckling. “A coach like Phil Jackson, the majority of the years that he coached, these are challenges that he didn’t have to deal with. To me, the X’s and O’s kind of cancel each other out, between me and the coaches I’m opposing at the other end. Keeping everybody dialed in and not being distracted by outside forces — that’s what the real challenge is.

“I’m contemplating making the players, an hour before practices and an hour before games, check their cell phones in. So they can’t even have ’em in the locker room. It’s, ‘You’re here. We need your undivided attention right now.’ ”

Been there. Doing that.

“We have rules against cell phones in the locker room after a certain point before a game,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, whose owner, Mark Cuban, is the king of NBA social media, at least among the Board of Governors. “If someone’s cell phone goes off, the guy gets hit with a pretty hefty fine. And we all have a good laugh about it. If it happens again, we may have to have a serious discussion about it. And the fine’s going to be heavier.”

(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…)

For New Kings, Three Must Be Company


VIDEO: The Starters break down Rudy Gay being traded to the Kings

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — What happens when three of the NBA’s top usage players come together on the same team, in one starting lineup? That is now first-year Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone‘s Rubik’s Cube.

As Rudy Gay, the man atop the analytics movement’s love-to-hate list — and it’s reciprocal — watched his new team play Monday night from under a red-and-blue retro Kings hat, he surely enjoyed the offensive explosion Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins and his other new teammates dropped on the Dallas Mavericks in a resounding victory.

And then Gay surely wondered from where is he going to get his?

“That’s a good question,” Malone said. “You start Isaiah, who has always been a scoring guard. You have DeMarcus, who’s going to be the focal point of our offense. And then you add a guy like Rudy. And you have Ben [McLemore]. You have Derrick [Williams]. The one thing I’m proudest about is that we’re really sharing the ball. We haven’t shot the ball as well as we’d like this year, but the ball movement, the unselfishness, has been there.

“That’s going to be my challenge to this group now.”

Against Dallas, Cousins scored 32 points and attempted 17 shots. Thomas, a pound-the-rock point guard, scored 24 and took 16 shots. Williams scored 31, also on 16 shots. The Kings, as Malone noted, are also developing the rookie shooting guard McLemore, who got seven shots. That’s 56 shot attempts among four players.

Enter Gay. The Kings acquired the handsomely paid and athletic 6-foot-8 forward — infamously known by a burgeoning group of meddlesome analytics worshipers as the game’s great ball-stopper — knowing he averages nearly as many shot attempts per game (18.6) as points (19.4).

When the Kings (6-13) take the floor tonight at Sleep Train Arena against the last-place Jazz (10 ET, League Pass), assuming Gay is ready to go, the starting lineup will be Thomas, McLemore, Gay, Jason Thompson and Cousins. The league’s rules committee has not yet convened to allow for the use of more than one basketball.

“I’m not going to get into that,” Cousins said when asked if the addition of Gay will mean subtracting from his team-high 17.2 shot attempts per game. “We have our game plans here and we have a system. Coach is going to do the best job of putting us in a position that he thinks is best and whatever that may be that’s what we’re going to go with.”

With that, usage will become the hot advanced stat of the day in Sacramento. Usage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor. Cousins ranks No. 1 among all players — not just centers, but all players — with a usage percentage of 35.0 percent. Among centers, Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez is second at 26.9 percent. Dwight Howard‘s usage is 23.5 percent.

Despite being the backup to the traded Greivis Vasquez, Thomas ranks tied for sixth among guards in usage with Dwyane Wade at 27.7 percent (Greivis’ usage percentage was 18.8 percent). Gay’s usage, 30.1 percent with the Raptors, ranks third among forwards behind Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant.

To compare other trios, the Rockets’ usage looks like this: James Harden, 27.3 percent; Howard, 23.5 percent; and Chandler Parsons, 18.9 percent. Here’s the Thunder: Russell Westbrook, 32.0 percent; Durant 30.7 percent; and Serge Ibaka, 19.1 percent.

Not only did the Kings add another high-usage player in Gay, but also an inefficient player. He’s shooting just 38.8 percent on the season (although his 3-point accuracy is way up at 37.3 percent), an especially disappointing number considering he spent so much time during the offseason working to raise a shooting percentage that has sagged badly over the past two seasons.

Thomas and Cousins have been a strong duo. The Kings are scoring 111.7 points per 100 possessions when they’re on the floor together, which was limited — 242 minutes in 18 games, or about 13 mpg. Their minutes together should rise significantly now that Vasquez is out of the picture. Against Dallas — notably a poor defensive team — they played together for 36 minutes and registered an offensive rating of 119.9 and a defensive rating of 85.5.

Sacramento’s hope is that the addition of Gay forces defenses to pick their poison. Conversely, the analytics crowd is sounding the alarm, warning of an incoming poison pill.

