Kings

In losses to Thunder and Spurs, young Kings take their lumps

In losses to Thunder and Spurs, young Kings take their lumps

A month ago, a scheduled back-to-back against the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs on the road looked ugly for the Sacramento Kings. They were in a playoff chase and at best, they were hoping for a split.

The team’s record means very little now and after falling in OKC and then again in San Antonio the next night by a final of 118-102, the Kings are positioned slightly better in the lottery standings.   

It’s a change in perspective that was forced upon the group after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins. The franchise’s ideological transformation has taken place and a youth movement is in full motion.

A lot can be gleaned from a battle with San Antonio. They are the gold standard of professional franchises and they play their very own distinctive brand of hoops. If you can’t learn from watching and playing against a team like the Spurs, maybe you don’t belong in the league.

“They’re professionals, man, it’s the Spurs,” Buddy Hield told reporters. “They find a way to grind it and win. It’s a culture, it’s an issue they’ve shown. It’s good to learn from a team like this.”

The Kings aren’t going to forfeit any games down the stretch. They are going to show up and take their lumps with a rotation that now features a slew of first and second year players. Injuries have hurt their depth and with two players away from the team due to personal reasons, the team is undersized and outmanned.   

“They come at you at you in waves and waves and they did a great job,” Dave Joerger said of San Antonio. “The biggest story is they are just bigger and more experienced.”

Sacramento can fix the issue of size during the offseason, specifically at the small forward position. They can even bring in players with more experience, but half of the Spurs roster has been together for six years or more and that familiarity is extremely tough to overcome for a newly formed team like the Kings.

“We’re young, but we still have to find a way to compete and get back in the flow and execute much stronger and think harder,” Hield added.

Hield has played in 13 games with the Kings since coming over from the New Orleans Pelicans. He has a moxy to him that was sorely needed as the Kings hit the reset button on their roster. The 23-year-old shooting guard even found himself matched up against the league’s best two-way player in Kawhi Leonard and he held his own.

“We’re not backing down, we’re in this league too, no one is going to feel sorry for us” Hield said. “We’ve got to keep getting better and keep growing.”

Hield finished the night with 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting. He added five rebounds and five assists in his 32 minutes of action and continues to show signs that he is a starting level NBA player moving forward.

That is what this Kings season has become - a job interview for next season for the young players.

Hield has shown flashes in his brief stay in Sacramento. He can score both from the perimeter and in the lane. He has shown an ability to rebound for a wing player and Joerger and his staff are building a list of items that they will ask the rookie to work on over the summer.

While Hield has played more minutes in year one, he’s in a very similar spot that fellow rookie Skal Labissiere is in. The 21-year-old Haitian product continues to put up numbers, despite very limited exposure to the NBA game.

“It’s a great learning experience, it’s all about growth right now,” Labissiere said. “Whenever I go out there I try to learn as much as I can for the next game or the next season coming up.”

Labissiere dropped in 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in 24 minutes of action. He continues to improve and has now scored in double-figures in four straight contests for Sacramento.

“I work so much on my skillset, I feel like I can score the basketball whenever,” said Labissiere.

Hield and Labissiere have Kings fans excited, but fellow first rounder Georgios Papagiannis has been a complete unknown.

After spending most of the season in the D-League, the 7-foot-1 Greek-born big has played a combined 46 minutes over the last two games (98 minutes total for his career). He set career-highs in points (14) and rebounds (11) against the Thunder and backed that up with a 6-point, 10-rebound game against the Spurs.

Papagiannis has tremendous size and a soft touch. Getting to play against Steven Adams one night and Pau Gasol the next is both overwhelming and instructive. The fact that he’s grabbed double-digit rebounds in both games shows promise.

Second-year big Willie Cauley-Stein added 18 points, five assists and four rebounds in the losing effort to San Antonio. Like Hield, Labissiere and Papagiannis, Cauley-Stein continues to show improvement as the season winds down.

These four, along with the injured Malachi Richardson, make up the Kings’ young core moving forward. They will have nights where they shock teams like Orlando or Phoenix, but they will also have tough night’s against perennial playoff contenders like the Thunder and Spurs.

It’s a process. Patience is required as a new generation of Kings players build from the ground up.

