Injuries give Kings' Outlaw a chance to start

10/20/2013 12:00 AM

10/19/2013 11:19 PM

Coming off the bench isn't new to Travis Outlaw. What he's had to adjust to the last two seasons as a King was not getting off the bench at all.

That happened 44 times last season.

But there was a time when the 6-foot-9 forward was one of the most productive reserves in the NBA.

That was five years ago. Before Outlaw was traded from Portland to the Los Angeles Clippers. Before injuries piled up. And before the Nets couldn't wait to use their amnesty waiver provision on Outlaw just one year into a six-year, $36 million deal.

"It seems like such a long time ago," Kings coach Michael Malone said of Outlaw's stint with Portland. "Travis was a good player. He ended games for them."

Outlaw's confidence never wavered publicly. He always maintained a positive vibe amid the chaos that surrounded the Kings in recent seasons.

Malone is giving Outlaw the opportunity to show he's still a viable NBA contributor. Injuries to Luc Mbah a Moute and Carl Landry have provided an opportunity for Outlaw, and he has been one of the Kings' better players during the preseason.

Outlaw said getting his work in last season wasn't tough but the games were.

"The most difficult thing was sitting at the end of that bench," Outlaw said. "But you learn from it."

Outlaw is in his 11th season at age 29, having entered the NBA directly from Starkville (Miss.) High School.

His best NBA seasons were from 2007 to 2009, when he averaged double figures in scoring in back-to-back seasons.

In 2007-08, Outlaw's 12.9 points per game off the bench were second among NBA reserves. He averaged a career-high 13.3 points that season and 12.8 points the following season.

Beginning in 2009-10, injuries mounted. Foot and groin problems limited Outlaw to 34 games between Portland and Los Angeles that season. He signed with the Nets but underwhelmed. After the NBA lockout ended, the Nets waived Outlaw, and the Kings claimed him at $3 million per season (the Nets pay the rest of his salary).

Mbah a Moute's sore right knee has given Outlaw a chance to compete for the starting small forward spot with John Salmons. Landry's surgery for a torn hip flexor has Malone looking at using Outlaw as a "stretch four," or power forward, who can play away from basket.

"He had a lot of success as a stretch four, not as a small forward (for Portland)," Malone said. "His advantage on the court was as a stretch four where he could go by guys. And he hit a lot of big shots for those guys. And to his credit, he's playing with a lot of confidence right now."

Outlaw never doubted he could contribute. The broken hand he had when he arrived in Sacramento healed, and Outlaw was ready to help.

"Last year, it was more so that there wasn't too much playing time," Outlaw said. "Inconsistent minutes leads to inconsistent play. Hopefully, I can keep working hard to get into this rotation, and you can see consistency."

Outlaw remained one of the players most likely to either get to the gym early or stay late even though he didn't play much last season. That hasn't changed. Outlaw credits coaches showing up early or staying late with him for his shot, which he said "feels good."

"I don't do it for the praise," Outlaw said. "You've got to do it for yourself. That's why I stay late and shoot. You've got to enjoy what you do."

Those habits, however, have earned Outlaw praise.

"He's a great kid – he was a guy that was here in August putting time in," Malone said. "It's no secret – if guys put time in and they work, they're going to get the results.

"Travis has worked very hard, and I couldn't be happier for him. He's taken advantage of the opportunity he has, he's playing with confidence, and I only hope he continues to do so."

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

In the Kings' game tonight against Portland:

Paint protection: The Kings allowed 48 points in the paint in their preseason win over Phoenix on Monday. That's too many for a team trying to improve its defense.

Keep it moving: The Kings' guards still are trying to break a habit of dribbling too much. Ball movement must remain a priority.

Space it out: Kings coach Michael Malone still seeks consistent, optimal spacing on offense. That would create better looks for DeMarcus Cousins in the post and passing lanes.

Follow The Bee's Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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