Kings Blog and Q&A

News, observations and reader questions about the Sacramento Kings and the NBA.

October 31, 2008
Opening tip: Should the Kings have made a play for Shaun Livingston?

Kings (0-1) at Heat (0-1)

** 2007-08 stats **
Scoring: Kings eighth (102.5), Heat 30th (91.4)
Shooting percentage: Kings 10th (46.4), Heat 25th (44.3)
Scoring defense: Kings 24th (104.8), Heat 14th (100)
Shooting defense: Kings 22nd (46.6), Heat 25th (46.8)
Assists: Kings 29th (19.1), Heat 24th (20.5)
Turnovers: Kings 30th (16.1), Heat 20th (14.7)
Plus: Heat coverage in the Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Palm Beach Post.

Shaun Livingston was one of the best debate topics of free agency: No. 4 pick in 2004 at age 19, a rising talent beginning to give the Clippers a return on the investment at 21, a big point guard (6-7) who defended and went from shooting 41.4 percent as a teenage rookie to 42.7 to 46.3 in 2006-07. Major potential.

But he was also the guy with the awkward landing after a driving layup against the Bobcats on Feb. 26, 2007, that twisted his left knee into a gruesome, wincing sight not to be forgotten by anyone watching at Staples Center or on TV. The trauma was so severe that the Clippers' physician at the time, one of the most experienced sports doctors in the country, said he had never seen anything like it.

Livingston missed the rest of the season and all of the next. The Clips declined to give a qualifying offer for 2008-09 at $5.8 million, making him an unrestricted free agent. They still wanted him, still felt like he had potential, still felt like there was an investment and that if Livingston was going to make it anywhere it should be with the team that drafted him and waited through the recovery -- just not at that price.

When free agency started July 1, the Clippers still weren't sure he'd be able to play back-to-backs this season, or maybe even play at all. Not only did other teams call, though, other teams pursued to such an extent that the major medical risk coming back from turning the knee joint into sawdust had conversations with several clubs about a two-year deal.

October 29, 2008
A wild Warriors season awaits

OAKLAND - The season hasn't even begun over here yet, and it's already crazy. Don Nelson signed his contract extension. Al Harrington reportedly is demanding a trade. No one knows what Chris Mullin is thinking, or more importantly, what Chris Cohan has planned for his vice president. (The two clash over personnel matters). And if that's not enough, the starting point guard tonight against the New Orleans Hornets - former Sheldon High standout DeMarcus Nelson - a few weeks ago wasn't even expected to make the regular-season roster.

So stay tuned. Or tune out. This figures to be a very, very, very long season for the Warriors.

As an aside: Warriors assistant Stephen Silas told me his father, Paul, who was one of the game's best rebounders during his playing career, is recovering from a nine-month battle for his life. According to Stephen, Paul Silas went in for a routine colonoscopy in December, but suffered complications and went into organ failure. He was in intensive care for two months, in the hospital in Charlotte for two months after that, before finally being released. "He was out here last week," said the Warriors assistant, "and he's still walking slowly. But he's getting around a little bit. This is the best he's been since the (procedure)."

October 29, 2008
Sights and sounds from the Target Center

MINNEAPOLIS - They just couldn't wait, even if their son's first NBA road trip would graze his hometown just four games in.
So it was out of Mt. Laurel, N.J. and off to Minnesota for Chuck and Sharyn Thompson. I ran into the parents of Kings rookie forward Jason Thompson in the way into the game a few moments ago, when Chuck was on the phone trying to find his tickets and Sharyn was beaming with pride about her boy.
They don't plan on missing a minute of his early action, as they will travel next to Miami, Orlando and Philadelphia before flying back to Sacramento for the Nov. 5 home opener. The schedule fell perfectly in their favor, as their younger son and highly touted 6-foot-7 guard, Ryan Thompson, begins his junior season at Rider on Nov. 8 in Lawrenceville, N.J.

October 29, 2008
Opening tip: Spencer Hawes is a real SOB

Kings (38-44 last season) at Timberwolves (22-60)

Scoring: Kings eighth in the league last season (102.5), Timberwolves 26th (95.6)
Shooting: Kings 10th (46.4 percent), Timberwolves 18th (45.1)
Scoring defense: Kings 24th (104.8), Timberwolves 21st (102.4)
Shooting defense: Kings 22nd (46.6 percent), Timberwolves 27th (47.2)
Assists: Kings 29th (19.1), Timberwolves 26th (19.9)
Turnovers: Kings 30th (16.1), Timberwolves 17th (14.5)
Plus: Timberwolves coverage in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press

This is when you're glad Spencer Hawes is a guy who plays with a chip on his shoulder, someone who welcomes emotional combat and has been known to choose the opposite side in a debate just because he likes a good argument. Tonight, as the Kings open the season. The next five games in all, as Brad Miller serves a suspension and Hawes opens at center without a body of work to say he's up for it.

Nice guy, funny guy, smart guy, hardworking guy -- but first-team All-NBA cocky within 50 feet of a court. Thinks he knows it all, thinks he's already great. That's the vibe.

This is a good thing. It's a good thing because the Kings tried the whole lovefest thing before with one of the great locker rooms in the league in the last 20 years and they would have beat the Lakers and won a championship if a couple of them had the personality of Rick Fox. And it's a good thing in October of 2008 because Hawes was called out early in preseason and pushed back.

That's how exhibition games become relevant. Focus, intensity, sharpening, approach to the season ahead. Not the final score as coaches use the fourth quarter to experiment with lineup combinations or for long looks at players who may get cut.

October 29, 2008
Theus to players: Seize your chance to shine

MINNEAPOLIS - Reggie Theus was sitting courtside at the Target Center after Wednesday's shootaround, looking cool and collected in a black sweatsuit.

At least until he spoke.

The Kings coach couldn't contain his excitement about tonight's game against the T-wolves, not because it marks the official beginning of the regular season but because of what it could mean to a number of the team's players. From youngsters like Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson, Bobby Brown, Quincy Douby and Shelden Williams who could have a chance to shine at the outset to veterans like Kenny Thomas who may see more minutes based on circumstance, he simply hopes they share his excitement.

"I don't have the words to express how I would feel if I was a player right now with that opportunity in front of me," said Theus, who will look for players to help with the absences of Brad Miller (suspension) and Francisco Garcia (strained right calf). "It's something you don't know if those guys really understand. I know how I would be as a player.
"I just know how competitive-natured players are, but the only thing you don't know from where I'm sitting is, 'Do they really get it? What do they feel inside?'"

Specifically, Theus said the day made him nostalgic for the rookie experience. Thirty years after he began his playing career with the Chicago Bulls, the day is here for Thompson, Greene and Brown.

"I know how I felt about (his first game)," Theus said. "I was just on fire inside of my body. I remember my first shootaround I was in a full-blown sweat I was that excited."

Thompson, who kept shooting from the perimeter after shootaround had ended, said he's ready to get started.

"I feel good," said the forward who was picked No. 12 out of Rider University. "I'm anxious. A lot of people say it doesn't look like I'm nervous, but I have my own type of nervousness. I'm always a guy where you have to get your feet wet and see where it goes from there. This is a new chapter in my NBA life." - Sam Amick

October 28, 2008
Finally, the real games begin ...


With the Kings only hours away from their season opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves, a few thoughts:
* These Kings desperately need a renewed commitment to defense, which is what inspired a competitive, impressive start a year ago. The ability to score off the defense will determine whether the Kings are lottery-bound by midseason or capable of a surprise run at a playoff berth.
* The Clippers, Warriors and Kings should form a three-team scrum in the Pacific Division behind the Lakers and Suns. If Spencer Hawes and Kevin Martin consistently stretch for rebounds, I wouldn't be surprised if the Kings finish ahead of the Clips and Warriors. That says nothing about playoffs, however. Can't even talk about that until we see a semblance of a disruptive defense.
* Who will Kevin Martin be? Is he an elite scorer, a la Peja Stojakovic, or capable of becoming a more versatile contributor? During a conversation with Houston's Tracy McGrady the other night, T-Mac praised Martin for his offensive abilities, but left it at that. He noted that the league has plenty of prolific scorers, but not an overabundance of all-around performers. Can't disagree. I think the slinky, athletic Martin is capable of collecting 4-5 rebounds per game, and though not a particularly gifted passer, is more than athletic and capable enough of getting into the passing lanes and coming out with a decent number of steals.
* I want to see more of Jason Thompson. The rookie power forward is an instinctive passer, and I like the way he pursues the ball. The frontcourt combination of Hawes and Thompson offers something to build on, and assuming Beno Udrih emerges as a capable, consistent point guard, Geoff Petrie's next great challenge is to find the complementary small forward. Is it Donte Greene? Much too soon to tell. But based on Greene's struggles during preseason, he would benefit from a season under Jay Humphries in the NBA Development League. Reno isn't that far away ...
* Brad Miller must be miserable. He is in terrific shape, perhaps the best of his career, and he has to sit out the first five games after being suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Dumb. Really dumb. At least he didn't sit around sulking and gaining weight. He really does look good, and I suspect he will have a very productive season.
* How John Salmons is the Kings' best perimeter defender, and I'm wondering when he is going to understand this and stop fixating on offense. The way he brooded after becoming Ron Artest's backup last season was ridiculous. The way he dominates the ball and disrupts the offense is absurd. Salmons is a much better player than that. We watched him record triple-doubles two seasons ago. He CAN pass. But it's up to Theus - and to a lesser extent Udrih - to establish his role and demand that he move the ball.
* Martin should be afforded a minimum of 15 shots per game. If the offense is flowing, that number should be closer to 20. And it should be openly acknowledged that the veteran shooting guard is the Kings' go-to player.


Why hang around?

I am looking forward to talking to Don Nelson before Wednesday night's Warriors-Hornets game in Oakland, mostly to ask Nellie why he would want to prolong his coaching agony with a team that has no chance of winning his elusive NBA title. (He has five as a player with the Boston Celtics). But, duh. Where have I been? Apart from the fact that everyone is seeking job security during this economic downturn, Nellie needs only 53 victories to surpass Lenny Wilkens' as the league's winningest coach.

Yes, that matters. There is no shortage of ego in the NBA. Nellie will need two seasons to pass Wilkens, hence, his desire for the two-year extension, the Chris Mullin-Robert Rowell standoff notwithstanding. Well, why not? Wilkens and Nelson are among the league's aging coaching giants, and they deserve the chance to be recognized.


He will be missed

It's disappointing to no longer have Del Campo's Matt Barnes with the Warriors, but after his traumatic 2007-08, he obviously needed a change. He never seemed to emotionally recover from the loss of his mother, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer before the season started, and had completely lost his edge by the end of the year. During one of my visits to Oakland in April, I was shocked at the 6-foot-7 swingman's appearance. He had lost much of his upper body definition, and barely resembled the lean, athletic journeyman who enjoyed such a marvelous 2007-08. I will be curious to catch up with him when the Phoenix Suns visit.


The microfracture curse?

Greg Oden leaves with a sprained right foot a mere 13 minutes into his NBA regular-season debut Tuesday night, and what are we all thinking? The dreaded mIrcrofracture surgery. I completely agree with Geoff Petrie about this. Lighter is better. Players who undergo the controversial procedure that is designed to develop a protective buffer between the joints - much as cartilage functions - seem to fare better with slimmer frames, rather than heavier and more muscular physiques. I know the Blazers urged Oden to lose weight after his rehab, but he still looks too heavy to me. That's one reason I like what the Kings are doing with Spencer Hawes. They are urging him to become more flexible and stronger in his core, not simply asking him to add upper body muscle mass. Less stress on the knee is better.

