Critical year for Kings

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Critical year for Kings

SACRAMENTO -- (AP) Paul Westphal glanced around the Sacramento Kings practice facility on the first day of training camp, smiling with his eyes wide open in awe of his surroundings.

"It just feels great to be back," he said. "It's hard to believe that we're even here, but we're here."

Westphal was referring to the NBA lockout being lifted and the season starting. Of course, the coach's words also might describe the past and present situation of the franchise.

On the verge of moving to Anaheim last summer for a fancier arena, the Kings are back in California's capital city -- for now -- and ready for one of the most important seasons in team history. There is newfound optimism with an emerging roster of young and athletic playmakers and around the city that the 2011-12 campaign will be the start of Sacramento's return to glory.

"I think it's going to be an interesting season," said point guard Tyreke Evans, the 2009-10 NBA Rookie of the Year. "We're going to try to run teams out of the gym."

Maybe even start the process to move into a new gym, too.

The focus will be as much off the court as on the court this season. City efforts to help finance a new arena are on pace to meet NBA Commissioner David Stern's March 1 deadline, or at the very least show enough progress for an extension before the Kings again explore relocation.

The Sacramento City Council has approved several preliminary measures for an arena project led by Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star. A final vote is not expected until at least February on the entire financing plan that will ultimately decide the fate of the town's only major professional sports franchise.

"We're optimistic guys, always have been. We look at the positive parts," Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said. "We think as long as the mayor continues on with his ideas, we'll see if they can come to fruition."

Until that time, Kings players will do their part to build momentum.

The Kings were horrible for most of last season, owning the Western Conference's worst record for a few weeks and finishing 24-58. Evans missed 25 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and he often looked injured when he played.

A late-season surge behind a healthy Evans gave hope that the Kings might not be that far off from returning to the playoffs. Sacramento should certainly be better this season, if for no other reason than it's hard to be any worse, and a winning record is not out of the question if the Kings can overcome a stretch of having 22 of their first 33 games on the road.

Only time will tell whether they're ready to make a major leap.

"Pretty much everybody has improved, so we've got to try to jump over several of those teams. And we think we can," Westphal said. "I know we're going to be better, but who are we going to jump over? That's why they play the games. We'll find out."

The roster has only matured since last season.

Evans and second-year center DeMarcus Cousins anchor a talented core that is still searching for consistency in the professional ranks. The Kings re-signed scorer Marcus Thornton and rookie Jimmer Fredette has dazzled in training camp in the fashion that turned him into a BYU sensation.

The Kings believe the 6-foot-2 Fredette will work well in a backcourt with Evans and Thornton, although the rotation is still unclear, Fredette will likely come off the bench and see starter's minutes. The 6-foot-6 Evans has the ability to match up with bigger guards defensively and move to shooting guard, where he might be an even stronger scoring threat.

Sacramento also added veteran forwards John Salmons and Travis Outlaw, and rookies Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Honeycutt will also be expected to contribute. With nothing guaranteed next season, the Kings are all-in for 2011-12.

"We know this is the year we got to get it," Cousins said. "You're going to see a big difference this year."

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Nothing has come easy for Skal Labissiere. He survived the earthquakes in Haiti. He moved to the United States speaking only only French and Haitian Creole as a young teenager. And his lone season at Kentucky he went from a top five prospect to a player that nearly fell out of the first round.

The knock on Labissiere coming out of Kentucky was that he didn’t like contact. Maybe it went farther than that, but there was no question that when he left for the NBA, he didn’t exactly walk away on the best of terms with head coach John Calipari.

When the Kings took on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center in the final week of the regular season, Calipari sat in the stands watching a small group of his former players. During the telecast, NBC Sports California’s Kayte Christensen caught up with the legendary coach and he couldn’t stop gushing about his Wildcats alums, specifically the play of Labissiere.

“I look at Skal and the progress - I give Sac credit,” Calipari told Christensen. “These guys are working with him. He’s playing more confident. They’re putting him in positions he can have success. I didn’t do as good a job as they did.”

Labissiere went off for 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Los Angeles. He added three rebounds and two blocks, but the Kings stumbled down the stretch, allowing the Lakers to come away with the 98-94 victory.

In his freshman season at Kentucky, Labissiere scored more than 19 points just once, a 26 point outburst in his second game of the year against NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology). His highwater mark in his rookie season for the Kings was a 32-point, 11-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns on March 15.