“I know everyone’s hung up on his 38 percent this year,” Malone said. “But if you look at his numbers throughout his career, he’s shot well over 45 percent a number of seasons. I’m not as concerned as a lot of these analytic people get concerned about. He’s a very talented player. End of games, he can make plays for you. He’s versatile. He can score in the post, handling the ball, catch-and-shoot, isolation. He’s talented and we become a much more talented team with him.”

NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper contributed to this report.


VIDEO: Rudy Gay talks about his move to Sacramento, hopes for Kings

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Westbrook’s return ahead of schedule | World Peace, not Bargnani, likely to start | Parsons says Beverley will start at PG | Malone rips Kings’ effort in practice | Suns trying to determine Bledsoe’s value

No. 1: Report: Westbrook may return in 2 weeksEarlier this month, the Thunder got news that All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook would need a second surgical procedure on his ailing right knee. That meant that Westbrook would likely miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season, putting his return to OKC’s lineup somewhere in December. But the Thunder may be getting some good news soon, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports.com, as Westbrook is healing up quick.:

Oklahoma Thunder star Russell Westbrook has made significant progress in his recovery from a second surgical procedure on his knee and could return to the Thunder’s lineup within two weeks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Thunder issued an original timetable of six to eight weeks from Wednesday’s opening night for Westbrook, but barring an unforeseen setback he could be back in the lineup by mid-November.

Westbrook began participating in Thunder practice sessions and has impressed everyone with his explosion and fast return to form, sources said.

***

No. 2: Knicks likely to start Metta World Peace, not Bargnani — As we reported in this space a few days ago, Knicks coach Mike Woodson didn’t sound totally committed to a Carmelo AnthonyAndrea BargnaniTyson Chandler frontline for opening night. That appears to definitely be the case now as Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that Woodson will more than likely start Metta World Peace alongside Anthony and Chandler and use Bargnani as a sixth man:

Arrivederci Andrea.

Andrea Bargnani, who started all seven preseason games in an experimental jumbo frontcourt, is expected to be demoted to the bench for Wednesday’s season opener against the Bucks at the Garden.

Though coach Mike Woodson refused to make it official, all indications point to Bargnani becoming a reserve, Metta World Peace starting at small forward and Carmelo Anthony heading back to power forward.

Consider the big frontcourt experiment of Tyson Chandler-Bargnani-Melo a preseason failure.

Woodson still said he wants to “sleep on it’’ but Anthony said he believes it’s happening.

“I didn’t expect it, we didn’t expect it,’’ Anthony said. “That’s what he’s going with. I think guys are ready for the move. Everyone seems on board with that. Whatever position we have to play, we have to go out and do it.’’

Anthony thrived at power forward last season in his career year in which he finished third in the MVP voting. Woodson is going with what he knows worked, but if Bargnani had thrived, this wouldn’t have happened.

“It really doesn’t matter to me,’’ Anthony said of playing the 3 or 4. “I’ve been successful in this league at the three. Last year I was successful at the four. Whatever adjustments I have to make, I have to make. I’m willing to do that.’’


VIDEO: Mike Woodson on his possible plans for the starting lineup

***

No. 3: Rockets’ Parsons: Beverley, not Lin, to start — As the Houston Rockets ready for the season opener tonight against the Charlotte Bobcats, Rockets coach Kevin McHale was very non-committal about who would be in his starting five for the game. But one of his players, small forward Chandler Parsons, revealed a bit of information regarding the starting point guard job between Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley, writes Adam Wexler of CSNHouston.com:

Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale again was reluctant to acknowledge who his starting five would be on opening night. One of his players was more forthcoming.

“Yes,” McHale said when asked if he had a starting five set for Wednesday night. That was followed by a question asking if he’d tell the media who that is. “No,” McHale answered.

Chandler Parsons was asked if the players had been told who the starters would be and he sounded almost surprised that McHale had not shared that with the media.

“I don’t know why it’s a big surprise,” Parsons said. “It’s the same as how the preseason ended.”

That means Patrick Beverley will not only make his first opening night roster, he’ll be making his first opening night start.

“I haven’t had the fortune to play in the NBA on opening night,” Beverley said. “It’s going to be my first. I’m definitely excited.”

The starting five last year was Asik, Marcus Morris, Parsons, Harden and Jeremy Lin.

***

No. 4: Malone lays into Kings after practice — New Kings coach Mike Malone is trying to build a winner in Sacramento while also attempting to reverse the losing culture that has permeated the franchise in recent seasons. As such, he’s tried to instill a stronger work ethic and more overall effort from the Kings each game and — at least based on the preseason — his strategy might be working. The Kings wrapped up the exhibition season at 5-2, but a lackluster effort in Tuesday’s practice drew Malone’s ire, writes Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee:

“I asked what their record was in the preseason last year, and guess what it was?” Malone said. “It was 5-2. So the preseason doesn’t mean a damn thing, and for those guys who thought being 5-2 and doing some good things meant a lot, they couldn’t be further from the truth. And they’ll have a rude awakening Wednesday night when they play Denver.”…

“I would say (Monday) was probably our worst practice of the year,” Malone said. “If we (had played) a game (Monday), we would be zero and one to start the season.”