October 28, 2008
How other non-believers / realists rate the Kings (and Kevin Martin)

There are preseason predictions here, there are preseason predictions everywhere as the season begins tonight. None of them particularly encouraging for the Kings of 2008-09 heading into their debut Wednesday at Minnesota, but none of them particularly surprising either.

Some are up-to-the-minute picks from the Internet world. Some are from the preseason magazines that hit newsstands every year with the burden of mid-summer deadlines that in the past has meant going to press early enough to miss an important transaction that altered the landscape. That's where it can get tricky in the prediction biz.

No October surprises this time, so the standings are pretty accurate all the way around. Maybe the missed Golden State news that Monta Ellis hurt his ankle in August, but plenty of people would have picked the Trail Blazers and Clippers ahead of the Warriors no matter what. No real change for the Kings either way.

They're in last place in the Pacific Division all the way around and, in one case, last in the entire league. But have a nice day.

The sampling, with some making more extensive ratings than others:

Sporting News

Kings pick: Fifth in the Pacific.

Western Conference: Lakers over Hornets.

Eastern Conference: Celtics over Pistons.

Champion: Celtics over Lakers.

Ranking the shooting guards: Kevin Martin is seventh (after Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Vince Carter, Joe Johnson, Jason Richardson and Manu Ginobili).

Athlon

Kings pick: Fifth in the Pacific.

Western Conference: Hornets over Lakers.

Eastern Conference: Celtics over 76ers.

Champion: Hornets over Celtics.

Ranking the shooting guards: Martin is 10th (after Bryant, Wade, Andre Igoudala, Allen Iverson, Richardson, Carter, Ginobili, Brandon Roy and Mike Dunleavy).

Comment: Mike Dunleavy?!?! But at least Athlon got Roy on the list, a glaring omission by Sporting News. Roy should be on any top-10 list.

October 28, 2008
Season preview: Pacific Division

Thursday: Southwest Division
Friday: Central Division
Saturday: Northwest Division
Sunday: Atlantic Division
Monday: Southeast Division
Today: Pacific Division

Story to watch: Andrew Bynum was the Lakers' rising-star center before knee surgery cut his 2007-08 at 35 games. Pau Gasol was the power forward acquired from Memphis for tip money, initially to play alongside Bynum and then to replace him once it became a season-ending injury. Now they're together at last, one needing a spot on the post to develop and one needing the post to be most effective. If Gasol and Bynum can coexist, L.A. will have dominant inside play to go with the perimeter dominance of Kobe Bryant. If not, the Lakers will have an issue to work through -- and everyone chasing them in the West will have new hope.

Player to watch: Shaquille O'Neal. The great equalizer. In his first full season with the Suns, he'll be taxed by the longer practices of new coach Terry Porter compared to Mike D'Antoni and his workouts that went like speed reading, but helped that Porter won't push the nonstop running game. If Shaq holds up, he can still be a difference maker. Not the crushing force of yesteryear, but a difference maker. He is realistic that the numbers will not glow compared to his history -- the 13.6 points and 9.1 rebounds last season in 61 games with Miami and Phoenix is a reasonable expectation -- but also that he can still contribute as a factor on a championship-level team. Fair enough. An O'Neal who can still inspire fear in opponents plus Steve Nash plus Amare Stoudemire plus experience at most other spots means the Suns can still be a factor.

Coach to watch: Porter. That was no ordinary change in Phoenix. The Suns wanted a change of philosophy, from D'Antoni to someone who would teach, you know, defense. And so there will be an extra spotlight in a setting where attention would have come anyway. Winning team, popular predecessor, controversial move. Porter gets a high-risk, high-reward situation.

Newcomer to watch: Baron Davis. The Clippers invested $65 million over five years for a moody point guard who has managed to play 70 games once in the last six seasons. This will be good. Either Davis will push them to the playoffs with emotion and performance, just as he sparked the Warriors of 2007, or they'll go down in flames together, the team that made the risky signing and the player who jumped from a proven match with Golden State to the bottomless hole of Clippers dreams. Neither outcome would be a surprise.

October 27, 2008
Coach T talking men's hoops again ...


Bring out the snow tires

Monarchs assistant and Kings radio analyst Tom Abatemarco is close to finalizing a deal to join Jay Humphries' coaching staff for the Reno Bighorns' inaugural season in the NBA Development League. If the deal materializes - and all indications are it will - the man known around town as "Coach T" will remain on Jenny Boucek's Monarchs staff, but drop the Kings radio gig.

Humphries, who played in the NBA for 11 seasons after being drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 1984, was looking for an assistant with considerable experience, and in that sense, Coach T certainly qualifies. A former head coach at Drake, Lamar and Sacramento State, the New York native also has been an assistant for two of college basketball's best minds - the late Jim Valvano and, most recently, former Utah head coach Rick Majerus.

The major downside here will be Abatemarco's absence on the Kings' postgame radio shows. His analysis is candid and informative, without being overly technical. Initially, he was a bit of a homer - overly conscious of not offending the hypersensitive Rick Adelman or ticking off any of the players - but his observations and insights have become increasingly daring and enlightening. I'll definitely miss his no-nonsense spin on the Kings.


A shout out to Cotton

Humphries is an interesting head-coaching choice for Reno owner David Kahn. Before spending the last few seasons as an NBA assistant in Phoenix and Denver, Humphries spent several years coaching in South Korea and China. He is a very charming, interesting fellow. I will always remember bumping into him at an airport - I can't even remember which one - in the late 1980s, and asking what it was like to play for the late Cotton Fitzsimmons during his first three years in the league. Humphries just laughed and shook his head. "Playing for Cotton is like being locked in a cage with a Tazmanian devil," he said, adding, "but he's a helluva coach."


Just can't forget Cotton

The diminutive Fitzsimmons - he of the gravel voice and barrel-chested laugh - is best remembered for his years coaching the Phoenix Suns. But my first impression connects Cotton with the Kansas City Kings: My first road game covering the Clippers for the San Diego Union was at the half-empty Kemper Arena. After the predictable outcome - Clippers lost - my former competitor from the Los Angeles Times, Chris Cobbs, and I waited for Cotton in the interview room. Taking mercy on a rookie NBA reporter, Chris advised me to check the battery on my tape recorder. "Just sit back and listen," he said, grinning. It didn't take long to figure out what he was talking about. Cotton didn't wait for questions. Cotton was on stage. He was scripted, Hollywood, all about theatrics. And absolutely fascinating.

What a character. Too bad the Kings never brought him West.

October 27, 2008
Season preview: Southeast Division

Thursday: Southwest Division
Friday: Central Division
Saturday: Northwest Division
Sunday: Atlantic Division
Today: Southeast Division
Tuesday: Pacific Division

Story to watch: It was fun while it lasted. Then the Hawks had to get on with the rest of their lives. The jubilation of making the playoffs and pushing the heavily favored Celtics to seven games gave way to Josh Childress signing in Greece, a protracted negotiation to re-sign best player Josh Smith, and Smith and coach Mike Woodson clashing before the end of preseason. It was inevitable at some point. But October? In other places, this would be a disappointing followup. In Atlanta, it's the threat of the Hawks becoming irrelevant again, and that doesn't take much doing there. A good season from Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams and Acie Law and the Hawks still have got something. A bad 2008-09 is a double setback.

Player to watch: Gilbert Arenas. "Agent Zero," "Hibachi," blogger extraordinaire, scorer supreme, prone to going off the reservation, new owner of a six-year, $111-million contract. And injured. Injured a lot. He's working on his third knee operation, with only the fate of the Wizards hanging in the balance. If making it back by December is considered the best-case scenario, you can imagine the other possibilities for someone with a history.

Coach to watch: Larry Brown. It's a bad sign when the most compelling part of a team is the new coach, but they're the Bobcats and he's Brown and just try getting around the truth. Save the regrettable-for-all pass through Madison Square Garden, he makes teams better, sometimes as the closer for veteran clubs and sometimes developing young talent on teams struggling for direction. Charlotte: struggling for direction. They almost certainly will find one this season, however temporary.

Newcomer to watch: Michael Beasley. In a division lacking an arriving impact veteran -- Mickael Pietrus? Juan Dixon? -- the Heat rookie has a chance to be a difference maker at that level. For one thing, his versatile inside-outside game may be that good, even for someone with one season at Kansas State. For another, his transition as the heralded No. 2 pick will come with Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion running interference. Beasley should be able to score from several spots on the floor and rebound. That's impact for any experience level.

October 26, 2008
Season preview: Atlantic Division

Thursday: Southwest Division
Friday: Central Division
Saturday: Northwest Division
Today: Atlantic Division
Monday: Southeast Division
Tuesday: Pacific Division

Story to watch: They are the champions, my friends. The Celtics reached the summit in such a strange way, though, that this will be a curious title defense, with any outcome possible. Remember: Very impressive 2007-08 regular season, very impressive focus, then needing a Game 7 in the first round against the 37-45 Hawks and needing a Game 7 in the second round against the Cavaliers, then overwhelming the Lakers in body and mind in the Finals. And now the aging process continues. There is nothing Boston could do this season, from repeat to retreat, that would surprise.

Player to watch: Jermaine O'Neal. It could have been Elton Brand and the expectations that accompanied his big-money cross-country move to Philadelphia. It could have been Ray Allen, so inconsistent in the playoffs that he became an intersection of Celtics hopes, lifting them in the Finals after opening the door to potential elimination in the second round. But O'Neal is the player that can deliver credibility to the Raptors, a team lacking the history of Boston and Philly. Toronto invested a talented young point guard, T.J. Ford, and a first-round pick to acquire O'Neal from Indiana. A healthy O'Neal alongside Chris Bosh brings great hope. Another season of an injured O'Neal with a massive contract becomes a major letdown.

Coach to watch: Mike D'Antoni. The good news: The bar is set very, very, very low. Thirty wins and not getting slapped with a multi-million dollar sexual-harassment lawsuit, he's an improvement for the Knicks. The bad news: Those are still the Knicks he's coaching. D'Antoni's role in the new, non-Isiah Thomas, non-KGB climate of a franchise humiliated into change will be the one told on the court and, therefore, the most obvious. The wins must come eventually. In the meantime, he'll have the Knicks playing hard and playing fast.

Newcomer to watch: Brand is in the spotlight like never before, which is saying something for a guy who played at Duke, joined the NBA as a No. 1 pick and played in Chicago and Los Angeles. Bolting the Clippers when they thought a deal was secure, and doing it for $79.8 million over five years, moved him into a new category of pressure to deliver. Brand with Andre Igoudala, Andre Miller and Samuel Dalembert has Philadelphia lined up for a playoff run. Or else.

October 25, 2008
Season preview: Northwest Division

Thursday: Southwest Division
Friday: Central Division
Today: Northwest Division
Sunday: Atlantic Division
Monday: Southeast Division
Tuesday: Pacific Division

Story to watch: The fast-charging Trail Blazers got to .500 last season, way ahead of schedule. Adding Greg Oden, the No. 1 pick in 2007 who missed 2007-08 with a knee injury, and two other intriguing rookies, Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez, raises what would have been major expectations anyway. In great testament to the potential of the young roster, but also the weight they now carry, the kiddie corps will practically be considered a disappointment if they don't make the playoffs. Heady stuff for a team whose foundation for the future is a 24-year-old (Brandon Roy), a 23-year-old (LaMarcus Aldridge) and a 20-year-old (Oden).

