Kings kick it off tonight in Chicago

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Kings kick it off tonight in Chicago

Programming note: Kings-Bulls coverage begins today at 5 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California (Territorial restrictions apply)!

(AP) -- While many have been quick to dismiss the Chicago Bulls with Derrick Rose sidelined, coach Tom Thibodeau's team is eager to prove its doubters wrong.After six consecutive losing campaigns, the Sacramento Kings are also looking to surprise.Chicago tries to continue its recent domination of Sacramento as both teams kick off their seasons Wednesday night at the United Center.After finishing an Eastern Conference-best 50-16 last season, the Bulls entered the playoffs with legitimate title hopes before Rose tore his left ACL during Game 1 of a first-round loss to Philadelphia. It's still unknown when the league's 2010-11 MVP will be able to return to the court."We all know us being without D. Rose we'll probably be the underdog in every game we play," Carlos Boozer told the team's official website. "That's all right. We're ready for that challenge. We'll be ready to play every game."With Rose out, Chicago will look for even more from Luol Deng. The All-Star forward, who played through a torn ligament in his left wrist last year, ultimately opted against surgery and insists he's good to go."Trying to do too much would be the biggest mistake I could make," said Deng, whose average of 15.3 points ranked second on the team behind Rose's 21.8. "I know how good I could be when I'm myself. For all of us as a team, no one individual is going to do what Derrick did. As a group, we all have to commit. I'm really looking forward to it."While the Bulls won 18 of the 27 games Rose missed during the 2011-12 regular season thanks to impressive efforts from their bench, similar displays could be hard to come by with Omer Asik, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver no longer around. Chicago, though, brought back veteran guard Kirk Hinrich for a second go-round and could receive a spark from Nate Robinson."I think even if you win a championship, you come back the next day and people will doubt you," Deng said. "It's just the way it always is. I think as a team - we hear things all summer - you know what's being said. The best thing that we do as a team is we really focus on what we have to do day-in and day-out. We don't try to get caught up in what's going on outside these four walls."Chicago has taken seven of eight matchups from Sacramento, including four in a row by an average of 16.8 points.The Kings, who went 22-44 last season, compiled a West-worst 6-27 road record - one of several areas they're hoping to improve upon in 2012-13. Sacramento will also need to clamp down on defense after finishing last in the league in both opponent field-goal percentage (47.6) and points allowed (104.4)."We have to surprise people because we're no one in the NBA," coach Keith Smart said. "We have to pull out all the stops to try to grow as a team."After averaging 18.1 points and a team-best 11.0 rebounds, DeMarcus Cousins seems primed for another big season. The Kings will also be looking for second-year point guard Isaiah Thomas to take his game to the next level after he averaged 15.1 points and 5.4 assists over 41 games when playing at least 24 minutes.Selected fifth overall in this year's draft, Thomas Robinson could also contribute for the Kings, who went 5-2 during the preseason."I'm very pleased," Cousins told the team's official website. "(There's) definitely a big improvement with this team this year so far. We learned a lot. We improved a lot and accomplished a lot this preseason, so hopefully it can carry over to the regular season and we can turn things around here."

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.