“He’s getting stronger, he’s growing, you can see him maturing physically, which was a big part of it,” Calipari said. “He had a good season with us, but, I used him wrong. Now I see him now, it’s amazing he’ll speak for me after I’m watching him play like this.”

The 21-year-old power forward has a smile that lights up a room. He even uses it as a defense mechanism when things get uncomfortable. Speaking about his time in Kentucky seems uncomfortable for the 6-foot-11 forward.

“Coach Cal, he does a really good job of getting guys ready for the next level,” Labissiere told NBC Sports California. “I appreciate him.”

Labissiere is looking ahead, not backwards. He is a an incredible talent and he is thankful for the job that Dave Joerger and his staff have done with him during his first season in the NBA.

“Coach Joerger, every since I was drafted here, he’s always believed in me,” Labissiere said. “He’s always putting me in the right positions, making me work on different things that normally I didn’t do in college. He’s making me do different things and believing in me. I love playing for him.”

Kentucky has produced some of the best big men in the game, including DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s a hotbed for talent, but specifically for centers and power forwards that take their game to the next level in the pros.

Labissiere would love to be included in that list, but he isn’t trying to be someone he’s not. His focus is on improving and helping his team win games.

“I don’t know, I’m just working for myself, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Labissiere said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m just going to keep doing my thing.”

The Kings have big plans for Labissiere and the rest of their young core this summer. Labissiere will likely join the team’s three other 2016 first round picks in Las Vegas for Summer League in July. Another two or three rookies from the 2017 NBA Draft will likely join them as Sacramento attempts to build some early chemistry amongst.

Following Summer League, Labissiere is scheduled to travel to Haiti where he will hold a basketball camp in his home country. It’s the first time he’s been back to Haiti since moving to the US following the earthquake in 2010.

Labissiere wasn’t the only Kentucky product on display for Sacramento against the Lakers. Willie Cauley-Stein spent three seasons under Calipari before going sixth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Cauley-Stein put up solid numbers in front of his former coach, finishing the game against the Lakers with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in just 23 minutes of action.

“Willie is doing what he does,” Calipari said. “He’s flying up and down that floor, he’s blocking shots. He seems to have some freedoms to do some of the stuff he does well.”

Cauley-Stein is a completely different player two season removed from his time at Kentucky. He finished strong down the stretch for Sacramento, showing a newfound confidence in his scoring ability.

“It’s a great feeling, I don’t think he’s watched me play like that since I left,” Cauley-Stein said. “It was cool to get a chance to see him and show him things I’ve worked on and I’ve gotten better. It was really satisfying, [him] telling me I got better, so I know I’m [going] in the right direction.”

It’s clear that Labissiere and Cauley-Stein had a very different experience at Kentucky. The end result might work out just fine for the Sacramento Kings. The duo played alongside one another for plenty of games down the stretch as the team’s starting frontcourt. It’s a look Kings fans might get used to seeing going forward.

 

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

SACRAMENTO -- The changes keep coming in Sacramento. NBC Sports California has confirmed that the Kings have hired former Orlando Magic executive, Scott Perry, to fill the role of Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

Perry will report directly to Vlade Divac, who will retain final say in player personnel decisions.

Perry spent the last five seasons in Orlando as Vice President of Basketball Operations and Assistant General Manager. He was let go from the Magic last week following the dismissal of General Manager Rob Hennigan.

Perry, 53, began his career as an executive with the Detroit Pistons where he held the position of Director of Player Personnel from 2000-2007. He briefly left the Pistons, joining the Seattle Supersonics organization as an Assistant General Manager of the team for the 2007-08 season, before spending another four years as Detroit’s Vice President of Basketball Operations from 2008-2012.

Highly regarded around the league, Perry adds another experienced basketball mind to the Kings front office.

During his postseason media availability last week, Vlade Divac spoke openly about his willingness to accept additional help.

“We’re open always to improve - the team, the front office, everything is open for improvement,” Divac said. “I’m very happy and confident in what we have right now, but like I said, we should be open if something can you better.”

With the addition of Luke Bornn on Wednesday to head up the team’s analytics department, and Perry on Friday, the Kings appear to be building a stronger infrastructure as they move into a full youth movement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical was first with the information.