Kings learn another lesson in loss to Rockets

Kings learn another lesson in loss to Rockets

SACRAMENTO -- Every game is another opportunity for the Sacramento Kings’ young players to learn. The Kings fell behind by as many as 22 to the high-powered Rockets Sunday afternoon, but they kept fighting. In the end, the playoff bound team from Houston was too much to handle as they came away with the 135-128 victory. 

After playing against a bull in Julius Randle Friday in Los Angeles, rookie Skal Labissiere drew a completely different style of player Sunday at Golden 1 Center. Sacramento native Ryan Anderson torched the rookie in the opening 6:18 of the first quarter, dropping in a perfect 4-of-4 from behind the arc.

“There’s a level of experience that you have to have,” coach Dave Joerger said of Labissiere. “They’re playing at a doctoral thesis level and here is a young guy in his first year and you’re trying to spit some words out of what coverage we should be in and it just takes experience.”

“It’s not that they’re trying to mess up - they are trying to do the best they can,” Joerger added. 

Joerger went to his bench quick, turning to veteran Anthony Tolliver to stem the tide. When he turned back to Labissiere in the second quarter, the rookie big looked like a completely different player.

Labissiere dropped in 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in second, helping the Kings avoid the early blowout.

“I was impressed as I always am with him, but he kept attacking offensively,” Joerger said. “If you want to take me out in the deep water and shoot these jumpers, then let’s try to get you down here in the posit. I think he was aggressive.”

The rookie forward continued to plug away in the second half, finishing the night with a team-high 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting. He added six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 31 minutes of action. 

“It’s just learning how to adjust,” Labissiere said. “You play different guys in the league. Guys in the NBA are talented so you’ve just got to figure out how to guard people, make it hard for them at least.”

Labissiere’s experience was a microcosm of the Kings night. Buddy Hield faced off with MVP candidate James Harden and came out on the wrong end of the stat sheet. The rookie shooting guard started off hot, scoring 10 points in the first quarter. And then the Rockets made adjustments, limiting Hield to 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting.

Harden found a way to keep all of the Kings’ guards off balance, scoring 35 points, handing out 15 assists and grabbing 11 rebounds on his way to his 21st triple-double of the season.

“You learn a lot,” Hield said of the experience. “He’s super talented. One of the best in the league. One of the best scorers. One of the best passers. He’s just one of the best offensive players in the league.”

Willie Cauley-Stein played well, scoring 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 25 minutes of action. With his guards on skates most of the night trying to stay in front of the Rockets’ guards, big man Clint Capella shot 8-of-8 from the field, finishing with 18 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes of play. 

“Even veteran teams struggle playing against that kind of system and what they’re doing to the rest of the league right now,” Joerger said. “It was a good experience for our guys, and we never quit. We played hard all the way through and I’m proud of our guys for that.”

Sacramento received plenty of contributions from their veterans. Ty Lawson scored 20 points and dished out 11 assists. He broke down the Rockets defense and set up his teammates for easy baskets.

Ben McLemore shook off a tough start to score 18 points on 3-of-7 shooting from long range. Garrett Temple added 13 points and Langston Galloway chipped in 10 off the bench in the loss.

The Kings return to the court Tuesday when they finish up their home schedule against the Phoenix Suns. They’ll face a young, but athletic Suns team that has strung together back-to-back wins after dropping 13 straight. 

Kings head into free agency with money to burn, but limited roster spots

Kings head into free agency with money to burn, but limited roster spots

Draft night is over and done with and the Sacramento Kings filled plenty of holes in their roster for the 2017-18 season. They added a pair of young point guards and a small forward to help fill their two biggest roster needs. They also took a gamble on Duke’s Harry Giles with the 20th overall selection which adds depth in the post long term.

Step one of the summer calendar is done and now the focus shifts to free agency which begins July 1. The Kings have limited roster space, but truckloads of cap space to work with. The NBA has reduced their projected cap for the 2017-18 season to $99 million and the Kings are way below that figure. While the cap is more complicated than just a raw spreadsheet, here is a look at where the Kings currently stand.

2017-18 Salaries - $28.9 million
Projected Rookie Salaries - $9.7 million
Dead Money - $6.1 million
Total - $44.7

Sacramento opted out of both Anthony Tolliver’s $8 million contract ($2 million buyout) and Arron Afflalo’s $12.5 million ($1.5 buyout). They also waived Matt Barnes mid-season, stretching his salary for the 2017-18 season over the next three years ($2.1 million per season).

In addition to Tolliver, Afflalo and Barnes, Rudy Gay informed the team earlier this month that he opted out of his $14.3 million contract for this season and Langston Galloway walked away from a guaranteed $5.4 million to become an unrestricted free agent.

The Kings begin free agency roughly $54.3 million under the cap and after adding four rookies, they have just four standard NBA roster spots and two two-way contracts with the NBA’s G-League. They are also required to spend 90 percent of the $99 million, but they have the entire season to do so and they are allowed to redistribute any shortage back to their own players.

There is hope that European sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic will join this team this summer as well. Although he hasn’t played in the league, his contract is not restricted by the rookie scale. Early projections have him making anywhere from $5-10 million per season with Sacramento.

If Bogdanovic signs for the upper end of his projection - $10 million - the Kings would still have upwards of $44 million to spend, but just three roster spots to work with.

The team still has deficiencies to fill with the roster. Sacramento has two rookie point guards, but no veteran to show them the ropes. Garrett Temple can play in a pinch, but he is better at both wing positions.

Sacramento added Justin Jackson at the small forward spot, but they have little depth behind him and he could use time to develop. Temple can eat some minutes at the position and both Malachi Richardson and Bogdanovic can likely steal time at the three as well. A starting level player is needed, but the market is thin at the position.

There is hope that Skal Labissiere is the answer at the power forward spot, but with Tolliver waived, the team needs more at the position. Willie Cauley-Stein can play in spot duty, but a veteran stretch four is needed.

In addition to position of need, the Kings need more talent and veteran leadership on the roster. Temple is the only player over 30. Big man Kosta Koufos is 28 and everyone else on the roster is 24 and under when the season opens in October.

Expect the Kings to be active on the open market. They also make an attractive trade partner with their ability to absorb contracts. It should be a wild couple of weeks in Sacramento as the Kings look to improve their roster.

Kings' Buddy Hield named to 2016-17 NBA All-Rookie First Team

Kings' Buddy Hield named to 2016-17 NBA All-Rookie First Team

A rollercoaster rookie season for Buddy Hield has ended on a high note.

A very high note.

The Kings shooting guard was named to the 2016-17 NBA All-Rookie First Team on Monday.

Hield is joined by Milwaukee's Malcolm Brogdon, New York's Willy Hernangomez and Philadelphia's duo of Dario Saric and Joel Embiid.

The Kings acquired Hield in February as part of a trade that sent All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans.

Before the trade, Hield averaged just 8.6 points in 57 games with the Pelicans. But he stepped up his game once he got to Sacramento as he averaged 15.1 points in just 25 games with the Kings. In total, the No. 6 overall pick out of Oklahoma averaged 10.6 points and 3.3 rebounds during his rookie campaign.

Fellow Kings rookie Skal Labissiere received one First Team vote and five Second Team votes, finishing with seven total points.

The NBA All-Rookie First and Second Teams are shown below.