Player to watch: Carlos Boozer. Partly because he is Talent 1A on the Jazz, a package deal with Deron Williams, but mostly because the Boozer situation comes with the added spice of wondering if this will be his final season in Utah. If he has a big 2008-09 and opts out, and Kobe Bryant stays in his contract, Boozer could become the top free agent in the summer of 2009. That's a lot of "if" going on. But any possibility of the 20-and-10 power forward leaving is enough to create worry in Salt Lake City.

Coach to watch: George Karl. Oh, the fun the Nuggets will have. Management has been cutting the roster out from under him, trading Marcus Camby for essentially nothing and selling off the first-round pick as well, just in time for Allen Iverson to enter what may be his final season before becoming a free agent. Karl gets the responsibility of keeping Denver, a veteran team, close to the playoff pack before the bosses really start laying the dynamite.

Newcomer to watch: Mike Miller. His arrival in Minnesota will be typically understated -- under-the-radar player, under-the-snowbank team -- but Miller is a nice building block and part of a future that suddenly has hope. He shoots with range, handles the ball, rebounds and moved well. And at age 28, he can still be a building block for the Timberwolves.

October 24, 2008
Season preview: Central Division

Thursday: Southwest Division
Today: Central Division
Saturday: Northwest Division
Sunday: Atlantic Division
Monday: Southeast Division
Tuesday: Pacific Division

Story to watch: Wither the Pistons? After sending a very strong signal he would shake up the roster that had just lost in the East finals, president Joe Dumars did nothing more dramatic than sign Kwame Brown. Flip Saunders got fired as coach and was replaced by highly regarded assistant Michael Curry, but it's the same group on the court while aging, minus any jolting transaction. It's great patience on Dumars' part to not make a move just to make a move, and Joe D is one of the best, but if he didn't like the direction at the end of last season, what does that say for the start of this one?

Player to watch: LeBron James. Of course LeBron James. Just try not watching. He is coming off averaging 30 points, 7.9 rebounds to set a career high and 7.2 assists to tie a career high. LBJ is 23 years old. He has a chance to be pretty good when he reaches his prime.

Coach to watch: Scott Skiles. John Hammond made hiring Skiles one of his first acts as new Milwaukee general manager to set the tone that he wanted the Bucks to play with an intensity. That's Skiles. A well-regarded coaching mind, he drives teams to get better and, if nothing else, gets them to go harder. It eventually leads to a backlash, but it could be good for a couple seasons. He is the Bucks' chance to be relevant.

Newcomer to watch: Former second-round pick Mo Williams had a big 2006-07 for the Bucks, got a big payoff with a six-year, $51.5-million contract to stay, was deemed expendable by Milwaukee and got traded to the Cavaliers. The entire East awaits his next move. Williams as a success relieves offensive pressure on James. Williams as a letdown again makes the Cavs the same one-on-five operation on offense.

October 23, 2008
The Red Sox ouster is the Kings' gain

Back in their seats

Now that the Boston Red Sox and Woodland native Dustin Pedroia have been eliminated from the baseball playoffs, I figured members of the family would be back in their Kings seats for today's final preseason game at Arco Arena. That was the plan. In a quick call to the family's Valley Tire Store in Woodland earlier in the day, Brett Pedroia, Dustin's older brother, said they had missed all the previous preseason games because of a conflict with the baseball playoffs.

"It seemed like every time the Kings were playing, so was Dustin," said Pedroia, who manages the family-owned tire store with his parents, Guy and Debbie. "We went to Dustin's games in Anaheim, and we were planning on going to the World Series, so this was a real disappointment. It was especially tough on my mom. She is so energetic. ... When Dustin hit that home run in Game 7 (against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS), we thought we were going to win it."

Brett, who routinely converses about the Kings with his sibling - an impassioned fan of his hometown team - offers this assessment of the season: "I'm always the optimist, so I don't agree with people picking us to only win 25 games or so. We have Bobby Jackson. With Kevin Martin, and some of the young players, I think we'll surprise some people. And I think Geoff (Petrie) is going to make a deal that moves us up a little into the playoff picture."


Who wants to know?

Having Jackson back has done wonders for the personality of the locker room. You never know what the veteran guard, now 35, will say. His latest comment/question pertained to Ron Artest's visit. "I wonder if he'll get booed?" Jackson asked, laughing. "We all know what that's like."

October 23, 2008
Artest arrives, tells reporters "it's all business"

Ron Artest was greeted with a warm reception from the media this morning at Arco Arena, with a throng of cameras and microphones surrounding the former King.
When asked if he had a message for Kings fans, Artest politely said no. But, he does plan on going on the Carmichael Dave Show after tonight's game.
Artest insisted the only thing he's thinking about is basketball. He isn't thinking about what kind of reception he'll receive from fans when his name is announced at Arco Arena.
"You've got to understand, it's all business," Artest said. "You have to focus on the game. Right now we are on a mission."
What does he think of the Kings this season?
"They've got a good team, good players, potential," he said. "If they stay together, play hard and stay confident then they can go to the playoffs."

Kings injury update
Quincy Douby is out with a right ankle sprain.
Beno Udrih is out with a left hip flexor strain.
Francisco Garcia is out with a right calf strain.
Kenny Thomas will try to play despite lower back soreness.

October 23, 2008
Season preview: Southwest Division

Today: Southwest Division
Friday: Central Division
Saturday: Northwest Division
Sunday: Atlantic Division
Monday: Southeast Division
Tuesday: Pacific Division

Story to watch: The deepest division for talent also has the most subplots -- the Rockets hoping the trade for Ron Artest and the signing of Brent Barry will finally at least get them out of the first round, the Mavericks trying to reclaim their former standing as title contender, the Spurs remaining a factor. But the case of the Hornets and their New Orleans home remains intriguing at a level few can match in the league, let alone the Southwest. The team won 56 games last season in its coming-out party. The city didn't start to notice until midseason, then rushed the bandwagon. If the fans disappear again, questions about the future of the NBA in the Big Easy will return.

Player to watch: Yao Ming. Not Artest. Not Chris Paul. Not Jason Kidd, though Kidd working to clear his good name will be good theater as well. Yao. He has played 55, 48 and 57 games the last three seasons. His health is a tipping point for the Rockets.

Coach to watch: Rick Carlisle. Even if the Mavericks don't get mentioned as a title contender anymore, everyone will be watching. Dallas is a spotlight organization and Dallas has star quality with Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Kidd, so the arrival of a new coach is a big deal. If the Mavs push back and turn back into serious threats, it's a very big deal.

Newcomer to watch: Ronald William Artest Jr. Not sure where he was before, but his acquisition has generated new energy for the Rockets and any team that loses in the first round every season can benefit from new energy. Maybe creative tension will be a good thing there. In addition, he'll be in a great mood for a while, wanting to play well for Rick Adelman, wanting to have a great season just before becoming a free agent, wanting to show he'd really like to stay in Houston. Or go. Or stay. Or go.

October 22, 2008
A correction in Wednesday's Kings story

Due to a copy editing error, a quote in my story today was credited to Kings shooting guard Kevin Martin instead of Kings coach Reggie Theus.

These things happen occasionally on our end, but there's no reason we can't use the immediacy of venues like the blog to clear them up before the next morning's newspaper (for the super-curious, the word "he" in my original copy was substituted for Martin's name on assumption). Anyways, it should have read as follows in regards to Beno Udrih's hip injury...

"I understand (sitting in the) preseason, but to me that's something he's got to work through," Theus said. "You're not going to ever be 100 percent. ... After training camp starts, there's very little time that you're ever 100 percent. But I do believe that if it was a regular-season game, he would've played."
- Sam Amick
October 22, 2008
Shaquille O'Neal and Grant Hill want to buy the Orlando Magic

Not right now. Shaq has two seasons on his deal, won't walk away from $20 million per, may play beyond that contrary to previous reports that 2009-10 is definitely his last season, and Hill is in a contract year and interested in returning. He may not be done for a while either.

But the Suns teammates are serious about this. At some point, probably soon after they retire, O'Neal and Hill, former Magic players who still make their permanent homes in a mega-money Orlando enclave, will talk with executives to see if the team is available.

How serious?

They have already talked about it together, a lot. They have already made their feelings known to CEO and president Bob Vander Weide, the son-in-law of owner Rich DeVos. They have, both report independently, already lined up additional investors.

If DeVos is open to discussing a sale, Hill and O'Neal want to be first in line. If not, the partnership will consider other teams. There's no way to know which way it will go, not when we're probably talking the summer of 2010 at the earliest and no one can say for certain where the economy will be headed in two months. Asking prices will change. The financial needs of owners with major investments in non-basketball entities will change.

O'Neal and Hill were always friendly -- when Hill was living through one of many injury setbacks with the Magic, Shaq was a Laker and handed over keys to the gym at his house so Hill could use it anytime -- and have grown closer since becoming teammates in Phoenix last season. They live a few minutes apart in Orlando. Vander Weide is in the same community.

October 21, 2008
Kings trim roster and other tidbits

Long after the Kings' light practice ended today, Noel Felix and Bobby Jones stayed to work on their jump shots.
A few hours later, the roster hopefuls packed their bags after the Kings announced they had requested waivers on the forwards.
The Kings' roster now is at 14 players.

Moving forward
Quincy Douby said he is eager to return to the court Thursday and improve on his resume. After speaking with his agent, Douby said he knows the Kings will not pick up his team option.
Basketball president Geoff Petrie said Monday that it was "highly unlikely" the Kings would extend Douby. The deadline is Oct. 31. Douby's option for the 2009-10 season is worth $2.2 million.
Douby has been limited since Oct. 3 with a sprained right ankle.
"It feels good to finally get on that court," Douby said. "I probably still won't be 100 percent, but I'll be 90 or 95 percent."

Dunking for dollars
Kevin Martin knew he netted more than a sweet YouTube clip Monday when he crossed over Rudy Fernandez to dunk on Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge in the Kings' 112-98 loss to Portland.
Martin also won a $1,000 bet with teammate Mikki Moore on who would be the first to dunk on Oden.
"I had to go get my money," Martin said.
Asked if he knew Oden and Aldridge would be there when he crossed over Fernandez, Martin laughed.
"Them guys have 7-(foot)-5 wingspans, so even if you don't think they are going to be there, they are going to be there," Martin said. "I'm glad they were there. I got a little richer today."

Record repeat
Martin repeated a quote he said last night about not being bothered by the Kings' 1-6 exhibition record.
"There are two games where if we played our main guys in the fourth quarter, we would have won," Martin said. "Like against the Clippers. We wouldn't have lost a 17-point advantage. (The record's) not great, but it doesn't count now."

October 21, 2008
Why the Kings will go 32-50, and other predictions I'll regret

Thirty-two wins. That's the call. (And no criticizing at the end of the season unless you post a pick before the opener. We're an equal-opportunity criticism machine here. You deserve the same chance to be held up to public ridicule.)

I had the Kings for 34 last season and they reached 38-44 despite a string of injuries, a major trade (Mike Bibby), the transition to a new point guard (Beno Udrih) and power forward (Mikki Moore), a rookie coach (Reggie Theus) and the distractions of living on the set of The Ron Artest Show. Thirty-eight was an accomplishment.

There was no real formula to settle on 32. Some people break down the schedule week by week or month by month to set a chart of a how a young team will develop or a veteran team will hold back until the finishing kick, calculate the number of back-to-backs, weigh the impact of global warming, factor in the rate of a 30-year fixed mortgage, and multiply by the size of the third side of the isosceles triangle. None of that here, even from a numbers guy.

This is mostly feel, conversation with a lot of basketball people, and one very basic calculation: Take the record from the previous season, decide if the team got better or worse and by how much, and decide if the teams they play most often got better or worse and by how much.

