Kings Blog and Q&A

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

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Zachary Andrews, the former Cordova High and Bradley University star who spent the past four years playing overseas, just left a message on my phone. It's all good. He has been added to the Lakers training camp roster.

The 6-foot-9 forward was called up from the Lakers D-League affiliate - the L.A. Defenders - earlier today. He averaged 11.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists while starting all eight games for former Kings coach Eric Musselman.

Since returning spring from Japan, where he played last season, Andrews, 26, also has become a vocal advocate for the Sacramento area homeless. He continues to speak openly and publicly about his own trying boyhood and the perils of "couch surfing" - the practice of moving from home to home, seeking shelter from friends, teachers and relatives. He credits his coaches and teachers at Cordova for getting him through high school and helping him earn a scholarship to Bradley.

A lifelong Kings fan, Andrews' dream was to be signed by the hometown team. But as he told me several weeks ago when he signed with the Defenders, he would have no problem setting aside his loyalties for a chance to make the Lakers squad. If he fails to stick after training camp, he would return to the D-League.

December 7, 2011
Kings back in black

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I just came back from Arco Arena - oops, I mean Power Balance Pavilion - for the unveiling of the Kings new alternative jerseys. Since black is my universal choice for clothing of all types and circumstances (formal, casual, semi-formal) anyway, I thought the jerseys were sleek and impressive, and a major improvement over those gold alternative unis that were introduced a few years ago. The new black jersey has "Kings" scripted in silver (with purple edging) across the front. While I could have done without the roundish retro lettering, overall, I suspect the look is going to be extremely popular.

As for the price, the replica jerseys sell for $44 (kids) and $59 (adults), with the authentic uniforms tagged at $250 and $275.

One more clothing aside before we let the fashion experts take over: The Kings are marketing the Dec. 26 season opener against the Lakers as a blackout night. They will distribute 17,317 black T-shirts as fans enter the building. Additionally, those who purchase the "Back in Black" four-game ticket package (Lakers, Bulls, Knicks, Hornets) receive different T-shirt to all the games.

Taking nothing away from previous Kings assistants, but the recent additions of Keith Smart and Jim Todd strengthen Paul Westphal's staff appreciably. Jim Eyen is the lone holdover from last year's Kings staff that included Mario Elie and first-time assistants Truck Robinson and Otis Hughley. Smart, who was released as Warriors head coach at the end of last year, and Todd, whose hiring was announced earlier today, come with extensive coaching portfolios. With a young team built around bookends Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, the moves make perfect sense.

Smart has been a head coach in the now defunct Continental Basketball Association and was a longtime Warriors assistant before succeeding Don Nelson juist prior to the start of 2010-11. Todd has been an NBA assistant with the Bucks, Clippers, Hawks and Raptors, been head coach of the Clippers, and been an assistant and head coach in college. Additionally, he brings a wealth of international experience, having coached in China and with the Canadian national team.

Kings spokesman Chris Clark said all the team ticket representatives will be working the phones when the 2011-12 NBA schedule is announced today at 4 p.m. While individual game tickets will not be available for a few more days, a number of packages are available, including:

• Full season tickets.

• The Big Game Plan. This features nine of the most attractive home games, plus the Dec. 26 season opener against the visiting Lakers.

• The Weekend Plan. This includes nine weekend games, plus the season opener.

• The Flex Plan. Fans choose their nine games.

Additionally, the Kings are releasing a limited number of $10 (per game) season passes to home games, and on Friday, the team is holding an open house for fans wanting to choose their seats for season and partial plans. Within the next few days, I am told, more plans will be announced. The number to call is: 888 91 Kings.

For those who might be following the career of Zach Andrews, the former Cordova High and Bradley University standout who spent most of his prep career "couch surfing" around Sacramento, here is a quick update: Andrews, who grew up wanting to play for the Kings and hoped to sign with their D-League affiliate (Reno Bighorns) after playing professionally overseas the past four years, signed instead with the LA D-fenders, the Lakers' D-League squad.

Eric Musselman - yes, that Eric Musselman - offered Andrews a contract after a D-League tryout last month in Los Angeles. The 6-foot-9 forward, who was all-conference at Cordova, opted to take the deal rather than risk not making the Bighorns roster during a subsequently scheduled tryout. In a recent conversation, though, Andrews, who was profiled in The Bee on Oct. 16, said he will remain a vocal advocate for the homeless in his hometown.

As for his hoop dreams? Up and down. The forward/center scored nine points and grabbed 13 rebounds Friday in the D-fenders season opener, then struggled through an 0-for-4, four-rebound performance Saturday night.

November 26, 2011
Kings await schedule info


While waiting to hear details about the 66-game schedule the NBA plans to introduce now that a collective bargaining agreement has been reached in principle, it will be interesting to see if the Kings open the season at home or revisit their long road streak. The original 2011-12 schedule had the Kings hosting the Houston Rockets in the season opener at Power Balance Pavilion. That game would have broken the Kings' seven-game streak of opening on the road. (The last home opener? LeBron James' debut). Additionally, the Kings would have played four of their first five games at home, including an early visit by the Lakers. Now, let's see.

There have plenty of people reminiscing about the 20-year anniversary of Magic Johnson's announcement that he had contracted HIV, but here are a few additional thoughts. As someone who covered the NBA in Los Angeles during the Showtime Era, and then moved to Atlanta in the late 1980s, I was among those devastated by the news in both a professional and personal sense. Earvin was someone I knew well, and we thought he had just received a death sentence.

So, among my recollections are these thoughts:

• Jerry West, Mike Dunleavy, the late Chick Hearn and the Lakers players were about as forthright, supportive and dignified as it gets. I will never forget the sight of West sitting alone in the stands at the Forum before the Lakers ensuing home game, knowing that dozens of reporters had flown to Los Angeles to cover the story, and waiting to be approached. His tears flowed. The same could be said of Chick. He sat there, overwhelmed and overcome, but still talking about his beloved Earvin.

• Earvin retired after the announcement before the 19991-92 season, but he stayed on the original 1992 Dream Team, which had been named a few weeks earlier. The following Summer of '92 was incredible, still the highlight of my 30-year career. Only a handful or so of us journalists accompanied the team during the training camp in La Jolla, the Tournament of the Americas in Portland, and before the Barcelona Games, to a week-long training session in Monte Carlo. Monte Carlo? In the same hotel with Magic, Larry, Charles, Michael, Stockton, Malone, Mullin, etc.? Practices, dinners, drinks and informal gatherings? Are you kidding me?

The most memorable moment of the entire summer, however, took place during an exhibition game between Team USA and France in an arena just outside Monte Carlo. The politics of Magic's AIDS announcement were still dicey - Jerry Colangelo, Mark Price, Karl Malone and others within the U.S. had expressed concern about his presence on the court. Additionally, a few players from Australia had popped off with similar concerns. But, c'est la vie. Or, vive la France! My peeps (my last name means neighbor in French) welcomed Earvin that night with a warmth, pomp and circumstance and repeated ovations that, frankly, had all of us jaded journalists pretty much reaching for the tissues. Prince Albert and Prince Rainier were a few seats away, and engaged in the entire evening. The public address announcer wore a tuxedo and was, so typical of the French, totally theatrical, embellishing every one of Magic's passes, layups or rebounds.

Again, to think that Earvin is alive and thriving, 20 years later, is more than amazing.

One more thing: For those of us journalists who have continue to cover multiple sports but were assigned to the NBA in the 1980s, the Magic-Bird rivalry was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Though this is totally out of character, Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof are adhering to David Stern's gag order regarding NBA labor relations and biting down hard on their tongues. Normally, these guys can't help themselves. They are universally regarded as two of the most accessible and approachable owners in the league. But their allegiance to Stern - and his threat and/or levying of hefty fines - has kept them quiet. And believe me, I've tried. My colleagues also have been texting them like crazy, to little avail. (Hey, they've lost enough money of late, right?)

On Monday - which would have been opening night of the 2011-12 regular season - Stern hit Miami Heat owner Micky Arison with a $500,000 fine for his labor-related tweets with fans. The Commissioner previously fined Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan $100,000 when MJ offered his thoughts on the situation.

While no formal meetings between the league and the union were scheduled as of late Monday, rest assured, they're working the back channels. The way these NBA labor dealings usually transpire, representatives from both parties secretly meet to try to bridge the differences. And since the differences seem to be narrowed to the split of basketball-related income (BRI), meaning they're not very far part, one has to suspect that private conversations remain intense and ongoing.


In terms of the 2011-12 NBA season, today looms as a pretty significant day. The league and its union representatives met for a marathon 15-hour session that began at noon and lasted untl the wee hours, with talks scheduled to resume at 3 p.m. (Hey, at least it's New York, so I am assuming a few delis were still open when David Stern, Adam Silver, Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher, etc., left the hotel). The length of the negotiations - coupled with their post-session comments and the subdued, serious tenor of the parties during ensuing press conference televised on NBA.TV - at least hints of progress.

Stern, who left talks last week with a case of the flu and appeared absolutely exhausted, described the meetings as "a solid day of negotiations." Hunter similarly declined to discuss particular issues, other than to acknowledge the talks focused on "system" rather than the split of basketball-related revenues, but added that, "depending on how much progress is made tomorrow (Thursday), we'll be prepared to discuss specifics of a deal."

Anyway, it certainly sounds like there is more to come, and sooner rather than later.


No question, I am very surprised that the league and its player union failed to reach a tentative agreement after meeting extensively these past few days. As I wrote last week, I told two friends that a deal would get done without the NBA losing any games - and bet them both a couple of beers. Well, at least I was thinking domestic (cheap) beers. This is also why I might be one of few former Las Vegas residents who never spent time at the tables in the casino!

Meantime, if the parties resolve the issues without further delays, the Kings will still open the season at home - Nov. 16 against the Washington Wizards. John Wall's presence nothwithstanding, somehow, that lacks the cache of a canceled home opener against the Houston Rockets (and new coach Kevin McHale), and the first visit by the post-Phil Jackson Lakers. This also means no Sacramento reunion this season with Cleveland Cavaliers forward Omri Casspi, and one less matchup with the Warriors in Oakland.

This could be the least of it, though. Who knows?


Approximately 15 owners were expected to take part in the collective bargaining talks today in New, but according to Kings publicist Chris Clark, the Maloofs are not among them. Co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof tend to side with NBA Commissioner David Stern on most matters, and from what I have been told, they already have weighed in heavily on the need for a more generous revenue-sharing program. Today's meeting is critical. If progress is made, the parties will continue negotiating throughout the weekend.


So who says NBA officials always steal the attention? The league and its referees reached an agreement - very quietly reached an agreement - on a new five-year deal that was ratified by the owners Thursday in Dallas. (This means the refs occupied at least a few minutes of the owners' time amid discussions about their labor impasse with the players). The refs were working on a two-year deal they signed in 2009, but only after a league-imposed lockout left them watching replacement refs turn preseason games into even slower, more laborious, overregulated endeavors than usual. This year, the refs were up against it. With the players and leagues feuding, it was pretty wise to take what they could get, including the stability of a five-year contract.


Remember the WNBA

I saw a few familiar faces during the ESPN2 telecast of the New York Liberty-Indiana Fever opening round playoff game at Conseco Fieldhouse. Former Monarchs coach John Whisenant, who in his first year with the club, guided the franchise into tghe WNBA Playoffs, was there on the sidelines, arms crossed most of the time, as usual. In the deciding final minute, Nicole Powell, whose last-second jumper in Houston made the Monarchs' 2005 WNBA Championship possible, inbounded the ball to a wide open Cappie Pondexter for what would have been a game-winning three at the buzzer. Instead, the ball bounded off the back of the rim, enabling the Fever to capture the best-of-three series opener.

Yeah, we miss the Monarchs.

August 24, 2011
Kings, NBA, and booze


With so much media attention directed at the violence that erupted at last Saturday's Raiders-Niners preseason game, I was curious about the Kings' policy regarding liquor sales at Power Balance Pavilion. According to team publicist Chris Clark, the NBA requires that all teams stop selling beer and liquor at the end of the third quarter. The policy was designed to discourage fans from driving under the influence after games, though preventing unruly crowd behavior was certainly a consideration. Spectators who in fact have been removed from their seats by security offiicials are probably familiar with the two jail cells that are located behind the security entrance.

Greg Van Dusen, the Kings original vice-president who pushed for construction of jail cells in the rendering of Arco II, said one of his more frightening fan experiences occurred during a Solons game at Hughes Stadium in 1975.

"We had two fraternities from Sac State fighting," said Van Dusen, who operated the stadium at the time. "One of them had a pistol. We must have had 4,000 or 5,000 people at the game, but only three security guards. When the fight started, our sales manager and I came fying out of the press box and dove right in. We started pulling people apart. Some of the fans came over and helped us, thank goodness. The other night that aws pretty spooky was our "bat night" promotion, where we handed out those 19-inch bats to all our customers. People were beating the crap out of each other, so (laugh) we didn't do that one again."

Whatever can be said (and is) about Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn, he deserves credit for conducting a real coaching search - and helping to dispel the ridiculous notion that big name coaches aren't interested in small markets. Coaches care about one thing: talent. The longer the Wolves' search continues, the more interesting it gets. Bernie Bickerstaff. Don Nelson. Rick Adelman. Mike Woodson. Terry Porter. And according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Larry Brown is going to interview.

Nelson offers his uptempo offense, which would seem to benefit rookie Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. Adelman is a master of coaching ball and body movement, as was evident with his Kings teams. Additionally, his Blazers were exceptional in the open court. He also has a longtime relationship with Kahn - a former Portland Oregonian NBA beat writer - as has Brown, the ex-coach of his alma mater, who might be the best all-around coach in the league if you can get past his, um, issues. Bickerstaff is another highly regarded veteran coach who comes without the drama. (The obvious omission among available candidates is Jerry Sloan, but given Kahn's own quirky personality, that seems like a complete non-starter).

Basically, Kahn has been around long enough and worked in enough different capacities to know who he likes and doesn't like. He has also worked as an attorney for the NBA, was instrumental in the concept and financing of Conseco Fieldhouse, owned several D-League teams, etc.). If Adelman really wants the job, it would be hard to bet against him at this point.


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - I don't consider myself particularly prescient - count me among the Dallas Mavericks doubters, for example - but I'm pretty close on that Jimmer Fredette-Charles Barkley comparison at the Tahoe Celebrity Golf Tournament. The two finished the first round Friday tied at -30 - their terrible scores eclipsed only by Jay DeMarcus of the country band Rascal Flatts. Barkley, of course, is the famous hacker who arguably has become the face of the tournament. (No one engages the fans like Charles, who was in his usual rare form Friday). Fredette, the Kings rookie, had played 10-15 rounds of golf prior to the event, and accepted an invitation to hang with other celebs and mingle with fans. Though an intense competitor, he is as good-natured as advertised.


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - When Jimmer Fredette walked off the course a few minutes ago following his practice round at the Celeb-Am Tournament - and after he briefly signed autographs, as he did throughout the day - the crowd of about 50 spectators swarmed him and became unusually aggressive. He was pinned near the bleachers on the 18th hole, and it was a few minutes before security guards intervened and cleared a path to the clubhouse. A few adult males shouted obscenities as he moved toward the clubhouse, appearing flustered.


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - After presenting Jimmer Fredette with his award (best college player) at the ESPYs Wednesday night, Green Bay Packers quarterback and Chico native Aaron Rodgers gave the Kings rookie something of a pep talk.


"I've been a Kings fan for a long time," said Rodgers, the Super Bowl MVP, after completing his round Thursday at the Celeb-Am portion of the American Century Championship. "We've had some rough seasons. I just said, 'Hey, come on now. We've got to get this thing straightened out to the days of Vlade and CWebb and Bobby J, Mike Bibby, Peja, Christie. We've got to get some wins back.' "




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Jimmer Fredette laughs after several unsuccessful attempts to hit out of a bunker during the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in South Lake Tahoe. (Randall Benton/rbenton@sacbee.com)

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - Jimmer Fredette is a rookie at this. Seriously, he hasn't done this before.

Before his inaugural appearance Thursday in the celebrity pro-am at the American Century Championship, the Kings first-round draft choice had never played in a tournament, never played before a crowd, and could count the times he has ever lifted a golf club.

"About 10-15," Fredette said before heading to the course for what is essentially a practice round. "Don't expect much. I'll hit it pretty far, but I can't drive it straight. The ball slices on me."

Fredette, who attended the ESPYs in Los Angeles Wednesday night and was working on about four hours sleep, came as advertised. His drives had a wicked slice. He hit into a few bunkers. He struggled with his putts.

But he remained good-natured as he walked the course, often waving to a crowd of few dozen that included his parents Al and Kay Fredette. At the driving range earlier in the day, the former BYU star was introduced to other notables competing in the tournament, among them, Charles Barkley, Kenny Lofton and Digger Phelps.

"I'm glad he came up here," Barkley said while taking a break in shade. "It's going to be good for him. He's in the NBA now. He's going to have four months to do nothing. You get tired of playing basketball every day. He's going to have to come up with some other hobby."

When Fredette approached a few minutes later and the two shook hands, Barkley cracked, "I want to see how you play. Don't get nervous out there."

Fredette, who met Dirk Nowitzki and several other NBA stars before receiving his ESPY award (fans vote) for the best college player, is paired with Tim Tebow and Herm Edwards and expected to tee off Friday at 11:35.

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.

Here are a few thoughts, insights and assorted observations on the Thursday's NBA Draft:

* It wouldn't be right to let Beno Udrih slip quietly out of Sacramento without mentioning his impressive rehab.

The player who once was traded by a frustrated Gregg Popovich, waived before he even got on the plane to his next destination (Minneapolis) and had another miserable Year II with the Kings, looked in the mirror and these past two seasons changed everything.

He worked himself into tremendous shape, served as a mentor to Tyreke Evans, and this past season was the Kings' most consistent player. His stop-and-pops from the foul line were money shots, and during his four seasons here, he learned to accept and absorb physical contact that routinely follows drives to the basket.


There is plenty more from George Maloof in tomorrow's Bee, but here are a few other additional topics that I found interesting. I will start by saying how surprised I was by his attitude; he no longer sounded like someone seething about the NBA/owners' refusal to endorse the Kings' attempted relocation to Anaheim two months ago. After spending more than an hour with him at the Palms Casino - of which the family recently relinquished controlling interest to elminate their debt - I came away thinking that the Maloofs never really change. Say what you want - and anyone who aspires to own a professional franchise has to be more than a little eccentric - but the Maloofs are a transparent, straightforward bunch. They don't keep secrets well.

So back to George, who will oversee all future arena discussions for the family, and who strikes me as genuinely determined to getting something done in Sacramento. Maybe that's because the league doesn't (a) want to give up this market (remember Seattle), (b) doesn't want a third team in southern California and (c) is intent on securing substantial revenue sharing relief for small market owners in the new collective bargaining agreement? Who knows what's in the heart? Then there's the fact the Maloofs only own two percent of the Palms, with an option to purchase 20 percent in the future. In other words, the Kings rule.

Or let's just say, these circumstances and these Maloofs remind me of the Maloofs who bought majority interest in the Kings in 1999 and immediately (and successfully) began wooing the community. We are talking fullblown love affair, folks. They were attentive, eager, engaged, and committed to putting a winning product on the court. (The Palms, by the way, was a blueprint at the time). That entire concept - a winning product on the court - is huge here. There will be plenty more to say about that in the future. Meantime, a few other leftovers from a recent, typically blistering Las Vegas afternoon with George:

* On the ongoing attempts to secure financing for a sports/entertainment complex in Sacramento: "I don't think we have ever been involved this intimately, on a daily basis. I think the community is doing a great job, and the mayor (Kevin Johnson) has been incredible. We had to have somebody there to to take the lead politically. Everybody's trying, so if everybody's trying, something good can happen. I'm more confident that at any time in the past. We all want to make it happen."
* On the alleged family feud about whether to file for relocation or remain in Sac: "We never lost our cool (laugh), never started yelling or anything. But it was hard, because we were torn. Adrienne, Phil, we all had our say. (Matriarch) Colleen was on the fence. We just were so concerned about making the right decision. And I think we have."
* On failed ballot Measures Q & R in 2006: "We never had a chance. That never should have gone to the ballot. It wasn't ready. And the main thing is, when you're negotiating something, you can't negotiate in public, and too much of that was public. You're sitting across a table from somebody, trying to do your best, they're trying to do their best, and things are said publicly and get misunderstood. It was strange. It was put together way too fast. And you can't play this stuff out in the media. It never works."
* On the downtown location: "Hey, I think Natomas is great. That's my opinion. We've got everything there. The off-ramps, the parking. It's the most natural location. Everybody is used to going there. But I also understand the downtown concept, I totally get that. Whatever works."
* On his sister Adrienne's role in the television series, "Housewives of Beverly Hills": I begged her not to do it. 'Don't go on, don't go on.' It's a reality show, and all that. We were all trying to protect her. She says, 'I'm going to do it.' And now I think it's great. She's terrific. She and Paul (husband, Dr. Paul Nassif) are totally themselves. It's all real ... we can't wait for the next season."
* On the current status of arena discussions: "I'm waiting to hear from ICON, sometime in the near future. I've been to Sacramento three times already. I just fly in and fly out, because I can't stay away from the Palms too long. it's 24/7. I have to be here. But when there's important stuff, I'll be there. And my brothers (Joe and Gavin) are there all the time now."

So, all of those folks you actually predicted the Dallas Mavericks would win the championship, stand up and take a bow. Most of us were fooled. Sometimes, when you spend a lot of time around the modern NBA - the ESPN specials, the preseason celebrations, the star power, the bells and whistles in the arenas - you can almost forget that teams wins championships. Here are a few things that resonate after Dallas' impressive finale Sunday evening:

• Dirk Nowitzki is not Larry Bird, so that chatter needs to stop. Bird was a triple-double threat every time he stepped on the court. But similar to Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and all the greats, Dirk improved his game every offseason. Bird, who is ambidextrous anyway, mastered the lefty runner. Magic improved the range on his jump shot. Jordan became a superb outside shooter. Scottie Pippen developed a jumper. Dirk no longer lingers on the perimeter, and attacks the basket with both his right and left hand. In fact, he used his left hand on most of late-game drives during these Finals. He is older, wiser, better, tougher.

• Hard to believe we're even saying this, but after eight years in the league, LeBron James still needs to develop his off-ball skills. As ABC/ESPN analyst Jon Barry cautioned before the series, LeBron's skills in many respect duplicate those of Dwyane Wade.

• Love this comment from Mavs veteran Jason Kidd: "That was our theory all season, make multiple passes. If you make more than two passes, guys are going to give up." Or, as Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said during his post-game, on-court interview, his players "trusted the pass." Admittedly, I'm a ball movement fanatic. I never, ever, ever, want to see the 1-4 offense again .... it's bad basketball, and bad for the league.

• Carlisle was simply superb. First of all, he wasn't afraid to coach his big personalities, which separates him from too many of his peers. He moved J.J. Barea into the starting lineup midway into the series. He sat his superstar, Nowitzki, for defensive purposes during last-game situations. He turned to Brian Cardinal when Peja Stojakovic was totally ineffective. How many coaches have the guts to make those moves? And he repeatedly disrupted the Heat with a zone defense -- a defense few NBA teams have a clue how to attack. As I have said for years, and will continue to say, the importance of coaching in this league cannot be overstated, particularly in the playoffs. Leadership. Adjustments. Tough lineup decisions. Tough in-game decisions. Carlisle, who was known as "Flip" because of his big feet during his playing career with the Boston Celtics, was a master of his circumstances.

• None other than Jerry West offered high praise for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Carlisle - whom he jokingly referred as "Jim Carrey, Jr." on Friday during Mark Jackson's introductory press conference in San Francisco. Couldn't agree more. Spoelstra had an impossible job given the LeBron theatrics, his lack of a low post presence, and the esteemed Pat Riley looking over his shoulder. And, interestingly, Carlisle was more flexible and more demanding than during his previous coaching tenures in Detroit and Indiana. Class acts, both of them.

• Finally, kudos to Dirk. This is a different guy than five years ago. He was not going to lose ......


Ruthie Bolton, a member of the original Monarchs (now-defunct) franchise, will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend in Knoxville, Tenn. I saw here several weeks ago, and she was extremely excited about the awards ceremony. She continues to live in Sacramento and shows up at various Kings events and other local events. Other inductees include former WNBA and Olympic star Vicky Bullett, coach Muffett McGraw and Val Ackerman, the former NBA attorney (and salary cap whiz) who lobbied and badgered and begged David Stern, Russ Granik and Rod Thorn into forming a women's league in 1997.

Mark Jackson's quick trip

New Warriors head coach Mark Jackson will be introduced at a press conference this afternoon at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco. Don't envy his travel schedule. The departing ABC/ESPN analyst planned to take a flight to the Bay Area late Thursday after broadcasting Game 5 of the NBA Finals, then head cross country for Sunday's Game 6 in Miami.


A few late thoughts on Game 5:
* LeBron James. Two points in the fourth quarter. The mystery deepens. Actually, this is absolutely crazy.
* I totally agree with ABC/ESPN analyst (and former Kings guard) Jon Barry. This series does not rank among all-time great NBA Finals in quality of play, but in terms of competition, defense and intensity? Incredible. Can't believe it all ends within a matter of days.
* Mark Cuban has been so uncharacteristically quiet, he must be ready to pop. If the Mavericks ultimately prevail, will he have to be sedated?
* Jeff Van Gundy should be coaching somewhere in this league. Still don't understand why the Lakers didn't make a serious run at hiring him.

Final thoughts on a great player

Mike Mitchell, who was one of the league's premier small forwards in the 1980s, died of cancer. He was only 55. Though he flourished in spite of Ted Stepien's wacky reign with the Cavaliers (1978-81), his best seasons were with the San Antonio Spurs. On a roster that included George Gervin, Artis Gilmore and Johnny Moore, the 6-foot-7 Mitchell four times finished in the top 10 in scoring. Over a 10-years career, he averaged 19.8 points and 5.6 rebounds. He also shot 49.3 percent - very impressive given the percentage of attempts that were jumpers. The thing I'll always remember? Besides the fact his Spurs could never get past Magic's Lakers? That smooth, effortless jumper. He had great rotation on the ball, and every time he gathered one of those perfectly placed passes from Moore and released one of those familiar 18-20 footers, you expected the shot to drop into the net. Condolences to his family ....


The Warriors' hiring of Mark Jackson a few hours ago caught most Bay Area types by surprise. The sense was that the process would drag on for another week or so, with owner Joe Lacob waiting to speak with Dallas Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey after the NBA Finals. But Lacob just seems to love the drama. He loves the surprises. (See his hiring of Jerry West as a consultant). Whether he has a clue about successfully running an NBA franchise is another matter. This is a risky hiring, to say the least.

