Out of playoff picture, Joerger loosening reigns on young Kings

Out of playoff picture, Joerger loosening reigns on young Kings

SACRAMENTO -- A little over two weeks ago, the Sacramento Kings beat the Denver Nuggets to draw within a half game of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race. After Saturday’s 105-92 loss to those same Nuggets, Sacramento has dropped eight straight and their playoff dreams have been put to bed.

“It was one of those games,” coach Dave Joerger said. “We looked heavy legged, made some mental mistakes and some physical mistakes but Denver is playing very, very well.  They cut well, they pass well, they’ve got some good, young ball players.”

These two teams could have been fighting all the way down the stretch, but the trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans hit a hard reset button in Sacramento. The focus now is on the transition to younger players.

Joerger has been slow to turn to his young core, relying heavily on veterans for most of the season. But over the last two weeks, he has loosened the reigns on Willie Cauley-Stein and rookies Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere.

“These guys are playing good,” Joerger said of the three. “I played Buddy Hield 30 minutes. I played Willie Cauley-Stein 35 and a half. I played Skal 20. I could play them 48, but I don’t think that’s what’s best for them.”

Hield picked up his second straight start for the Kings and played well. Like Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein, he is a work in progress and will require patience. He finished the night with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting and grabbed six rebounds.

“He really shoots it,” Joerger added. “If he gets a window and gets a clean look, he can really shoot it. I think that’s fantastic.”

Cauley-Stein aggressively attacked the Nuggets front line, which is a positive step. He finished the night just 3-of-11 from the field, but he shot 7-of-8 from the line. His 13-point, five-rebound, five-assist game doesn’t jump off the page, but the fact that he is becoming a consistent threat on the offensive end is a major step forward.

After playing sparingly throughout the first two-thirds of the season, Labissiere is turning heads with his recent play. The 20-year-old big man scored a modest seven points in 19 minutes of action, but that’s because he went an uncharacteristic 1-of-5 from the free throw line.

Labissiere came into the league with a reputation as a player who doesn’t like contact. Since getting minutes he’s shown flashes of brilliance, be it as a rebounder or with his highlight reel dunks in traffic. He needs to get stronger, but the 6-foot-11 big has quickly moved well beyond his reputation and is showing star potential.  

“When I go out the on the court, I try to leave it all out there,” Labissiere said. “I love the game so much and I don’t try to cheat it at all. I’m blessed to even be here playing this game.”  

The Kings remain competitive, despite the youth movement and the extended losing streak. They are in almost every game, but the season is now about development and not a chase for the postseason.

“The young guys are playing hard, the vets are trying to teach the younger guys some things,” Kosta Koufos said. “Everybody is playing their role.”

It’s a tough pill to swallow for the veterans, but the Kings locker room is filled with quality character guys. The season began with so much promise and now the change in focus is to prepare for next year. While the veterans may see a reduction in minutes, their value on the team is just as high as it’s even been.

“We’ve got a young team now, but we’ve got some guys that have been in this situation,” Garrett Temple said. “For those guys who have been in this situation, we’ve got to continue to explain to [the younger players] why we have to stay positive and keep chipping away.”

The Kings finish their three-game homestand Monday when the 24-43 Orlando Magic roll through Golden 1 Center.

 

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.