The Kings are worse by about a handful of games. This is not a terrible thing if they're worse while building something for the future. But, worse.

October 20, 2008
Garcia update, Udrih injury and running game blog

Melody Gutierrez is on game duty tonight, so I'll be updating with a few observations from courtside as the action goes along. (Keep hitting refresh every few minutes, in other words)

First, though, there is a Francisco Garcia update: the swingman is out approximately two to four weeks with a strained right calf. True to form, Garcia told me before the game that he would be ready to start the regular season. For the record, that's only nine days away.
As for point guard Beno Udrih, he is not playing tonight due to the same left hip flexor strain that kept him out of the first exhibition game.

***

GAME ACTION

* A 16-6 deficit just six minutes in has only supported my already-growing sense that this starting lineup isn't necessarily set in stone.

They entered having given up an average of 104 points per game, so they may be looking for more defensive presence in the lineup. Kenny Thomas anyone? As much as some fans may not like it, he's been impressive defensively thus far and is a much better rebounder than Mikki Moore. (Speaking of which, Kings coach Reggie Theus just hollered Moore's way, "Come on Mikki, you've got to rebound baby!" It's 17-13 Portland now). Thomas can has always been able to run the floor and can finish on the break, although he will never finish as emphatically as Moore.

* Udrih being out isn't a bad thing right now, as Bobby Brown needs more time to get comfortable. The rookie point guard hasn't played all that well in the last week or so.

* We interrupt for a quick plug - I updated our players salary database today. The only thing missing at the moment is the year-by-year for Garcia's deal, which I'll dig up soon enough. There are a few new details about Moore's contract and more accurate terminology overall. Click here to check it out.

* Bobby Jackson banks a runner in the paint at the first quarter buzzer to make it respectable: 27-21 Portland.

* Scratch that "respectable" part: three assists, nine turnovers. Not good.

* More bad news: Jackson's shot didn't beat the buzzer - 27-19.

* I will not miss a Rudy Fernandez pass. I will not miss a Rudy Fernandez pass. I will not miss a Rudy Fernandez pass...Watch No. 5 in the black at all times. I missed way too many incredible passes in the preseason opener and vowed not to make that mistake again.

* Going back to the Thomas possibility, he continues to make a case for himself. The first 5:50 he played, Portland was finally slowed (six points in that time) and he even hit two buckets from close range.

* Kevin Martin's personal coach, David Thorpe, implored him to finish with "speed and violence" during their offseason workouts. There was a little of both in his dunk through the lane midway through the second, when he blew by Fernandez and LaMarcus Aldridge and dunked it before Greg Oden could get up. Score 41-38 Portland.

* Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie told me the other day that Martin needs "15 to 20 shots" per game this season. He had 14 and 18 in the last two games, respectively, but has just five with halftime 2:17 away (hitting four for 10 points). John Salmons leads the team with 10 (hitting five) for 15 points.

* Greg Oden has been called a "bear," but this is ridiculous. His claws put quite a slice in Jason Thompson's arm (between his bicep and forearm on the inside). As trainer Pete Youngman cleaned it up with what I'd assume was hydrogen peroxide, Thompson felt the burn and said, "Woohee!"

* Halftime: Portland 57, Kings 50. The highlight: Kings shooting 55.6 percent. The lowlight: 12 turnovers.

* OK, apologies all around for the false advertising. I spent the second half making the rounds for some quality background material. I may or may not return to the blogosphere tonight. - Sam Amick
- Sam Amick

October 20, 2008
Getting going

There aren't many slow days in the land of the Kings. With a little more than two hours until tipoff here at Arco Arena, I've got two developments to share.
First, Kings coach Reggie Theus said he expects swingman Francisco Garcia to miss two weeks due to a right calf strain. That timeline has Garcia missing the first week of regular season action.
"I had the exact same injury, so I know it takes a while," Theus said. "It's more than a tweak, it's a real separation."
The second tidbit is from basketball president Geoff Petrie, who said the Kings are "highly unlikely" to pick up the team options on Quincy Douby or Shelden Williams.
"Everything happens for a reason, so I'm still positive," Douby said this afternoon. "I'm going to work hard and do what I need to do to help the team win."

October 19, 2008
The latest resurgence of Matt Barnes

Much more on the Del Campo High product in a feature early in the regular season. For now, there is news: Barnes -- after being disappointed the Warriors had little interest in re-signing him, after being unable to land a multi-year deal anywhere, after having to settle for a one-year contract at the minimum to find a home -- may end up as the Suns starting small forward.

That would be some recovery from a 2007-08 that was crushing personally and professionally and then extended into a very disappointing offseason. It would also be so Barnes, just as he turned a last-minute invitation to Golden State camp two years ago into an important role that season as the Warriors unexpectedly reached the playoffs and upset the Mavericks in the first round.

In Phoenix, he has started the last two exhibition games and is averaging 26 minutes in the five preseason outings (though shooting 34.9 percent). What might ordinarily have been coach Terry Porter simply wanting to rest Grant Hill, the 36-year-old incumbent, or funneling time to get Barnes acclimated is actually Porter considering a permanent switch.

"It's a possibility," Porter said today. "We tried him two games at the starting spot. We're going to go back and forth and see how it goes these last three games."

Hill averaged a career-low 13.1 points last season. At least shooting 50.3 percent from the field was efficient production.

October 18, 2008
Is John Salmons the new Mike Bibby? The Kings should hope so

DALLAS - It was an unofficial annual affair, one that Mike Bibby could have done without.

The former Kings point guard would often struggle with his shot in the preseason, serving up enough clankers over the course of a few games that the media - myself included - would eventually come asking "What's wrong?" Bibby, playing his part in the ritual, would remind us all that it was still exhibition play and that he would be just fine. More often than not, he was right.

Yet there is no such precedent for John Salmons, who is just learning how to handle life as a regular starter. And within those parameters, there is only this: four games played, 14-of-47 shooting (29.7 percent) overall while averaging 30.5 minutes. More specifically, he has had one solid shooting game against Oklahoma City and three stinkers (1 of 9 against Portland, 4 of 15 against the Lakers and 4 of 15 against Houston).

In the matter of a few days, it could mean nothing or it could mean something. Salmons himself said in training camp that the tricky part about playing in the preseason is this unfair reality: play well, and people shrug because it's preseason; play poorly and people start to panic even though it's preseason. He was relentlessly hounded Friday night by the man whose job he took over in Ron Artest, and it won't get much easier tonight against the Mavericks with Josh Howard on his hip.

Still, no one is panicking within the Kings' locker room or front offices. They're not within a halfcourt shot of even losing a few minutes of sleep over it just yet. But they are eager to figure out the smartest way to get the most out of Salmons, and those answers must come fairly soon if they are to avoid a horrendous start to the regular season.

Does he need more freedom to hold the ball because of his style, or should he be asked to conform to the ball-moving ways just like the rest of the bunch? Does he need a green light to chuck away until he heats up again, or does the red light need be put up more often to avoid falling into deep pot holes that they can't get out of?

Bibby used to figure it out on his own. The Kings hope Salmons does, too. - Sam Amick

October 17, 2008
Tidbits from Houston

HOUSTON - When Spencer Hawes finished practice in Sacramento on Friday, the Kings' second-year center thought he was in trouble.

"We got done, and they were like, 'Hey (Kings basketball president) Geoff (Petrie) needs to see you,'" Hawes said. "I was like, 'Oh, (shoot), what'd I do?' It kind of caught me off guard."

The meeting was nothing to be afraid of, however, as Petrie was informing Hawes of his decision to pick up his team option for the 2009-10 season worth $2.3 million. While it was far from a surprise, Hawes said the notion of having another guaranteed season added to his NBA career was reason to appreciate his plight.

"You always hear the horror stories about guys, even lottery picks, coming in and not having (the option) picked up," he said. "It's always good to see it in writing."

The same can't be said for third-year guard Quincy Douby or third-year forward Shelden Williams. Both have options for the 2009-10 season that have yet to be picked with the Oct. 31 deadline looming, with Williams' worth $4.3 million and Douby's worth $2.2 million.

Injury update

Kings swingman Francisco Garcia did not play against Houston, although it was Kings coach Reggie Theus' decision to rest him and not because of the sore left foot that kept him out of Thursday's practice. He is expected to play Saturday at Dallas.

Douby said he will not play against Dallas and will continue to take the cautious approach to letting his sprained right ankle heal. The injury, Douby said, includes strained ligaments and a strained muscle in his foot.

Artest banking on Bauman

Ron Artest hopes to follow in the footsteps of Peja Stojakovic, at least as it pertains to success on the free-agent market.

The former Kings small forward now with Houston has changed agents since leaving Sacramento, replacing Mark Stevens with Stojakovic's agent, David Bauman. The move makes sense based on precedent: Bauman landed Stojakovic's five-year, $64 million deal with New Orleans in his free-agent summer of 2006, this after he was traded from the Kings to Indiana in the deal that brought Artest to Sacramento. Artest will be a free agent next summer. - Sam Amick

October 16, 2008
Ron-Ron's number "retired"

Airport.jpg

HOUSTON - The day was spent talking to Kings players about the difference between having Ron Artest and not having him, so I hardly needed a reminder that he wasn't playing in Sacramento anymore.

But en route to tonight's flight to Houston for the Ron-Ron reunion at the Toyota Center on Friday night, I noticed the sale rack at the sports shop in the airport where only the most prominent former Kings have their numbers retired in a very different way: No. 93, $14.99 (regular price, $59.99, I believe), in all its shiny gold and purple glory. It's official now, especially since he changed to No. 96 with the Rockets.

This is the outlet where visitors can see which King was put out to pasture last, although I wonder if they should make an attempt to stay a bit more up to date. The Mike Bibby jerseys didn't come off the racks all that long ago, and Kevin Martin fans could search high and low for his No. 23 and come up empty. I asked an employee once why they wouldn't have any Martin duds, considering the store is so Kings-heavy and Martin had become the front-and-center star.

"I think they order a year in advance, so I guess he wasn't that good then," the young man said.

As for the obligatory Artest storyline here in Houston, his former teammates opined about how his unpredictable personality was a challenge but generally shared good feelings about his Sacramento stay; Artest, meanwhile, says he's far too excited about his prospects this season to have any ill will about being a King.

Beyond that, don't forget that this game will matter far more than those that came before it for both teams. Rockets coach Rick Adelman says he'll be running a rotation that is close to regular season-ready, while Kings coach Reggie Theus will certainly play his regulars more minutes, although swingman Francisco Garcia will be out with a sore left foot and guard Quincy Douby is out with a sprained right ankle. - Sam Amick

October 16, 2008
And One: LeBron, Elgin, high-stakes gambling, classic Vlade, and more

*Lawrence Pedowitz, the chief architect of the internal investigation by the NBA into its referee system and gambling, said he would push to ban the traditional card games on charter flights if he owned a team. Chances of it actually happening: somewhere between zero and zero. Millionaire vs. millionaire at 30,000 feet is such an ingrained part of the subculture that even Commissioner David Stern has little interest in the crackdown at the very time the league is trying to rid itself of the Tim Donaghy stench. "Larry Pedowitz would be a difficult owner for me because players of all sports have been playing cards in the back of buses and planes forever," Stern said. Pedowitz, when asked if he heard how much money is involved in these games: "No, I did not hear specific numbers. But I gathered these were significant amounts of money."