Jackson, who is working on ESPN/ABC's announcing crew during the Finals, has never been a head coach, an assistant, or worked with a team in any other capacity.
Nonetheless, we know this much about the incoming Warriors coach: He was a headstrong, clever, old-fashioned, playmaking point guard who finished his career trailing only John Stockton and Jason Kidd in total assists. Applying a little logic here - always a danger when dabbling in the NBA - Jackson's hiring surely seems to further the notion that the Warriors plan to bust up the undersized backcourt of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis. It doesn't work and was never going to work. Ellis, who was skeptical from the start, was only telling it like it was. And is. Serious trade talks to continue.

Here are a few musings, notes and observations about the Kings' reunion barbecue at Power Balance Pavilion that was a combination fan fest, season ticket pitch and feel-good moment for a fan base that seems to be completely invigorated following the team's near-move to Anaheim.

Maybe everyone is still in shock - the Kings are still in Sacramento! - but there was a real energy and enthusiasm in the building. Quite a contrast to the April 13 sob fest, when it seemed liked a foregone conclusion that the team was moving to Anaheim. Anyway, it was an interesting afternoon, to say the least:

• Brad Miller, who maintains his home in Sacramento, surprised everyone when he showed up on crutches and revealed that he underwent the dreaded microfracture surgery a few weeks ago on on his left knee. He has a year remaining on his contract with the Houston Rockets and hopes to resume his career at midseason. Ouch. Good luck. Remember Chris Webber.


Shaquille O'Neal's decision to retire was not a stunner, but it still deprives the league's of one of its truly great characters. Shaq was a load! Similar to what Bobby Jackson told me earlier today, you almost can't appreciate his size - 7-foot-1 and anywhere from 300-400 pounds, given the months - until you are physically in his presence. Surprisingly, he spoke in a whisper. When we were having lunch in a downtown Atlanta restaurant prior to the 1996 Olympics, he literally took the tape recorder out of my hand and held it up to his mouth, explaining that his voice simply didn't resonate. Anyway, he will be missed. And if the NBA wants to become even more popular, it can only hope that similarly charismatic personalities emerge in the future.

A few other musings about Shaq:
* It truly bothered him that Christian Laettner was the token collegian on the 1992 Dream Team roster that consisted of Magic, Michael, Larry, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Clyde Drexler. Shaq should USA Basketball should have selected him instead of Laettner, and frankly, it would hard to argue otherwise. And, yes, he missed out. There will never be another Barcelona.
* He and his Laker teammates obsessed about the Kings while sweeping the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals. And to this day, Kobe keeps telling me the Kings were the better team that year and that Sacramento should have prevailed and gone on to win a championship.
* The Big Aristotle - my favorite of Shaq's self-declared nicknames - said he broke both wrists while trying to shimmy between two trees when he was a kid. Both arms were placed in casts, and he was never regained full range of motion on his right hand, leading to his "pushing" motion on his shooting touch. Or, lack of shooting touch.
* Here's another reason Jerry West and Pat Riley run to the head of the class: they know how to recruit. Riley most recently wooed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami, but in 1996, Jerry West made an impassioned and successful last-minute pitch that lured Shaq to the Lakers. Into the final hours, Shaq, who was a free agent with Orlando at the time, was leaning toward re-signing with the Magic. Among other things, he prefers smaller cities and despised the traffic in Southern California. But when The Logo persisted, Shaq couldn't resist. As he said a few days later, "that was Jerry West. He kept coming at me. How do you say 'no?' "
* In essence, Shaq was a load, a huge load. Funny. Smart. Curious. Intriguing. Temperamental. Entertaining. Endearing. Often outrageous. Dominating on and off the court. He will be missed. Can I say that again? He ... will .... be ... missed!


I spent about 30 minutes Saturday catching up with Mike Bibby for a column in today's Bee, and wanted to add a few more offerings from the conversation. The former Kings point guard - affectionately referred to as "Bibbles" by several of my female colleagues in the office - was pretty funny. He still has that great laugh. With his Miami Heat hosting Game 1 of the NBA Finals tonight, he teased (Dallas Mavericks reserve) Peja Stojakovic from afar, reminisced about his 6 1/2 seasons with the Kings, and said he spent much of the weekend monitoring the girls and boys AAU teams he sponsors in his hometown Phoenix.

"My son (Mike) is on one of the teams," said Bibby, whose wife Darcy and four children remain in his hometown because of school. "He's my oldest, he's 13 now, but he's just like me. He ain't the fastest guy, but he's smart, heady, and he can play. That's what I told him will make him successful. Don't let anybody outwork him. I try to put him at the point, but he's pretty interchangeable - can play one, two or three. I learned some of that from Rick (Adelman). I try to incorporate plays I learned in Sac, Atlanta, and now here."

Bibby, who seemed to account for all the clutch shots during his time with the Kings, asked what was going on with Sacramento's arena situation. Similar to several of his former teammates, he has been following developments via newspapers and websites. As for the team he joined in March, he repeatedly mentioned how impressed he was with the defense. "It reminds me of my first year in the league (with the Vancouver Grizzlies)," he continued. "I remember playing San Antonio. Everywhere I turned, there was somebody guarding me, helping out. They (Spurs) made it hard to do anything. I haven't had that again until I got here. It's all about defense, helping out. I'm fulfilling my dream, playing for a championship."

May 30, 2011
Feeling the Heat


With the NBA Finals beginning tomorrow night, I'm predicting the Miami Heat prevail in six games - for these reasons:
* The NBA hasn't seen speed, athleticism and defensive intensity of this caliber since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The combination of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and, now, Udonis Haslem, is simply suffocating. When they move the ball, push the pace and play with this degree of syncronicity, Erik Spoelstra's club is virtually unbeatable.
* A healthy Haslem and Mike Miller (outside shooting and rebounding) are providing the depth the Heat lacked throughout most of the season.
* Dirk Nowitzki is a future Hall of Famer, but who else scores for the Mavs?
* Based on sheer talent, the Heat-Lakers would have been a more compelling championship series ... if the Lakers hadn't lost their way and Phil Jackson hadn't gone off the reservation.
* The intangibles proabably - probably - favor the Mavs, mainly because of experience and Dirk Nowitzki's lengthy quest for a title. But, please, stop with the comparisons to Larry Bird. Bird was a far superior rebounder, passer, playmaker. We're talking one of the game's all-time greats here. That said, Nowitzki is a 7-foot phenom, and after the Mavs' previous failure in the Finals, he's driven to make the most of his opportunity.
* Rick Carlisle and Erik Spoelstra have distinguished themselves as young, willful personalities who emphasize defense and can overcome the challenges that usually occur during 82-game seasons. Carlisle has learned from a few bruises incurred during his previous tenure in Indiana and Detroit, while Spoelstra is benefitting from his pedigree (his father Jon Spoelstra was a longtime NBA exec) and Pat Riley's omnipresence. As Paul Westphal said a few months ago, Riley basically "pantsed" the league with his aggressive and successful pursuit of James and Bosh. And long before teams became infatuated with "analytics" in player evaluations, Riley quietly was crunching the numbers and outworking his opponents. He might even be a better personnel guru than coach. Who knew?
So back to Spoelstra. What other 40-year-old coach has handled so many challenges with so much aplomb?

I'm on vacation this week, but felt compelled to post a few comments about former WNBA star Marge Dydek, who died earlier today in Australia after suffering a heart attack a week ago.

The woman known affectionately around the the league as "Large Marge," stood 7-foot-2, finished her career as the WNBA's all-time leader in blocked shots, and confounded everyone around her with her reluctance to ... dunk. One of the nicest, most unassuming people in the game, Margo believed that dunking - which she would do with ease during warmups - humiliated her opponents. Her kindness probably was her biggest fault, in a competitive sense, because she never became the dominant figure that many predicted when she was drafted No.1 overall in 1998 by the Utah Starzz. I distinctly remember that Jerry Reynolds, the Monarchs general manager at the time, was desperately hoping Utah would draft Dydek so he could pluck Old Dominion point guard Ticha Penicheiro with the No.2 pick. They did. And he did. Ironically, Penicheiro led the Monarchs to the 2005 WNBA Championship in a compelling series against Dydek's Connecticut Sun. Margo was only 37 upon her death and coaching basketball when she was stricken a week ago. Compounding the sadness, she was pregnant with her third child.


Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News is reporting that Jerry West is joining the Golden State Warriors in an advisory role. West, of course, hardly needs much of an introduction. The Hall of Fame guard was a two-time Executive of the Year while running the Lakers (1982-2000) - a span that included seven titles. More recently, he headed basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies (2002-07), started a biography that was supposed to have been finished a years ago, bought some land in his native West Virginia, and attended the unveiling of his statue outside Staples Center.

West, of course, has been rumored to be joining the Warriors on several occasions in the recent past. But Kawakami is a great source on this. A former Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, he has maintained a strong relationship with the man known around the league as "The Logo." The connection reportedly is this: Warriors new assistant GM Bob Myers is a former agent who worked for Arn Tellem, the powerhouse agent who is tight with West. It was Tellem, by the way, who orchestrated the trade that sent Vlade Divac to the then-Charlotte Hornets for high school draftee and future superstar Kobe Bryant in 1996.

(And since Jerry West is one of our all-time faves, we won't remind anyone that he also engineered the Grizzlies "gift" of Pau Gasol to the Lakers. He had concluded that Pau was another European softie who would never reach his full potential).

In a minute, I will get to the Jim Les/Scotty Brooks connection here, but by way of background: Oklahoma City coach Scotty Brooks made an extremely gutsy (and rare) coaching move when he benched starting point guard Russell Westbrook for the entire fourth quarter of the Thunder's 2 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. Westbrook, an immense talent who is still learning the balance between creating shots for himself and creating for others, was yanked after he committed a foul and his fourth turnover near the end of the third quarter. As he walked toward the bench, Brooks patted him on the back, but could be seen on camera telling his young star to "pass the ball." A visibly angry Westbrook responded - not clear what he said - and continued talking as he took a seat. Meanwhile, OKC held off the Mavs with Eric Maynor running the point.

So back to Les/Brooks: I finally caught up with new UC Davis men's basketball coach Jim Les a few minutes after the game. After we chatted about the Aggies for an upcoming column, I asked his thoughts about the decision by Brooks, another undersized point guard who made a nice living bouncing around the league. (Les gets props as both a former Kings reserve and Monarchs assistant).

"As a coach, you have to be true to yourself and true to your team," said Les. "You're not coaching one guy, you're coaching a team. It looked in that instance, he (Westbrook) wasn't willing to accept the coaching and stepped out of bounds. Absolutely, that's what it looked like. But if you have a problem, you want to express it in the locker room, not on the stage, not at that time. Scotty sent a message to his team. And there is no bigger message than coming out of there with a 'W.' ... I think coaches everywhere are smiling a little bit."

And Kevin Durant says ....

Any potential locker room issues resulting from the Westbrook benching were quashed by Kevin Durant mere seconds seconds after the buzzer. In an on-court interview with ESPN's Doris Burke, Durant quickly said he "wasn't surprised" by his coach's decision. Instead, the league's scoring leader praised Maynor for his floor game and for "getting everyone involved." In NBA parlance, that is a not-so-subtle dig at his starting point guard.

When the car gets dirty ...

Now that Les is back in the neighborhood, we should tell him about his former opponent's side business - Brooks and his family run Dribbles Car Wash in Manteca. Les and Brooks never played on the same NBA team, by the way, but also shared experiences in the World Basketball League and the now defunct Continental Basketball League.


At the season tickets holders viewing party earlier this evening at the Crest Theatre, I saw Jerry Reynolds and was reminded that he executed one of the Kings' best draft-day trades in the Sacramento: the swap that sent the No.3 overall pick (Billy Owens) to Golden State for Mitch Richmond in 1991. Reynolds duped Don Nelson on that one. While Owens had skills, size (6-foot-9) and tremendous length, he was one of those talented players who remain career underachievers. Richmond, of course, was among the league's premier scorers and the Kings' best player (of the Sacramento era) before being traded for ... Chris Webber. By the time Geoff Petrie traded his disgruntled veteran to the Washington Wizards, Richmond was a shell of a himself physically. (Petrie 1, Wes Unseld 0).


The kid scores twice for Cleveland

Was it possible for anyone not to be pulling for the Cavaliers after 14-year-old Nick Gilbert was introduced during the telecast? Forget the fact LeBron James dissed Cleveland last summer with his over-the-top "Decision" on ESPN. Cavs management had seven seasons to surround their superstar with a quality supporting cast and falied miserably. But when the little guy in the bow tie and black horned-rimmed glasses made his Lottery debut? Come on. Who didn't feel the tug on the heart? "Gavin called me later from (Secaucus, N.J.), and he said when he saw the kid walk up there, he knew it was all over," Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said good-naturedly a few hours after his club landed at No.7. "He stole America's heart, and then he went out there and beat everbody ... twice! I'm just glad that if somebody else was going to win besides us, that it was Cleveland." The dapper, diminutive Nick Gilbert suffers from a nerve disorder (Neurofibromatosis) that causes tumors to grow throughout the body.


Reynolds' take

Reynolds, who along with coach Paul Westphal represented basketball operations for the festivities at the Crest Theatre, summed up this year's draft accordingly: "It's not a deep draft. There are probably three to five players who could someday have an impact on the the NBA. But there are excellent role players and probably two to three players who will surprise you." Laughing, he added, "And there's probably another four to five players who won't be nearly as good as everybody thinks they are."

Quite the sight

Joe Maloof was a nervous wreck before the broadcast, but by the end of the evening, he was standing at the theatre exits, handing out T-shirts, signing autographs and posing for photos. "A few people even hugged me," the co-owner said, sounding surprised by the warm reaction from fans given the Almost Anaheim Arena Caper a month ago. "Everybody has been great to me. And the good thing about tonight .... nobody seemed devastated by the results. They're used to it by now (laugh). They know we're going to get a good player wherever we pick, or we're going to make a trade or something. Everybody trusts Geoff (Petrie)."

That first flight

Marcus Thornton made an appearance with his mother, Nancy West. The two flew in Monday from Baton Rouge, La. "This was my first flight in my 61 years," Ms. West said. "But it was nothing. It was really more boring than anything. I wasn't scared at all, and I'll be back. I'm going to come out here during the season and see my baby play."

The final word

Westphal, who seemed rested and relaxed after a grueling season compounded by the arena uncertainty, gets the final word. Asked whether team executives typically have hopes before the ping pong balls stop popping, he said, "Of course. It's like gamblers who get their hopes up when they roll the dice. But the odds are the odds. And hopes are not. It comes out the way it does and we'll deal with it."

The Kings improved their talent level immensely with their last two NBA lottery picks - at No. 4 and No.5 - Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins.

But then there's the one who got away. Geoff Petrie wanted Joakim Noah in the worst way in 2007, only to miss out on the Florida center by one spot. The Chicago Bulls selected Noah with the ninth pick, leaving the Kings with a choice between Spencer Hawes, Al Thornton, and not a whole lot more.

I was in New York covering the draft that year, and I remember talking to Petrie shortly after the festivities in Madison Square Garden. His disappointment was unmistakable during the phone conversation, though for obvious reasons, he tried to place a positive spin on the results.

The fact that the inexhaustible Noah was a huge Vlade Divac fan and admirer of the Webber-Divac-Bibby Kings, etc., only intensified his feelings.


While fighting the temptation to crown the Chicago Bulls as inevitable NBA champs following their dominating performance Sunday against the Miami Heat), some urges are just hard too resist, such as. This much can be said with certainty:
* The Bulls are not only the league's best defensive team, they are so fundamentally sound it's almost ridiculous. They block out, contest shots, almost instinctively cover for each other defensively, move the ball, and play with tremendous energy and intensity. TNT analyst Steve Kerr used the term "activity." Derrick Rose is the MVP, but the pieces simply fit, starting with center Joakim Noah.
* The 1-4 offensive set the Kings have utilized with Tyreke Evans isn't going to win a series for the Heat, either. Glad to hear Erik Spoelstra chiding his players for the one-on-one play during one of the timeouts.
* It's not the place, it's the management and players. Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni has to be wondering what he was thinking when he turned now the Bulls head coaching job for the allure of New York City. And other than weather, what's wrong with Chicago, anyway?
* Speaking of incredible crowds. The Bulls' fan support has been consistent and rabid for years. The old Chicago Stadium rivaled the Boston Garden and Portland's Memorial Coliseum as the loudest buildings in the league during the 1980s, and while the United Center is significantly larger, and fans aren't on top of the action like they once were, that place is deafening.
* The Oklahoma City Thunder followed the pattern favoring home teams in series-clinching games, but Lionel Hollins and his Memphis Grizzlies impressed. Hollins had an edge as a player, and as coach, that hasn't changed. Can't forget he was the coach who sent Allen Iverson off to Turkey because he told AI that (a) he wasn't going to be a starter and (b) he could deal with it or ... not.
* The Griz were so competitive, you almost forgot Rudy Gay was on the injured list.
* It will be interesting to see whether Scotty Brooks can convince Russell Westbrook to remember Kevin Durant in the upcoming matchup with the Dallas Mavericks. That's another thing about Rose. While he's definitely a "scoring" point guard, as opposed to a Steve Nash/Jason Kidd type facilitator, it never feels like he's dominating the ball.


I just heard from a Kings official who told me that because of logistical problems and limited seating (975 patrons) at the downtown Crest Theater, next Tuesday's NBA Draft Lottery party will only be open to season ticket holders. (Joe Maloof earlier in the day said he wanted the party open to the public). Fans can still get a taste of the event at nearby pubs and restaurants, but alas, beware of light rail. The public will be invited to an NBA Draft party next month, with details to come.


The Kings are planning to hold this year's NBA Draft Lottery event at the Crest Theater downtown, but since the facility has a capacity of 975, team officials are looking into the possibility of turning the event into a block party. Season ticket holders will be given first access to the seats - the organization's way of thanking them for investing in the season - but the event is open to the public. As of this afternoon, the Kings were trying to arrange for large screen televisions to broadcast the lottery both inside and outside the theater. TNT will broadcast the event live during halftime of the Western Conference semifinals between Dallas and the winner of the Oklahoma City/Memphis matchup. In the past two years, the Kings walked away with the fifth overall picks, and drafted Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, respectively.


Joe and Gavin Maloof seemed visibly relieved - and even surprised - by their overwhelmingly favorable reception at Monday's rally/celebration at Cesar Chavez Plaza. I listened intently when the Kings co-owners were introduced and interviewed during the 5-8 p.m. downtown event, and heard only the slightest hint at boos. Considering that the family attempted to relocate the franchise to Anaheim only weeks ago, it would be fair to say that the crowd was more than a little kind. Joe was particularly anxious before the event got underway - and he looks like the stress cost him about 20 pounds - but appeared to have a great time once everything got started. Gavin noted that he addressed the organization's employees the other day and received a "standing ovation" at the end. "I couldn't believe it," he said. "I think the thing is, we just want to put the past behind us and more forward. This really is about a city and its love affair with a team. Believe me, there are better days ahead."


The many signs

Several fans brought signs with them, and one in particular summed up the sentiment and the situation. It read as follows: They Came. They Played. They Were Loved. They Stayed. (And) we need an arena."

Together again

Former Kings Bobby Jackson, Doug Christie and Scot Pollard were cheered enthusiastically. While watching Jackson and Christie chat privately behind the stage, I couldn't help remembering how their defensive tenacity solidified the Kings as contenders in 2000.


Because of his rare display (of late) of temper during Game Two of the Lakers-Mavs conference semifinals, the NBA suspended Ron Artest for Friday's game in Dallas. Officially, the league said the former Kings forward was being punished for "swinging his arm and striking the face" of Mavs backup point guard J.J. Barea. This seems like a pretty obvious call. Artest, who was clearly frustrated as the Mavs ran out the clock in last night's 93-81 win at Staples Center, appeared to deliberately belt Barea in a motion that was close to being a punch. Unfortunately for Artest - and the Lakers, who are down 0-2 in the series - his actions detract from what has been a pretty remarkable personality/attitude adjustment. He recently was named recipient of the Walter J. Kennedy Citizenship Award for his commitment to raising mental health awareness. Contractually, the Lakers owe him $6.7 milion next season, and if he picks up the player option for 2012-13, will pay him $7.3 and $7.7 million in the final two years of the deal.


Though he certainly has more important things to worry about with his Lakers losing to the visiting Dallas Mavericks in the opener of the conference semifinals, Phil Jackson told reporters before the game that he apologized to the Maloofs for comparing them to former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. Major League Baseball recently took control of the Dodgers because of McCourt's financial problems. Jackson, the longtime Kings nemesis who for a decade has enjoyed bantering with Sacramento fans, acknowledged that he sent a handwritten note of apology to the Maloofs during the first round series against New Orleans. "Yes, I had a gun at my head, but ..." Of course, he works for Lakers owner Jerry Buss, lives with Jeanie Buss, and therefore, has sort of a rooting interest in the matter. The idea of three teams in Southern California clearly was resisted by his boss and members of the league's relocation committee. But there also is this: Phil has always appreciated the folksiness of the capital city. He was born in Deer Lodge, Montana, and leaves Los Angeles as soon as the postseason ends. Asked what he thought of the announcement Monday that the Maloofs were remaining in Northern California, at least for another year, Jackson added, "I think it's great for the Sacramento fans."

After engaging in numerous conversations earlier today with members of the Maloof inner circle, it became pretty obvious that Joe and Gavin Maloof's stature as the oldest of the five siblings was a huge factor in the family's decision not to buck the league's opposition to a move to Anaheim.

One thing about the Maloofs - they try not to mess in each other's business. Matriarch Colleen oversees everything. George handles the Palms. Joe and Gavin - known within the league as "the boys" - run the Kings. And even though the family only half-jokingly refers to George as the brains of the empire, there are clear lines of who does what. And clearly, Joe and Gavin are much more connected to Sacramento than the other family members. The prospect of leaving was particularly wrenching for Joe, who during a conversation Monday afternoon, acknowledged that serious differences of opinion about the Kings existed within the family.


After engaging in numerous conversations earlier today with members of the Maloof inner circle, it became pretty obvious that Joe and Gavin Maloof's stature as the oldest of the five siblings was a huge factor in the family's decision not to buck the league's opposition to a move to Anaheim. One thing about the Maloofs - they try not to mess in each other's business. Matriarch Colleen oversees everything. George handles the Palms. Joe and Gavin - known within the league as "the boys" - run the Kings. And even though the family only half-jokingly refers to George as the brains of the empire, there are clear lines of who does what. And clearly, Joe and Gavin are much more connected to Sacramento than the other family members. The prospect of leaving was particularly wrenching for Joe, who during a conversation Monday afternoon, acknowledged that serious differences of opinion about the Kings existed within the family.

A few other tidbits that emerged from today's announcement and David Stern's press conference: (1) the league's intention to "substantially" increase revenue sharing in the next collective bargaining agreement was no small factor in the NBA's decision to nudge the Kings back to Sacramento; (2) if a public/private agreement on a new sports and entertainment complex isn't moving along by next March, Anaheim merely gets back in line with the other suitors for the Kings; and (3) Kevin Johnson's background as a former NBA All-Star can't be understated. Owners love star power, particularly when it involves one of their own. The mayor's impassioned presentation before the Board of Governors - and his persistent presence in Stern's ear leading up to the meetings two weeks ago in New York - cannot be overstated. Placing Ron Burkle in play - either as a potential owner of the Kings or owners or of a future NBA franchise in Sacramento - was huge.

Ultimately, though, this came down to the other owners' skepticism about the viability of a third team in Southern California, Stern's reluctance to relinquish the Sacramento market, KJ's power play, and the gut-check impact of the community's impact on Joe and Gavin Maloof. Joe Maloof hates it when we refer to him as "emotional," but the guy can't resist a tearjerker. And while George Maloof appears miffed about the latest developments, in a second conversation late Monday night, Joe Maloof sounded totally enthused about coming to town with Gavin on Friday and beginning a push for season ticket sales, sponsorships ... and a new arena that would enable the family to remain economically viable in Sacramento and compete with the other 29 franchises.

Stay tuned.


Although the Maloofs have until Monday to file an application to relocate to Anaheim, sources close to the family expect an announcement before the weekend. I also continue to hear that diverging opinions exist within the family - some wanting to sell, others determined to retain ownership even if that means returning to Sacramento and figuring out a way to handle the situation from a p.r. standpoint. Ultimately, this is Joe and Gavin's deal. Unless the Maloofs are totally broke - some sources insist they are, others insist they will recover nicely after restructuringing their debt at the Palms - the brothers probably make the decision. Also true: they have been stung and stunned by the resistance from the Board of Governors and what we're hearing from the Relocation Committee. They hate being portrayed and/or perceived as villains, and are reluctant to alienate their peers, especially given the labor situation and ongoing collective bargaining talks. The timing of this is really lousy, both for Sacramento and the league. The economy here - in the capitol of California - is only sniffing at recovery. The league is in the midst of collective bargaining talks and trying to completely restructure its business model. The quality of the game isn't exactly Larry-Magic-Michael caliber. And you want to abandon another proven market? Three years after the Sonics leave Seattle? Not cool. Potentially, this is a public relations disaster for the league.


There was plenty of television coverage of the Kings fans camping outside the St. Regis Hotel during the Board of Governors meetings on April 14-15. A week later, it turns out, another 15 or so Kings fans gathered outside the NBA's Olympic Tower headquarters again last Friday - basically to keep pressure on the league while the relocation committee was evaluating the situation in Sacramento. Najib Benouar, a Sacramentan living in New York, sent me a video of the noisy gathering. Najib also said that while there was no sign of Commissioner David Stern, other league employees came downstairs and said the group was a hot topic of conversation on the 15th floor.

Kings fans video:

Uncertainty about the Kings' future in Sacramento has prompted two of the organization's business vice-presidents to pursue (and find) jobs elsewhere.

Tom Hunt recently took a position with Ted Leonsis sports group in Washington, D.C.

Only days ago, Mitch Germann accepted a job with a global public relations firm in Seattle. Both were highly regarded inside and outside the organization.


I was off for a few days, but it's impossible to stay away from this Kings situation, especially with relocation chairman Clay Bennett and NBA legal consultant Harvey Benjaming coming to Sacramento Thursday and Friday. While there has been considerable angst about Stern's selection of Bennett to head the committee - this is owner who moved the Sonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008 after all - I would just say this: Stern is too smart to be so obvious. He is also an attorney. If he wanted to simply rubber stamp the Kings' relocation to Anaheim or elsewhere, he would have put someone other than Bennett to lead the study. And he never would have agreed to extending the deadline to May 2. Just my opinion. Just too logical.

Interestingly, the committee is dominated by small to mid-market owners, including Greg Miller (Utah), Glen Taylor (Minnesota), Herb Simon (Indiana), Peter Holt (San Antonio), along with Miami's Mickey Arison and Philadelphia's Ed Snider. Again, while owners of small-mid market teams are not inclined to vote against another small-market owner who wants to relocate, mainly because they want to retain the option of moving into a major market if their franchise is unable to sustain itself economically at some future date, I would revisit the "too smart to be so obvious" theme. There is probably a back story here with collective bargaining discussions ongoing and small-mid market owners demanding "substantial revenue sharing" - a much larger contribution from teams in Chicago, L.A., New York, etc. But the Kings/Anaheim situation is just too fluid and dynamic to say much of anything with certainty, except to say that these next several days will be very, very interesting. Folks within the Kings organization say they are starting to believe the team is coming back next year ...