DeMarcus Cousins: 'Take all them motherf****** down'

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AP

DeMarcus Cousins: 'Take all them motherf****** down'

Some professional athletes take a stand by kneeling on the sidelines or raising a fist into the air. Some write succinct tweets expressing their dismay with the current political climate in the United States of America. Others just get right to the point with a poignant off the cuff statement to a waiting camera.

Former Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins has certainly mastered the art of the cryptic tweet, but he’s also never been one to shy away from a direct question when asked. When an inquiry was thrown his direction about confederate statues in New Orleans and his home state of Alabama, Cousins was brief with his words, but very clear.

"Take all them mother****ers down," Cousins told TMZ while navigating a security line at the airport. "Take 'em all down.”

Cousins may not have chosen the most eloquent words, but his point of view is shared by plenty of others. He isn’t the first athlete to take a stand with regards to race in America over the last week as racial tensions have spilled out into the streets in Charlottesville, Virginia. Social media is filled with professional athletes adding their thoughts to the conversation.

The Warriors’ Kevin Durant has made it clear that he will not visit the White House and President Donald Trump, a visit most teams make following an NBA championship.

"Nah, I won't do that," the 8-time All-Star told ESPN on Thursday. "I don't respect who's in office right now.”

"I don't agree with what he agrees with, so my voice is going to be heard by not doing that,” Durant continued. “That's just me personally, but if I know my guys well enough, they'll all agree with me."

Garrett Temple has used Twitter to make his thoughts known as well. Recently named the Kings’ Players Voice Teammate of the Year by the National Basketball Players Association, Temple has used his position as an NBA player to speak out multiple times.

Over the last week, he’s fielded questions and had plenty of discussions through social media on the issues of race and equality. His Twitter timeline is littered with thoughtful replies and some not so thoughtful ideas as well. Plenty of fans thanking him for using his position to further the conversation and of course, there is the occasional, “stick to sports” comment.

Agree or disagree, today’s athletes have huge platforms to share their opinions. From Cousins to Temple, there are varying degrees of engagement, but the time of players staying out of the discussion is long gone.

The Maloofs' colossal charity bet on Mayweather-McGregor circus act

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AP

The Maloofs' colossal charity bet on Mayweather-McGregor circus act

Gavin and Joe Maloof have gambled plenty in their lives, which is in part how they ended up losing the Sacramento Kings. They ran big, they hit a dry well, and they ended up selling the works.

So their decision to bet $880,000 on Floyd Mayweather in his “thing” with Conor McGregor for a $160,000 payout seemed the perfectly daft idea for two guys who were painted as perfectly daft when they were running the Kings and their other businesses into a freeway abutment on I-80.

In fairness, they are planning to donate their winnings to a number of charities in the name of their hangover drink (Never Too Hungover, although I might have gone with the more lyrical HurlNoMore), so it’s not like their hearts aren’t a place close to the mythical “right place.”

But it does beg the question, “Why don’t they just give $160,000 and skip the scam?” Because it wasn’t about charity, it was about promotion, and while there’s nothing wrong with promotion, attaching it to one of the seediest carnival events of the modern era makes it seem, well, kind of creepy.

Or maybe “creepy” is too strong. Maybe’s it’s just opportunism, which is more, well, Vegas-y.

Kings fans will remember the Maloofs as the family that saved the foundering team from the clutches of owner Jim Thomas, and then remember them as the family whose clutches Vivek Ranadive had to save the team from 15 years later. It’s the nature of most ownerships – you do good to eliminate a prior evil, and eventually become evil yourselves when the fans turn on you.

But the Maloofs aren’t evil – even their most strident critics will say that. They just saw an opportunity to scratch a bunch of itches at once – good-heartedness, advertising, gambling and Vegas’ most important product – selling you things you could never imagine wanting.

It almost makes you wonder if they harbor a secret itch to take the $160,000 and double down on behalf of the charities for another of their pet projects – the Vegas Golden Knights. If they put it on the Knights to win the Stanley Cup at 200-1, that’s $32,000,000. Then if they took that and . . .

. . . and before you know it, they’re trapped in the fantasyland of Las Vegas at its weirdest. Maybe it’s just performance art with more money than most of us can eat.