*So what that the Kings soon open the season on the road for the fifth year in a row. It's bad timing to be without the suspended Brad Miller for meetings with Al Jefferson and the Timberwolves (Oct. 29), Dwight Howard and the Magic (Nov. 1) and maybe even Samuel Dalembert and the 76ers (Nov. 3), but you'd much rather hit Philly and Minneapolis now than most any time over the ensuing four or five months. Less chance of weather-related travel headaches, greater chance of a normal routine. It's not overwhelming competition either: Timberwolves, Heat, Magic and 76ers with only one back-to-back. And the first two opponents when the Kings get to Arco are the Grizzlies and Timberwolves. If they say the schedule hurts their chances for a good start, it's just complaining.

*The Warriors are retaining the option to extend the 30-game suspension of guard Monta Ellis, possibly all the way to voiding the six-year, $66 million deal he signed in July. Golden State would only throw that switch if Ellis struggles mightily to recover from an ankle injury that is now expected to sideline him until December or January, and even then would be a tough call, probably in summer 2009 at the earliest. He turns 23 next weekend, and players have come back from much worse. It's just that the W's don't want to be on the hook for $66 mil for damaged goods, since Ellis violated the contract by riding a moped and then lied to management by claiming he got hurt in a pickup game. In the unlikely event the deal is voided, Ellis would be waived but not go back to his previous status as a restricted free agent in a negotiating advantage for the Warriors. He would be unrestricted.

October 15, 2008
Back to school daze ...

STOCKTON - Mike Duncan, the Kings' vice-president of arena operations, is counting down his final days with the organization. The personable and respected executive has taken over arena operations at the University of Oregon, which recently broke ground on a state-of-the-art basketball facility. The opening is scheduled for November 2010.

A Sacramento native, Duncan said the decision to leave was difficult, but eased by a sense of familiarity: He graduated from the Eugene campus and spent many an evening enjoying basketball at the outdated McArthur Court, which is known as "The Pit" and one of the least hospitable venues for visitors in the country.

Here's wishing him the best of luck. He is one of few Kings officials who had been with the organization since its inaugural season.


The burden of wearing two hats

Before Wednesday's game at the Spanos Center, I spent time talking with Clips coach/general manager Mike Dunleavy about his expanded role. Though Dunleavy had been responsible for most personnel moves during the past few years anyway, Elgin Baylor's ugly/untimely departure leaves little doubt about who is in charge. It also makes Dunleavy one of the league's few head coaches who oversees player personnel. More often than not, these situations do not end particularly well. The obvious exception is San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, who relies heavily on R.C. Buford, especially for salary cap issues, but still makes the final decisions on trades, drafts and free-agent signings.

Dunleavy, though, who previously served in both capacities with the Milwaukee Bucks, doesn't anticipate a difference in his workload. "Nothing will change much," he said. "We do things by committee. And two other factors have made it (scouting) a lot different today: the addition of DirecTV and the Internet. The availability of information is (extensive) ... everything is out there."


Thinking about life after hoops

Monarchs forward DeMya Walker, who missed most of the WNBA season following knee surgery, after missing much of the previous few seasons with knee injuries, isn't kidding about preparing for the future. Her goal is to play a few more years, then attend law school. Or maybe she'll pursue something in broadcasting before suffering through torts and civil procedure. With that possibility in mind, Walker has been working with the Kings' game operations people, doing some of the little things like ... walking onto the court during timeouts and screaming into the microphone, "Who wants some T-shirts? Who wants some T-shirts? Who wants some T-shirts?"

Guess you have to start somewhere, especially in this economy.



October 15, 2008
Get the news first

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And don't forget to check out the new Kings forum, which launched yesterday. It's like a chat room, except that Kings writers will occasionally jump into the conversation. Feel free to start a discussion topic by visiting http://www.sacbee.com/forums/.

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October 14, 2008
Party hats, playing time and pranks

Kings coach Reggie Theus gave glowing assessments of rookies Jason Thompson and Donte Greene on Tuesday.
"I would say they are coming along faster than I anticipated, especially defensively," Theus said. "I think Jason and Donte both have been learning the system defensively and working hard. They are further along than I thought they would be."
In the video below, Theus talks about how he spent his day off on Monday and how the team's conditioning is coming along.

Kevin Martin talks about playing time and his health below.

This next video shows the difficulties of doing an interview after practice. To his credit, Spencer Hawes remains unfazed at the antics of Bobby Jones, a Kings roster hopeful.

October 13, 2008
A day of rest? Indeed

ELK GROVE - That dateline just doesn't look as appealing as it did on Sunday in Las Vegas, but I'll take it.

Home again for a day of rest, moreso for the Kings than the team's beat writer. With two days between the loss to the Lakers and Wednesday's game against the Clippers in Stockton, coach Reggie Theus ordered an off-day for his squad. No one could use it more than guard Quincy Douby, whose sprained right ankle just might nag him for some time if he tries to push it.

Douby lasted one half on Sunday before his ankle "hurt like hell," as he said, and he expects to be out Wednesday and questionable for Friday in Houston. Shooting guard Kevin Martin also played only the first half before leaving with a "sore right knee." Martin said on Monday that he will likely play limited minutes on Wednesday, which isn't entirely the result of his ailment. Theus is looking to limit the minutes of his starters in the first four exhibition games and integrate them more and more deeper in the preseason.

* I spoke with UNLV legend and Theus aficionado Jerry Tarkanian today for an upcoming story on the art of playing up-tempo, and he wanted a full report on the Kings-Lakers affair.

Tark - who said he splits his time between Vegas, San Diego and Fresno these days - thinks playing fast is a good move by Theus for a number of reasons I'll break down in the story. He's usually on hand for any big event at UNLV, but not this time.

* Everything worth watching seems to find its way onto YouTube, and Beno Udrih's ankle-breaker against Kobe Bryant on Sunday night certainly qualified.

The play...

And the reaction from Udrih, by way of a mini Q&A...

Q: "You ever done that to Kobe before?"

A: "No, not really. It doesn't happen a lot, but he was playing aggressive (defensively).

Q: "You're not even smiling. That had to be fun."

A: "It was fun, but I didn't see it because I spun off him and he was behind me. I heard the reaction from the fans and our bench, so I didn't know he fell down."

Q: "You hit the shot, which was the most important part."

A: "Exactly. If I would've missed it, then they would be laughing at me. It could happen to anybody. It has happened to me. I think it's happened to everybody in this locker room."

KINGS FORUM LAUNCHES TONIGHT!

While the new Sacbee web site will be launched tomorrow, we also have a new Kings forum that is open for business starting tonight at midnight.

It's like your conventional chat room, except that the folks who actually cover the team will occasionally be both posing and answering questions. I have one waiting for you, but you can't take part until the clock strikes 12. Here's the link - http://www.sacbee.com/forums/ - so set those bookmarks. - Sam Amick

October 13, 2008
Late-night notes from Vegas

LAS VEGAS - So I played the part of a scout for the early part of the first half, charting the Kings' offensive possesions to assess the status of their heavily-promoted up-tempo game.

The Amick system included 'H' for half-court sets, 'F' for fast breaks and a '2' for secondary breaks. I made it to 15 possesions, with 11 'H's and just one true break. In part because of rapidly-decreasing interest and also because of juggling other job duties, I stopped after that. But needless to say, the run-and-gun game Kings coach Reggie Theus hopes to implement still has a ways to go.

"We're not there yet," Theus said after the Lakers' 94-89 win. "I really want to get it up the court. Not necessarily get up the court and shoot it, but get it up the court. That's when I think we're going to have the best opportunity to get the movement without me calling plays. That's my goal."

Count Kings shooting guard Kevin Martin among the most ardent supporters of the plan. While he played just 15 minutes, he spent much of it pleading for the tempo to pick up. On one particular possession, he ran the left side of the floor waiting for a pass-ahead from point guard Beno Udrih. When it didn't come, he mentioned to Udrih twice that he wanted the ball to come.

It was one of quite a few signs on this night that the players on this squad won't be afraid to speak their respective minds for the greater good. In one second-half sequence, a Udrih pass was stolen on the left elbow when Jason Thompson didn't step up to meet the ball. Udrih stood frozen in frustration while the Lakers went on the break, leading Francisco Garcia to just about rush the floor and shove him back on transition defense while expressing his own frustration with the coaching staff. By the time Garcia and Udrih talked, the swingman took the more-tempered route and a message had been sent.

Sights and sounds

* I'm being a bit redundant here, but Floyd Mayweather's rantings are burned on my brain because he was just about 4 1/2 feet behind my ears.

He was talking trash to the Kings all night, giving more grief to John Salmons than the rest. Mayweather said he knows point guard Bobby Brown, although I didn't get the backstory on their connection. So while he repeatedly encouraged the rookie point guard, he wasn't so friendly with the group as a whole.

"(With) how your rookies are playing, I could get in there," Mayweather yelled.

Another heckle, coming just after the Kings broke a timeout huddle with some sort of rally cry: "Screaming teamwork don't win games!"

Super Fans

I'm new to the world of phones with cameras, so I may include random shots on the blog just because I can.

Below we have Las Vegas residents and Magdalena Reljic, 18, and her sister Vidosava Reljic, 16, Kings super fans who remain passionate despite watching their favorite players go. They are from Serbia, meaning the original link to the Kings came because of Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic. Then, according to Magdalena, Mike Bibby became the favorite because he had played with Divac and Stojakovic. Now? Magdalena claims Kevin Martin (hence the jersey) and Vidosava is a giddy Quincy Douby fanatic (hence the Douby facepaint). They were the exception in the crowd, as the Lakers fans dominated the place.

Fans.jpg - Sam Amick

October 12, 2008
Kings-Lakers in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS - They came in healthy, which was progress in and of itself.

The last time the Kings made a Sin City stop for the preseason, they entered UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 26 2007 with hung heads and lowered expectations. Point guard Mike Bibby had injured his left thumb in a practice the day before they faced the Lakers, and gameday came with the MRI results that would reveal a torn ligament and a subsequent 11-week absence. This time, they were on the mend.

Point guard Beno Udrih, whose signing came as a result of Bibby's injury and led to his five-year contract in the summer, returned from a strained left hamstring that kept him out Friday against Oklahoma City to face the Lakers. Third-year guard Quincy Douby made his exhibition debut after a suffering a spained right ankle in training camp. These ailments, however, were far different from the one that changed last season so drastically with Bibby.

"Banged up and hurt are two different things," Theus said. "In the preseason, guys are afraid to push it too hard. And quite frankly, I don't want them to."

Exhibit A was revealed in the second half, when Douby (sore right ankle) and Martin (sore right knee) removed themselves from the action.

No fan of Vegas

Donte' Greene doesn't like Las Vegas, and it has nothing to do with the obvious reason.

While he's a little more than four months away from the 21st birthday that will finally open all of Vegas' doors, he said he won't be a fan then either.

"I hate Vegas," said Greene, who played one season at Syracuse before he was drafted in June. "I don't know (why), I just really don't like big cities. I've never been to Miami. My first time to New York was my senior year in high school. That's why I love Sacramento.
"A few years from now, I'm going to buy me a house (in Sacramento) and just live out there. I ain't going nowhere. I love Sacramento."

On the scene

* On the surface, the Theus hiring last summer would seem to have a positive effect on the Kings' fanbase in Las Vegas.

Yet while his UNLV ties may have put him on the front page of the Las Vegas Review Journal on the gamedays of both preseason games the last two seasons, the pregame reaction showed this remains Lakers country. It was hearty cheers for Kobe Bryant & Co., and heavy boos for the Kings. The allegiances were shown once again when the Dodgers win over Philadelphia in Game 3 of the NLCS was greeted with a loud ovation.

* As could be expected, the Maloofs had a strong presence at the game.

Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof was joined by brothers George, Phil and mother Colleen courtside.