The Kings' overtime loss to the Lakers earlier tonight started later than usual and ended with a few thousand fans lingering at Power Balance Pavilion (it's still Arco Arena to me) in a pretty remarkable scene. With everyone in the SRO crowd aware of the circumstances, namely, that the Maloofs are meeting with the the Board of Governors Thursday in an attempt to relocate to Anaheim, the atmosphere before, during and particularly after the overtime loss was emotional, raucous, often tearful. Numerous fans were seen crying, especially during the aftermath. Here are a few interesting tidbits that occurred after deadline:

• A few thousand fans lingered in the arena for about 45 minutes, chanting "Here We Stay" and "Sac-RA-men-to." The commotion carried into the tunnel area outside the visitors locker room, where Phil Jackson was conducting his postgame interview. With his familiar half-smile, half-smirk, Jackson acknowledged the chants and again praised the fans. At one point, a curious assistant coach (and one-time Kings coaching candidate) Brian Shaw moved into the tunnel area and asked, "What are they saying?" Told that it was the "Sacramento" chant, he smiled, and nodded.

• Led by Donte Greene, Jason Thompson, Omri Casspi, Pooh Jeter, Francisco Garcia and Marcus Thornton - hope I'm not missing anyone here - came back onto the court after the game to celebrate the fans. Greene and Garcia took the microphone, while Thompson, who signed autographs for a long time before the game, ran courtside, high-fiving and hugging fans. Garcia looked like he was ready to cry a number of times.

A short while ago on TNT's post-game show, analyst Chris Webber and cohorts Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley devoted an interesting (and potentially significant) segment to the Kings' possible relocation to Anaheim. I transcribed the tape and will include most of the conversation below, the significance of which includes this: Webber saying he is engaged in talks with individuals intent on keeping the Kings in Sacramento; Barkley (jokingly?) saying he will invest "$10-15 million" to assist; Smth, also a former King, saying that, on the Kings worst nights, the fans were as lusty as they were during the years they contended.

Though Webber refused to be specific on-air about the extent of his commitment, after making a few late-night phone calls, I reached original Sacramento Kings executive vice-president Greg Van Dusen, who offered a few specifics. According to Van Dusen, Webber is willing to facilitate a deal - headed by Roger Stewart of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to "restructure" the city's $77 million loan to the club. Van Dusen, who is working with Arco I and II architect Rann Haight.

"We've been working on this for about three months," said Van Dusen. "The idea is to relieve some of the financial pressure on the Maloofs and the ownership group. Roger had a very positive conversation today (Tuesday) with Chris, who isn't only interested in helping, he wants to lead the effort to keep the Kings here. He loves Sacramento and thinks this is where the Kings belong."

Although I was unable to reach Webber at his home in Atlanta late Tuesday night, I am aware that he has made overtures about buying into the Maloofs' majority ownership, but has been rebuffed. Anyway, until further clarification, here is the majority of the conversation on the TNT show. Smith starts off by declaring that Kings fans were the same when the team was 9-29 and when Webber led the team that contended during the 1999-2004 seasons:

Webber: "I didn't want to go there (Sacramento). I tried to run away from there. They still accepted me. I can't imagine what Sacramento would be like without basketball ... I hope we do not lose the team. I've been talking to people there. I know everyone thinks the team is gone, but I'm doing all I can to keep the team there. I may sound like a fool on national TV, but I'm working to do that. Other people are working to do that ... It's very selfish. I won't have a basketball home if Sacramento doesn't have a basketball team. I was talking to (former Sonics star) Gary Payton. He doesn't have his jersey hanging in any arena. There is no team in Seattle. Selfishly for myself, and for the fans in Sacramento ....

Ernie Johnson: "What are you doing (to further efforts)?"

Webber: "What am I doing? I'm trying to keep the team here. We don't want to talk about it, but ... what else am I supposed to do? I love this team. I still want to have a home in Sacramento. Hopefully it's not a lost cause. I love Sacramento."

Barkley: "You know, it's very frustrating to me because I love the city of Sacramento, and I've said before, they had the best fans in the NBA for a long time. I really like the Maloof brothers. I want to make that clear. But I'm very disappointed ... because they should have found a way to keep that team in Sacramento ... I agree with Chris. Even when the team sucked, they (fans) were great. I mean, they were raising hell every night. I've always had great respect for the Maloof brothers. They've always been great to me. I'm just disappointed they didn't try harder to make it work ... It's like they (NBA, owners) screwed Seattle. That place was crazy. But Sacramento ... I agree with both of you guys. You all were great when you weren't very good. It was all the same.That place was loud. I hate the fact they're leaving Sacramento."

Click here to view the TNT segment.

Per the upcoming schedule for the NBA Board of Governors meeting in New York, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson said he is supposed to address the owners on Thursday "between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m." KJ sat courtside earlier tonight for the Kings' 120-112 loss to the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder.

Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof will be presenting their plan to relocate the Kings to Anaheim's Honda Center at some point Thursday. The deadline to file for relocation is April 18.

Although the timing of these situations tends to be fluid, Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof are expected to address the NBA Board of Governors regarding their plans to relocate the franchise to Anaheim at some point on Thursday.

The meetings are scheduled through Friday at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan.

Most of Friday supposedly is reserved for Stern to update the owners on the latest developments (or non-developments) regarding the league's expiring collective bargaining. A Kings spokesman indicated that all four Maloof brothers will be attending. The deadline for the Maloofs to file for relocation is April 18.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson also is traveling to New York and plans to lobby his city's case.


In an article posted earlier today in The Philippine Star, a columnist reported that a Filipino businessman is talking with the Maloofs about purchasing the Kings. Two things immediately struck me as not quite legit: the supposed $250 million sales price and the fact the businessman's identity was not revealed. Then, two sources totally quashed the deal - a high-ranking NBA executive who said he had not heard anything about this and Kings co-owner Joe Maloof, who texted that the entire matter was "ridiculous."

As the April 14-15 Board of Governors meeting (and that April 18 deadline to file for relocation) approaches, it will only get crazier. The Anaheim Royals? Doesn't quite grab you like Sacramento Kings, does it?

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

When I texted Kings co-owner Joe Maloof last night and asked if he planned to attend today's 5 p.m. "Here We Build" gathering at Cesar Chavez Plaza, his immediate response was a surprising "yes." I sent a second text a few minutes later to confirm, and this time he said he "might" make an appearance. Joe's presence would completely change the dynamic at the event, which is a grassroots attempt to keep the Kings in Sacramento long enough for the city and county types to produce an arena solution.

The Maloofs are in protracted discussions with Anaheim officials about a possible relocation to the Honda Center. They have to file relocation documents with the NBA by April 18.

Meantime, today's speakers are expected to include former Kings owner Gregg Lukenbill, county supervisor Phil Serna, city councilman Rob Fong, among others. If Joe Maloof showed, I can't imagine he wouldn't be handed the microphone, too.


Jim Thomas, the Los Angeles businessman who sold his majority interest in the Kings to the Maloofs effective July, 1999, attended tonight's Kings-Nuggets at Power Balance Arena. And how weird was this? Thomas sat in the courtside seats normally occupied by Joe and Gavin Maloof. When I caught up with Thomas in the tunnel at halftime, he managed to say he "wanted to see the team at Arco Arena (Power Balance) ...." before a Kings publicist intervened and abruptly said "no interviews." Not to put words in the gentlemanly Thomas' mouth, but it sure sounded like he was about to say .... "for one last time." Not that it's a secret. The Maloofs have indicated that their intentions to relocate the Kings to the Honda Center in Anaheim, where they would be known as the Royals.


GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Since arriving at spring training Sunday evening, I repeatedly have been asked for updates on the Kings' possible relocation to Anaheim. Sacramento's own Dusty Baker is the latest to inquire. Approached on the field a few minutes after his Cincinnati Reds dropped a 10-8 Cactus League outing to the A's, Baker immediately blurted: "The Kings aren't leaving, are they?"

"I've been following it (the situation)," said the Reds manager, whose family has had season tickets since the Kings arrived in 1985. His late father, Johnnie B. Baker, Sr., was a popular figure who ambled into the security entrance long before tipoff. He usually could be found chatting with ushers, security guards and many of the Kings players and executives he died in Nov., 2009. Dusty, who lives in Folsom during baseball's offseason, attended several games before spring training started.

"My son (Darren) is going to miss them if they go," Dusty continued. "He's just getting old enough to know all the players, getting into basketball. It'd be a big loss (if Kings relocated). What are you going to do in the winter? Some people go to 49ers games, Raiders games, Warriors games. But to be able to drive across town to see big league basketball ... your own team? (And) how many times can the Kings change towns?"

For the record: Since 1971, only one franchise in Major League Baseball has relocated - the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C., in 2005.


I am watching the first half of the Kings-Timberwolves game before heading to the airport for a trip to spring training, and it struck me that the Kings probably should have watched Stanford's NCAA Tournament victory over UC Davis. Tara VanDerveer - who could coach in the NBA, by the way - received 28 assists from the Cardinal. Their ball movement against the Aggies was extraordinary. As for the Kings ... they have the halftime lead over the lowly Wolves, but way too much one-on-one. We've seen too much of that this season .... players going solo instead of performing like a team.

With the Kings' possible relocation to Anaheim still the hottest of local topics, former Kings and current Rockets Brad Miller and Kevin Miller chimed in with some pretty forceful comments after Monday's game. Both players referred to Sac as sort of an NBA destination city in the early to mid 90s, largely because of the team's success and the impassioned (if diminished of late) fan base.

First, from Miller, who lives here in the offseason because "it's my wife's dream house," on the possible move:

"It stinks. You think obviously, of when I got here (2003). Sacramento is one of those places ... the arena is what it is, but it is as loud as can be. It would be incredible for the city itself just to have a better venue for concerts and other events, give the area a little more prestigious feel. It's what, Power Balance now? It's changed a lot, but it would be so sad to see the Kings leave because I don't think they would ever get a team back out here."

Miller, who grew up outside Indianapolis, also dismissed the notion that All-Star caliber players aren't attracted to smaller and mid-size markets. "I came to Sac ... the Kings kind of jumped in at the last minute ... I was going to go to Denver, and my agent said at the last hour, "hey, Sacramento came up.' I thought, 'wow.' I had played out here, I knew how crazy it was. It drew me in just because the team was so good."

Now, from Martin, who welcomed his trade to the Rockets a year ago because his backcourt pairing with Tyreke Evans was an absolute non-starter, not because he had soured on the community: "Speaking as a player who played here for six years, I can relate to probably what the fans are relating to, to maybe losing the team. That would be really sad for a player like me, like Brad. We wouldn't even be able to come back here and play. I mean, we get excited to come back here and play because of the way the fans support us. It's like ... what's this city going to be without a professional team? Every time I come here I get a great response from the great. It gets me going me."

Asked how he envisioned the fan base in Anaheim, he laughed. "It won't be like Sacramento fans. If they end up there, or wherever they go. The fan base ... they got some work to do to get on the same level as Sacramento fans."

My colleague, Jason Jones, quoted former Kings coach and current Rockets coach Rick Adelman at some length in Tuesday's Bee, but after acknowledging that arena endeavors would have been easier if the club had won a championship or two, the Kings' all-time winningest coach added one final thought: "This city deserves a team."

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

Former Seattle SuperSonics center Jack Sikma, now an assistant with the Houston Rockets, says he's still upset about the Sonics' move to Oklahoma City in 2008. A member of the Sonics team Lenny Wilkens coached to the NBA Championship in 1978-79, he still lives in the Pacific Northwest during the offseason. For obvious reasons, he has been monitoring the Kings' potential move to the Honda Center in Anaheim.

"It's depressing, is still hard to believe Seattle doesn't have an NBA team," the seven-time All Star said before the Kings-Rockets game. "You don't think it could ever happen, especially with a good fan base, the size of the city. It came down to the arena, and in Seattle, there are two other major league sports teams (Seahawks and Mariners) who worked their way through stadium deals. That never happened with the Sonics. And it happened so fast. I don't know how long the process was here in Sacramento, but the original Sonics group of Howard Schultz started the process and it didn't go well. They put the team up for sale (after five years) and sold it to an out-of-town group (OKC's Clay Bennett) pretty quick. They made a run at it, but that was the only commitment they had - to make a run at it."

Sikma, who finished his career with the Milwaukee Bucks, said the league's departure "left a sour taste" and harmed the NBA's image in the region. "They have probably done a better job here in Sacramento, trying to work through the process, show that they are trying to keep a team here," he continued. "It seems like they're doing the same thing in New Orleans. But in Seattle ... it didn't feel right the way it went down. It was devastating to all the businesses nearby, the people who worked in Key Arena. The whole thing was just very depressing."

I spoke with Chris Webber a few minutes ago, and the longtime Kings star is really upset about the club's potential move to Anaheim. Speaking from his home in Atlanta, Webber's voice was almost shaking. I haven't heard him like this since he shredded his knee against Dallas.

"I was talking to Kevin McHale the other night," Webber said, referring to his TNT colleague and Hall of Fame forward, "and the thing about Sacramento ... it's not like Seattle, where they may get another team. I believe if we lost our team we will never see basketball in Sacramento. I know if we lose the Kings, we will never get one back. I don't want the team to go."

Webber, whose No.4 jersey hangs from the rafters in Arco, wouldn't say much more. But I got the sense that he was going to be burning his cell phones minutes trying to see if there's anything he can do.

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

After talking with Kings and league types over the weekend, I learned that one reason the Maloofs were reluctant to attend Monday's game was that they were fearful of opening their mouths - a common occurrence - about the arena situation.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has urged them to remain mum on the topic and their local handlers have advised them to stay away from Arco because they are famously accessible and accommodating to members of the media. Nonetheless, after being advised against doing so by some of their handlers, Joe, Gavin and George Maloof will be at the game. (I was told earlier that Stern threatened with a fine, but the Kings say this isn't the case.)

Joe tweeted that the information late Sunday morning. Interestingly, George Maloof, who runs the Palms resort in Las Vegas, has long been considered the family's most ardent supporter of having a franchise in Sacramento. He thinks this is a terrific market. Like I said. Interesting.

February 27, 2011
Maloofs will be there Monday

Joe and Gavin Maloof are going against the advice of their handlers by coming to tomorrow's Kings-Clippers at Arco Arena. Their p.r. people tried to convince them to stay away - not for fear of the fan reaction, but rather, for fear they would break their vow of silence and say something about the hush-hush arena negotiations that are ongoing with with officials in Anaheim. Internally, the debate persisted throughout much of the weekend. The co-owners - being the bosses - prevailed a few hours ago and tweeted that they will be in their courtside seats on Monday.

February 24, 2011
Amway Center tops the list ...

ORLANDO - I just spent a few hours touring the brand new Amway Center with Magic CEO Alex Martins and media director Joel Glass and came away beyond impressed. As I wrote hours earlier, I am preparing an in-depth article next week that addresses how the league's newest sports/entertainment complex was financed, the entitites and officials involved, why the process took 11 years to complete, etc. But for a quick peek: The arena is compact (built on nine acres), spectacular and functional. It is easily the standard for new NBA arenas, or as David Stern has said, for any new arenas around the world. When I arrived, the crew for Brad Paisley was hauling equipment into the locking docks, and the logistics seemed pretty easy - in the doors and right onto the stage. Before I return to Sacramento and start writing, here are a few facts:

• Opened in October 2010.

• Cost $385 million, $5 million in cost overrides paid by the club.

• Located in downtown Orlando, connected to the Church Street entertainment district.

• Owned and operated by the City of Orlando.

• Seating capacity of 19,000 can be expanded to 20,000

• Primary funding source: A one cent increase in tourism tax (from five to six cents); half of that additional center is designated for tourism

• The deal is three-pronged and includes the Amway Center, the Perforrming Arts Center and renovations to the Citrus Bowl.

• All signage and advertising within the arena is digital.

Ok, we'll offer Bee readers a closer look next week.

February 24, 2011
Amway Center on the agenda

ORLANDO - While our beat writer, Jason Jones, rejoins the team today in Charlotte, I am staying here for a better look at the brand new Amway Center. I set up interviews several weeks ago regarding the league's newest facility months ago, long before the threat of a Kings relocation became real. Magic CEO Alex Martins, a former team publicist who worked his way up and now basically runs the club, is meeting with me shortly. He promises a full tour of the premises. I'll offer a brief impression later - though I was there last night and already fell in love the place - and write an in-depth article next week.

February 23, 2011
In-game blog

Final: Kings 111, Magic 105

ORLANDO - There are plenty of distractions swirling around the Kings, but this was their best effort since the victory at Phoenix on Feb. 13. Maybe the Carl Landry trade shook up a few players? Regardless of the source of motivation, the Kings couldn't have played much better, or more collectively. Cut out some of the turnovers, and they walk out of their spectacular new arena with a victory. They passed the ball (30 assists), attacked the boards, challenged inside shots, really pushed the pace, and received strong performances from several players, among them Beno Udrih, Omri Casspi, Samuel Dalembert, Jason Thompson, Luther Head and Jermaine Taylor, the second-year guard who attended Central Florida and was playing in front of 20 or so friends and relatives. With 48.9 remaining, though, it was Thompson, who was shooting 63 percent from the line, who sank two free throws. After Hedo Turkoglu missed a three while defended tightly by Casspi, Head converted the clinching jumper from the right wing. The bench erupted like the Kings had won a title or something. Or something.

February 23, 2011
Arena chatter travels east

ORLANDO - The arena situation in Sacramento is generating an inordinate amount of attention here, largely because the Magic franchise was in a similar situation before an agreement was reached to built the brand new $380 million Amway Center. And, yes, Anaheim was the location of choice before the parties reached agreement on a public/private partnership. These past few hours, coaches, team officials, and even Magic players approached asked me for updates about Sacramento. There is definitely a sentime of "we know what it was like." For example, the Orlando officials at one point were involved with developer Stan Thomas, the old building was even smaller than Arco Arena, and small market issues still remain. I'll have a lot more about this gorgeous facility in the near future. I'm staying here an extra day so I can get a tour of the arena from Magic CEO Alex Martins and speak with the people who led the successful effort..


Photo credit: Kings Carl Landry during the introduction of the starting lineup.

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

MIAMI - Kings forward Carl Landry was held out of Tuesday's night game against the Miami Heat because there is a strong likelihood that he will be traded to the New Orleans Hornets within the next 48 hours. "We are involved in some fairly significant discussions and thought it was prudent not to play him tonight," coach Paul Westphal said after the Kings' lopsided loss.

Landry, who was obtained from the Houston Rockets in the Kevin Martin deal Feb. 18 last year, left with the team from American Airlines Arena. He became suspicious in the second half when he was still on the bench, but wasn't told until Westphal approached him after the game.

The Kings reportedly will get shooting guard Marcus Thornton and center David Andersen in return.

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

First quarter: Heat 35, Kings 16

MIAMI - This was the Heat at its best - defending, rebounding, running the break, spreading the floor.

Dwyane Wade, who tweaked his right ankle Sunday in the All-Star Game in Los Angeles, showed no effects of the injury. He elevated for a follow dunk with 5:42 remaining in the period. And LeBron James, who had a triple-double Sunday, scored 14 quick points, including a driving layup at the buzzer.

The Kings shot a miserable 29.2 percent in the period, with DeMarcus Cousins struggling through an 0-for-6 start.

Led by James, who hit on seven of his 11 field goal attempts, the Heat converted 72 percent of their attempts. And blocked shots. And intimidated underneath. And moved the ball. This is going to be a long night.

Halftime: Heat 63, Kings 44

The Kings are getting spanked pretty good here, and it's interesting that Carl Landry failed to make an appearance.

He walked to the scorer's table after a timeout with about six minutes until intermission, but never took off his shirt. With the trade deadline approaching, this makes you wonder if the Kings are close to finalizing a deal.

Landry, who has value both as a player and an expiring contract, has been the subject of trade conjecture for the past several days.

Meantime, this was a gruesome half for his mates. The Kings were out-rebounded, were dominated inside, and as often happens when the open shots aren't falling, they were impatient and forced too many shots.

The starting backcourt of Beno Udrih and Jermaine Taylor combined for five points and one assist. Samuel Dalembert came off the bench and was by far the Kings' most effective player with eight points and nine rebounds. And I didn't keep count, but the Heat scored an inordinate number of step-back jumpers, most by Wade and James (21 points), and finished with 13 fastbreak points.

Third quarter: Heat 93, Kings 70

Dwayne Wade and LeBron James are still playing like they had the weekend off. Their stamina is incredible. They show no signs of easing up, either, despite the fact the Kings are totally outclassed.

DeMarcus Cousins is really struggling. He was stripped at the top of the circle, had a number of shots blocked, even botched an alley oop to Jermaine Taylor with just under six minutes remaining. Yet, again, the Kings are getting clocked and there's still no sign of Carl Landry. Think trade.

Final: Heat 117, Kings 97

This was an eventful evening, if nothing else. A few hours after learning that Tyreke Evans would be sidelined for at least three weeks with plantar fasciitis, the Kings became the first post-All-Star victim of LeBron James, Dwyane, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Miami Heat. James and Wade ran through, around, and over the Kings. They were merciless.

Their coach, Erik Spoelstra, has been carping about the defense. Well, there was nothing wrong with the Heat defense tonight. They held the Kings to 35 percent shooting in the opening half and were equally dominant in the second half.

They reached the 100-point mark on a jumper by Wade with just over nine minutes remaining. (One scout seated at the press table estimated the Heat ran 50 different plays).

And, yes, the Kings acknowledged that they kept Carl Landry out of the game because a trade is pending.

On Twitter:


LOS ANGELES - There was too much information to cram into tomorrow's column about the Kings' possible relocation to Anaheim's Honda Center, but as of late Saturday, the basics remained unchanged. NBA Commissioner David Stern for the first time confirmed what we all knew - that the Maloofs have explored a move to Southern California, a process that has been on and off for the past few years. The Commissioner insisted that he has distanced himself from these particular discussions, however, partly because he is immersed in gnarly collective bargaining talks.

I also get the sense that while the league probably would approve the move, the higher-ups aren't thrilled about the prospect of (a) abandoning the 20th largest media market; (b) adding a third NBA team in Southern California and (c) having to deal with all this with a lockout looming.

A few other items of note:

• While the deadline to file for relocation for next season is March 1, the league is flexible. The Maloofs could simply request an extension, and the Board of Governors would comply.

• When one NBA executive was asked late Saturday about Sacramento's chances for retaining the Kings, he replied, "It could be bad."

• The situation has intensified quickly, as often happens in these situations. The Maloofs have been approached by officials from Anaheim, Las Vegas, San Jose, Kansas City, St. Louis - on and on - for the past few years. (Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman never takes off the fullcourt press). The Samueli group in Anaheim has been almost as aggressive ... and they actually have a building. Until very recently, however, the Maloofs have swallowed their frustration about the arena situation and the region's economic limitations and judged Sacramento preferable to the alternatives. Common sense dictates that with the deadline approaching, Anaheim would sweeten the offer. The question is how badly the Maloofs want to be romanced. Again, as of late Saturday, I was hearing that they were teetering ... the situation incredibly fluid.

• Stern provided another chilling moment for Kings fans during the televised press conference when he was asked by an Italian journalist if the league considered purchasing Seattle's Sonics - precluding their relocation city in 2008 - much as was done recently with the New Orleans Hornets. Later in a lengthy response, the Commissioner added, "Seattle was a completely different story. Everyone agreed, it needed a new building; a new building couldn't be built, and the ownership decided to move it out. That's all. I'll introduce you to Ailene (said Bee columnist) from Sacramento, though." The linkage of Seattle and Sacramento? Think that was a message?

LOS ANGELES - While sports conspiracy theorists will argue that DeMarcus Cousins should have been voted MVP of the Rookie Challenge on Friday, or at least, co-MVP with his former Kentucky teammate John Wall, the Kings center (and their fans, owners, etc.) should be encouraged by his powerful performance. The guy was a beast - skillful, but still a beast. It was obvious from the opening tip that Cousins was determined to capitalize on his opportunity in the national spotlight, perhaps his way of countering the bad publicity of the recent week. There were the three steals, 14 rebounds, and 33 points, and my favorite play: the pass he threw off the backboard to a trailing John Wall for the game's final points. Imagine if he had the body of a 22-23 year old? The conditioning habits of a Doug Christie? If the Kings learned to move the ball and/or acquired more capable balll movers? The combination of Cousins' all-around big man's skills and Tyreke Evans' powerful game would be scary. Scary good.

One other interesting tidbit I picked up while chatting with Cousins and his other former Kentucky teammate, Eric Bledsoe. The Clippers backup point guard admitted that he would have stayed in college for his sophomore season if he had fully appreciated the rigors of the NBA. Cousins, seated along Bledsoe, seemed surprised by his friend's reply. Asked the same question, he hedged. He definitely did not seem excited by the prospects of hitting the books for a second year in college. But he thoroughly enjoyed being in Bledsoe's company. The two joked about a relationship that goes back to their high school years in Alabama, and when Bledsoe said that he and Wall enjoyed throwing alley oops to Cousins, the Kings rookie laughed. "Didn't see too many of those 'oops.' "

A final thought about Cousins: While Kings beat writer Jason Jones and I were talking the other day, he mentioned that when he visited Mobile, Ala., last summer for a profile on the rookie's hometown, he was surprised to learn that DeMarcus was friendly with many of the kids still attending his old high school. Again, at age 20, he is only two years removed from his days as a prep superstar.

February 19, 2011
Reggie was robbed ...

LOS ANGELES - While the Hall of Fame nominations always lead to interesting conversations regarding who was selected - and who was omitted - for my two cents, the most glaring omission was former Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller. I guess I'm just partial to players who spend their entire careers with one franchise (and a small-market franchise at that), provide some of the most thrilling finishes in postseason history (Knicks-Pacers, Game 5, 1994 Easte4rn Conference Finals), rank second in three-point field goals behind only Ray Allen, etc. Ok, so as his former coach/boss Larry Bird used to joke, Reggie was a ridiculously poor rebounder (3.0 boards per game) for someone 6-foot-7. But again, he was a career 39.5 percent shooter from three-point range, and his proficiency beyond the arc in 1997-98 (42.9 percent) is one those stats that can't be ignored.

Justin Bieber? Huh?

With so many events, press conferences, technology conferences, etc. competing for attention this weekend - and the labor issue will be front and center before the Slamdunk contest and Long Distance Shootout get underway Saturday - we should all be grateful to ESPN for staffing the event and then actually showing footage of Justin Bieber's exploits in Friday's celebrity game. The little lefty was certainly MVP worthy with his ball handling skills, three-point shooting, playmaking, and all-around skill level. Who knew?