It was the first time Malone ripped his team’s effort after a practice. He said it was a collectively bad effort.

“The energy, the effort, the discipline, the focus just wasn’t there for whatever reason,” Malone said. “I can’t explain it. No excuse, no explanation. It was just a bad day for us, and we have to have a much better practice (today) heading into the regular season, three games in four nights.”

Some problems on the court occurred in areas Malone is adamant about improving – turnovers and defense.

The Kings have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA for a few years and cannot expect to change that by giving up easy points off turnovers.

“Carelessness with the ball, too many turnovers,” forward Patrick Patterson said of Monday’s practice. “Not getting back in transition, lack of communication, too many people not focused and people just taking it as a day to get by.

“Our coach said we have to get better every day. We can’t let one day get away from us.”

Patterson came to the Kings from a playoff team (Houston) in a February trade.

“Despite what we did in the preseason, we’re not that great of a team,” Patterson said. “We still have a lot to prove. We have a lot to work on.”

***

No. 5: Suns trying to nail down Bledsoe’s value — Phoenix has been impressed with the play of its new, young point guard, Eric Bledsoe, in the preseason. And the Suns have until Thursday at 9 p.m. to lock the guard into a long-term extension if they so choose to do so. The Suns like the idea of locking up Bledsoe, but where they’re having trouble is figuring out a fair-market value contract for him before that Thursday deadline, writes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

Eric Bledsoe is as difficult to compare in contracts as he is in skills.

The Suns point guard’s unique talents make for a redeeming quality. His incomparable contract value makes for a problem with a Thursday extension deadline looming.

With the roster and contract options settled, Bledsoe’s extension talks are the most pressing item on the Suns front office’s October to-do list.

The “to-do” is whether to do it or not. The Suns valued Bledsoe enough to be the aggressor and architect of a July three-team trade obtaining him. Making a long-term commitment to Bledsoe at an annual eight-figure salary would be a deeper pledge to potential.

The money part is the conundrum. Bledsoe is not going to be paid based on averaging 8.5 points, 3.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game last season for the Clippers. He was All-Star Chris Paul’s backup, logging 20.4 minutes per game. It had to be a bit scary for Phoenix to see Utah reward Derrick Favors, a three-year backup like Bledsoe, with an extension worth at least $49million over four years.

Bledsoe’s other draft classmates who received extensions are incomparable in talent, results or position — Washington point guard John Wall (five years, $80million), Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins (four years, $62million), Indiana All-Star swingman Paul George (five years, $80-plus million) and Milwaukee center Larry Sanders (four years, $44million).

The only backup to receive an extension from the previous draft, Chicago power forward Taj Gibson (four years, $38million), is also a hard comparison because he plays a less-valuable position and was with the Bulls for the prior three seasons. Since Bledsoe arrived in late September, the Suns barely know what they have in him and he has yet to play a regular-season game for them.

Bledsoe has not even achieved what Detroit’s Brandon Jennings did (averaging 17.0 points and 5.7 assists over four seasons) but likely expects more than Jennings’ three-year, $25million deal.

Bledsoe’s statistics and play will get better with an increased load and his untapped talent. Allowing him to raise his value during the season and become a top restricted free agent in July is dangerous.

The Suns have to weigh that against how a Bledsoe contract would eat into salary-cap space they have created for a major trade or free-agency signing (during Bledsoe’s would-be offer-sheet process).

But does Bledsoe even want an extension here? He has not talked about wanting Phoenix to be his long-term home when given the chance.

It might be hard for an organization that offered Eric Gordon $58million over four years to come in with less for Bledsoe. At the same time, how does it offer Bledsoe more than the annual $7.5million salary it gave Dragic? The good news: Restricted free agents rarely leave with nothing in return. Even the Joe Johnson debacle netted Boris Diaw and two first-round picks.

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Surely, being Derrick Rose is nice life to lead. It’s probably even nicer when the President of the United States gives you a shoutout on Twitter … Great read by the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell on the two grandmas who helped raise Al Jefferson … Nuggets guard Ty Lawson will be a game-time decision tonightSolid Q&A with Pistons owner Tom Gores, who fields questions on Joe Dumars‘ future and more … For the record — Kevin Garnett is a Wolverine guy, Brook Lopez is a Batman guy

ICYMI Of The Night: Heat reserve guard Norris Cole better save this highlight on his computer, because you know Derrick Rose will get him back for it sometime this season …


VIDEO: Norris Cole crosses up Derrick Rose