Boxer Floyd Mayweather also watched the game courtside, including one play in which he impored the official to tell Kings swingman John Salmons to "stop crying."

* It doesn't seem all too long ago that Andrew Bynum looked the part of a high-school draftee, having been taken at 17 years, eight months and two days to become the youngest player ever drafted in the NBA.

And then there's the now. Two weeks away from his 21st birthday, Bynum's once-frail frame is among the game's most biggest aty present and reason enough for the Lakers to be encouraged by their frontline. Bynum missed the final four months of last season wtih a dislocated left knee cap and bruised bone in his foot. - Sam Amick


October 11, 2008
Monta Ellis got suspended 30 games -- and got off easy

The long-awaited decision by the Warriors came down today as a big hit to Monta Ellis' bank account... and also a big gift.

Gift No. 1, of course, is that indications are that he will play again, period. Also that he'll probably play again this season. No one can say that for sure, and who cares if Ellis and his agent say it because they're proven liars on this, willing to try and hide the truth from the bosses, just after the Warriors invested $66 million in him, but team officials project a return from the ankle injury sometime in December or January. No one expressed such optimism when Jay Williams of the Bulls turned his motorcycle into twisted metal. Ellis was driving a moped, hardly comparable to Williams' machine, but a crash is a crash and fortunate is fortunate.

Gift No. 2 is that the Warriors didn't hit him harder than what amounts to a fine of $2.99 million. They could have. There likely was even some internal discussion that they should. The non-truthers could have responded with a grievance, but going down that road when you (a) violated the contract by taking part in a prohibited activity and (b) were insubordinate by lying to management that the injury occurred in a basketball activity is a bad move for a 22-year-old player that needs to get this mess behind him.

Bad judgment compounded by bad advice from (undoubtedly) the agent to come up with a cover story. People do stupid things and young people do stupid things more often, but the coverup was worse than the crime. Straight from the D.C. playbook.

If Ellis simply got unlucky by crashing the moped -- and it is about luck since there's no telling how many players routinely take part in activities prohibited by their contract -- a lot of people would have written it off to youthful indiscretion: "Hey, everyone makes mistakes." He was riding a two-wheel scooter, not attempting to pilot some contraption over Snake River. The Warriors wouldn't have had the centerpiece of their lineup back any sooner, but it also wouldn't have turned into this great issue.

Developing a fictional script moved it from a moment of not thinking to premeditated deception. It went from the disappointment of losing an important player in an important season in his development to a reason to be bothered.

October 10, 2008
Injury update from preseason Game No. 2

A quick injury update that didn't make it in tomorrow's paper.

Guard Quincy Douby missed his second straight game with a sprained right ankle, although he told me he plans on playing on Sunday against the Lakers in Las Vegas. Point guard Beno Udrih (left hamstring strain) didn't play and remains day to day.

Kings shooting guard Kevin Martin returned from his one-game absence due to a right quadriceps strain and logged just 13 minutes (3 of 5 from the field, eight points and three assists). Center Brad Miller was back in action as well after missing the opener with a right quadriceps strain, and the big man played eight minutes. - Sam Amick

October 10, 2008
Post game wrap up

Kings 94, Thunder 85

Kings - MIN FGM/A PTS
B.Brown 31:09 9-14 22 pts
K.Martin 13:01 3-5 8 pts
J.Salmons 31:44 5-8 16 pts
M.Moore 17:24 2-4 4 pts
B.Miller 08:21 0-1 0 pts
F.Garcia 28:11 2-9 8 pts
S.Hawes 26:57 10-17 21 pts
S.Williams 23:21 0-1 7 pts
D.Greene 23:04 0-4 0 pts
J.Thompson 19:57 1-7 5 pts
B.Jackson 16:51 0-3 3 pts
Q.Douby - - - DNP
N.Felix - - - DNP
B.Jones - - - DNP
K.Thomas - - - DNP
B.Udrih - - - DNP

Total 32-73 94 pts


Oklahoma City Thunder
E.Watson 22:19 2-5 4 pts
D.Wilkins 21:53 6-12 14 pts
D.Mason 29:23 4-10 10 pts
J.Smith 25:28 2-9 4 pts
N.Collison 20:53 4-9 8 pts
J.Green 27:07 7-17 19 pts
J.Petro 26:24 4-10 8 pts
R.Westbrook 25:41 0-9 8 pts
D.Byars 22:15 3-5 8 pts
C.Wilcox 18:37 1-3 2 pts
C.Alexander - - - DNP
K.Durant - - - DNP
J.Lucas - - - DNP
M.Sene - - - DNP
R.Swift - - - DNP
K.Weaver - - - DNP
D.White - - - DNP

Total 33-89 85

October 10, 2008
Martin: "There really is more to life than basketball."

The similarities may have caught Kevin Martin's attention, but it was the differences that inspired him.

On Sept. 26, the Kings shooting guard was passing time on the Internet when his browsing came to a halt. Martin had stopped to read a story in the Bee about Matt Palm, but he quickly found himself fixated on one particular picture.

It featured Palm in a hospital bed, his skinny frame and light-skinned complexion reminding Martin of himself but everything around Palm so very different. The tubes in his neck that gave him breaths of life but made him look so close to death. The friends who surrounded him with looks of grave concern, holding his hand and both knees as if they could make him whole again with their sheer will.

Palm, a local 18-year-old who has battled a rare paralyzing affliction called Guillain-Barre' syndrome since November 2005, had lost far more than his ability to play point guard for Mira Loma High School. Speech. Walking. Dunking. At 5-foot-10, he could dunk and run the floor well enough his coach could foresee a mid-major scholarship in his future.

All of it was gone.

But nearly three years later, his recovery that was chronicled in the story was remarkable. Palm, whose speech has returned and who attends classes at American River College, was on his way back. And Martin - already in a reflective state with the recent loss of his grandfather - was touched.

"I clicked on the video (about Palm online), saw that he was talking better and how he's going around in his wheelchair," Martin said after Thursday's practice. "That just touched me. He mentioned how, 'You can't take anything for granted.' And I looked at it like, 'I'm where I want to be in basketball, but it can get taken away just like that.' That story really touched me."

When the Kings host Oklahoma City tonight at Arco Arena, Palm and his family will be Martin's guests in their courtside seats. Yet the invitation didn't come as part of the NBA Cares campaign or any event managed by the team's public relations staff. It came because Martin took a more personal route, e-mailing the writer, Quwan Spears, directly with the following note.

Hello this is Kevin Martin with the Sacramento Kings. Read your story today and I have never been touched by someone of his age, used to dealing with little kids:) ha! But it was a great piece and I want to know if you could see if him and his family would like to come to our first preseason game on the 10th? I know of his conditions so just tell them that everything will be (taken) care of. You can just email me on this account. Thanks and have a great day! Also tell Sam Amick to do some work:)

Kevin Martin

For one night, Martin wants to make basketball fun again for Palm.

"I know everybody says it, but there really is more to life than basketball," Martin said. "I feel like I can help his family get through a tough time and they can enjoy this moment. That family's been through a lot." - Sam Amick

October 9, 2008
The Spencer Hawes reality check: What did you expect?

Spencer Hawes is getting roasted. Being served up by fans after one exhibition game merely makes him the latest target of unhappy customers frustrated by a losing club and getting the Marty Mac Treatment is simply the life of a lottery pick facing expectations, except that being called out by teammates and coaches nine days into camp is an actual bad sign.

If that's the feedback being offered for public consumption, you can imagine what's being said behind the walls. Rule of thumb: Take whatever is said to the media, on good topics or bad, and multiply it to get a gauge of the actual mood in the locker room. So if Reggie Theus is saying "Spencer's got to find himself now" and Beno Udrih and Mikki Moore are essentially saying Hawes is flailing away and Sam Amick notes that Udrih is "exasperated" by the topic and that Theus is having to measure his words, this is a pretty bothered group.

Again: one exhibition game, nine days.

This is a long-term project, though, and always has been. Nothing has changed. The Kings were very realistic in their expectations of Hawes last season as a rookie -- he would not have much impact in what would have been his sophomore year in college, and that assessment was right on. No one ever oversold him.

That's still the case. Hawes is 20. He averaged 13.1 minutes a game and didn't break 20 twice in a row until March. You'd like to think he would not get overwhelmed by Greg Oden on Tuesday, what with Oden in his debut after missing all 2007-08 with a knee injury, but Oden is supposed to be that much better than Hawes.

October 9, 2008
The Logo is watching everything, including the Kings

NBA TV works well in West Virginia, too

As I wrote a little earlier, I had an interesting and lengthy chat with Hall of Famer and former Lakers great Jerry West. What am I saying? Every chat with The Logo is interesting, and often fascinating. After reaching him at his vacation home in West Virginia, we talked mostly about his ex-teammate and close friend Elgin Baylor, who was dumped as Clippers GM on Tuesday and replaced by Mike Dunleavy, another West friend. The loyalty to Baylor, though, clearly prevails ...

Anyway, West, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday - if you can believe that - says he is working out daily, is scheduled to return home to L.A.. later this month, and is enjoying his sabbatical from the NBA. And then of course, Jerry being Jerry, he weighed in on the league. And, Jerry being Jerry, he doesn't miss much. He analyzed the Western Conference for me - sorry, most of it was off the record - and when asked about the Kings, volunteered an opinion: He thinks rookie small forward Donte Green is among the league's most talented prospects No surprise there. A la Geoff Petire, West favors skilled, versatile athletes, as opposed to one-dimensional players who are pursued because, say, they're tall, and everyone argues that you need a center. And come on. When West talks, you would be foolish not to listen. The Laker icon - who spent the past four years with the Memphis Grizzlies - is universally regarded as the keenest talent evaluator in league history, his few clunkers notwithstanding.


Coming to you in print

A must read: West also revealed that he has begun writing an autobiography that is scheduled to be completed within 12 months. "It's about my life," he said, adding with a chuckle, "and it's going to include the things that made me borderline insane at times. It will be honest. I'm a complex person. Nothing has ever satisfied me. That's just who I am. It (the book) is going to be truthful, and it's going to be serious."

A significant portion of the book, West said, will deal with his relationship with his former African-American teammates and colleagues during the 1950s and turbulent 60s. "My closest friends were black players," said West, a native of Cabin Creek (or Chelyan) West Virginia, a rural riverside community not far from Charleston. "Maybe it was our (common) backgrounds." He plans to detail his intense, almost sibling relationship with Baylor, who is four years his senior. West absolutely loves the guy. As he talked about Baylor's demise with the Clippers early Wednesday evening, the notoriously emotional West had to pause and collect his thoughts. "I really don't know what's going on," he said, "but it doesn't matter. Elgin and I talk every few weeks. He's a friend of mine. He will always be a friend of mine."

Yep. The guy is complex. And fascinating. And among the game's compelling, enduring characters. I am too young to remember The Logo as as the Lakers shooting guard with the sweet stroke and impeccable timing, but I know him as the NBA exec whose opinion mattered more than anyone else's. Wouldn't surprise me if he resurfaces somewhere as a consultant, his protests nothwithstanding .....


On the market front

West, who virtually jumped through hoops for the Grizzlies in an attempt to kick-start the fledgling small-market franchise, disagrees with the categorization of Sacramento as a similar "small market" organization. "The demographics of the league have changed," he said. "The big markets have a big advantage, a much bigger advantage than they used to. But Sacramento is a growing area, with a captive audience for the Kings. And that's huge. The fans will get a little restless, but the owners (Maloofs) understand that. They'll get it going up there again."

As for that "going through hoops" bit: When I was in Memphis waiting to interview West three years ago, he was participating in a free throw shooting contest with season ticket holders. More than most, he has always understood the need to tend to the people who place their fannies in the seats ...