Finally, from Dirk

So maybe this means Dirk Nowitzki is becoming sort of hip in his old age? When asked who he would choose to portray him in a movie about his life, he replied, "Woody Harrelson." This has to be considered progress. In his younger years, remember, Dirk revealed that he was a big fan of David Hasselhoff's (gulp) singing,

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

Not that $41,000 is chump change, even for millionaires. But keeping DeMarcus Cousins home while the Kings played Sunday in Phoenix - then fining him the equivalent in salary - seems like a pretty equitable resolution for the rookie's latest transgression. For those who might have been preoccupied with other matters these past few days, Cousins was upset that Donte Greene inbounded the ball to Tyreke Evans instead of finding him in the low post on the final possession in Saturday's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Cousins reportedly complained to Greene as they walked off the court, and after the conversation escalated in the locker room, blows were exchanged. Earlier today, Cousins and his agent, John Greig, met for 90 minutes with Petrie. Bobby Jackson and Shareef Abdur-Rahim also were in attendance. Cousins flew to Oklahoma City afterward and rejoined the team for the final two games of the road trip.

Along with the fact Greene was not punished for his part in the fisticuffs - Petrie felt no action was necessary after investigating the matter - the other thing I found interesting was his response when I asked about anger management counseling. Petrie said Cousins was not in therapy, but didn't discount treatment as a suggested course of action in the future.

Ok, so now that the latest episode of Saturday Night Fights is over, can't the Kings just get along? And pass the ball more than once in a while?

After speaking with NBA types and ruminating about Jerry Sloan's abrupt resignation, I wanted to add a few additional thoughts that didn't make into my column in today's Bee. Probably the first thing that struck me was this: The common element between the NBA's most successful small-market franchises (San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz) is the presence of a dynamic, forceful, intriguing head coach, who is empowered with decision-making over who plays and who stays, and who essentially is the face of the franchise. For decades. Gregg Popovich and Jerry Sloan.

The hip, handsome Greg Miller, son of the late Larry Miller, the rotund, offbeat Jazz owner who used to retrieve balls for players and participate in pregame huddles, has no clue about the ramifications of Thursday's actions. First of all, Larry Miller, who tussled all the time with the stubborn Sloan, never would have allowed the situation to escalate to this point where a star player (Deron Williams) behaves in a manner that offends his coach and disrupts a locker room. The biggest joke of all? That Williams would complain that the Jazz offense is predictable and therefore ineffective?

Geez, I spoke to a handful of NBA coaches tonight and oher NBA types, and the consensus was that Don Nelson, Rick Adelman, Jerry Sloan and Phil Jackson were the most innovative offensive coaches of the the past few decades. All stress ball movement, body movement, screens, spacing, tempo, and, to varying degrees, pushing the ball for transition or early offense opportunities. We witness the alternative too often: the NBA's current epidemic of coddling point guards who overdribble, think games (and titles) are won with isolation plays, and consequently, alienate their teammates.

When the Jazz were here Monday night for what proved to be Sloan's final career coaching victory, I watched Tyreke Evans drive - yet again - into a crowd during a critical late game possession, and wondered what Sloan (or Popovich or Jackson) would have done. Actually, I knew the answer. Popovich yanked Tony Parker and Jackson scolded Kobe for similar transgressions committed during their first few years, and Sloan was similarly hard on Williams during his rookie season. Paul Westphal is a different cat; he looks the other way and barks at DeMarcus Cousins for some minor infraction. The upshot is this: Parker absorbed the constructive criticism and developed into one of the league's premier point guards and, more importantly, into an NBA champion. Kobe became more of a team player and, well, became Kobe. Williams overcame early struggles and showed tremendous improvement in his second season, yet seemed to hit a plateau, never quite establishing himself as someone capable of leading a championship squad.

Seriously. To complain about an offense that keeps all five players involved, stresses movement, outside shooting, pacing, spacing, transition opportunities and unselfishness? Folks, we are talking about an offensive scheme that has flourished since World Wars I and II. Sloan's teams run, pass, dunk, move the ball. What's not to like? The game has become quicker, the players more skilled and athletic, but the basic concepts haven't changed.

Sloan - a Hall of Famer, a great guy, the longest tenured coach in professional sports - deserved better. Larry Miller never would have allowed this to happen. His son screwed up big time. And, hey, just curious: What exactly was Andrei Kirilenko doing in the room with Sloan, Miller and GM Kevin O'Connor after Wednesday's loss to Chicago? Were they talking team dynamics? Discussing the Williams flap? Or a major trade? Something dramatic certainly occurred, details surely to be revealed in the near future. Meantime, all the best to Jerry Sloan. He was one of the good guys, and one of a kind.

Good luck to Ty Corbin

Lost in the commotion of Sloan's abrupt announcement was the fact that NBA journeyman and longtime Jazz assistant Tyrone Corbin is given his first head coaching opportunity. First of all, good luck to Ty, a former King who played or studied under some of the best coaches in the league - Lenny Wilkens and Sloan among them. He probably has the worst job in the league, to be honest. How do you replace an icon? But he has always impressed with his smarts, commitment and work ethic; even the Jazz and Spurs' pregame workouts are noteworthy because of their structure, intensity and consistency, and the sight of Ty workng up a sweat while directing the shooting drills.

So did we mention what a softie Sloan is?

Those of us who covered the NBA throughout the 1980s and 90s, covering Sloan during his NBA Finals defeats and disappointment at being bypassed for the U.S. Olympic coaching assignment in 2000 will always appreciate his honesty, wry humor, and especially the dignity he displayed during his late wife Bobbye's bout with terminal cancer. Though a private, even shy person, Sloan shared the family's struggles (at Bobbye's urging) in efforts to combat the disease. He often choked up when talking about his late wife, and I noted, his eyes swelled with tears during his press conference Thursday. Just wondering: Does Deron Williams have any idea of how poorly he will be perceived if (a) the franchise falters or (b) he bolts during free agency in 2012? Small markets have to try harder, and be particularly careful when selecting family members. Sloan and Popovich established the standard. The debate regarding Kevin O'Connor's decision to draft Williams over Chris Paul just reached another level.

I'll have more on Jerry Sloan's resignation in tomorrow's Bee, but it's worth mentioning that his last victory as a head coach was Utah's 107-104 win over the Kings on Monday at Arco Arena. Interestingly, Arco is also the place where Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton played his final game.

What comes as absolutely no surprise is that Sloan's longtime assistant - and former Kings head coach - Phil Johnson resigned as well. Sloan and Johnson were the NBA's version of an old married couple. They were inseparable, even after 23 years. One-time Kings swingman Tyrone Corbin steps into Sloan's massive boots immediately.

February 8, 2011
Welcome back, Peja

While chatting with Peja Stojakovic Tuesday afternoon as he was trying to find his way to the airport for the Dallas Mavericks' flight to Sacramento, I was reminded of what a delightful character he is. If anything, the former Kings star was probably too amiable for his own good. He could have been ... so much more aggressive! But as readers will see in Wednesday's Bee, an older, wiser, reflective Peja was surprisingly candid about how the devastating knee injury he sustained while playing for PAOK in 1997 affected his NBA career, physically and mentally. As explained by Scott Skiles - his coach in Greece at the time - details about the compound fracture, with the shin bone breaking through the skin, etc., are just too gruesome to elaborate upon in print. But in Wednesday's column, Peja talks about how the career-threatening injury (that required insertion of his rod to stabilize the leg) forced him to compensate and make adjustments in everything from his shooting mechanics to his running motion, thereby putting undue pressure on his other leg, his lower back, his shoulders, etc. He also admitted that the injury was always in the back of his mind, which affected his confidence, and at least partly explained why he increasingly avoided contact under the basket.

While going back over the numerous profiles and columns I have written about him over the years, dating back my trip to Greece in 1998 (actually, I attended the private workout with Peja and Zydrunas Ilgauskas in Chicago before the 1996 NBA Draft, when Peja basically swung heads his way with his deep shooting), I came across a few other things of interest.

• For those who might have forgotten: Stojakovic, 33, is a Serb who was born in Pozega, a city that became part of Croatia after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. At age 15, in the midst of the Balkans conflict, he moved to Thessaloniki in northern Greece, where he was legally "adopted" and became a Greek League MVP for PAOK. (One of his coaches, Zvika Sherf, later coached Omri Casspi in Israel).

• His legendary offensive abilities were such that, according to former PAOK general manager Steve Costalas, the favorite sports joke among Greeks went as follows:

"What is an assist?"

"When Peja passes from his right hand to his left."

"What is the cross offense?"

"When someone gives the ball to Peja and everyone crosses themselves."

• Peja was a huge fan of rap music and Mafia movies, and according to his PAOK teammates, fancied himself quite the dancer.

• During his years with PAOK, he was mentored by former Syracuse star and Greek League veteran Conrad McRae, who died shortly thereafter of cardiac arrest. As the good-natured McRae told me at the time, "He's a fun-loving kid. Sometimes people forget how young he is. And he wants to know everything. 'What is Michael (Jordan) like? What is Scottie (Pippen) like? Tell me about the NBA.' "

• His brother, Nasha, underwent a kidney transplant while living in Sacramento and continues to reside in the area.

Anyway, read more in Wednesday's Bee about one of the league's most prolific long-range shooters - think Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Larry Bird, Drazen Petrovic, Dale Ellis, Chris Mullin - as he returns to Arco Arena in what could be his final appearance in Sacramento. Peja would like to play another season, but is noncommital until he sees how his body (leg surgery, knee surgery, back surgery, abdominal strain) withstands the final months of the current campaign. Since missing two months (knee surgery), Peja obtained a buyout with the Toronto Raptors and made his Mavs debut on Monday. He is listed among the starter's for tonight's Kings-Mavs match. And lest we forget, he not only was a three-time All-Star with the Kings, he was the starting small forward on the 2002 Yugoslavian national team that stunned the United States (and Argentina) in the World Championships in Indianapolis. That, folks, was history. No American team had lost a game in international competition since Larry, Magic, Michael and the other Dream Teamers coasted through the competition at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

While speaking with several sources the past few days for yet another in an ongoing series of columns on Sacramento's need to replace Arco Arena and somehow find a way to finance a new sports/entertainment complex for the region, I was intrigued by plans in Minneapolis for a $155 million renovation of the Target Center. As I write in Friday's Bee, the city and the Timberwolves are pushing a private/public partnership, and for several reasons, renovation seems to make more sense than gutting the structure and rebuilding. Though the facility was built in 1990 - two years after Arco - it was built for almost twice the price, and in terms of square footage, is almost twice the size. In other words, it was built to last, built to expand, and built for the future. Though never a huge fan of the building itself -and the visitors locker room is horrendous, much worse than Arco - I was sold on location, location, location.

Downtown Minneapolis is a vibrant, manageable urban center, and the presence of the Target Center, which transformed the seedy warehouse district, is a huge factor in all of this. Shopping, restaurants, light rail, hotels, the theatre district ... all within walking distance and physically and geographically connected. Great, great city. Great, great vibe. You can stay at any number of hotels and be within blocks of the arena. (Many of the hotels and shopping areas are conneced to the Target Center by interior walking corridors because of the brutal winters.) I haven't even seen the Twins new ballpark yet, but colleagues tell me that it only enhances one of our favorite downtowns.

I'm not sure what will come out of Tuesday's City Council meeting - and I'm hoping the Council remains open to all possibilities - but every time I visited Minneapolis, I always envisioned a Target Center-type entertainment district displacing the blight on K Street and the struggling Downtown Plaza. Somewhere downtown for sure.

Of course, the question remains: who pays for the complex? I was somewhat surprised to see that Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was listed on Forbes list of the wealthiest NBA owners and one of its billionaires. The Maloofs aren't in the same league. But I'll say it again: There is allure to the fact that Sacramento is the capitol of California. Time to be innovative ... find some source of financing.


February 2, 2011
Celtics finally make it home

The storms that have been causing travel headaches throughout the country forced the Celtics to remain in Sacramento after Tuesday's victory over the Kings. The original plan had been to fly back to Boston immediately after the game. But as of late Tuesday night, there was some concern that the return flight could be delayed even longer. But I just received a text a few minutes ago from longtime Celtics publicist Jeff Twiss. He said the C's landed at about 7:30 East Coast time.

Kings color analyst Bill Walton, who filled in for Boston Celtics commentator Tommy Heinsohn for the final three games of the recently-concluded road trip, isn't really going out on a limb when it comes to his NBA Finals predictions. He sees another Boston vs. Lakers matchup. The Big Fella formerly known as the Big Redhead (his hair is gray now) - has a vested interested in this, of course. He won a title with the 1986 C's, and his son, Luke, plays for the Lakers. But as always, Walton offered interesting observations Tuesday night in Arco Arena.

"When you hit the high they (Celtics) were on Sunday, that's the kind of thing that springboards you to the championship," Walton said, referring to Boston's convincing victory at Staples Center. "That game could very well be the championship for the Celtics. The championship is going to be between the Celtics and the Lakers. Those are the two best teams. San Antonio and Miami are good, but not as big and tough and rugged. Whoever (Celts or Lakers) has the homecourt advantage is going to win the championship. That's why the regular season is so important."

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

I screwed up. There is no other way to say it. In Thursday's column about Carl Landry, in which the Kings forward discussed his frustrations with the team's disappointing season, I relied heavily on my written notes and messed up one of his quotes.

After Landry complained publicly that he was misrepresented, I compared my written notes with my tape-recording of the interview and immediately recognized a discrepancy in one particular paragraph.

Accuracy in our industry is everything. These were supposed to be his words, not mine.

What I quoted him saying was: "The basketball IQ on this team is not very good," Landry said, "and that (knowledge) takes time. If you look at J.T. (Jason Thompson), he's had three or four coaches in his four years, coaches that probably weren't that good. Everybody in this league can play. But it's about spacing, having the right guys on the floor, running the right play. Move the ball. Set back screens, down screens, and play together. Our shooting percentage is so low because everything is one-on-one."

What he actually said was: "If you look at the last couple years ... Jason Thompson has been here for three years. He's probably had about three or four coaches in the last three or four years, coaches that actually, probably, weren't very good. That's why they're not here. So the knowledge, the basketball IQ of this team is probably not where it needs to be."

Later, he also said: "Everybody in this league can play. But it's about spacing, having the right guys on the floor, running the right play. Move the ball. Set back screens, down screens, and play together. Our shooting percentage is so low because everything is one-on-one."

As I tried to illustrate in the column, this was not an angry diatribe. I called to apologize Friday but was told by a Kings media representative that Landry wants to drop the matter and move on.

Nonetheless, my apology stands. I can keep learning, keep striving, and say I'm sorry when I have made a mistake.

January 21, 2011
Peja heading to Dallas?

According to ESPN.com, former Kings star Peja Stojakovic, who was waived by the Toronto Raptors, is close to signing with the Dallas Mavericks. This would be a good move for Peja, a three-time All-Star who has been hampered by injuries virtually since he was traded for Ron Artest (2005-06) and wants to end his NBA career in a positive manner. A three-time All-Star and one of the nicest people in the league, Peja has never played an entire 82-game season. He overcame a frightening and career-threatening compound fracture in his right leg before signing with the Kings in 1998 - his former coach at PAOK (Scott Skiles) described the scene as bloody horrific - but his chronic lower back problems, in particular, have limited his mobility since his final season in Sacramento. A finesse player and exceptional shooter, Peja was at his best when he was moving freely, cutting underneath, running the baseline, and sprinting downcourt for pullup three's and layups. Guess his physical breakdown shouldn't be a complete surprise given that he started playing professionally at age 15 back in his native Serbia, and then Greece.

While Kings rookie Hassan Whiteside had an altogether miserable (and unproductive) experience with the Developmental League's Reno Bighorns - essentially the farm team of the Kings and Warriors - Golden State's Jeremy Lin and former King Marcus Landry are making the most of their opportunity. The teammates shared honors as D-League co-performers of the week.

Lin, the Bay Area native and Harvard grad who signed a guaranteed contract with the Warriors, is averaging 19.1 points, 4.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds in 31 minutes. He also is shooting 52 percent - very impressive for a point guard. Landry, the Kings training camp invitee and brother of Carl, is contributing 17.3 points and 4.0 rebounds.

But, hey, you just can't escape. The Bighorns, who have won four straight and are in third place in the Western Conference, are coached by former Kings/Warriors coach Eric Musselman. And, of course, Reno's minor league franchise once was coached by Eric Musselman's late father, Bill Musselman.

January 18, 2011
Kings urged to "chew" on it


Longtime Kings special assistant Pete Carril always has something interesting to offer, whether it's while analyzing a player's skill set, assessing team dynamics, or explaining how something as basic as the size of a player's hands and feet can affect their ability to shoot the ball or maneuver in the post. The latest Carril-ism was even more basic: When thirsty, chew gum. While working with rookie Hassan Whiteside, who doesn't have great stamina, Carril urged the young center to take water breaks to stay hydrated. And while playing or practicing .... chew gum. "That creates fluid," the legendary Carril said, imitating the chewing motion, "and that will help. And when you're thirsty, go get a drink of water. There's nothing wrong with that." The gum thing. Very Interesting. That never would have occurred to me. Such are the benefits of being in the presence of legends ...

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

Responding to a column in Monday's Orange County Register suggesting that the Maloofs are entertaining offers to relocate the franchise to Anaheim because of the region's inability to provide a modern entertainment complex to house the Kings, co-owner Joe Maloof said: "We are looking at all options to ensure the long term viability of this franchise. We're looking at all our options. Of course you're going to look at your options! We're businessmen. We've been at this for 10 years without any (arena) success."

In a calmer voice, the most emotional of the Maloofs acknowledged that he "receives calls every day" from representatives in other cities and insisted "nothing has changed."

"There is a sense of urgency because we've been at this for so long," he said from his cell phone. "We can't sugarcoat it. Everybody knows the region needs a new arena. When the NCAA (Tournament) is refusing to schedule events in Sac, you have to acknowledge that you need an entertainment venue. I can't give you a time table, but at some point, something has to get done. (Sacramento) mayor Kevin Johnson is working with four different groups, looking at four plans, and we're hoping something comes out of this. We want to be right here in Sacramento. We've always said that. It's been what? Eleven years? Rumors, rumors, rumors. I get tired of answering all these questions. Can't we just talk about how much better DeMarcus Cousins is getting?"

The relocation chatter was revived late last week amid reports that two private firms are negotiating to buy controlling interest in the Palms Casino and Resort in Las Vegas, leading to speculation that the Maloofs are in financial trouble. Joe Maloof said the family is "restructuring" their financial obligations at the family-owned casino, then added, "We will still own the Palms. We're just refinancing like everybody else in Vegas is doing. The economy has hit Vegas hard. But we'll come out of this in a better position than we were. It's nothing more than that, believe me."

In another development, sources close to the situation confirmed the Kings are on the verge of announcing a new multi-year naming rights deal. In other words, Arco Arena won't be Arco Arena much longer. Asked to provide details, Joe Maloof would say only, "I can't talk about that right now. You'll just have to wait. But everybody is going to be surprised."

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

If anyone could have predicted that Steve Nash was going be a perfect 8-for-8 while providing his usual brilliance (12 assists) running the Suns offense, rational minds would have predicted another Kings loss. Well, Nash was brilliant. He distributed 12 assists and grabbed four boards. He scored 20 points on a variety of shots - three's off one leg, pullup jumpers, and one ridiculous, high-arching reverse layup. But in spite of his spectacular effort, the Kings dominated the final period, controlled the boards, and won a second consecutive game on their home court.

DeMarcus Cousins makes his own point

The rookie center had an excellent all-around game with a career-high 28 points, eight boards, and six assists. Touch passes. Bounce passers. Quick-hitters to cutters. All were on display, as was my personal favorite: a skip pass from the left side to Omri Casspi in the right wing for a crucial three-pointer in the fourth. Cousins really sees the floor, and equally important, he enjoys finding open teammates. I am really curious to see how Paul Westphal incorporates Cousins' exceptional passing skills, from both the high and low posts, as the season moves along. An overdose of isolation play and sluggish pacing only sends fans reaching for their remotes and heading for the exits.

A few notables off from Sunday's 94-89 victory

• Carl Landry (12), Cisco Garcia (11) and Casspi (10) were the main contributors in the Kings' 60-32 advantage on the boards, and not surprisingly, on the floor for the deciding moments of the fourth.

• In another indicatiion of how quickly he is developing, Cousins earned his fifth foul with 7:31 remaining but didn't foul out and made several key plays down the stretch.

• This might have been a first: Paul Westphal left Tyreke Evans on the bench and went with rookie Pooh Jeter for the closing stretch. (Beno Udrih was unavailable after bumping knees with Nash in the third period). Westphal said he felt the players who initiated the rally deserved the chance to finish the game. Evans struggled, who is contending with plantar fasciitis, finished with six points (2-for-12) and had four turnovers to go with five assists. But while the Kings were taking over the game, the second-year star was standing near the bench, cheering, waving his towel, and in general, just being a good teammate. His mother (Bonita) and grandmother (Alice) were so excited at the final buzzer, you never would have known Tyreke had a poor performance.

• Several of the Kings cited Jeter's tempo-changing presence (and four assists) as the most significant factor of the fourth period.

• Samuel Dalembert, who became ill during the Kings' recent road trip to Denver, played only four minutes. Westphal said he went with offense-oriented players in his matchups against the Suns, but it's obvious that Cousins will get the bulk of the minutes at center if he continues progressing.

December 30, 2010
Kings end 2010 with a blast

Paul Westphal understands the pressures of the business as much as any veteran coach. Losing streaks and late-game struggles lead to late-night runs to the drugstore for antacids, whether you're coaching the Kings, Lakers, Bulls, Spurs, etc. And while Westphal is very good at maintaining his emotional equilibrium - at least publicly - his relief after Wednesday's dramatic win over the Grizzlies was apparent in his postgame words and demeanor.

"Who can figure this game out, huh?" he began. "I just really appreciate the Sacramento fans. They were loud out there, they were with us the whole way. i think they like this team, and they want to root for a team that's trying to climb out of where we've been. Our team's not quitting and our fans aren't quitting. Sometimes you can never figure a miracle shot like Tyreke made ... but we deserved it."

Asked what he was thinking when O.J. Mayo hit the 22-footer with 1.5 seconds remaining, Westphal added, "Well, I was just in the moment right then. Of all the games I've coached in the NBA, I betcha there's been two times when I didn't have a timeout in that situation. I always save one, but tonight I wasn't able to. But I did know we had time, so I was screaming."

After Tyreke Evans' halfcourt stunner secured the victory and the Kings ended the year in high drama, an elated Westphal jumped and threw his arms in the air. Evans leaped onto the press table and led the long-suffering fans in cheers. Everyone on the bench celebrated. Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof hurried over to congratulate his players and coaches, and a few minutes later, stood in the tunnel area near the security entrance watching replays on an overhead television. And the partying didn't stop there. The hooting and hollering continued in the private shower and training area inside the locker room.

The female influence

Evans' mother (Bonita) and grandmother (Alice) are visiting for the holidays, and as both revealed before the game, Tyreke is feasting on the home cooking. His favorite dish? His grandmother's banana pudding. Neither woman enjoys flying, which explains their infrequent sightings. But they certainly seem to be having fun. They arrived at their courtside seats more than an hour before tipoff and snapped photos of the Kings during pregame warmups. At some point, they were introduced to Monique Cousins, who returns to Mobile, Ala., today after spending a week with her son (DeMarcus).

A few other notables:

• The Kings scored 21 points off the break, surpassing the Grizzlies' 16 transition points.

• Beno Udrih quietly (as usual) contributed six assists, four rebounds and 24 points off his usual array of mid-range jumpers, but including one particularly acrobatic reverse layup. He also combined with Evans' on the strip (of Mayo) that led to Tyreke's crucial breakaway dunk with 18.9 remaining.

• Evans' actually had two steals in the deciding moments. He poked the ball from Mike Conley with 1:39 remaining and was rewarded with free throws at the other end.

• One reason the Grizzlies are slumping - they were 1-of-3 from three-point range. The Kings, by contrast, converted 8 of 17 attempts. Of course, the Kings also were outscored 56-34 in the paint.

• Since that 3-1 start, the Kings had dropped 21 of 23 games. Hence, the good vibes in Arco Arena and a day off for Westphal's players.

TyrekeEvansClippers.JPGAs beat writer Jason Jones mentioned in his game story off last night's Kings-Clippers, Tyreke Evans is considering undergoing a laser procedure on his sore left foot that would sideline him approximately three months. The second-year star said he plans to speak with his agent (Bob Myers) again today and decide the best course of action regarding the plantar fasciitis (inflammation) of the left arch/heel area.

But that was only part of the post-game scene. Evans, who missed a potential game-tying free throw and a game-winning jumper after erupting for a season-high 32 points (and one sneaky from-behind block on Blake Griffin), sat at his locker afterward and engaged media members in the most extensive interview of his young career. The only topic he refused to discuss in detail was the "family" issue he has said has troubled him for three months.

Anyway, Tyreke was so unusually candid and chatty - and so immensely funny when talking about how his mother, Bonita, came pounding on his door late last Thursday and scolded him for playing "like ...." this season - that I wanted to provide an abbreviated version of his comments.

On his struggles this season: "I knew teams were going to play me different, but like I said with the foot, it's been frustrating. I can't feel it, but I know I'm not playing the same way ... It felt a little better, and I got treatment after the game. But I talked to my agent, and I was thinking about getting something done to it earlier. I'd probably miss about three months. But I'm going to keep that in mind - whether I want to keep playing or just get it over with .. I'm still thinking about it. The doctors said if I'm playing good, to keep playing. But it's tough, especially in the morning. It's hard to push down. Once I get going, it's pretty good ... I mean, I had it at Memphis, but it went away."

On how many times he has considered undergoing the procedure: "The way I was playing, I was thinking about it. I just tried to push through everything and play like myself ... If I need to get it over with, I'll just do it."

On the hour-long midnight conversation with his mother, who is visiting from Philadelphia: "My Mom just knocked on my door (after the Milwaukee loss) and said she wanted to have a talk with me. We had a long talk in the room, and she kind of boosted my confidence. She said, 'you're not playing like yourself,' and I said, 'you're right. I just have to put that in the past and go out and play.' I told her I didn't feel like talking, but she told me to open the door (laugh). I didn't really want to hear what she had to say, but I listened. I know she wants the best for me."

On whether he considered ignoring the knocks on his door: "(Laugh) For a minute I did but she said 'open the door.' She just kept saying it. She said, 'or I'll break the door down.' I didn't want to get my door messed up, so I did it!. I'm not the type of person to let people know what's going on, and that talk helped me a lot. She told me I'm thinking too much."

On whether his Mom is a tough critic: "Yeah. She tells me the truth, whether I like to hear it or not. She told me I was playing like "bleep," so I had to deal with it ... Then I watched some tape. I had more speed, I was quicker (last year)."

On the miss at the foul line (after he hit consecutive free throws): "It felt good. DeMarcus (Cousins) had a little tip and I thought he got grabbed, and I had a chance to put it back in but it just didn't fall. I kind of rushed it ... I'll take the blame for that. I know we're struggling."

On his "family" situation: "I was trying not to show it, but it kind of got to me a lot. I was frustrated about it. Like I said. I talked to my Mom. That kind of helped me out .. I think I put it behind me. I went out there, I wasn't thinking about anything but basketball. Whatever happens, happens ... It's between me and my family, and it's over with, and I'm just trying to put it to the back."

