With the NBA draft fast approaching, the Kings are in the midst of what could be called a 10-day sprint. More than at any time in recent franchise history, team executives and scouts are flooding the market, searching for talent throughout the United States and Europe, and even taking a peek in their own backyard.
Xavier Thames. Pleasant Grove High. The latest area product to assist in San Diego State’s basketball renaissance. Saturday was his turn to try on the purple and black.
Thames, who auditioned with five other prospects on the same practice court where his favorite player, Mike Bibby, conducted clinics on shooting, arrived and departed with high hopes but no illusions.
“The hometown team, definitely,” he said, smiling. “The great times. That’s what I remember. If I had to choose, it would be here.”
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The Kings are continuing to evaluate everyone and everything, including trades, free agents, top draft prospects, players likely to be ignored in the two-round selection process, even the possibility of acquiring multiple second-round picks.
General manager Pete D’Alessandro hopes to meet with Creighton’s Doug McDermott early next week in Chicago, has scheduled a visit with Kentucky’s Julius Randle for the weekend, and anticipates another meeting with Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, all three of whom could be available when the Kings select at No.8.
While the ultimate goal is to dramatically improve the roster, the plan includes turning over the mattress and shaking up the product. Sleep Train Arena has been a cure for insomnia for the better part of a decade. The San Antonio Spurs and their fluid, fast-paced style are reintroducing the world to the beauty and the benefit – the sheer entertainment value – of cutting, moving, screening, passing, shooting, sharing.
Look again, and the Spurs’ offense is almost a clone of the 2000-04 Kings.
Thames, the local kid, remembers sitting in a basketball-crazed household in Elk Grove and marveling at the exquisite performances of Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie, Bibby.
Before committing to Washington State, Thames, who finished with a degree in sociology, in fact, planned to enroll at Arizona, Bibby’s alma mater. Instead, he played alongside Klay Thompson at Washington State for a year, transferred to San Diego State because coach Tony Bennett had bolted for Virginia, and spent his redshirt season sharing the gym with Spurs star Kawhi Leonard and former Sac High standout Chase Tapley.
Thames and Tapley were fierce but friendly prep rivals, and both found the sprawling campus in inland San Diego a comfortable fit. After being hampered by knee and back injuries his junior year, Thames, 23, averaged 17.6 points, was named Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, and led the Aztecs into the fourth round of the NCAA Tournament. His college experience was ended by none other than Bibby’s Wildcats, but not before he elevated his profile and entered the conversation as a potential second-round pick.
Soft-spoken and cerebral, with a thin beard framing his angular features, Thames is launching an all-out attack on the pre-draft circuit. Saturday’s workout with Joe Jackson (Memphis), Jarell Eddie (Virginia Tech), C.J. Fair (Syracuse), JaKarr Sampson (St. John’s) and Kyle Casey (Harvard) was his tenth of 16 planned auditions.
Mostly, he said, he is receiving positive feedback. But at 6-foot-3 and 187 pounds, he occasional hears the familiar question: Is he a point guard or just another undersized shooting guard?
“X is a point guard, period,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher insisted Friday from his cellphone. “He’s as good as we’ve ever had at using ball screens and creating for himself and for others, and he has become a much better in-traffic scorer, at reading the floor and making decisions.”
With little prodding, Fisher continued: “And he can shoot it from distance, shoot it off the bounce, hit floaters in the lane. He is not a great athlete and he needs to get stronger, but he plays quicker than everybody because he’s so smart and unselfish. If X gets a chance, he can help a team.”
Kings assistant general manager Mike Bratz, who oversees the team’s scouting, described Thames as a solid performer “who does just about everything pretty well. Nice shot. Real tough kid. Defends. I think he can be an asset.”
Thames would welcome the chance to come home. He has been a point guard since he was 5 years old, he said with a grin, but a Kings fan forever.