October 8, 2008
Beno gets lucky ...


Clips snip Elgin, look silly again

In other words, Beno Udrih made a smart move rebuffing the Clippers' initial offer last summer while waiting to hear from the Kings. The Clips have been doomed since Donald Sterling bought the team in 1981, stopped paying his bills in San Diego and elsewhere, and two years later summoned the moving vans for the relocation to Los Angeles. Bad karma follows you everywhere ... (See Al Davis).

More recently, Sterling, who 22 years ago hired Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor as a trophy general manager, only to realize that Elgin is a pretty smart guy, promotes coach MIke Dunleavy and essentially strips Baylor of his power. So, of course, Baylor on Tuesday responds like someone with pride and walks out the door. Welcome to the Clippers. Here comes the next lawsuit.

Meantime, Wednesday was an absolutely fascinating day. Already pretty ticked off about the tenor of Baylor's departure, I contacted the former Lakers great at his home in Los Angeles, and within 45 minutes, also reached Jerry West at his vacation home in West Virginia. All of this, of course, happened close to 6 p.m., with editors offering nasty looks and staring at their watches. But, hey, for Elgin Baylor and Jerry West ... I'll take the hit.

Elgin, who actually returned a phone call (as he graciously did for several of my colleagues). couldn't reveal much on the advice of his attorneys. Hint: that lawsuit looms. But we chatted a little bit about our joint experiences with the Clip Joint in the mid to late 1980s. To summarize: While I was a Clippers beat writer for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner - and before I was rescued by the Lakers - Elgin and I spent many an afternoon sitting in gyms, watching practices and shooting the breeze. Mostly, I listened. As was the case a few years later when I was an NBA columnist who probed the brilliant Lenny Wilkens' brain as often as possible, I couldn't get enough of the stuff. And Elgin was gracious, obliging, insightful, and often hilarious.

A few of my favorite recollections:
* He insisted that Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, etc., consistently palmed the ball, and argued that if he were allowed such liberties, he would have doubled his scoring.
* He never conquered his fear of flying, though he swears he was not among the Lakers who became violently ill during the team's infamous emergency landing in the Midwest.
* He spoke poignantly about how, while growing up in Washington, D.C., he and other African-Americans were banned from the basketball courts during daylight hours. They would wait until dark, then sneak onto the courts and play under the streetlights. It was one reason he was an accomplished football and baseball player, and didn't take up basketball until age 14.
* After accepting a scholarship to the College of Idaho, he took an overnight train to Caldwell, and was petrified because he was alone, and had never ventured far from his hometown.
* He loved the stars. Bird. Magic. Michael. Bill Walton. It drove him crazy that Walton, a one-time Clipper, was sidelined with injuries for most of his career.
* He loves Jerry West. Jerry West loves him. Baylor loved to talk about how, while one of West's older teammates on the Lakers, he nicknamed the West Virginia native, "Zeke from Cabin Creek." West hated the nickname, by the way. While traveling to the region for a story on Belle's Jason Williams, I learned of the heated rivalry that exists among those who claim West as their own. Cabin Creek, where West lived during his youth, is located a few blocks from Chelyan, where West also lived during his youth.
Anyway, when I spoke with West early Wednesday evening, he was somewhere back there in his new resort home on a golf course ... and pretty upset about what happened to his buddy. Say what you will about his acumen as a general manager, but no way Elgin should go out like this. No parade, no celebration, no Elgin Baylor Night. Disgraceful.



October 8, 2008
The day after

After a lengthy film session today, Bobby Jackson said one thing was clear about last night's loss in Portland.
"It was painful last night and it was painful today," Jackson said.
And while Jackson was actually referring to watching the 110-81 loss a second time, his words ring true when looking at the Kings' updated injury list.

Beno Udrih (strained left hip) sat out practice and is unsure if he will play Friday.
Mikki Moore (sore left knee) sat out practice.
Kevin Martin (tendinitis, right quadriceps) practiced today and plans to play Friday.
Quincy Douby (right ankle sprain) will try to practice tomorrow, but remains questionable for Friday.
Brad Miller (strained right quadriceps) wants to play Friday, but remains questionable.

On another note, the Kings requested waivers on free-agent center Zhang Kai of China. The roster now stands at 16 players.


I'll let Reggie Theus wrap it up.

October 7, 2008
Ryan Anderson and his chances with the Nets

With the companion piece on DeMarcus Nelson and his chances with the Warriors


The Newark Star-Ledger asked Vince Carter about the standouts in the early days of New Jersey training camp. Oak Ridge High product Ryan Anderson was the first name out of Carter's mouth: "His development, from watching him in the summer league to now, has been just tremendous."

Yep, that'll work for a good start to a career.

Vincesanity doesn't have the cache' of old, but he's still the biggest name on the Nets and if he draws a straight line between a No. 21 pick and immediately impressive, it's worthwhile. Anderson already had the confidence boost of going relatively high in the first round, after sweating out dropping into the second and away from guaranteed money, and now the top returning scorer is lining up behind him.

Of actual, tangible importance, Anderson has an immediate chance at a meaningful role.

Part of it is that everyone does. The Nets are sorting through a new roster and avoiding serious financial commitments in a fiscal holding pattern to save cap space for a run at LeBron James in summer 2010. If anything, they'll be moving salaries out over time, and Anderson will be a candidate there as well because, again, everyone in the Meadowlands is fair game for everything with the likely exception of point guard Devin Harris.

October 7, 2008
Primer No. 2 from Portland

PORTLAND - We're just getting comfortable with the new multimedia element here on the Kings blog, so bear with us.

The quality, production etc. will only get better and we should be able to provide the sort of behind-the-scenes coverage that wasn't possible just a few years ago. That being said, below are two scene-setter clips for tonight's 7 p.m. tip. First and foremost, though, this game is all about the Greg Oden debut, especially on the local landscape. Think they're ready for the big fella to get started? Check out the front page of today's Oregonian...

Oden.jpg

The scene from outside...

And inside...

- Sam Amick

October 6, 2008
Portland primer (w/ video)

PORTLAND - Maybe they planned it this way.

Sit Brad Miller and Kevin Martin with relatively-harmless ailments in the first preseason game, thereby opening up minutes for the youngsters and whetting the fanbase's collective appetite early on. Quincy Douby, of course, is not to be included in this conspiracy theory. His ankle injury is legit (and so are the other injuries, for those who have no radar for facetiousness).

The absence of Miller and Martin in Tuesday night's exhibition opener against the Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden (7 p.m. tip) means the likes of Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson, Donte' Greene, and maybe even Kenny Thomas could see substantial time. For a primer, enjoy this clip of the frontcourt of the future battling in today's practice. (Pardon the impromptu conversation that took place while I was filming. Us newspaper types aren't used to thinking like TV folks just yet, so we have random conversations about old friends who were pursued as potential season ticket holders while filming said practice session. Your best bet is to hit the mute button.)...

Personally, my eyes will be set squarely on Bobby Brown. It seems like I can't have a conversation with a player who doesn't eventually sing the praises of the rookie point guard out of Cal State Fullerton. Lest you forget, he's not the typical rookie, considering he has four years of college experience, a year overseas under his belt and the mental motivation of knowing the NBA wouldn't open its doors for him last year. Don't be surprised if he busts his way through this time.

It will also be worth watching the offensive flow with a keen eye, as it has been the major focal point of training camp. The triangle offense that Kings coach Reggie Theus is installing is called "strong" in the Kings' system, and it'll be interesting to see if there is a sense of understanding or confusion emanating from the floor.

Within that context, keep an eye on who holds onto the ball and for how long. While Kings swingman John Salmons has acknowledged his need to pound the ball less this season, he will continue to be given much leeway because of his ability to get to the rim - and finish - so methodically.

What about the defense, you ask? Don't worry about it just yet. But if you must have something to look for on that end, watch Hawes and scream at your television for him to hit the glass. The second-year center needs to rebound in a big way, especially if he expects to take minutes from Miller after the veteran led the team in rebounding last season (9.5 per game) and was 14th in the NBA in that category.

Until Hawes gets minutes for an extended period, we won't know the state of his rebounding skills. For now, consider the rebounds-per-48-minute statistic between the two last season. Miller's mark was 13, while Hawes' was 11.9.

The starting five, as I understand it to be: PG Beno Udrih, SG Francisco Garcia, SF John Salmons, PF Mikki Moore, C Spencer Hawes

* The Oregonian's Joe Freeman breaks down the game from the Blazers' standpoint. - Sam Amick

October 6, 2008
Injuries, cheating and gambling

Kevin Martin, Brad Miller and Quincy Douby are all listed as questionable for Tuesday's preseason game in Portland. Martin is nursing tendonitis in his right quadriceps and Miller strained his right quadriceps.
"They are OK," Kings coach Reggie Theus said. "They're just banged up a little bit."
Douby has been recovering from a right ankle sprain since Friday. Theus said Douby's injury followed a great performance at training camp.
"Offensively, we know what he can do," Theus said. "The way we've been playing better suits him. But, defensively, he's been pretty good. It's unfortunate that he twisted his ankle the other day, but he's been good on both ends of the court."

And now for the rest of today's action:
* Tuesday's preseason game couldn't come at a better time, Theus said. Many of the players are eager for an opponent who doesn't know their game plan.
"It's so hard to tell where you are when you are training against your own guys," Theus said. "They know the plays and they muck the plays up by cheating. It will be interesting to see what happens when we go against someone different."

* After practice today, Donte Greene greeted media while trying to hush a badgering Kings assistant coach Randy Brown.
"Don't listen to that guy," Greene said after Brown repeatedly said the rookie owed him $60.
"I was down $100 and I shot three-for-five from half court and now we're even," Greene explained. "But he wants to make up stories. I keep trying to tell him I'm one of the top shooters on the team."

* Forward Noel Felix, a former Fresno State Bulldog, said he entered Kings training camp knowing he should listen to veteran players and try to absorb their habits.
What is the best advice he's received so far?
"Slow is fast and fast is slow," Felix said. "Brad Miller told me that. When you are playing, slow is fast and fast is slow a lot of times on the court. Offensively, that means me slowing down and reading things first in order to be effective."

* With good reason, Bobby Jones considers himself a journeyman.
"I've been on seven teams and it's my third NBA year," said Jones, a training camp invitee. "Hopefully, I don't keep it up at this rate."
Jones said he felt good about his performance at Kings training camp, which is why he's not going to put too much pressure on himself during Tuesday's preseason opener against the Trailblazers.
"This one game won't make or break me," Jones said. "I've had a week of practices going against these dudes, so (the Kings coaches have) been able to watch me up close. The game does count, but I'm not going to base the week I've put up on this game, because you'll set yourself up for failure."

* Francisco Garcia referred to Kevin Martin by his new nickname.
"I call him The Face," said Garcia, referring to Martin being the face of the franchise.
So, what does Garcia fancy his nickname?
"I'm the body," he responded.

October 5, 2008
Geoff Petrie and the Jason Williams legacy

Geoff Petrie was really good talking about Jason Williams. Lots of insight, no ducking the J-Will shortcomings while offering long analysis on the positive impact, capturing the near-impossible to capture of how just three seasons in Sacramento could have meant so much to the Kings and the league as a whole.

Space limitations allowed only a small portion to be used in the Williams retrospective in today's paper. But the entire Petrie breakdown is worthwhile reading.

So....

Question: How will Jason Williams be remembered, now that he's announced his retirement?