Photo caption: Kings' point guard Tyreke Evans lays the ball up during the game between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Clippers at Arco Arena on Monday.

Photo credit: Randall Benton/rbenton@sacbee.com

Joe and Gavin Maloof are impulsive, emotional guys, and after watching their reaction to last night's loss to the depleted Milwaukee Bucks, it wouldn't shock me if both Geoff Petrie and Paul Westphal are fired within the next few hours/days. As I have written recently in The Bee, the brothers have been privately fuming about the team's struggles (5-22), the trades that haven't significantly upgraded the talent level, the team's overall regression from last year's 25-win season, along with Westphal's inability to cope with youngsters Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins.

The Maloofs also are upset with Petrie for urging them - last year - to pick up the option on Westphal's contract for 2011-12 "for the sake of continuity."

The easier move, of course, is to fire Westphal and worry about rebuilding the front office in the offseason. (Assuming Petrie doesn't simply resign). Some Maloof advisers are urging them to take their time and peruse the league for an up-and-coming personnel individual before gutting their entire personnel department.

But check back in a few hours. Remember, they are impulsive, emotional guys.

If a move is made? Or both moves are made? The family is debating whether to bring back former Monarchs GM/coach John Whisenant to give the team some structure, or whether to prod Whiz into the front office and simply promote assistant Jim Eyen for the rest of the year. Whisenant, who guided the Monarchs to the WNBA Championship in 2005, currently runs the New York Liberty. But he would return to Sac in a New York minute ... preferably as coach. He wants to coach the Kings in the worst way.

As of early Friday morning, speculation was ongoing (and fueled by a report on CBSSports.com). But Joe Maloof reiterated in the wee hours that nothing is imminent. Still, I have never seen them more distressed than during/after Thursday's loss. The questions are these: How long does their patience last? And what changes would be made? Votes of "confidence" mean nothing in professional sports, partly because of the fluid nature of the business.

In the wake of the Kings' collapse Tuesday night against the Warriors, there has been considerable conversation on blogs and elsewhere about the possibility of deposed Charlotte Bobcats head coach Larry Brown trekking to Sacramento and replacing Paul Westphal. Well, not a chance. Brown wants to continue coaching somewhere, but per the Kings' situation, he faces the same issues he did when he was out of work and tried to get involved with the vacancy here in 2007. One, his wife and kids are insistent about remaining in Philadelphia (where the family remained when Larry packed his bags for Charlotte). Two, Geoff Petrie only contacted Brown in 2007 at the Maloofs' insistence - and then politely refused to bring him to Sacramento for an interview. And third, as of today and for what appears to be the foreseeable future, Petrie and the Maloofs are sticking with Westphal. Among other things, they like him immensely as a person, acknowledge roster issues, and are almost paralyzed at the prospect of making yet another coaching change.

Of course, this is the NBA. Check back in a week. Or two. Meantime, from what I'm hearing, Petrie is aggressively pursuing trades for a starting point guard. The interest in Aaron Brooks persists, though the Houston Rockets want more than the Kings currently are willing to deliver. (The plan is to play Tyreke Evans off the ball, as more of a receiver than distributor).

DeMarcus Cousins has his anger issues, but apparently, so does his coach. After Wednesday's practice - which I missed while monitoring a live chat for the Bee - Paul Westphal announced that his rookie center had been fined and removed from the starting lineup for making a right-handed choke sign during Wednesday's loss to Golden State. At the time, the Kings led 98-93, were 19.3 from a victory, with Warriors swingman Reggie Williams at the free throw line. Cousins, who was fined Nov. 12 after clashing with an assistant and team trainer, flashed a grin and placed his right hand around his throat. Williams missed two of his three attempts.

The punishment is reminiscent of Westphal's benching last year of Spencer Hawes. The former Kings center had publicly complained about the player rotations, and when he arrived for the next game, discovered he had been de-activated and his uniform removed from the locker room.

Westphal's latest disciplinary move seems even more extreme. It would have been different if Cousins had flipped somebody off or engaged in similarly offensive behavior. But this was nothing more than a silly, boyish display. A scolding would have sufficed. And in the scheme of issues ailing the Kings, this is a major overreaction.

December 22, 2010
Kings' worse on the replay

When you're seated courtside at Kings games, you get a great "feel" for the event, the size, quickness, athleticism and physicality of games. But I like to come home afterward and watch the television replays, basically to hear what analyst Jerry Reynolds and/or Bill Walton has to say. But having just watched a replay of the Kings-Warriors .... I can't stand to stick around for a repeat of the overtime. The lack of discipline. The inability to collect rebounds. The stupid shots. The dumb fouls. The one-on-one play. I'll say it again: the one-on-one play. And worst of all, leaving Vlade Radmanovic wide open for the three that forced the extra period. The only good thing about the Kings on Tuesday was their effort -- if they expended this much energy throughout most of the season, they would not be stuck at 5-21. The Warriors, to their credit, and for all their roster flaws, keep fannies in the seats these past few years because they run, they pass, they're damn fun to watch, and their marketing people are wonderfully creative. The Kings were on Tuesday were wonderfully entertaining for a while, or until they resorted to the dreaded isolation game late in the fourth quarter. What is with these guys? They play as if they expect to be fined for every pass they throw!

Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof looked physically ill when they walked off the court afterward. They have been resistant to making major personnel/coaching moves, but I have to believe that a shakeup is inevitable if the slide continues much longer .....

I said it then, and I'll stick with my gut: When the Kings were 13-14 a year ago to the day, the worst thing that happened was Paul Westphal's decision to use Tyreke Evans in a 1-4 scheme in consecutive games against the Cavs and the Lakers. Putting a rookie up against LeBron James and Kobe Bryant? You kidding me? Blown away then, still blown away now. The Lakers' game particularly grates: the Kings were leading by seven midway into overtime, running, dunking, defending, passing, the crowd going crazy, while Tyreke was on the bench with five fouls. During a timeout, Westphal inserted Evans back into the lineup and started calling isolation plays, and of course, the Kings lost the momentum and the game. (You don't want to know what the Lakers' staff privately said about that strategy). I simply can't imagine Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown, among others, putting a rookie in that situation, and especially can't imagine them encouraging/tolerating the one-on-one play. For those who might have forgotten: Sloan being hard on Deron Williams, Jackson barking at Jordan and later Kobe, Brown yelling at Allen Iverson, Pop pulling a young Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, scolding them, then sending them back into the game 20 seconds later.

For those who disagree, sorry. Actually, no apologies. My perspective is influenced by decades of covering Magic, Bird, D.J., Jordan, Pippen, Stockton, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Mark Price, Kevin Johnson, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Michael Cooper, Bill Walton, Norm Nixon, etc., etc. As the sticky-fingered Malone learned during his experiences with the 1992 Dream Team in Barcelona - the ball rarely touched the floor on fastbreaks during practices and games - if the ball doesn't move, you aren't going to win. Basketball isn't baseball. It's all about co-dependency. The rules change, but the basics remain the same. Hello, Kings!

And by the way: my personal fave Charles Barkley was the best player in Barcelona, partly because if he didn't pass the ball, his Hall of Fame peers would have strangled him (figuratively speaking, of course).

One of the more interesting things about the Kings' 5-20 dive (coming off last season's 25 victories) is that, although the Kings stink, under president Matina Kolokotronis, the club has finally caught up with the rest of the league in terms of marketing approach. Per my repeated rants of the past several years - and under former president John Thomas - tickets were overpriced, sponsors and civic leaders were alienated, marketing was nonexistent, the basketball side was arrogant and disconnected from the community (and reality). In general, the Kings until recently have been decades behind the Jazz, Spurs, Magic, etc., and the other small market franchises when it comes to promotion and targeting ticket packages to a specific demographic. Can't understand that one. The Maloofs are known as master salesmen. What took so long?

But now, here's the Kings' major problem: how do you sell a product that is, frankly, unwatchable at times? I don't want to hear anyone ripping on Kings fans. Amazingly, people here still care. I repeatedly am asked, "what's the Kings score? Why are they so bad? What's the plan?" Fans are just reluctant to spend their money on a team that (a) plays without a sense of purpose or sense of urgency, (b) seems caught in a time warp in a basketball sense, and (c) appears to lack the leadership to move forward.

As someone who has covered the NBA, Major League Baseball and the NFL in five markets, I use the Jazz and Spurs as the small-market model: the only reason for losing a fan base with the passion of Sacramentans is simple neglect. We're talking business and basketball. The Kings' business side has undergone a complete makeover. The basketball side needs to enter the next decade ....

December 12, 2010
Tyreke needs the break

After watching Tyreke Evans the past few weeks, I'm glad to hear he's not accompanying the Kings on their upcoming road trip. He's obviously hurting (plantar fasciitis in his left foot), and admittedly, is preoccupied with the situation. While he recovers, it will be interesting how the Kings look with Pooh Jeter directing a faster-paced offense - assuming the rookie's playing time increases. I'll be watching while vacationing for the next week at my modest abode not far from The Bee.

For those wondering how Hassan Whiteside is doing in the D-League, let's just say, it's been interesting. In three games off the bench for Eric Musselman's Reno Bighorns, the lanky rookie is averaging 5.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 12 minutes. Friday night against visiting Rio Grande Valley, the Kings' second-round pick scored six points, grabbed six boards and blocked five shots - intriguing numbers except for the fact that he fouled out in 13 minutes. (Several members of the Kings organization were present to check up on their second-round draft choice). Whiteside isn't thrilled with the assignment, but he needs to play. Those D-League bus rides and hotel accommodations can't be all that bad. Can they? Hassan should just follow the example of Donte Greene, who was sent over to Reno during his rookie season, embraced the move, had an immediate impact, and was back in Sac in less than two weeks. And by the way: the Bighorns are 7-1.

December 10, 2010
Dalembert on edge about Haiti

While watching/listening to CNN anchor Anderson Cooper's interview with actor Sean Penn, who was on the phone in Haiti, I was reminded that Samuel Dalembert has more on his mind than basketball. Because of the onoing unrest in his native Haiti, he said that his father, sister and other relatives are remaining sequestered in their homes. "They won't go outside," he said earlier today. "It's not safe." The Kings center, who was honored at the Hall of Fame last summer for his humanitarian efforts in the disaster-stricken native, a la Dikembe Mutombo (Congo) and Vlade Divac (U.S., Balkans, New Orleans) of the previous generation of NBA centers, is working toward holding a fundraiser in Sacramento in the near future.

This was a strange night at Arco Arena for a lot of reasons. Forget the fact the Kings broke their eight-game losing streak against the Washington Wizards, Pooh Jeter was a jet off the bench (again), and Tyreke Evans said he had a stress fracture in his left foot, then said he didn't have a stress fracture in his left foot.

It started long before tipoff, with people in the press room talking about the 24/7 newspaper, radio and television tributes marking the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. (Count me among the millions of passionate Beatles fan who remember where they were when Howard Cosell spread the grim news during Monday Night Football). But then I learned that former Sixers center Samuel Dalembert traveled across the country to attend the funeral of longtime Daily News beat writer Phil Jasner, a friend and former colleague for the past three decades. I checked the newspaper's website and saw photos of the Kings veteran Samuel Dalembert, a longtime 76ers center who traveled across the country to attend Wednesday's services. He planned to make it back in time for tipoff, but didn't make it. (Kudos to Paul Westphal for giving Samuel the family time). Also attending services were Doug Collins, John Chaney and World B. Free, one of the league's true characters in LBC (Life Before Charles). All I can say is ... Phil would have been delighted.

Not that any of us need be reminded that the purpose of sports is to entertain, but the notion was reinforced during team warmups when I happened across Tonette Johnson, whose husband, Bill, was the most loyal Kings fan I have ever encountered. When I asked about Bill, she shook her head. He finally succumbed to cancer after a grueling four-year battle. Readers of the Bee undoubtedly know Bill's story. We caught up with him often, partly because you couldn't miss him! A large, white-haired man with a quick smile, and dressed in full Kings regalia accentuated by strings of beads, he not only attended all Kings home games, he sat courtside every year at the Las Vegas Summer League.

"We called it part of our 'Quality of Life Tour,' " Tonette explained, "and every year it was like, 'if I can only make it to another Summer League!' Attending Kings games and going to Vegas, that was part of our 'quality of life tour.' "

One final thought: Johnson, 61, was totally enamored of rookie DeMarcus Cousins. During one Summer League game in July, he called me over to his seat that was located directly behind the Kings bench, insisted that what he was about to say was off-the-record, and then related the young center's outburst from moments earlier. Word for word. Gesture for gesture. And then Johnson laughed. He pooh-poohed concerns about Cousins' temperament, was thrilled the Kings finally acquired a beefy big man "with an attitude," and bottom line, thoroughy enjoyed watching the kid. So so sorry Bill is no longer with us. He undoubtedly would have gotten a kick out of the head-shaking, foot stomping, emotional DMC, his favorite starting Kings center (says Tonette) ... since Vlade.

While I'm not far from an expert in economics, the people I have spoken with the past few days who tend to know about such NBA matters believe the league's purchase of the New Orleans Hornets was a smart move despite the hefty ($300 million?) price tag. Mainly, they believe the league did not want to get into the heat of collective bargaining talks with one of its franchises in deep distress. The plan is that, once a new agreement is reached, the Hornets will be sold for a profit - preferably to an owner who wants to keep the franchise in Louisiana.

But, maybe not. The tiny market Hornets will continue to be approached by the usual bidders from Kansas City, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, etc., but from what I am hearing, the league has only mild interest in moving the Hornets to another small market, especially one with intense competition from other pro franchises, quality arenas notwithstanding. That means Kansas City and St. Louis are unlikely destinations, and for different reasons, and almost as unlikely, are Anaheim (third team in So Cal?) and San Jose (Lakob and Guber just spent a fortune acquiring the Warriors and the Bay Area territory, and the Maloofs (we will not sell!) are trying to invigorate their market in Sacramento). Plus, the economy in Las Vegas is horrific. Good luck getting the Nevada legislature and/or voters to pass public financing for an arena. No chance. Besides, the league hates the gaming/lifesyle temptations, especially after the All-Star Game fiasco.

No, the most appealing market for a future NBA franchise - the Hornets if they can't financially survive in New Orleans - remains an old personal favorite: Seattle. The Sonics' former hometown will get another team as soon as some local billionaire is willing to build an arena and spend a fortune on purchasing a franchise, and most deservedly so.

Until the Kings' fourth-quarter rally against the Clippers, Bill Walton's commentary was the most entertaining part of the game. Talk about a mudslinger. The Clippers at least an excuse, having played in Portland last night. But here were the Kings yet again, catching an opponent on the back end of a back-to-back, yet appearing to be the more fatigued team.

A few late thoughts on the Kings:

• For whatever reason, this is a poorly-conditioned squad. They are young and athletic; they should be forcing turnovers, running, and dunking. Maybe they should be running suicides or fastbreak drills in practice? Until Tyreke Evans threw an outlet to Omri Casspi with 1:55 remaining in the first quarter, it was hard to remember what a Kings fastbreak looked like.

• DeMarcus Cousins is immensely talented, and given that big, chunky body of his, he'll have to play himself into NBA shape. That was a good move by Paul Westphal to stick him in the starting lineup. Plus, it's not like the Kings were winning games when the youngster was coming off the bench. Love, love his potential (and passing skills).

• This might have been Casspi's most complete game. The second-year forward is at his best when he is rebounding, running the floor, cutting ... and the Kings are moving the ball. His game comes much more easily when the Kings move the ball and stop playing in mud.

• Agree with Walton: the Kings' perimeter was (is) absolutely terrible.

• My biggest gripe? There is no excuse for the collective lack of energy. For most of the season - including the first three quarters against the Clips - the Kings played like a bunch of 40-year-olds with sore knees, sprained ankles or migraine headaches. Very perplexing.

December 3, 2010
Thinking about Phil Jasner

Just heard that my dear friend and longtime colleague, Phil Jasner, passed away earlier this evening after a lengthy struggle with cancer. He was a young, vibrant 68 until his final weeks, even though he covered the 76ers (for the Philadelphia Daily News) since 1981 and spent untold hours chronicling legends and chasing stories about Julius Erving, Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson. His imitation of Iverson's famous press conference (Practice? Practice?) was hilarious. Condolences to his son, Andy, and everyone else around the league who is feeling Phil's loss tonight.h

A few thoughts about LeBron James and his much-anticipated return to Cleveland:

• If I were among those who bet on games - and I'm an idiot when it comes to gambling - I would have cleaned up on the Cavs-Heat spread. There was no way LeBron was NOT going to have a great game. Now, if he had played like that during the playoffs ...

• Amid the clamoring for the return of Pat Riley, please remember that Riles (Knicks, Heat) hasn't run a fastbreak since his Showtime Lakers.

• You can't really get a true feel for a crowd unless you're actually in the building, but from what I could sense from watching on television, this was nothing compared to what LeBron would have experienced under similar circumstances in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago or Salt Lake City. The chanting. The booing. The signs. Seriously. This was nothing.

• As for LeBron's decision to bolt Cleveland for Miami? C'est la vie. Cavs management had seven years to find him a Scottie Pippen, a Pau Gasol, a quality supporting cast. That's on them. His insensitive ESPN sayonara is on him.

With DeMarcus Cousins replacing ailing Samuel Dalembert in the starting lineup, I took a look back at the offseason trade involving Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes. And based on the team's records and individual stats, neither center seems to be benefitting appreciably from the move.

Dalembert, the former Philadelphia 76ers veteran who arrived at training camp in poor shape (partly because of his time spent in Haiti working for various charities, and also because he has never been known for his intense offseason conditioning regime) is averaging 4.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and shooting 38 percent - well below his career averages of 8.0 points and 8.3 boards, and 52 percent field goal shooting. One contributing factor undoubtedly is the Kings' insistence on utilizing him as an offensive threat, particularly in the low post, which was not even a remote consideration during his time in Philly. The wiry, athletic Dalembert was regarded as a shotblocker and defender who could trigger fastbreaks, hit the faceup jumper and surprise with an occasional creative pass. But he accepted as a streaky, unpredictable scorer, and was never envisioned as an offensive force, particularly from the low block.

Hawes, who has a history of knee issues, has been healthy, but disappointing. As one Sixers insider suggested to me earlier tonight, "Hawes can play in the league, but he is just not a starting center." The Kings' former first-round pick - selected only because Joakim Noah was plucked one pick earlier - is averaging 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds. Given the fact that Doug Collins is one of the most exacting and demanding coaches in the league, it will be interesting to see how long he sticks with Hawes in the starting lineup.

The Sixers, by the way, are much happier with Nocioni. And vice versa. The Argentine was absolutely miserable here last year. He privately and repeatedly complained about the Kings' chronic lack of ball movement, most notably the tendency for the guards to ignore open wing players on the break, echoing the more recent sentiments of journeyman Ime Udoka. The former Kings reserve, who was re-signed by the Spurs, told reporters in San Antonio last week that, in Sacramento, there was "a lot of standing around."

If Cousins can stay out of foul trouble - and Paul Westphal's doghouse - he should be able to facilitate the offense. He is such a gifted, intuitive passer, I can't even imagine how effective he would be in a balanced offensive system that features movement, screening and teamwork. The longer I do this job, the more I appreciate Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan, and believe in the importance of physical conditioning.

Before Tuesday's game against the Indiana Pacers, DeMarcus Cousins refused to talk about the fact he was kicked out of practice on Monday. But as deadline approached late Tuesday evening, the Kings' rookie was pretty chatty - and very candid. Some of his comments were hurriedly included in my column, and Jason Jones added others into his blog. But the Full DeMarcus is worth a longer look. The Big Fella, who is only 20 years old, lays it out there.

"It's very hard," he said. "I mean, you come into practice, you can just feel it in the air. The negativity. It's like a black cloud hanging over ... I'm mad, I'm frustrated about losing.

I am a big part of this team, and coach (Paul) Westphal said I've been terrible. That's the truth. I've been terrible. And it affects the team. I've got to pick up my game."

As I wrote in my column in today's Bee, Cousins is too easy a target. He's a beefy 6-foot-11, 20-year-old kid with a huge personality, and like most rookies in today's game, is more than a little jolted by the realities of the NBA. The travel. The practices. The schedule. It's intimidating, no question. But he has immense talent and is a "competitive spirit" as his mother, Monique suggests. He definitely has to get in better shape and play harder, but he loves to pass, has terrific skills, and again, has a feel for the game. And you have to love the candor. He looks in the mirror, which is huge. Plus, he is a quick study. Case in point: After repeatedly getting blocked underneath by Joakim Noah and the long, athletic limbs of the Chicago Bulls last Saturday, Cousins made the adjustment, and later in the game, eluded the defense by attacking the other side of the basket. He has a feel, an instinct, that can't be taught.

More about that incident ...

The cerebral, acerbic Westphal has to maintain authority over his club, particularly his younger players. This is tough. These are not the 1980s. Yet the overwhelming sentiment within the organization (and the locker room) is that Westphal was intimidated last year by Tyreke Evans, refusing to bench the rookie for failing to give up the ball on the break, breaking off plays, overdribbling, etc. Numerous Kings type are wondering if Westphal is trying to atone for his coddling of Evans - whose older brothers have long insisted that Tyreke needs direction and a firm coaching hand - by being particularly hard on Cousins.

Speaking from experience

When asked about the Cousins-Westphal exchange, veteran Jason Thompson offered these thoughts: "Until you've played enough games, and done something in this league, you can't go back at the coach. You make him look bad. It's like I told Demarcus. I was real frustrated my rookie year, too. I wanted to be playing a lot more. But until you travel to the different cities, play different teams, you don't know what's it like. You just have to work hard and wait for your time."

Whither Beno?

Beno Udrih is the one Kings player who has a completely legitimate gripe about playing time. Frankly, he deserves better. He is regarded among his teammates as the smartest player on the roster, and increasingly, can be seen instructing players about where to be. He is especially attention to Evans - demonstrating ball fakes and shifty moves. As TNT analyst Steve Kerr suggested during the Thanksgiving Day telecast of Kings-Clippers, Beno would be a terrific third guard on a contender. He is the player his former Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich always said he could be .... if he only grew up. Well, he has.

Beno is the Kings' best facilitator, the best mid-range shooter, the only semblance of a floor leader, and yet he remains victimized by equivocation about Evans at lead guard. For some reason, and particularly late in close games, the ball is slow-dribbled upcourt by Tyreke. Is that Westphal directing Evans to take the ball? Or Udrih deferring to the player anointed last year as the team's next great player? The issue continues to confound everyone in the Kingdom.

The tension around the Kings' camp these days isn't quite up to Miami Heat levels (come on, they were talking championship), but it's close. Same issues. Same gripes. Stagnant offense. Players privately questioning the coach. Disappointing record. The Kings weren't even projected for a playoff berth, but there isn't a person inside the Arco offices who didn't expect these Kings to be more competitive, more energetic, more enthusiastic, absolutely more entertaining, and given the favorable November home schedule, somewhat better than 4-11.

Can't disagree. After perusing the schedule, I came to the generous conclusion that the Kings should be 8-7, with the Indiana Pacers visiting Tuesday night. There are no excuses for the lethargic, discombobulated performances in the majority of their home-court losses, most of which occurred with the visitors on the second night of back-to-backs: Memphis (double OT loss the night before in Phoenix), Minnesota, Detroit and New York.

What's really weird is that the Kings can stand around for the better part of November, than produce a dynamic, uptempo, invigorating first-half effort against the Bulls last Saturday. Before they collapsed in familiar fashion in the second half. Still, if they can play like that for two quarters against one of the league's better teams? Rebound and run? Space the floor? Move the ball? Give fans a reason to (a) buy a ticket and (b) avoid reaching for remote? Why so seldom?

Their issues, by the way, extend far beyond rookie DeMarcus Cousins and his outbursts in practice. More on that for Wednesday's Bee.

Before the Kings collapsed against the Chicago Bulls Saturday night, I caught up with former Monarchs point guard Ticha Penicheiro. The WNBA career assists leader still calls Sacramento home and occasionally shows up at Kings games. When the Monarchs folded almost a year ago, she signed with the L.A. Sparks. But her close connection with former Monarchs coach/general manager John Whisenant is no secret.

Partly because Whisenant was so demanding, Ticha dropped about 30 pounds and became a terrific defender - and though initially skeptical, a huge Whiz supporter. So don't be surprised she is reuinted with her former coach, who recently named GM/coach of the New York Liberty. I would be shocked if Whiz doesn't make a serious play for his former point guard and current free agent, though more in the role of tutor/mentor. "I don't know what I'm going to do yet," Penicheiro said, grinning.

Seeing Penicheiro made me nostalgic. Frankly, I miss those days at Arco Arena. Defense. Fastbreaks. Ball movement. Creative playmaking. Ticha was a classic, intuitive point guard in the sense of thinking pass-first, setting up teammates, and running the break. Though a subpar scorer and not particularly quick, she utilized her size (5-foot-11), length, anticipation and intelligence en route to a marvelous career. And clutch? Ticha's two third-quarter steals triggered the Monarchs' second-half rally in the championship clincher in 2005.

Once again, I was reminded that it's not the label that matters. For those who also might have forgotten, the selfless, cerebral, agenda-free Doug Christie was listed as the Kings two-guard when they were contenders, but while sharing the backcourt with Mike Bibby, he was the club's primary ballhandler and playmaker, and a triple-double threat every time he walked on the court.

SALT LAKE CITY - We had computer glitches back in the office earlier tonight during the game, so most of my in-game blogs failed to post. It's probably just as well. The Kings' performance was even more disturbing in person.

What ever happened to the team that started the season 3-1? The one that actually passed the ball once in a while, actually moved body parts once in a while, set screens, occasionally even scored in transition?

Anyway, now that the computers are humming along, here are a few post-game thoughts, starting with congratulations to Jerry Sloan on his 1,200th career coaching victory:

- Paul Westphal wants to take advantage of Carl Landry in the low post. We get that. But this feed-the-post obsession is contributing to the stagnant offense. Landry is most effective when he attacks quickly or faces up for a jumper. Too often, though, he holds the ball, giving defenders time to react. Then, instead of passing out of the double-team and finding an open teammate, he tries to split the defenders, getting his shot blocked or resulting in a poor possession. In his last five games, he has failed to contribute a single assist. Zero. Zip. None. Not even Kevin McHale (Mr. Black Hole himself) got away with that. That is simply bad basketball.

- While chatting with a member of the Jazz coaching staff before the game, he reminded me that Sloan is a stickler for players driving to the basket instead of pulling up for the jumper on the fastbreak, as is so common today.

- The Jazz are 10-5, and Memo Okur (Achilles) hasn't even played yet. The sense is that when the veteran center returns, he'll come off the bench behind Al Jefferson.

- No practice Tuesday. Westphal, who works his players hard (and often), gave them a break after the back-to-back games.

- Not only did the Kings shoot only 35.8 percent, they converted 5 of 16 three's. So why keep shooting from long range? The Jazz were 3 of 9 from beyond the arc, further suggesting that moving, cutting, passing, setting screens, reversing the ball, etc., leads to easier shots and higher percentage shots. Too much one-on-one, and too much off the dribble.

