Kobe Bryant won't let a busted nose and a concussion keep him from trying to help the Los Angeles Lakers win games.Sporting a protective mask and coming off another inspired performance, the banged-up Bryant looks to help the Lakers avenge an early season loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday night at Staples Center.After being knocked hard to the floor by Miami's Dwyane Wade during Sunday's All-Star game, Bryant played through the discomfort of his injuries and the mask to post 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds as Los Angeles (21-14) returned from the break to beat Minnesota 104-85 on Wednesday."Kobe is a special human being," coach Mike Brown said. "I don't have answers for him. I don't know what he's made of. He's just different. His body reacts different."Already bothered a by a torn ligament in his wrist, Bryant has not missed a game this season while averaging an NBA-high 28.5 points. The broken nose and concussion left the 33-year-old with headaches, nausea and neck pain. None of which, however, were enough to keep him off the floor after he passed every concussion test from a neurologist."I understand the severity of the situation," Bryant said. "You have to go through those steps. It's part of the job. ... It's definitely different. In that sense, you're pretty helpless. You just have to be patient and hope for the best."You just have to deal with it and try to heal up as quickly as you possibly can, and get back on the court."The Lakers were glad to have Bryant on the floor as they shot 48.8 percent to win for the sixth time in eight games. Paul Gasol scored 15 points while All-Star Andrew Bynum added 13 with 13 rebounds as Los Angeles took advantage of a surging Minnesota squad playing without ill star Kevin Love.Bryant now looks to help the Lakers avoid a second straight loss to the Kings (12-23), who dropped Los Angeles to an 0-2 start with a 100-91 win at Sacramento on Dec. 26. Though Bryant finished with 29 points, the Lakers shot 42.0 percent and went 1 for 16 from 3-point range."I hope they enjoy this," Bryant said after that contest.Bryant has averaged 31.0 points on 47.9 percent shooting in his last 27 games versus Sacramento, but the Kings have won two of three after losing eight straight in the series. Sacramento snapped a six-game road skid to the Lakers with a 100-95 win Jan. 28, 2011.Sacramento big man DeMarcus Cousins had 27 points with 10 rebounds in that road contest. He finished with 23 and 10, respectively, as the Kings fell for the seventh time in nine games, 108-100 at home to the Clippers on Thursday.Despite the defeat, the city of Sacramento announced Thursday its plan for a new 391 million arena that would keep the Kings in California's capital for at least another 30 years. With that behind them, they return to the road where they snapped a six-game skid away from home with a 115-107 win at Washington on Feb. 22.Sacramento swingman Marcus Thornton has averaged 21.1 points in the last seven road games. He's totaled 60 points on 23-of-39 shooting in the last two meetings against the Lakers, but has combined for 17 in two against them as a reserve at Staples Center.
The Sacramento Kings walk into the 2017 offseason with gaping holes in their roster. Free agency will play a role, but before they get to spending their $60-plus million in cap space, Vlade Divac, Scott Perry, Ken Catanella and the rest of the front office will try to fill some of their needs via the draft.
While the first batch of draft prospects rolled through Sacramento late last week, Vlade Divac, along with European scout Predrag Drobnjak spent the weekend in Istanbul, Turkey at the European Championships. Sharpshooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic led Fenerbahçe to its first title, further building the hype around one of Europe’s best young stars.
Divac acquired the rights to Bogdanovic in a draft day trade last summer when the 6-foot-6 Serbian was tossed in along with picks 13 and 28 for the 9th overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. Divac would love to entice the 24-year-old wing to play in the NBA next season.
Even if Bogdanovic buys in, the Kings need more.
Both Darren Collison and Ty Lawson are unrestricted free agents, leaving Langston Galloway as the only point guard on the roster. Rudy Gay has already informed the team that he intends to opt out of his $14.3 million player option for next season, opening a massive need at the small forward position.
The needs are clear. Sacramento has to find a point guard and small forward of the future. They also need a point guard and a small forward of the right now. If a player fits both now and in the future, so be it.
Lady luck shined brightly on the Kings during the draft lottery. A move from No. 8 to No. 3 would have guaranteed a point guard, but a pick swap to No. 5 still has Sacramento in the running to fill one of their biggest voids.
While plenty of mock drafts have a variety of players in the top five of the 2017 NBA Draft, there is a clear group that Sacramento will likely focus on. Barring a major trade, point guard Markelle Fultz out of the University of Washington is projected to go with the first overall selection, but then it’s wide open how the next four picks will unfold.
UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is projected to go to the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2 in most mocks, but nothing is a sure bet. Small forwards Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum are top five selections as well, while Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox is an early draft climber.
Sacramento would love nothing more than to see Fox sitting on the board when they select at five. He’s slight of build, but the 6-foot-3 speedster is a high character player with tons of potential. He would step in and instantly compete for a starting job with the Kings’ young core.
There are concerns that Fox won’t make it to five and the Kings have a few options if they want to move up, but the real question is, should they?
If Fox is gone, Sacramento will still have a player on the board at a position of need. Be it Ball, Jackson or Tatum, the talent pool is rich. Finding a floor general is important, but finding a star should be the top priority. All five have potential to become more than just a starter in the league and all five fit one of the team’s two most glaring weaknesses on the current roster.
Drafting either Jackson or Tatum would instantly bump the talent level of the team. Both are considered top tier prospects and for Sacramento, likely starters on Day 1.
Jackson is a catalyst type player and personality that brings energy, as well as a tremendous skill set. He can pass, rebound, play defense at a high level and score above the rim. He’ll be an instant fan favorite wherever he lands.
Tatum has potential as a two-way player, but his offensive game should instantly translate to the NBA level. A polished scorer, Tatum would step in and give the Kings a scoring option to fill the shoes of Gay, who is on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent.
The Top 10 has plenty of other high end prospects. Sacramento could chase a shooting big in Lauri Markkanen. The 7-footer out of Arizona would help to stretch the floor at the four, but their other needs are more obvious.
Fox’s backcourt mate at Kentucky, Malik Monk, is also an intriguing player, but with Buddy Hield, Garrett Temple, Malachi Richardson and the potential for Bogdanovic to join the team, the Kings are heavy at the shooting guard spot.
Point guard Dennis Smith has a high ceiling and would likely challenge for top five consideration if it wasn’t for a torn ACL in high school and some questions about his attitude.
If Sacramento selects a small forward with the fifth pick and Smith was still available when they choose again at No. 10, he becomes a lower risk proposition the Kings might have to consider.
Point guard Frank Ntilikina out of France would fit the bill as well in the right situation. If the Kings land Jackson or Tatum at five, they could come back with Ntilikina at 10. He’s young and inexperienced, but he also stands at 6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan. His defensive potential at the point is tremendous, but he is a project on the offensive end, not a polished player like the four point guards expected to go ahead of him in the draft.
Combo forward Jonathan Isaac is an appealing prospect, but he’ll need plenty of time to develop and he’s a better target if he somehow slips to 10. Like Smith and Ntilikina, this would be a nice addition if the Kings fill their other need with the fifth overall selection.
Regardless of how they got to No.’s 5 and 10, the Kings are in a good spot. They have options and plenty of players at positions of need and there is potential to land a future star. Once the draft rolls around on June 22, the focus will quickly shift to shoring up the remainder of the squad. With two high picks, the potential addition of Bogdanovic and plenty of cap space, the Kings are primed for a big time roster overhaul this summer.
The Kings' playoff drought is at 11 years and according to head coach Dave Joerger, it's going to last a few more years.
Speaking on Sirius XM NBA Radio on Tuesday, Joerger was asked about the differences between his coaching gigs with Sacramento and Memphis, and outlined the Kings' timeline for reaching the postseason.
"It's different. It's been a great learning experience for me. It's going to be an interesting process. You know, three years from now we hope to be in the playoffs. And so how do we do that? We were just talking about Memphis and it's the same thing. So if you're management, there's a couple times a year, two or three times that are really hot. Trade deadline, draft, free agency, boom, boom, boom. We're in Memphis sitting there getting 50 wins a year. Okay, maybe the trade deadline came and went, maybe we got a guy, maybe not, not too stressful. Get the 23rd, 24th pick in the draft," Joerger said.
"It's different now. In this situation, it's a higher pick, now free agency has a little bit more focus on it. So how we execute in free agency, how we execute our draft picks and how we execute at the trade deadline as this thing builds, you try to go too fast, you can make mistakes. But I think slow and steady wins the race," Joerger concluded.
So Kings fans can look forward to the 2019-20 season when the team returns to the playoffs.
Joerger is at the helm of a Kings team that is in full rebuild mode. The team traded center DeMarcus Cousins during the All-Star break and turned the team over to several first and second-year players. They posted a 32-50 record during the 2016-17 season, good for a third-place finish in the Pacific Division.
The Kings hold the No. 5, 10 and 34 picks in the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft and will add to their stable of young players.