Answer: He really has a little bit of a unique place in history of the NBA, I think, in the sense that his rookie year and into his second year, he kind of came out of nowhere at a time when the league was coming out of the lockout and sort of struggling with its style of play and just trying to regain some of the footing it had lost at that time. And here was this kid that had these incredible dribbling and passing skills and sort of pedal-to-the-metal attitude about the game. He just caught the imagination of the entire country, along with the rest of our team.

It really helped the NBA. It really helped this franchise, along with a lot of other terrific players too. He became the darling of ESPN highlights just about every night. I've told this to other people: there was a time there, probably for about a year or so, other than Michael Jordan, he was the most popular basketball player in America because of this flamboyant style he had.

As his career went on and after he left here, his game got a little more conservative. He had some good years in Memphis and then won a title in Miami. He ended being a starting point guard in a championship team. That's something that every point guard would like to have."

October 4, 2008
Camp continues (and we have the video to prove it!)

Quincy Douby came hobbling onto the practice facilty floor on Saturday, walked toward the reporter waiting for him (OK, it was me) and just didn't stop soon enough.
His already-ailing right foot nearly turned again as he stepped on my left foot, with Douby's laugh soon thereafter the first sign that he'd avoided a more serious injury once again. Media member obstacles aside, the third-year Kings guard who sprained his ankle in Friday's practice reported told me today that the ankle is swollen but that it's nothing close to a serious ankle sprain. He is hopeful to play Tuesday at Portland, but that will be determined by how he comes along in the next few days.

Other dumbed-down notes from the day (I'm not going to give everything away from tomorrow's paper)...

* As I can attest (and no one else, since I was the lone media member at practice today), this season's theme of run-run-run is already underway.

Between the line-running (suicides) that are ordered randomly or because the players a) lost a scrimmage...b) didn't execute a drill properly or...c) Insert Reggie Theus reason here, these guys should be ready to play up-tempo without getting too winded.

"You only have a week of camp, and we start playing on Tuesday," the Kings coach said. "And we don't have a team full of 10-year veterans. We have a pretty young team, and we need to be in great shape to hopefully give us an edge. I don't think we're doing an enormous amount of running. I think it's on the high end."

* Add John Salmons to the long list of people who have been impressed by rookie point guard Bobby Brown.

The Kings swingman loves Brown's ability to find his teammates and confirms the fact that he can score as well. He is speedy and up-tempo and could be making a push for minutes at the point guard spot.

* Fandemonium is tomorrow at Arco Arena. For all the particulars, click here - Sam Amick

October 2, 2008
Meet the Kings events

As part of the NBA Cares "Paint the Town" campaign, Kings fans will have all sorts of chances of meeting the team on Friday and Saturday.

We couldn't fit all the particulars in tomorrow's paper, but here they are for the loyal blog readers (as pilfered from the press release)...

October 2, 2008
Money can't buy everything ...

For those who might be depressed about the economy, who resent the rich and famous, and right now, are particularly upset with the rich, remember this: Even millionaires can struggle beyond the arc.

In a lighthearted scene at the Kings practice facility Thursday afternon, after most of the players had retreated to the locker room, co-owner Maloof spent about 45 minutes "working" on his outside shot with Kings assistant (and former Indiana Pacers sharpshooter) Chuck Person. Overdressed for the occasion in a pair of worn blue jeans, black T-shirt and jogging shoes, the younger of the co-owners - sweating profusely and repeatedly pulling up his pants - missed most of his mid-range attempts, then stepped behind the line. As predicted, he was more proficient from three-point range. He tossed up a few airballs and a few almost-airballs, but he usually caught the rim.

After releasing his shots, Maloof would turn to Person for guidance. As the two continued, moving their way around the key, I walked over and badgered Person for a quick scouting report on the boss.

"I don't think Mr. Maloof would like that," he replied, with a grin.

"Go ahead, tell her," Gavin interjected.

So here's the critique, as provided by the former NBA star known as The Rifleman: "The first thing you want to do is get him to shoot the ball straight. Not just hm, but anybody. But when we started off, he started with a low arc, with too low a trajectory. We're trying to get him to bring his elbow up, to bring the ball up with more speed, then to use his fingers and follow through. The higher arc promotes air under the ball, which makes the shot softer. 'Elbow high. Fingers follow through. Elbow high. Fingers follow through.' Those are the simplest things to remember."

Learning from The Logo

Person, who grew up in rural Alabama, developed his shooting touch with a little help from Hall of Famer Jerry West. When he was in ninth-grade, Person explained, he attended a basketball camp at Auburn University that featured the former Lakers great as a guest speaker. "I used to bring the ball up high over my head, and shoot with two hands," the second-year Kings assistant said, grabbing a ball and demonstrating. "Jerry West took me aside and changed my (mechanics). He told me to keep my elbows high and to use my fingers on the follow through."

Still seeing red ...

Spencer Hawes spends most of his time living in blue states - his native Washington and California - but remains staunchly Republican. He was eagerly awaiting tonight's debate between vice-presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, but disappointed to learn that the session conflicted with the evening practice. "I can't even tape it," he said, "because we're staying in a hotel. I'm sure it will be on again later, when we get back. I'll catch it on Fox."
"I like Governor Palin," he added. "I think she's going to do fine."
We'll check back for his scorecard later.


Final thoughts on the owner's basketball skills ....

During Gavin's shooting session, he displayed decent ballhandling skills and a nice rotation on his jumper, especially on his deeper shots. He even dribbled between his legs a few times without turning the ball over. Overall, he didn't completely embarrass himself, and he wasn't shy about citing his deficiencies, which was sort of refreshing. But he definitely needs to work on his conditioning and, as he admitted, lose about 30 pounds.

October 2, 2008
Hawes takes test

We will have more blog material from today's training camp session later this afternoon, but I wanted to pop in briefly to announce the end of the Spencer Hawes storyline.

The second-year Kings center who had refused to take a mandatory conditioning test succumbed today, passing the test in his first try. Hawes, who will likely be fined for his initial decision to pass on the test, said he planned on stopping the test if he felt any discomfort in his knees but was able to breeze through.

The test was unchanged from its original state: 10 full-court sprints that had to be completed in 62 seconds, constituting one of four sets needed to finish with short breaks in between. Hawes was apprehensive because of the history with his knees, as he has had three surgeries on his left knee (including microfracture when he was 14) and an arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. What's more, he injured his left knee doing this conditioning test last season in what led to an arthroscopic procedure.

"I got to the point where I felt like it bothered me a little bit," Hawes said. "But I just decided if I could get through it and I didn't think it would pose a significant risk I'd go ahead and do it."

He consulted his doctor in Seattle and Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie again on Wednesday before going ahead with the test. Kings coach Reggie Theus, however, was as relieved as the rest.

"He looked like there was a building lifted off his shoulders (when he finished)," Theus said. "He saved us all a lot of grief. I'm happy that he decided to do the test." - Sam Amick

October 2, 2008
The Pedowitz Report is out: Bad day for conspiracy theorists

They opened the wound back up today, and it's not going to feel any better this time: the Pedowitz Report, the NBA's 14-month internal investigation headed by former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz, was released and found no facts to substantiate the claim by ex-referee Tim Donaghy that Game 6 of the Western Conference finals between the Kings and Lakers was fixed to ensure a Los Angeles win.

The 133-page report spent eight pages on Lakers-Kings. It was highly critical of the work of game officials Dick Bavatta, Bob Delaney and Ted Bernhardt, just as Pedowitz was during a media conference call following the release of the project, but drew a line between a bad job and a fix.

It's what the league had been saying for years. Similarly, Pedowitz backed David Stern's assertions that Donaghy was the only referee to have bet on games or supply gamblers with inside information.

There were new, mostly minor, sometimes-gossipy details regarding Game 6. Just no smoking gun.

*Several former colleagues believe Donaghy was referring to Bavetta and Delaney when he said two of the three refs were "company men" who would manipulate an outcome to please Stern. Donaghy was purposely vague and let the dark cloud hang over all three.

*An NBA review found 15 incorrect calls or non-calls those fateful hours at Staples Center, eight favoring the Lakers and seven favoring the Kings. In the fourth quarter, the most controversial time of all, the league determined that two favored the Lakers and one favored the Kings.

October 1, 2008
Training camp: Day 2

It may sound absurd, but I think I'm more ready for the two-a-days to be over with than the players themselves.

No, I'm not running any lines or even squeezing in a few pushups, but I am missing out on the best action that's taking place because of the format. The media availability all takes place after the morning session, with the curtain inside the practice facility unveiled for the majority of the practice.

But whereas the closed night session is mostly up-and-down scrimmaging, the part we see is mostly drills and walkthroughs. Once it gets down to one practice per day (which I'm not sure exactly when that is), we'll likely get a much better look at these guys on the go.

For now, here's what Kings coach Reggie Theus has been seeing.

"The enthusiasm level is strong," he said after Wednesday's morning session. "Guys are running hard. I'm really pleased with how things are moving along. We're throwing a lot of things at them, and they're picking it up quick."

And the scrimmage on Tuesday night?

"I thought it was good, (but) a little rough at times," he continued. "Guys are still in their summer mode of pounding the ball and not seeing other guys. When you play pick up ball, you're basically shooting whenever you want. In terms of implementing the system and all of that, I think we're moving right along."

Other updates from the day...

* As a follow-up to my piece today about Spencer Hawes and the mandated conditioning test, the Kings center told me that he will talk to Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie again and is still hoping to reach a compromise on the situation. When I asked him if he knew if he was going to be fined, he shrugged and said he wasn't sure yet.

Our own Melody Gutierrez asked Kings coach Reggie Theus if he had any updates, and he responded with a negative.

"None from me," Theus said. "I have no idea. I'm staying out of that. The rules are what they are and it's not going to change."

What's more, I learned a bit more about the conditioning test. As it turns out, they aren't suicides (which entail running in intermittent lengths on the floor back and forth). For big men like Hawes, they are required to run the full length of the court 10 times in 62 seconds (The time is reduced for other positions). That counts as one set, and they are required to do four sets with a short rest in between each one. Thus, the entire exercise takes 10 minutes or so. And, yes, you have to complete each set by the timeline in order to pass the test.

BLOG UPDATE (10:53 p.m.): I'm slowly but surely clearing up the more specific matters of this issue, and here's the latest: Technically, the list of players that haven't taken the test yet include Hawes, John Salmons (groin), Kenny Thomas (back) and Quincy Douby (excused - but not sure of exact reasons - and likely to take it on Thursday).
October 1, 2008
DeMarcus Nelson and his chances with the Warriors

With an upcoming companion piece on Ryan Anderson and his chances with the Nets


I suggested in mid-June, not long before the draft, that it may be better for Sheldon High product DeMarcus Nelson to not get picked, as much of an ego blow as it may be. Rather than go to the team that selected him, probably late in the second round, he could choose a preferred location, the best system to fit his athletic game, and the roster with the greatest need for a backcourt defender.

That's the Warriors. That's the Warriors in almost every way -- Northern California, speedball, and definitely desperate for defenders.

It could be a nice little story. Well-liked guy, born in Oakland, played three seasons at Vallejo High before transferring to Sheldon for his senior year. Maybe help rescue the Warriors in the wake of the Monta Ellis ankle injury and the playoff appearance in 2007 and near miss in '08 that is looking more like an outsider's chance in '09.

Or it could be a massive letdown waiting to happen.

Ideal situation or not, it doesn't change the reality that Nelson is on the bubble, even as the second-best defender in the backcourt (behind swingman Stephen Jackson), even with Ellis expected to miss months, even with a level of toughness and a heart the Warriors love. His offense is just not good enough, and most anyone who isn't at least a decent shooter from the perimeter is going to have a hard time playing for Don Nelson.



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