- DeMarcus Cousins has been wildly inconsistent of late, but it is interesting to note that the Kings were 3-1 when he was in the starting lineup. He doesn't provide Dalembert's defensive presence, of course, but offensively, he played with more poise and seemed more intent on muscling to the basket and/or looking for teammates. Tonight, he again floated outside and too often looked to score. His two missed jumpers in the second quarter helped fuel Utah's break. Can't dump the offensive malaise on a 20-year-old, but would love to see more of that passing.

November 22, 2010
In-game blog (Kings vs. Jazz)

By Ailene Voisin

First quarter: Kings 22, Jazz 20

The Kings got off to a decent start, and actually led several times in the opening
quarter. But once again, turnovers slowed any chance of gaining any real momentum.

They were guilty of five miscues in the first eight minutes. The usual stuff.

Strips. Careless passes. Tyreke Evans also got called for a rarity - for palming the ball.

Still, the Kings executed offensively and grabbed the lead, 22-20, on a quick jumper from Carl Landry off a nice feed by Luther Head.

Halftime: Jazz 49, Kings 37

Paul Westphal went with an entirely different unit to start the second period, probably resting his starters because of the altitude. Francisco Garcia and DeMarcus Cousins stayed on the floor after playing one minute at the end of the first quarter. Beno Udrih and Jason Thompson were joined on the floor by Omri Casspi, who made his first appearance (a brief one) in three games.

But that lead didn't last long. The Jazz capitalized on turnovers by Udrih and Thompson, two missed jumpers by Cousins, and began scoring in transition. C.J. Miles erupted for 11 points, including a pair of acrobatic drives. Udrih really struggled. He was 1-for-5 in the quarter and committed two turnovers.

The Jazz already have 15 fastbreak points ... to the Kings' two. The Kings also shot an abysmal 32 percent, including 2-for-10 from three-point range. Greene missed his three attempts, and Udrih and Evans each failed to convert on two long-range tries.

Third quarter: Jazz 78, Kings 56.

Donte Greene picked up his third and fourth fouls in quick succession shortly into the second half, prompting Paul Westphal to go back to Omri Casspi. Greene was playing well, except for the fact that he wasn't close on any of his three-point attempts. The more interesting stat is the continued offensive futility of the Kings' centers. Samuel Dalembert has now gone three games and and three periods without a field goal. He is now 0-for his last 14 attempts. The offensive hits just keep coming: Tyreke Evans just blew downcourt, drove into a trio of defenders and was stripped of the ball. The Jazz converted a pair of ensuing free throws and maintained their cushy lead entering the fourth.

Kings final: Jazz 94, Kings 83

There has been a Pooh Jeter sighting. Is this a good thing? If nothing else, it's different. The diminutive point guard started the fourth period alongside Beno Udrih. He was introduced as Eugene "JEE-ter" by the public address announcer, but he probably didn't mind. (The last name is pronounced JeTT-er). This was his second NBA appearance. He also contributed his second field goal when he converted an open jumper from the left wing with 8:30 remaining and, unfortunately, his second career turnover. He committed a backcourt violation a few minutes later. The night ended even worse for Omri Casspi. The second-year forward hit his head on the floor after going for a rebound with 3:14 left and definitely appeared shaken. Westphal called a timeout and immediately removed him from the game. Ugly, ugly, ugly.

Paul Westphal hinted earlier today that he might change the starting lineup against the New York Knicks, and after five consecutive losses (including home clunkers vs. the Grizzlies, Wolves and Pistons), who could blame him? He wouldn't offer any hints even when pressed, but after crunching some numbers, watching tapes of recent games, and chatting with a couple of NBA lifers, it wouldn't surprise me if Westphal experimented with Francisco Garcia and Beno Udrih in the backcourt, with Tyreke Evans at small forward.

This would be a gutsy move considering the organization basically turned the team over to Evans mere weeks into his rookie season. For all his prodigious - and unique - talents, almost no one in the league believes the reigning Rookie of the Year should be directing an offense. The consensus is that the 6-foot-6 Evans is a powerful (and natural) slashing scorer, a multi-tool player who can rebound, pass and become an above-average defender. He is not, however, a facilitator, and asking him to be a primary playmaker seems almost unfair.

Moving Garcia into the backcourt - and empowering Udrih to direct the offense - seems worth a try, for a few reasons:

• The Kings simply have to play faster. They would be unbearable to watch if the 24-second clock didn't exist. Their poor shooting percentage (45 percent) is at least somewhat attributable to an inordinate number of contested shots, to the habit of creating everything off the dribble, and to the fact they rarely utilize their quickness and athleticism for fastbreak opportunities. (It's ok. Throw ahead!) Unless Tyreke grabs the rebound and breaks downcourt for one of his muscular scoring drives, his pacing with the ball is tentative, even laborious, and his passes too seldom catch teammates in rhythm.

• Evans is intriguing as a receiver, particularly as the recipient of outlet passes. Think of him as sort of a Kellen Winslow, Sr., blowing in like a tight end from the right side, ahead of defenses instead of having to maneuver through multiple defenders.

• Garcia is a decent ballhandler and ball mover, and he improves the backcourt defense immediately with his quick hands and anticipation. The Kings rank last in the league defensively, so it can't get worse.

• Omri Casspi provides energy, quickness and rebounding off the bench.

• Until Geoff Petrie maneuvers for a Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash, etc., Beno is worth a look at the point. If openly acknowledged as the primary ballhandler/playmaker, he might not be so inclined to defer.

The downside in all of this, of course, is that an Evans-Carl Landry frontcourt is undersized, experimental, and not particularly athletic. Both are below-the-rim players, and when you add DeMarcus Cousins, that makes it a trio. But if Evans and Cousins are the future, why not start now?

Just a thought.

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

I was supposed to be off for a few days, but two things compelled me to get back to work (albeit briefly). The first was the Kings' abysmal performance in Saturday night's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. The other was a chat after the game with Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, a former teammate of Maurice Lucas, the Trail Blazers power forward who died last week of bladder cancer at age 58.

First, about the Kings. There was no excuse for their performance against a Grizzlies team that lost in double-overtime the previous night in Phoenix. Credit to Paul Westphal for noting this fairly significant factor. We won't even get into numbers, except to mention the Kings' 16 assists/20 turnovers ratio. Granted, the Kings fattened up on weaker opponents during their opening road trip, but losing to a team that played two extra periods and traveled in the wee hours from Phoenix? No, this loss was all about what the Kings failed to do, specifically, their inability to play like a team instead of individuals.

These were the Kings of late last season: Forcing shots, failing to move without the ball, getting beat to loose balls, setting half-hearted screens, neglecting to pursue loose balls and rebounds, and most disturbingly, performing like solo artists on offense. It seemed like every player who touched the ball felt compelled to launch a jumper or create a shot for himself off the dribble, often dribbling through a crowd or attempting to score inside against double-teams. Hence, those 20 turnovers. The offense was painful to watch, every field goal laborious. Didn't they learn anything from the Lakers the other night?

Just a suggestion: More passing from Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Carl Landry; more screening, cutting and rebounding from Omri Casspi; more assertive floor leadership from Beno Udrih; more collective energy; a heightened defensive commitment; an interest in pursuing loose balls. In essence, the Kings were really selfish and sluggish, and they deserved to lose to a quality, but understandably fatigued Grizzlies team.


Tribute to Luke ...

Hollins and once of his assistants, Johnny Davis, missed the Grizzlies loss in Phoenix to attend Lucas' private funeral in Portland. The three were close friends and teammates on the marvelous Trail Blazers squad that won the 1977 NBA Championship. Anchored by Bill Walton - the big redhead was the team's only superstar - the squad that included Bobby Gross, Dave Twardzik and Larry Steele rallied from an 0-2 deficit to defeat the more individually talented Philadelphia 76ers (Julius Erving, Doug Collins, World B. Free, George McGinnis) in the best-of-seven NBA Finals. Dr. Jack Ramsay was the coach. After Saturday's win at Arco Arena, Hollins said several of the old Blazers (Walton among them) traveled to Portland and reminisced for hours after the private ceremonies. "We told stories and talked about the old days," said an exhausted Hollins, shaking his head. "It was tough to miss the (Phoenix) game, but we all wanted to be there. Luke was a great friend, a great player."

For those who might not remember: Lucas' persona as a fierce, bruising, elbow-throwing power forward overshadowed his talents: He was a big, fundamentally skilled frontcourt player who could shoot, rebound, defend and pass. He was also smart and unselfish, a "wonderful" teammate, as Walton has described him, and he was a witty, engaging personality. After years out of basketball, he was delighted to finally join Nate McMillan's Blazers' staff, only to be diagnosed with bladder cancer. When it was announced he would not be returning this season, it was obvious his health had deteriorated. Condolences to the family.

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

Not that this comes as surprise, but after Kings practice ended today, coach Paul Westphal announced that Samuel Dalembert will replace rookie DeMarcus Cousins in the starting lineup.

Dalembert, the veteran who was obtained from the Philadelphia 76ers offseason in the off-season trade involving Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni, will make his first start Saturday night against the Memphis Grizzlies at Arco Arena.

Westphal cited a number of reasons for the change, including his desire to improve the interior defense and getting his club off to quicker starts.

Cousins, the No.5 overall pick, said he was fine with the move and that he had actually thought about suggesting the change to his coach.

November 2, 2010
Kings leftovers ...

Given the late finish to the Kings' victory over the Toronto Raptors in the home opener, here are a few other notables:

• Except for "Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Adrienne Maloof-Nassif, the entire Maloof family was in attendance. Brothers Joe, Gavin, George and Phil agonized throughout the opening half. Then, of course, they appeared on the verge of suffering heart attacks when the Kings grabbed the lead and won the game. The only one who always seems to enjoy herself is matriarch Colleen Maloof. She shouts at the refs, gets angry at the players and the coach, but maintains a sense of humor throughout. At halftime, she said she hadn't seen Episode II of the "Housewives" series, but jokingly said she hears that her daughter is pretty good.

• Before the game, rookie DeMarcus Cousins said he had heard all about Reggie Evans and the burly forward/center's bag of basketball tricks. The elbows to the gut. The tug on an opponent's shorts. The sly shove while positioning for the rebound. Evans (19 boards) torched Cousins early, but the rookie had another excellent fourth quarter and finished with 16 points. He also passed for two assists (zero turnovers), and threw up his hands only once in frustration ... in only 17 minutes.

• The Kings haven't started the season with a 3-1 record since 2003-04. It's all about perspective, though. They were 13-14 a year ago when they plummeted.

• More on this later, but in my less-than-humble opinion, that fourth quarter was the most impressive of Tyreke Evans' young career. He played fast -- took the ball off the boards and busted downcourt, found teammates in rhythm with passes, was quick, explosive, decisive with his dribble-drives, dove for loose balls, grabbed rebounds. (But we won't go into detail about his bathroom break that extended into the second half). If Tyreke continues to play like this, that Rookie of the Year award will be the least of it ...

• Beno Udrih's maturation continues. The one-time disgruntled Spurs backup is in excellent shape, has mastered that leaning mid-range jumper so few players possess these days, converts crucial free throws, and commands the respect of his teammates as a coach on the floor.

• The Kings don't win this game without Samuel Dalembert's defense and 14 rebounds. The veteran center, acquired in the offseason in the Spencer Hawes trade, was expected to miss four to six weeks with a thigh injury that sidelined him throughout preseason. "I can't explain it," said coach Paul Westphal, "but Samuel really wanted to come back and play."

• The final word comes from Omri Casspi, after he influenced the outcome of the game despite failing to grab a rebound. "I have never done this," he said, shaking his head. "No rebounds in 32 minutes? I can't believe it. I just couldn't get my hands on the ball."

After a wild and crazy night at Arco Arena, I don't know what was the bigger surprise: the size of the crowd or the Kings' comeback from a 17-point deficit. The home opener usually draws well, of course, and tickets were selling pretty briskly in recent weeks. But that was before Giants, World Series, and a scheduling conflict with Kings-Raptors.

With the Giants-Rangers World Series potential clincher scheduled for 4:57 p.m, I expected the place to be half-empty. Instead, the game sold out earlier in the day, prompting Kings VP Mitch Germann to release a limited number of standing room only seats. The question was: how many no-shows? There definitely were vacant seats in the upper bowl, but several of us media types estimated a few thousand. It obviously was a smart move by the Kings to open the doors early and announce plans to televise the World Series on the big screen.

Additionally, while Kings-Raptors was ongoing, the TV screens in the concourse flipped to the World Series. City Councilman Steve Cohn was among those who escaped onto the concourse and crowded around a television to watch the ninth inning. After Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz at 7:31, the crowd erupted (cellphones, IPads,etc.). Cohn hurried back to his seat for the second half. "Great night," the Councilman said later in the evening.

Paul Westphal is among a growing number of NBA coaches who are reducing the number of game-day shootarounds or abandoning the decades-long practice altogether.

After he held a lengthy, late-afternoon practice Sunday, the Kings coach decided against holding a traditional late morning shootaround prior to tonight's tipoff - a change in routine that he experimented with last season. "Mostly after back-to-backs. We still have time to be prepared," Westphal said, adding that the final pre-game details are presented about two hours before tipoff anyway. The concept of the morning shootaround was introduced in the 1960s by former Lakers coach Bill Sharman, who was attempting to curb his players' social activities the night before games. Yet with the advent of charter travel that begin in the late 1980s - Chuck Daly gets the credit for that - teams routinely arrive at their ensuing destination in the wee hours. Then, to wake up for a morning practice and play a game six or seven hours later? Exhausting.

Before everyone totally overreacts to David Stern's suggestion early today that contraction - or folding a few NBA francishes - is a possibility because of the ongoing economic crisis, please see this for what it is: Mere posturing and applying pressure on the Players Association as talks for a new collective bargaining agreement heat up. Dropping a few teams - and small market clubs in Memphis, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Sacramento are always the obvious targets - is not even a remote possibility. (Though you could certainly argue, the league's overall talent level would be greatly enhanced with fewer teams).

Clearly, Stern is playing hard ball. With the current agreement expiring next offseason and a lockout anticipated for 2011-12, many of the owners are insistent upon a hard cap. The small and mid-market owners also are demanding a larger percentage in revenue sharing, which they should. On Thursday, the longtime Commissioner addressed the dfalks about the need to lower player salalries by one-third, and on Friday, he conveniently throws contraction into the conversation! Contraction, of course, means a loss of roster spots - approximately 15 per team - and that simply is not going to happen.

To their credit, the Maloofs have largely shrugged off Stern's verbal slaps at the Cal Expo Board and the region's inability to come up with a financing mechanism for a new arena. They are still out there selling tickets, re-engaging the community, and most importantly, trying to improve the product on the court. Anyone who doesn't believe success and likeability are both necessary to sustain a community's interest in a professional franchise isn't paying attention. For the Maloofs - and the Kings' future here - it's all about putting bodies in the seats


First of all, this is not my idea of quality television. And for the purpose of full disclosure, I was in the middle of watching "Boardwalk Empire," Part IV, when a friend called and insisted that I turn on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" because Adrienne Maloof-Nassif was one of the featured stars. I actually met some of the women when Adrienne - the middle of the five Maloof siblings, and the only female - flew them all to a Kings-Lakers game last season. Anyway, the show is hilarious. To be so wealthy and so angst-ridden! And so honest! I can't wait until next week's episode. Seriously. Meantime, these are my favorite scenes: (1) Adrienne demonstrating her judo/kickboxing prowess by slamming one of her trainers to the floor; (2) Adrienne and her husband, Paul, arguing about politics; she's a Democrat, he's a Republican; and (3) One of the women taking her lap dog along when the group dines at Grange in the Citizen Hotel. For a minute there, I thought I was back in France. I was sort of left wondering whether I could bring my own Maltese (Taffy, eight pounds, four ounces) along the next time I dropped in for drinks or dinner. Nah, pbrobably not.

I just left the Kings locker room, where several of the players (and special assistant Pete Carril) were watching NBA Entertainment's documentary about Vlade Divac and the late Drazen Petrovic. "Once Brothers," which is airing on ESPN's as part of its "30 for 30" series, chronicles the ill-fated friendship of Divac and Petrovic. The two were best friends and stars on Yugoslavia's powerful national teams in the late 1980s, but when the war in the Balkans erupted in 1991, the Croatian Petrovic abruptly ended his relationship with Divac, who is a Serb.

Former Monarchs coach and general manager John Whisenant has been hired to fulfill both roles with the WNBA's New York Liberty. The press conference is later today. Whisenant, who guided the Monarchs to the 2005 WNBA Championship and a return to the Finals the following year, has been out of work since the Monarchs folded last December. His plan all along has been to remain in the WNBA in some capacity - preferably coaching. He won't be able to enjoy Madison Square Garden for the next few summers, however. With the facility undergoing renovations, the Liberty will play their games at the Prudential Center in Newark. And by the way, one of Whiz's favorite players - Nicole Powell - is the club's starting small forward.

After watching the tribute that Braves manager Bobby Cox received following his series-ending loss to the Giants earlier tonight, I couldn't help but compare his exit to that of recently-departed Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson. You can debate the merits -of retaining or releasing Nelson, argue about his offensive-oriented philosophy, but given his contributions to the NBA for the better part of five decades, he deserved a more gracious finale. He leaves - oh-so-quietly - with the most coaching victories and five championship rings as a player with the Boston Celtics. And when you talk to NBA types, even those who are not Nelson fans, they acknowledge his defensive influence on the game during his early years coaching the Milwaukee Bucks, and more recently, his offensive innovations with the Warriors and Mavericks. He went from favoring isolation plays (to exploit new defensive rules) to virtually despising the one-on-one style. I'm with him on that. One-on-one play is ruining a game that, at its best, is fluid, graceful and athletic, featuring ball and body movement. I still don't understand Nellie's late-in-life aversion to defense, but he certainly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, which could very well happen next year.

As for Cox, who retires as Braves manager at age 69: I was part of the Atlanta Constitution's coverage team during the Braves' great run in the 1990s, and from a professional perspective, the experience ranks among my favorites. The clubhouse that included Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Terry Pendleton, David Justice, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Mark Wohlers, Jeff Blauser, Mark Lemke, Rafael Belliard, Pat Corrales, Mike Stanton, John Schuerholz, etc., was unique, dynamic, entertaining, professional. The players/coaches were enlightening and consistently accommodating. It reminded me of the NBA in the 1980s, when Magic Johnson's Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics would share their thoughts for hours, filling our notebooks, sharing anecdotes, and routinely, critically dissecting their performances before we could.

The cerebral, exacting Maddux - known as "Doggie" -- offered tutorials at his locker. Justice would deliberately say something controversial to keep things interesting. The thoughtful, good-natured Glavine - who completely understood our jobs and our deadlines - would sneak into a side room and give pregame interviews on days he pitched --- violating tradition; he laughed when anyone suggested he throw inside once in a while. (The Braves' approach is to pitch away, away, away, away).

Once, I arrived at the stadium about four hours early and noticed Cox leaning against the railing near the dugout, staring blissfully at the empty field. "Ms. Voisin," he said, smiling, "how can you can not enjoy this life?"

So, here's to Bobby, for an incredible run. We won't even mention that he only won one World Series with a starting rotation of Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz. He needed a closer, period. And here's hoping ... Nellie gets his day.

Otis Hughley, the new Kings assistant who coached DeMarcus Cousins in high school, is something of a prep coaching phenom in in Alabama. But we knew that. During a conversation after Monday's practice, however, Hughley revealed that he was the starting point guard (1978-82) for St. Anthony's High School in Newark, N.J. - and for Hall of Fame prep coach Bob Hurley, Sr. Hughley recalled the days when Bobby, Jr., the former Kings point guard, would hang around after practice and retrieve jump shots. "Bobby and his brother Danny were great kids," said Hughley, smiling, "and their father is something else." Hughley played college football before devoting his energies to coaching. He worked at the high school, college and minor league level before joining the Kings.

It's weird not having the Kings preseason games televised, but after contacting sources around the league, blackouts during the exhibition season have become the norm. Excluding high-profile teams like the Lakers, most teams (Blazers, Warriors, Kings, etc.), are eliminating preseason television broadcasts - mostly for economic reasons. A Warriors spokesman told me earlier tonight that he can't recall the club broadcasting a preseason game in his 12 seasons with the organization ...

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

In a terrific documentary for ESPN's "30 for 30" series that airs Tuesday, beloved Kings center Vlade Divac narrates the story of how his doomed friendship with the late Drazen Petrovic dissolved during the war in the Balkans in the 1990s. Petrovic, who is half-Croatian, stopped talking to his boyhood friend, Divac, a Serb, when war broke out in Yugoslavia in 1990. Kings fans are familiar with Vlade's story - he was embraced in a collective huge while the United States bombed Belgrade in 1999. But the documentary - that I write about for Sunday's Bee - provides footage of Yugoslavia's powerful 1990 national team, chronicles Vlade's visit to his hometown and to the home of Petrovic's parents in Zagreb, and offers revealing interviews with Radja and Kukoc.

I spoke with Vlade a few hours, in between his publicity appearances at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol., Conn., and he is really pleased with the piece. More to come in Sunday's Bee.

October 6, 2010
Kings, the day after

Ok, so before heading over to San Francisco for Giants media day, the KIngs were so entertaining last night against the Phoenix Suns that I felt compelled to note a few final thoughts:

• The ball movement was excellent, resulting in 24 assists. Tyreke Evans (five) and Omri Casspi (four) were the leaders in that category, but Pooh Jeter, Carl Landry and Beno Udrih threw some timely, beautiful passes. Because of the commotion over the newcomers, Udrih has been a bit overlooked during camp. But unlike several of his teammates, he arrived in excellent shape and appears slimmer than in the past. I still like Udrih running the point in the Evans-Udrih backcourt, especially as Tyreke develops his off-game skills. His three-point shot looks much improved, as advertised.

• The big men and big muscles. Samuel Dalembert and Hassan Whiteside pounded the weights during the offseason, as apparent from their bigger upper arms. Now, while we all scolded Vlade Divac for his lack of interest in cardio work and conditioning, but his aversion to becoming muscle-bound was right on. As everyone around here knows, Divac was amazingly durable. His theory was that it was more important to have a strong base than bulging biceps.

• Jason Thompson, Carl Landry and rookie DeMarcus Cousins set some excellent screens, freeing up teammates for jumpers and cuts to the basket.

• Cousins was terrific (16 points, 16 boards). He showed off his superb hands, quick feet, post skills, perimeter shot, and was a physical presence inside. Surprisingly, he had five turnovers and no assists, but the numbers don't reflect his ability to find cutters and shooters in the corners. As Paul Westphal said afterward, once he gets in shape .....

• One other thing about Cousins: The question is about maturity and his motor, but he stays after practices and works with the Kings coaches. And, he is a funny, funny young. This is going to be fun.

• According to one of the Suns officials, Hedo Turkoglu, who appeared sluggish and overweight during his disappointing season in Toronto last year, has bought into the Steve Nash/Grant Hill approach of eating right and improving flexibility. He looks much, much better. Hill, by the way, turned 38 on Tuesday.

Before a surprisingly entertaining preseason game between the Kings and Phoenix Suns at Arco Arena - most preseason games are ragged marathons because coaches use these games to evaluate their talent - I happened to observe a funny incident that occurred courtside. One-time Kings swingman Hedo Turkoglu shared a hug with current Kings president Matina Kolokotronis. For those who might have forgotten, during his rookie season, Hedo lived in the guest house at Kolokotronis' home in Fair Oaks. At the time, Kolokotronis was the attorney who negotiated his release from his former team in Turkey. "I told Hedo, 'I've been so busy, I forgot you were coming to town with the Suns," Kolotronis related. "He said, 'thanks a lot.'"

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

As promised, world class sprinter Carmelita Jeter flew to Sacramento for her brother's NBA preseason debut Tuesday night against the Phoenix Suns.

Pooh Jeter finished with six points, two steals and two assists, and also as promised, changed the tempo with his quickness.

"I have practice at 9 a.m. (Wednesday) at UCLA," said Carmelita, who was seated with parents Gloria and Eugene, Sr., "and I have a 6 a.m. flight back to L.A., but I couldn't miss this. I won't be here Thursday, but I'll be here a lot this season. I was really proud of (Pooh). I thought he played really well." Pooh's older sister owns the second-best time in the womens' 100 meters - her time eclipsed only by the late Florence Griffith Joyner.

Also in attendance: Garry St. Jean, the former Kings coach/general manager who later became an interim head coach and executive with the Golden State Warriors. "Saint," who has been out of basketball since 2004, has been hired as a consultant by the New Jersey Nets. He was at Arco Arena to check out the talent.

While waiting to speak with Kings center Samuel Dalembert after today's practice, I had a chance to catch up with Kings media relations official Chris Clark, who missed the first few days of training camp while serving on jury duty. The political science grad was the foreman for the jury that convicted former Sacramento County deputy sheriff Chu Vue of plotting the murder of fellow corrections officer Steve Lo. And clearly, he was affected - he sounded almost overwhelmed - by the experience. "It was life-changing," Clark said, while leaning on a treadmill at the practice facility. "You leave there with assurances that our system works. When you go through a trial like that, and you see the diligence of the lawyers and the judge, it leaves you with an appreciation of how we do things in America. The case itself had it all. It was as nuanced and detailed a case as you could ever hope to serve on."

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

Former Kings head coach Kenny Natt - OK, a head coach ever so briefly (as Reggie Theus' replacement for the final four months of the 2008-09 season) - would have joined Don Nelson's staff had the longtime Golden State Warriors coach been retained by the new ownership group.

Nelson's plan was to hire Natt as a workout/player development type, which is the role he fufilled during his lengthy tenure on Jerry Sloan's staff in Utah.

Though hired as Theus' lead assistant here in Sacramento, the reserved, understated Natt was quickly overpowered by the more dynamic, aggressive Chuck Person, who quickly become Theus' major confidante. Person was released with Theus, but was hired by Phil Jackson and earned a championship ring last season with the Lakers.

Reached at his family home in Yavne, Israel, a few minutes ago, Kings forward Omri Casspi said he was "hurt" upon learning that a mural featuring his likeness was defaced with a swastika. The incident at 16th and R Street in midtown is being investigated as a possible hate crime by the local authorities.

"It's been all over the news over here," said Casspi. "Everybody's talking about it. It's hurtful to think that this is 2010, and there are still people like that out there. I almost don't know what to say. It's probably just some idiot who wants some publicity. But I know the people in Sacramento, and they have been wonderful to me. I know they must feel bad about this. Same thing with the Kings. I'll just let the police handle this and focus on having a great season."

Casspi, who is the first Israeli to play in the NBA, returns to Sacramento on Monday to begin preparing for his second training camp. He spent part of last week participating in a basketball camp designed to foster friendships among Israeli and Palestinian youngsters. The event at the Jewish-Arab community center in Jaffa was sponsored by the Peres Center for Peace, in conjunction with the NBA.

I totally indulged my career-long obsession with international basketball and David Stern's behind-the-scenes global peace campaign during a half-hour conversation this afternoon with Omri Casspi, who was calling from Israel at about 1 a.m., his time. After 24 hours of failing to connect because of the 10-hour time difference, I was finally able to ask Omri about his involvement in the basketball camp sponsored by the Peres Peace Center and the NBA. The idea mirrors that of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders - in this case, getting Israeli and Palestinian youngsters together and fostering tolerance and understanding through sports.

Before going to the camp in Jaffa, Omri and his brother, Eitan, were invited to Israeli president Shimon Peres' home in Jerusalem. Besides the serious conversation, there were lighter moments. "At first I felt kind of bad," said Casspi, only half-jokingly. "I got out of bed and drove with my brother first thing in the morning (approximately 45 minutes from Yavne to Jerusalem). When we got there, Mr. Peres had already taken his morning jog. And he's 87 years old! I just woke up and drove to meet him, didn't even work out yet. He is pretty amazing ..."

Casspi also revealed that he signed his first official sponsorship deal - with the Israeli airline El Al. He was scheduled to film commercials for the airline within the next few days, then return to Sacramento to get ready for training camp.

By Ailene Voisin
avoisin@sacbee.com

Israel lost to Montenegro earlier today in the EuroBasket 2011 qualifying tournament, but finished as the second-best team and ensured its participation next September in the games in Lithuania. Omri Casspi scored 18 points and collected four rebounds in the loss, and had a decent tournament overall. After last year's abysmal showing in the Euros, the Israelis are elated about being back in the international mix.

On another note, the fatigue/injury factor that has diluted the talent pool at the ongoing World Championships in Istanbul strengthens the case for the international game as a showcase for the younger stars. In other words, let the kids play ... and let Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, etc., use the offseason to rest their bodies and rehabilitate their injuries. Of course, while the rest of the world values the World Championships, the United States places a greater premium on the Olympics, which means there will be the usual pressure on NBA stars to compete in 2012 in London.

When I contacted Joe Maloof earlier today for a reaction to the NBA's one-game suspension of Tyreke Evans (reckless driving), the Kings co-owner was in Los Angeles preparing for Saturday's skateboarding competition in Orange County. He loves this stuff - the Maloof Money Cup that consists of competitions in New York and Orange County, and soon, South Africa and Portland. Anyway, he mentioned that Saturday's event would be televised live on Fox (noon), and almost as an aside, revealed that the entire family (Colleen, Adrienne, Joe, Gavin, Phil, George) was interviewed Thursday by CNN host Larry King. Frankly, Joe was very excited about the skateboarding event, and I wanted to know more about the Larry King/CNN/family chronicles. Anyway, the show that will air on CNN on Sept. 18 is a conversation about the family's history, how their economic empire was built in the liquor business in New Mexico, the impact of George Maloof, Sr.'s early death and their former ownership of the Houston Rockets, etc. as well as their future plans.

Too stern a penalty?

David Stern's decision to suspend Evans was a foregone conclusion. The only thing that surprised me was the length of the suspension. I had guessed two games. Tyreke might have helped himself with the way he has handled the situation.

NYC, Orange County, South Africa, Portland ....

While I was speaking with Joe Maloof about Evans, Kings, Maloof Money Cup, among other things, I asked when he as going to build a skate park in Sacramento. He explained the construction of the facilities as follows: The Maloof family enters into a private/public partnership with a respective city, the city and/or county donates the land, the Maloofs build the structure and hold a Maloof Money Cup event, then depart and leave the park for the kids. "I have had 27 cities call me and ask about doing this," Joe said Friday. Pressed about Sacramento, he said: "I think Sacramento is a great market for skateboarding. It's very, very popular here, and it's just going to get bigger. What I'm thinking is ... when we get the new arena built, we can build a skateboarding park adjacent to it. And I want to do it right." Meantime, I'm going to pitch my bosses on a trip next summer to Kimberley, South Africa. Covering a skating event there would be very cool. We loved those snowboarders at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, remember ....


The number of NBA players withdrawing from the upcoming World Championships in Turkey due to injury, the fatigue factor or lack of interest continues to grow. Let's just say ... Team USA isn't the only world power competing in Istanbul this weekend without its superstars. Longtime Argentina star (and former Kings forward) Andres Nocioni withdrew because of an ankle injury suffered July 31. He was urged by doctors and his new bosses in Philadelphia to stay off the ankle for several weeks. This will be tough for Noc, now of the 76ers. The Argentines, who early last decade emerged as legitimate threats in all the major international competitions, already are without Manu Ginobili (fatigue, ankle woes). Nocioni was a major contributor for his country at the Athens (gold) and Beijing (bronze) Olympics.


Score one for the rookie. The Kings' Hassan Whiteside threw out the first pitch a few minutes ago at the River Cats-Fresno Grizzlies game at Raley Field, and while his velocity was lacking, he avoided tossing a one-bouncer into the dirt. Whiteside, who has been in town finding an apartment and working out, received some pitching tips at the practice facility earlier in the day from Kings stats guru Darryl Arata. While offering his own version of a pitching windup, Arata advised the 7-foot Whiteside to overthrow the ball if necessary. "Most of the people throw the ball in the dirt," noted the longtime Kings publicist, who remains an invaluable resource for us media types. "Throw it higher, harder, so it doesn't bounce."

Rajon Rondo's withdrawal from the U.S. national team - presumably to avoid being the final cut - ensured that one of Mike Krzyzewski's favorite players (Stephen Curry) was included on the 12-man roster. Though the Warriors second-year point guard has been inconsistent in the exhibition games leading up to this weekend's World Championships in Istanbul, his quick recovery from a mild ankle sprain enabled him to withstand any threat from Rondo and kept him apace of Eric Gordon. From the opening day of camp in Las Vegas, Krzyzewski has praised Curry and repeatedly stated his preference for guards and wings who excel at three basic elements: (a) they can shoot, (b) they don't need the ball a lot and (c), they apply defensive pressure at the other end. Hence, his selections of Kevin Durant (a lock long before the training camp), Derrick Rose, Chauncey Billups, Gordon, Russell Westbrook, Rudy Gay, Danny Granger, Lamar Odom and Andre Iguodala, who made the squad because of his length, defense and sheer athleticism. The thin frontcourt of Kevin Love and center Tyson Chandler remains the main concern, as was apparent in Sunday's thrilling exhibition win over Spain. Get used to seeing the Lakers' wiry Odom at center.

What would Tyreke Evans have done?

It's really unfortunate that Tyreke Evans sprained his left ankle on the opening day of camp and never had the chance to participate. I was as curious as anyone to see how the second-year guard adapted to Krzyzewski's system. Partly because the team is so heavy with guards and wings, Krzyzewski planned to experiment with the 6-foot-6 Evans at two-guard and combo forward. In other words, he wanted to evaluate the Rookie of Year's play off the ball. Even if Tyreke had failed to make the final roster - and he was a longshot all along - this would have been a terrific tutorial. He would have been exposed to an uptempo style, surrounded by excellent passers and versatile teammates. Maybe next time ...

Spain without Jose Calderon

Jose Calderon's injury weakens Spain ... sort of. The Spanish team rallied when Ricky Rubio returned to the lineup. His playmaking, harassing defense and energy earned praise from the Americans. His mid-range jumper looks better, as well. He might not be ready for the NBA, but it might be time for him to succeed the enigmatic Calderon, who is coming off a terrible season with the Raptors.

August 23, 2010
NBA loses one of its best

This was a tough weekend for NBA insiders. Former Detroit Pistons media relations director Matt Dobek was found dead at his home late Saturday, at age 51. Though an official cause of death has not been revealed, several sources within the league confirmed that the longtime Pistons official took his own life.

Regardless of cause of death, this is terribly sad. Matt became Pistons media director the same year (1981) I started covering the league as a beat writer, and I believe I speak for a lot of us who held him in the highest regard. He was one of those NBA p.r. types who worked ridiculous hours and effectively straddled the line between being protective of players and coaches, and understanding that, in the NBA, personality and exposure sells tickets.

Accordingly, the Pistons were always a blast to cover, particularly during the Bad Boys run in the late 1980s. Bill Laimbeer was cranky, Isiah Thomas mercurial, and Dennis Rodman, uh, eccentric, but they were professional, accommodating, forthcoming, and continuing through the Doug Collins, Grant Hill, Larry Brown eras, nothing short of fascinating.

Dobek, who was essentially married to the job and particularly close to longtime coach Chuck Daly, also accompanied the handful of us journalists covering the original Dream Team during its travels to Portland, La Jolla and Monte Carlo prior to the 1992 Barcelona Games. Yes, he grumbled that Isiah was left off the roster. Yes, he wondered what Christian Laettner was doing on the team. But he managed to deal with it, and most importantly, helped ensure tremendous access to Magic, Bird, Jordan, Barkley, etc.

In a surprise to just about everyone withing the league, Matt was fired by the new management group in May - allegedly for leaking information to potential owners. While I can't profess to know what that was all about, I do know the Pistons ownership/management has been an absolute mess since Bill Davidson, the man known as "Mr. D," died in 2009. Alas, my final recollection of Matt is a fond one: While covering the Monarchs-Detroit Shock WNBA Finals at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2006, he offered to show up early and give me a tour of the building. He was eager to show off the millions of dollars Davison had spent in renovations. (The facility was built the same year as Arco, but for twice the price, and constructed to last decades). Afterward, Matt watched the game in the owner's suite with Joe Dumars, then came down to the media room to see if anyone needed any of the writers needed anything. Typical.

Sincere, sincere, condolences to the family.

That 10-hour time difference from Sacramento to Tel Aviv complicates matters, but after days of playing phone tag, I finally heard back from Omri Casspi a short while ago. The Kings second-year forward is playing for the Israeli national team in the 2011 European Championship pre-qualifying tournament, and as of today, helping with final preparations for his brother's (Eitan) wedding. Jason Thompson and Kings strength/conditioning coach Daniel Shapiro are among the 600 invited guests for this evening's festivities in Tel Aviv. According to Casspi, Shapiro, who is also Jewish, had not been to Israel since he was six months old.

"It's been pretty incredible," said Casspi. "JT and Daniel were on the same flight. They arrived just before our (national team) game Tuesday night against Italy, so they got to see what it was like playing in these international games. The building (Nokia Arena, home of Maccabi Tel Aviv) was packed, like it's never been before. It was crazy, wild. JT was a famous person. Everybody wanted his autograph and photos. But we lost the game, and I felt terrible afterward. We are deep in the mud now - we have to win next Monday in Latvia, or we're out of the competition. We lost a couple games we had no business losing. Now, it's going to be really hard to advance for next summer."

Casspi, who leaves Sunday for Latvia, is arranging private tours of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea for his two Kings companions. "JT is really interested in the history," he added, speaking in the wee hours, "so that's been great. Shippy (Shapiro) is working him out today at the (Nokia) arena. He's in great shape. I'm so happy they're here. I love those guys ...."

Omri Casspi's Israeli team lost to Italy several hours ago in the pre-qualifying tournament for next year's European Championships. The loss at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv - the homecourt of Maccabi Tel Aviv - was standing room only, including Kings forward Jason Thompson. JT is in Tel Aviv to attend the wedding of Casspi's brother, Eitan, who befriended several of the Kings while living with his brother during Omri's rookie season. One of my Israeli colleagues covering the tournament said that Thompson was quickly recognized and swarmed by fans. As for the Israeli team ... this was a bad loss. They still hold the tie-breaker against Italy, but could wind up having to play in a "last chance" tournament for next year's Euros. The Italians were led by Andrea Bargnani (26) and Marco Belinelli (14). Casspi, who scored 30 points and dominated in his previous outing, finished with 20, but was only 5-of-14 from the field. He did collect 10 boards, however. I'll catch up with in the next few days. We've played phone tag recently because of the 10-hour time difference.

Ruthie Bolton, who was among the local sports celebrities (and Jamie Foxx) sweating it out at Bobby Jackson's annual charity golf tournament at Catta Verdera in Lincoln, revealed that she will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, Class of 2011 Class. The other names will be disclosed on Nov. 16 at halftime of the State Farm Tipoff Classic. The induction ceremony is scheduled for June 11. An original Monarch and USA gold medalist, Ruthie currently earns a living as a local fitness instructor and as a representative for the WNBA and USA Baskeball in various ventures. "I'm really excited about the induction," she said. "I had a good career, though I wish it had lasted longer." As for her golf swing ... Ruthie wasn't going there. She spent the day pushing her 15-month-old daughter, Hope, around in a stroller and volunteering at a basketball booth.

Jackson plans to switch tourney dates

While taking a short breather a little while ago, Jackson said he will move the tournament to a weekend next year. He said several celebrities withdrew because of the Monday scheduling. Those in attendance included Matt Barnes, Mitch Richmond, Byron Russell, DeMarcus Nelson and comedian Jamie Foxx. Tryeke Evans showed up and mingled with fans, but didn't play. "The guys who came out here were great," said Jackson, now a member of the Kings basketball operations. "It's for a good cause. We'll do it again next year." Proceeds from the tournament benefit Camp Kesem, a national organization that arranges summer camp outings for youngsters whose parents are coping with cancer.

I returned a few hours ago from Reno, where I spent time about an hour with Eric Musselman after he was named head coach of the NBA Developmental League's Bighorns. The Bighorns are approaching their third season, and third as the Kings' affiliate. But in a move that makes much more geographic sense, the Golden State Warriors have replaced the New York Knicks as the Bighorns' other NBA affiliate.

A few other leftovers:

- Among his many stops, Bill Musselman, Eric's father, coached the Reno Bighorns of the defunct Western Basketball Association in 1978-79. "I barely remember it," the son said Thursday. "I think I was in the ninth grade."

- Jay Humphries, the former NBA guard/assistant who last season led the Bighorns to the playoffs, opted not to return when he was denied a pay raise. He is mulling an offer to coach in China.

- The press conference was held in a courtyard area at the Freighthouse District, a cozy entertainment venue that consists of four restaurants and borders the third base/lelt field line in the impressive Reno Aces (AAA) ballpark. After the 10:30 a.m. presser, Musselman and I chatted in the restaurant called "Duffy's Ale House." The location was great - about two blocks from the downtown hotels.

- The Bighorns' original owner is current Minnesota Timberwolves president and former Indiana Pacers executive David Kahn. (For all the bashing he's talking about his questionable personnel moves, Kahn was the brains and the architect behind the stunning Conseco Fieldhouse). Midway into the team's first season, he sold the franchise to a local ownership group that also includes Pacers owner Herb Simon - and also owns the Aces.


RENO - I just spent about an hour with Eric Musselman after he was officially named head coach of the Reno Bighorns of the NBA's Developmental League. The press conference was held just outside the Reno Aces AAA baseball stadium, in a cozy little entertainment district (four restaurants and bars) known as the Freighthouse District. I'm writing a column about the former Kings coach for tomorrow's Bee. Meantime, Musselman revealed that he is bringing ex-Kings staffer Clay Moser with him. The two have longstanding ties, going back to their days with the Continential Basketball Association.

It shouldn't come as any surprise that former Kings/Warriors coach Eric Musselman is taking over the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Developmental League after a three-year hiatus from NBA coaching. (He recently coached the Dominican Republic national team). Whatever anyone says about Musselman, he isn't above performing the grunt work. I remember him from his early days with the Clippers, when he did everything from running errands to copying reports for his bosses in the ticket sales department. He subsequently worked as a head coach and general manager in the CBA and the USBL. His tenure with the Kings was probably doomed by his DUI, and he was fired in December, 2007. But, no, no surprise. This is a good hire for the Bighorns, and a smart career move for Musselman.

The NBA moments ago released its entire 2010-11 schedule, and once again, the Kings open the season on the road. This time it's a three-game swing to Minnesota (Oct.27), New Jersey (Oct. 29) and Cleveland (Oct. 30). The Kings return and host the Toronto Raptors in the home opener (Nov.1), and two nights later (Nov. 3), will be visited by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Other quick highlights: The Miami Heat visit on Dec. 11, the Houston Rockets on Dec. 19 and the Lakers close out the regular season here on April 13.

Seven of the Kings games will be televised nationally, with one on ESPN, two on TNT and four on NBA.TV.

We'll have more on the schedule later.

The 2010-11 is in the process of being released by the league. TNT released its 52-game schedule a few minutes ago and plans to air two Kings games: the Nov. 25 Kings-Clippers meeting in Los Angeles and the Jan. 6 Denver Nuggets visit to Arco Arena. NBA TV (home of Chris Webber and Kevin McHale) will show four Kings games: Nov. 21 Kings at Nuggets, Jan. 17 Kings at Hawks, Jan. 24 Kings at Blazers and the Thunder at Kings on April 11.

August 9, 2010

I just got word that the Kings have hired DeMarcus Cousins' high school coach, Otis Hughley, as an assistant. Hughley replaces Bryant Gates, the former D-League coach who took an assistant's job with the New Orleans Hornets. Hughley, 46, is a dynamo in Alabama prep coaching circles. He led LeFlore High to six straight regional appearances and the 6A state championship in 2007 before moving only months ago to Blount High in Prichard, Ala. Interestingly, he was a fixture at the recent NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, seated with Cousins' agent (John Greig) and mother (Monique), and often was seen chatting with Kings officials. Now it makes sense.

Jason Thompson and Kings rookie Hassan Whiteside will be traveling to Las Vegas this weekend to participate in Tim Grgurich's annual skills camp at UNLV. The camp is for big men and guards, and though the respected Denver Nuggets assistant does little promotion, the slots fill quickly with NBA executives serving as his pitchmen. Grgurich also was a longtime UNLV assistant during Jerry Tarkanian's successful, if tarnished run that included the 1990 NCAA Championship. DeMarcus Cousins' agent, John Greig, attempted to get his client into the camp, but was unable to do so because of prior scheduling commitments. Cousins currently is working John Calipari's camp in Memphis.


While chatting earlier today with Tyreke Evans about his inevitable cut from Team USA because of an ankle injury, the only time his mood lightened was when I asked what he had planned for his 21st birthday (Sept. 19). He laughed, and said he was heading back to Vegas. "I spent too much time in my room," he said, referring to his lengthy stay in the desert while mostly watching the Kings Summer League team and, days later, mostly watching his NBA colleagues attempt to make the cut for the World Championship team. "That just made me tired. You can't do much in Vegas when you're not 21, just hang around in your room with friends." He also has a trip planned to Hawaii in the next few weeks.


Whither, the post players

One look at the 15 finalists for the 12-man Team USA roster is another reminder of everyone why 19-year-old DeMarcus Cousins is such an intriguing talent. The absence of skilled big men is scary, and of course, Mike Krzyzewski's biggest problem. Tyson Chandler and Brook Lopez - out of shape after a bout of mononucleosis - were the only two centers to make the initial cut. And based on comments Wednesday from USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, Lopez is far from assured of accompanying the team to Istanbul.


USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo a few minutes ago named the finalists vying for 12 roster spots on the U.S. World Championship team, and as expected, Tyreke Evans was among the cuts. The Kings guard was virtually eliminated when he injured his left ankle during the opening day of practice in Las Vegas and sat out two of the final four practices, along with last Saturday's Blue-White scrimmage. I spoke with Tyreke earlier today, and he said Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski told him they appreciated his participation and expected him to remain within the "pool" of national team players.

The 15 players who will resume training Aug. 10 in New York are: Chauncey Billups, Tyson Chandler, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, Danny Granger, Jeff Green, Andre Iguodala, Brook Lopez, Kevin Love, Lamar Odom, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook.

Both Colangelo and Krzyzewski said it was possible that all 15 players could continue on to Madrid and Athens for additional training sessions prior to the World Games in Istanbul, beginning Aug. 28. And, obviously, with the dearth of big men, the premium is on ball pressure, ball movement and outside shooting. The team took a hit early last week when Amare Stoudemire withdrew because of insurance issues and David Lee became unavailable after breaking an index finger during a scrimmage.

Also trimmed from the roster were O.J. Mayo, Gerald Wallace and JaVale McGee.

With Tyreke Evans' sore left ankle forcing him to sit out two of Team USA's four practices, as well as Saturday's Blue-White scrimmage at UNLV, the Kings young star will be the easiest of cuts for national team czar Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski. An announcement was expected today, but according to USAB officials, has been moved back, probably to Wednesday. Evans, who suffered a sprain when he landed on an opponent's foot in the opening scrimmage, remained with the team and was treated by members of the USAB medical staff. Unless the injury fails to heal within the next week or so, no further tests are planned.

Team USA leftovers

Despite the glut of guards, Golden State's Stephen Curry emerged as a legitimate candidate for final 12-man roster that will represent the U.S. at the Aug. 28 World Championships in Istanbul. Throughout last week, Colangelo and Krzyzewski frequently referenced the importance of perimeter shooting in international play and lauded the Warriors point guard for his playmaking and off-ball skills.

Could this mean something?

I returned to Sac before Saturday's Blue-White scrimmage, but was told that Warriors general manager Larry Riley watched the exhibition in the Thomas & Mack arena - accompanied by members of the incoming ownership group. Both Riley and head coach Don Nelson expected to be fired if owner Chris Cohan - as had long been predicted - accepted Larry Ellison's bid. Instead, Cohan shocked the world (ok, the Bay Area) and went with an ownership group headed by Celtics minority owner Joe Lacob and Mandalay Entertainment CEO Peter Guber. Surely money had something to do with it. Lacob and Guber submitted their $450 million bid weeks before Ellison recognized the duo as a serious threat and increased his offering from $401 million to approximately $500 million. Too late. As for Riley and Nelson, their odds improve with every day that passes before training camp opens.

Tyreke Evan's sore left ankle continues bothering him. The Kings young guard, who among several young players trying out for the U.S. national team in Las Vegas, sat out Thursday's practice after experiencing discomfort. Evans landed on an opponent's foot while attempting a layup during Tuesday's opening day scrimmage. He iced the ankle immediately after the workout and received treatment and pain pills later that night. He participated in Wednesday's practice, but skipped Thursday's session at UNLV after experiencing a recurrence of swelling and soreness in the ankle.

With one practice remaining before Saturday's blue-white scrimmage, Evans says he will receive more treatment and test the ankle again before Friday workout. He understands better than anybody that his injury situation is hampering his prospects for making a roster that is very heavy in guards. Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo are virtually assured spots on the 12-man team peparing for the Aug. 28 World Championships in Istanbul. The other candidates include Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Stephen Curry.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski plans to trim the roster to 13 or 15 players after the weeklong Vegas camp. The team will then train in New York, Madrid and Athens before the final 12-man roster is submitted for the Worlds.

LAS VEGAS - Although his left ankle remains a little tender, Tyreke Evans practiced with Team USA Wednesday at UNLV. The Kings 6-foot-6 guard is embroiled in a tight competition to make the guard-heavy, 12-man roster that will represent the U.S. next month at the World Championships in Istanbul. "I got treatment on my ankle last night, and took some pain pills," said the Rookie of the Year. "It got a little swollen, but it should be okay. I'm wearing an ankle brace on it for support. That seems to help." The training camp here ends Saturday with a blue-white scrimmage. Coach Mike Krzyzewski plans to carry a 15-man roster for upcoming training tours in New York, Madrid and Spain.

July 20, 2010
Tyreke tweaks an ankle

LAS VEGAS - Tyreke Evans became the second casualty during the opening day of Team USA's week-long training camp at UNLV. The young Kings star said he "tweaked" his left ankle when he went up for a layup and came down on Tyler Zeller's foot. (Zeller is among the collegians competing here against the NBA stars vying for roster spots on the 2010 World Championships team). Evans iced the ankle for several minutes after practice and planned to undergo some treatment later at the hotel. He is hopeful of resuming practice Tuesday.

LAS VEGAS - While wandering toward the restroom outside the gym where U.S. national tryouts are ongoing, I happened upon Golden State Warriors GM Larry Riley. He was leaning against a wall, intently texting someone. "We just had our first injury," Riley said. "David Lee hit his hand on the rim, so we'll have to get it checked out. The good news is ... it was his off hand."

July 20, 2010
Tyreke covers up

LAS VEGAS - The first official training camp session for the USA men's national team began about an hour ago, and apparently to his surprise, Tyreke Evans learned that players were prohibited from wearing earrings during practices. One of the Team USA trainers resolved the situation by placing two large pieces of tape around the jewelry. It basically looked like Tyeke was running around two huge cotton balls sticking out of his ear.

LAS VEGAS - Let's just say that DeMarcus Cousins' clunker of a finale in the NBA Summer League -- a 1-for-12 performance -- is a physical wake-up call. Of sorts.

The Kings prize rookie was visibly, undeniably, understandably, exhausted following an intense 10-day prep for the upcoming season. Fortunately, the 6-foot-11 center won't ever have to play six games in seven nights. But clearly, he has to improve his stamina and conditioning for an 82-game regular season.

He faded during the final three games, lacking llft on his shots and the energy to run the floor and challenge opposing centers underneath. And the more frustrated he became, the more impatient he was offensively. He forced shots, shanked chippies, and strayed farther from the basket than necessary.

Yet he is so, so, so skilled, and at the very least, already is an instinctive rebounder and passer, and a very tough self-critic. Coach Paul Westphal spent several minutes speaking privately with the super intense youngster after Sunday's finale, finally eliciting a grin from the overall No.5 draft pick.

"He has so much ability, and he's very smart," Westphal noted. "One thing that would help ... he can do so many things, but he needs to focus on doing a few things well (offensively)."

LAS VEGAS - Former WNBA coach/superstar Nancy Lieberman, who last November was named coach of the D-League's Texas Legends franchise, has been in town for 10 days scouting players in the NBA Summer League. She stuck around until the very end, even endured the Kings 85-54 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the finale. "I've learned so much," said Lieberman, who will be the first woman to coach in the D-League. "Everything is so different in the mens game at this level, from the way the game is called, to the rules. I'm looking forward to the season." As is the case with the men who coach the WNBA, it will be interesting to watch the feisty, dynamic Lieberman transition to coaching men.

July 16, 2010
Cousins scores a triple

LAS VEGAS - Kings rookie DeMarcus Cousins wasn't happy with his effort Friday against the Toronto Raptors, but his effort was a rarity. "He won't ever have a triple-double like this in the NBA," cracked Kings coach Paul Westphal, after his young center finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 10 personal fouls in the loss to Toronto in the NBA Summer League. While players are disqualified after committing six fouls in the league, this being the summer league, and a training ground for the kiddies, players are booted after their 10th foul. Cousins lasted 18 minutes, and while he reacted angrily to several of the calls (as did coach Mario Elie), Westphal had no problem with his displays of emotion.

"He really, really cares," said Westphal, "and to me, that's one of the best things about him. I don't know what people are talking about."

Nonetheless, there is far too much grumbling here about the officiating. If league officials are serious about clamping down on the incessant griping - and they should be - this would be the place to start.

LAS VEGAS - I arrived at the Thomas & Mack Center about an hour ago to perster as many NBA types as I could regarding DeMarcus. (The Kings play Toronto at 3 p.m.). So far, I haven't spoken with anyone - on the phone or in person - who isn't immensely impressed with the Kings rookie. I am really forward to seeing him live. You miss the nuances when watching these games on television or the Internet.

I originally planned to completely ignore the silly story in Wednesday's Las Vegas SUN regarding an investment group that allegedly has an agreement to buy an NBA team and relocate it to Las Vegas if an arena is built there - with public money! - but couldn't resist.

So after contacting a few NBA/Kings sources (some of whom were apoplectic), I'll keep it brief: Dream on. (And while people in Sacramento freaked out, didn't you just love the hint about the Detroit Pistons being the mystery team?)

First of all, the league has a very detailed, complicated process that requires potential owners to submit bids for franchises (see recent sale of New Jersey Nets, pending sale of Golden State Warriors, etc). The Board of Governors vets the candidates and selects the future owners. Any owner who wants to relocate a franchise has to separately apply for relocation - again, a very complex, extensive undertaking. The league's by-laws list very specific criteria for evaluating potential markets - implemented as a legal response to the San Diego Clippers' attempted (and subsequently) successful move to Los Angeles in 1984. The major factors include population base, size of television market, financial viability of the region, etc. Finally ... good luck getting an arena built in Vegas with public financing during these horrific financial times. There aren't very many fond memories of the 2007 All-Star Game there, either.

May happen someday, but it won't be soon, and it won't be the Kings ...

I don't arrive at the Las Vegas Summer League until Thursday afternoon, but given the way my phone was ringing all evening, I am increasingly eager to see rookie

DeMarcus Cousins in person. (Monitoring his unofficial Kings/NBA debut via the internet isn't the same thing as being in the gym!). Within a period of hours this afternoon/evening, I heard from several NBA types - including coaches - who watched the Kings/Pistons game and are ready to anoint Cousins as a franchise player and a top-tier center. The feet, the hands, the passing, the instincts ... can't wait to see the kid.


Kings draft choices DeMarcus Cousins and Hassan Whiteside double-teamed members of the media in Arco Arena about an hour ago while they were officially introduced as members of the organization. Cousins, the 6-foot-11 center out of Kentucky who was selected with the No.5 overall draft pick, will wear jersey No. 15. Whiteside, a 7-foot center/forward from Marshall, will wear No.33. He chose the number because he was still available for the Kings to take him with the 33rd overall pick.

"We feel like we added size, skill, length, and ability to our frontcourt," Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie said in his introductory comments. "They both have a lot of natural ability and upside potential. We're looking for them coming in, being productive, helping our team grown and win more games. I'm looking forward to watching them play and working with them."

Cousins was accompanied by his agent, John Greig of Seattle. Whiteside arrived with his agent, Andre Buck, and his mother, Debbie Whiteside. During the media session, a beaming Debbie Whiteside sat among the reporters and snapped photos of the proceedings.

"This is just an incredibly proud moment for me," she said, having flown from her home in Gastonia, N.C. "Sitting there (New York) during the draft the other night, watching him slip, was really, really hard. But I think he's in a good place, and people are going to really like him here."

Cousins, looking resplendent in a silver blue suit, and light green shirt and tie, revealed that Sacramento was his preferred destination all along. "I'm glad to be here," said Cousins. "I hope I can come in and contribute and help us get some more wins."


While most of the Kings front office types were fixated on DeMarcus Cousins several days prior to Thursday's NBA Draft, they were looking at two Xavier swingman Jordan Crawford and Marshall center Hassan Whiteside for their second-round selection (No.33). From what I have been told, at least two teams offered to buy the pick for approximately $2.5 million. Crawford went 27th to the New Jersey Nets and was traded to the Atlanta Hawks. As the second-round began, and it looked as if Whiteside might be available, Geoff Petrie and the Maloofs met privately. When Petrie asked whether the family wanted to sell the pick or take the player, matriarch Colleen Maloof replied, "Take the player." Not bad for Mama Maloof's "war room" debut.


We're still waiting for Geoff Petrie and Paul Westphal to makes themselves available, but one Kings source said wild cheering broke out inside the war room at 4:54 p.m. ... when the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Wesley Johnson (No.4). This meant DeMarcus Cousins would be available for the Kings at No.5. Petrie and his staff had been locked in on the Kentucky center for a while, but as late as Wednesday night, were increasingly worried that he would not be available. More later.


While the Kings spent the day hoping DeMarcus Cousins is available at No.5 in Thursday's NBA Draft, as my colleague Jason Jones has maintained for a while now, I also heard an interesting little tidbit: Colleen Maloof is expected to be in the war room for the proceedings. Though co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof participate annually, this will be a first for the family matriarch. She apparently enjoyed herself so much at the downtown Lottery party that she decided to see what the fuss (and all that tension) is all about.


As the NBA Draft approaches, the extended absences of senior vice-president/general counsel Jason Levien is prompting questions about his role within the Kings organization. A former attorney and player agent - Hedo Turkoglu, Kevin Martin and Omri Casspi are ex-clients - Levien was hired in Nov., 2005, to assist Geoff Petrie with contract negotiations, salary cap matters and other basketball-related issues.

The past several weeks, however, Levien has missed most of the player workouts and rarely been seen on the premises. When I asked Petrie about the situation after the Samuel Dalembert press conference earlier today, the basketball president was even more tight-lipped than usual. "I don't know what to tell you," he said. "He's (Levien) currently employed. That's all I can say." When pressed about his one-time close associate's extended absences, Petrie added, "He's been working outside the building on other assignments."

Though the relationship between Petrie and Levien has become increasingly strained - for whatever reasons - Levien was given additional duties on the business side three months ago when Matina Kolokotronis replaced business president John Thomas. A New York native whose wife is a high-ranking executive with Forbes magazine, Levien remains close with Kolokotronis and co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof. The brothers in the past have touted Levien as Petrie's eventual successor.

In a brief conversation, Kolokotronis acknowledged that Levien has been much more closely involved with business issues, including the team's involvement in construction of a downtown arena. One source indicated that the organization's higher-ups plan to meet within the next few days to resolve matters.

Geoff Petrie is known for keeping his NBA Draft thoughts to himself -- cracking the Pentagon can't be this hard -- but he was adamant about one thing earlier today: It would take a phenomenal offer for him to move the No.5 pick.

The Kings basketball president sounds stressed out, as do most GMs with high Lottery picks, but is convinced the Kings will get a quality player.

Assuming they keep the pick, and also assuming that one of the teams choosing ahead of them will -- as usual -- throw a complete wrench in the process, the Kings are still looking at a group that consists of Wesley Johnson, Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe.

More to come, as Thursday's Big Bash approaches.


LOS ANGELES - The mood inside Staples Center has swung from pregame exuberance to early jitters. Maybe this is why: The team that led after the first quarter has won the previous five games of these NBA Finals. After the first period of Game 1? Celtics are up 23-14.


LOS ANGELES - While the Kings are holding a press conference to discuss the trade of Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni to the 76ers for center Samuel Dalembert, I'm in the press room at Staples Center setting up for Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Tipoff is about three hours away.

Without having a chance to speak with Geoff Petrie or Paul Westphal - I already have chatted about Dalembert with several of my league sources in Philadelphia - my initial reaction is this: The deal works for the Kings if (a) the offensive philosophy changes and (b) Dalembert's shotblocking and rebounding are utilized to trigger transition opportunities and exploit the team's youth and athleticism. Former 76ers coach Tony DiLeo did this very effectively before his replacement, Eddie Jordan, came in last year and implemented the more structured Princeton offense.

I thought the Kings needed to play faster last season, take better advance of Hawes' passing abilities, and absolutely improve the ball movement. Now, because Dalembert is not much of a halfcourt passer or scorer, it will be imperative to play uptempo. Tyreke Evans proved that he can create plays for himself, but if he's going to be the primary ballhandler, he has to learn to create for teammates. Beno Udrih also goes through stretches where he does a good job facilitating the offense, but too often becomes fixated on getting his own shots as well.

From a salary cap management perspective, the Kings dump Nocioni's contract (two years, approximately $13 million guaranteed, with an option year). Hawes has a year remaining on his rookie deal. Dalembert will earn about $14 million this season, but comes off the books next summer. The Kings can decide at that point whether to re-sign him or look elsewhere.


LOS ANGELES - About an hour ago, I approached ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy and teased him about his antiquated cellphone. While glancing at the Celtics and Lakers players warming up on the Staples Center court, the former Knicks/Rockets head coach was checking his messages regarding Tom Izzo's decision to remain at Michigan State and Steve Kerr's resignation as general manager of the Phoenix Suns. Van Gundy - who is superb on air - told me that Kerr is returning to his old job as a TNT analyst. I couldn't confirm the information, but it makes sense. Kerr is also excellent behind the microphone.

As for Van Gundy's apparent lack of interest in coaching again? "I hope I'll get another job," he said. "I think that will happen. I want to coach again at some point, just not now."


Before returning to L.A. for Game 6 and possibly Game 7 of the Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals, I polled a few Kings types about the series. Not that this should come as any great surprise, but Geoff Petrie pretty much summarized the sentiment within the organization: Everyone appreciates the Lakers talent, ivately are pulling for Ron Artest, but no one is wishing them the best. Petrie just laughed when I asked whether he held a grudge against his Southern California rivals.

The 2002 Western Conference finals seems like yesterday ... unless you've watched the Kings play the past few seasons!


LOS ANGELES - Among everything else that's been going on these past few days, I happened upon my former Los Angeles Times colleague Steve Springer. A Lakers beat writer during the 1980s - and co-author of the hilarious book "Showtime" that chronicles the transition from Paul Westhead to Pat Riley - Springer said he's working on Jeanie Buss' autobiography. Besides being Phil Jackson's companion, Buss is the team's highly respected executive vice-president of business operations.

But about the book's title, "Laker Girl?"

Ugh. I strongly urge the publishing company to reconsider.


LOS ANGELES - John Wooden's passing earlier this evening seems to be on everyone's mind down here. When I was talking with a colleague from the Boston Globe a few hours ago, he reminded me that we chatted with the UCLA icon at one of Donald Sterling's NBA Draft Lottery parties sometime in the late 1980s. Sterling's lavish Beverly Hills gatherings were legendary; he asked that all attendees wear white. (I, of course, wore my customary black). But at this particular event at his house near the Beverly Hills Hotel, the strangest sight occurred: While the ping pong balls were bouncing in the air, deciding the selection order for teams with the worst records, Wooden and Sterling sat nervously in front of a television, holding hands. The coach clasped a religious cross in his free hand.

Again, I can't recall exactly which draft this was, but I remember the Clippers types being disappointed by the outcome, so I'm thinking it was 1987. The Clips got the No.4 pick and drafted Reggie Williams out of Georgetown. With their other two first-round selections, they went for Joe Wolf (No.13) and Kenny Norman (No.19).

More than two decades later, though, I still can't imagine what Wooden and the oft-maligned, oft-sued Sterling had in common. Wooden was in his 80's at the time, but mentally was still very sharp. But hanging with Donald Sterling? I felt badly. The coach must have been really bored ...

June 4, 2010
Talent show at Staples

LOS ANGELES - After the Lakers and Celtics practiced earlier this afternoon at Staples Center, I walked toward the exit and sort of stumbled upon Magic Johnson, who was moving into the back tunnel area where the players and assorted celebrities park their cars. While chatting briefly with the Hall of Famer (and, ok, one other pesky journalist), a few other people joined the conversation. So how's this for talent? Byron Scott. Jalen Rose. Kobe Bryant. Ron Artest. And, of course, Earvin. After pestering them with a few more questions, I said goodbye and got out of the way. Watching from a distance, it looked like they were enjoying themselves. They were yucking it up pretty good. Their cars weren't too shabby, either. I don't know the exact models, but I know a Mercedes when I see one.


LOS ANGELES - John Wooden's failing health was a major topic of conversation at the Staples Center before Game 1 of these NBA Finals. I saw former UCLA small forward Marques Johnson pacing the hallways and speaking somberly with someone on his cellphone. No need to guess what the topic was. Johnson was a key member of Wooden's final NCAA Championship squad in 1974-75.

LOS ANGELES - So after a hellacious day of travel/traffic/rental car woes in L.A. - the angst minimized by a surprisingly candid interview session with Ron Artest at the Staples Center in the early afternoon - I perused the media guides to confirm my suspicions: Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher are the only current Lakers who were on that 2001-2002 team that tortured the Kings in the Western Conference finals. Of course, Phil Jackson was head coach, and Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen were two of his assistants. And Brian Shaw was a reserve point guard on that '02 squad.

Still. Just wondering. Just thinking. Anyone in Sac pulling for Artest to win a championship? His effort during the second half of 2005-06, after he was acquired for Peja Stojakovic and his passion, peristence and dominating individual defense virtually pushed the Kings into the postseason, should earn him some love from Kings fans, right? I mean, the guy was truly incredible.

One thing that struck me during Wednesday's media bash: Ron Ron's winning putback against the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the conference semis was at the same end of the court as Robert Horry's killer three in the '02 conference finals. Horry's incredibly timely jumper off Vlade Divac's tapback seems like yesterday. And among all the NBA playoffs I've covered, it ranks up there with Julius Erving's baseline scoop shot, Bird's theft of Isiah Thomas' inbound pass, Magic's sweeping hook, Dennis Johnson's 19-footer at the Forum, Jordan's straight-on jumpers against Craig Ehlo and Bryon Russell ...

The numbers are intimidating

One of the reasons I continue to applaud the Maloofs for their aggressive pursuit of Jackson after he had been fired by owner Jerry Buss in 2005: Jackson's Bulls and Lakers teams are 47-0 when winning the first game of a playoff series. The Lakers themselves have won 23 consecutive playoffs after prevailing in the opener. You know? If you have elite talent and you are serious aobut winning? You hire elite coaches. Sometimes, it is that simple.

A tough series to call

Given the injuries to the Lakers (Kobe's finger, Andrew Bynum's right knee) and the advanced age of the Celtics' Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, this is a tough series to predict. Therefore, hours before Game 1 tipoff, I will defer to my esteemed colleague Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe - the encyclopedia on all things Celtics. He was a Celtics beat writer in the late 1970s and early 1980s, chronicled their championship runs through 1986 and again in 2008, hung with Havlicek and Cowens and Silas, and wrote books with Bird. His memory for game detail is unparalled. And, about this series, he has no clue. So I'll go with the theory that the team with the best player wins. Guess everyone knows who that is.

About the refs

There is no chance the NBA refs have a worse two weeks than Major League Baseball's umpires have experienced of late. Given ump Jim Joyce's botched call in what should have been Armando Galarraga's perfect game Wednesday, hopefully MLB is motivated to adopt an instant replay system something similar to that in the NBA. Nothing worse than blowing the call. Somewhere out there, Bob Delaney, Ted Bernhardt and Dick Bavetta - those 2002 Game Six Guys - are empathizing.

With the additions of Jim Gray and Bill Walton to the Kings radio and television crew that already includes Gary Gerould, Grant Napear, Jerry Reynolds and Fat Lever, the situation looks a little crowded. Or, maybe not. Pre-game shows. Post-game shows. In-game chats. Who can keep up with this stuff? Gray is being counted on to grab interviews with high profile types inside and outside basketball, so don't expect him to be poking his head into the huddle, tossing T-shirts, hawking season tickets, etc., as do so many NBA sideline reporters these days (I always felt badly for the departed Kayte Christensen, who was very insightful on post-game radio).

Walton's role seems far less defined. Unlike Gray, who has numerous obligations to other networks for golf, college basketball and boxing events, among other things, the Hall of Fame center said he's available for anything and everything, and more than working a handful of Kings games in L.A.- assuming his surgically repaired back holds up. He was forced to retire as ESPN's NBA analyst in 2008 because of a chronic problem, and as detailed in a number of publications these past few weeks, he was in excruciating pain before undergoing an innovative procedure 15 months ago.

When I reached him at his San Diego home earlier Wednesday, he was giddy, thoughtful, humble, emotional. He kept thanking the Maloofs and repeating how grateful he was to be back with a team - he said salary has yet to be discussed - and made it clear that, in his mind, this isn't a short-term deal. At one point, when I asked what it felt like to be returning to basketball after a 2 1/2 year absence, he choked up.

That hoops connection

Walton has known Paul Westphal since their UCLA/USC days, prodded his son Nathan to attend Princeton on Pete Carril's recommendation, and was a teammate of both Geoff Petrie and Spencer Hawes' uncle (Steve) in Portland. So he's not a total stranger. In particular, I can't wait to hear his analysis of young Spence, who loves to shoot and pass, but isn't keen on mixing it up inside.

Of all Walton's NBA-related relationships, however, his friendship with Gray might be the most important. (The two were broadcast partners with CBS and NBC for the better part of 20 years, so yeah, you can guess that Gray encouraged Joe Maloof to make that phone call after reading the LA Times article Sunday). According to Walton, it was Gray who urged him to contact Dr. Steven Garfin, the UC San Diego surgeon who performed the eight-hour procedure in which two titanium rods and four-inch bolts were inserted into his spine.

"Before I had the surgery, Jim was calling me every day, telling me 'don't give up, don't give up,' " said Walton, 57. "I would be down on the floor, not even able to crawl. You talk about a friend ..."

Final thoughts on the big redhead (deadhead, greyhead)

In April, 2009, while I was preparing a series of articles for Vlade Divac's retirement ceremonies at Arco Arena, I left a message for Bill and received a return call within a matter of minutes. He was recovering from the surgery - of which I had no clue - and must have been in a lot of pain, yet was incredibly gracious and generous with his time. When I asked how he was feeling, he changed the subject, and wanted to know what was going on with the Kings. Guess he'll see for himself.

Hall of Fame center Bill Walton is joining the Kings broadcast crew on a limited basis. Walton, who has suffered from debilitating back pain the last several years, is feeling well enough to work approximately 5-10 games for the Kings. According to Kings co-owner Joe Maloof, Walton will be added to the telecasts for the Kings games in Los Angeles, the LeBron James visit to Sacramento - regardless of which team the coveted free agent signs with - and could provide additional commentary from a local station near his home in San Diego. Walton becomes the second high-profile announcer added to the Kings broadcast team within the past few weeks. Previously, Jim Gray was hired to work a 20-game schedule.

"We'll start out slow and see how Bill handles it," Joe Maloof said Wednesday afternoon. "If he feels he can travel and wants to do more, that would be fine. He can offer commentary, join Grant (Napear) and Jerry (Reynolds) on the telecast for a quarter, do some reporting. We thought this was a great opportunity to add a Hall of Famer to our crew and have some fun."

So, the block party was a great idea. The Kings should do this more often. A lot more often. Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn, who was among the local politicians, civic leaders and business types who attended the NBA Lottery festivities late Tuesday afternoon in midtown, reminisced about how the local franchise often held functions near the city center when the late Joe Serna was mayor in the 1990s.

"Joe was into all this stuff," said Cohn. "He loved (engaging) the Kings in the city. I'm glad to see it happening again."

People in the streets. People in the pubs. People in the restaurants. The large screen TV angled in the intersection of Capitol and 18th. Very, very cool. The energy was palpable, and even though the Kings only secured the No.5 pick in the upcoming draft, the fans seemed to swallow their disappointment and thoroughly enjoy the experience.

So why now? Why skip a decade? Though Kings types won't say so publicly, several complained that recently departed business president John Thomas was a chronic impediment to these types of events. If a team sponsor wasn't involved, so the story goes, Thomas wasn't interested. Incoming business president Matina Kolokotronis, by contrast, spent the evening chatting just inside Zocalo's, chatting with fans, season ticket holders, team employees and media members. "Isn't this incredible?" asked the McGeorge Law School graduate and longtime Sacramento resident. "We need to bring the team back into the community, and that's what we're doing. This is just the beginning."

Maloof family matriarch Colleen Maloof, who has a wonderful, wry sense of humor, cracked, "It's a little hot, but this is wonderful. How many people do you think are here anyway?"

Wiz celebrate after all that suffering

It would be hard not to be happy for Irene Pollin, the widow of the late Washington Wizards majority owner Abe Pollin. She lost her husband in November, endured the Gilbert Arenas gun/locker room nonsense, is in the process of relinquishing control to the incoming Ted Leonsis ... and then gets lucky and wins the Lottery. Wow. Upon his death, Abe Pollin was the league's longest-tenured owner, and a close friend of NBA Commissioner David Stern. He also was among the most loyal and progressive of executives: Former Wizards president Susan O'Malley was a high-ranking executive decades before Jeanie Buss took over the Lakers business operations. Besides all that, Pollin's loyalty to his former player/coach Wes Unseld is legendary.

A few final thoughts on the Lottery, playoffs, Kings, NBA ...

- Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov became the latest billionaire to be humbled by NBA events. Assuming his league-worst club would win the Lottery, he envisioned drafting John Wall and, with a Brooklyn arena on the horizon, offering the most attractive destination for LeBron James. Well, he'll learn. The Maloofs. Mark Cuban. Remember Howard Schultz in Seattle? How long did he last? Five years? James Dolan. The late Pollin. The late Bill Davidson. Even Jerry Buss has taken his lickings, pretty much getting excoriated for firing Phil Jackson after championship seasons with Shaq and Kobe. No one escapes the wrath of NBA ownership.

- And by the way: Prokhorov better study his NBA history. Before projecting the Nets as the league's first "global" franchise, he needs to be briefed about the Kings teams of Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, and Hedo Turkoglu, the San Antonio Spurs of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the Warriors ... the Jazz .... the Rockets. (As a Brooklyn native, love the idea of a spanking new arena in my old neighborhood, though).

- Poor Tyreke Evans. His reaction when Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver revealed that the Kings would be selecting fifth? Priceless. He is the genuine, real deal, that kid.

- It's also not hard to understand why Paul Westphal remains so popular despite the team's disappointing season. He is bright, thoughtful, funny, accommodating to fans and media members alike, and for someone who was such an incredible player, seemingly without ego. He spent the evening mingling with fans, talking with journalists, spinning the results in the most possible manner imaginable. Very classy individual.

- I came home and watched a replay of Celtics-Magic Game 2, and couldn't help but wondering: Do the Magic miss Hedo, or what? Before he left Orlando, stiffed Portland, signed with Toronto and allowed himself to get out of shape (physically and mentally), the popular one-time King was a huge contributor to the Magic's postseason surge a year ago with his playmaking, shotmaking, three-point shooting, and uncanny knack for feeding the post. Think Dwight Howard might agree....

- Orlando's J.J. Redick could help the Kings ...

- Further evidence of the volatile economic times and dramatic turnover within league ownership circles: One of the late Pistons' owner Bill Davidson's longest-tenured and most respected employees, media director Matt Dobek, was let go a few days ago. The team is up for sale, the on-court product has deteriorated, and even franchise icon Joe Dumars is said to be worried about his future.


This time last year, Geoff Petrie was flying back from Spain, where he was scouting Ricky Rubio, when the Kings were skunked in the NBA Draft Lottery. (Or so they thought. More on that later). Though the NBA's worst team had the best percentages at the No.1 overall pick, they finished fourth in the complicated, ping pong ball system that was held in New Jersey. At the local Lottery festivities at Chris Webber's old restaurant in Natomas, the scene was one of abject misery. Co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof forced a few smiles and offered plenty of the usual platitudes, but they were visibly devastated. Joe looked like he wanted to cry.

Petrie learned the results a few hours later when his plane landed and he checked his cell phone - which is what he will be doing again Tuesday night. While the Lottery street party is going on in midtown Sacramento - great idea, by the way - the team's basketball president will be en route to Chicago for the NBA's Rules and Competition Committee that begins Wednesday morning. "I won't know anything again until we land," said Petrie, "and will probably find out by text. But as much as you'd like to believe you know what's going to happen, you don't have any control."

It turns out, last year's Lottery wasn't so bad after all: With the No.4 pick, the Kings drafted Tyreke Evans, the future Rookie of the Year. Hoping their luck holds, Tyreke will represent the team at Tuesday's proceedings back East.


Friends in NBA places

Jerome Randle, the Cal standout who was named Pac-10 Player of the Year, really wants to play for the Kings. And from what I'm hearing, the diminutive point guard, who worked out with several other prospects Thursday morning, helped himself with his performance. (It doesn't hurt that longtime scout Scotty Stirling lives in the Bay Area and frequently attends Cal games). The book on Randle reads like this: He has excellent quickness, shoots with range, and has progressed as a playmaker. Plus, he's smart. He receives his degree in African-American studies on May 22. In the draft, he is projected anywhere from being a late first-round pick to not being selected at all. But keep in mind that the Kings have a second-round selection - No.33 until the draft order is established on Tuesday - and a tempo-changing backup point guard ranks somewhere among their priorities. (With their first-round pick, they can select no lower than No.6).

Anyway, Randle says he speaks frequently with his former teammate and ex-Oak Ridge star Ryan Anderson, now a rotation player in Orlando. "Ryan tells me that I can play on the NBA level," related Randle, who says he stands just over 5-foot-9 in sneakers. "He says Jameer (Nelson) and I play a lot alike." It's probably worth mentioning that another speedy, undersized, former Pac 10 star - Aaron Brooks - is enjoying a nice career down in Houston.


So, about LeBron .....

The Cavs' fourth-quarter meltdown against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals was a stunner. It's one thing to lose, but this was an undressing. Actually, the collapse began in earnest when the Cavs inbounded the ball with 5.5 seconds remaining in the third quarter, trailing by nine, and acted as if they were ahead by nine, failing to capitalize on a scoring opportunity and the chance to enter the final period with some momentum. Way, way, way too casual. Then, in the fourth quarter, the sloppy passes, the unforced turnovers, the missed chippies, the lackluster attempts at loose balls .... it was ridiculous, embarrassing, a bruising experience for an MVP.

So I'm thinking two things: One, LeBron James put up excellent numbers except for his nine turnovers, but as is often the case, the stats were deceiving. He gave up the ball when he should have attacked, or gave up the ball and just stood around. His sore right elbow has to be worse than he has been willing to reveal. Most troubling, though, he seemed as perplexed by the Celtics' defense - or the Cavs nonexistent offense - as his teammates. Two, when he meets with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and GM Danny Ferry to discuss his future, LeBron should ask for specifics regarding the organization's plans to improve his supporting cast, which clearly is not championship caliber. If he likes what he hears, then he should ask about the head coaching situation. Mike Brown can't be sticking around, right? Not that Jeff Van Gundy's teams ever dazzled offensively, but the ESPN analyst is a superb, experienced coach, and if the Cavs approached and asked him to coach the two-time MVP, he could hardly turn that down. Or what about Larry Brown? Might the presence of LeBron entice his family's move to Cleveland? Philly ain't that much nicer, folks.

Let the circus begin, then. Cleveland. Chicago. New York. Brooklyn. Miami .... and who knows what other teams might surprise with an offer? This is going to be a crazy, crazy offseason, for sure.


Five games into this Cavs-Celtics conference semifinals, with Boston winning the crucial Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead, and a few things are pretty apparent: The right elbow of LeBron James is a lot more painful than he is publicly admitting; there isn't another player in the Cavs starting lineup who is coveted by other clubs; and when an old, bloated Shaquille O'Neal leads your team with 21 points (sorry Shaq, still love ya), your team is in big, big trouble.

Having been in the building when injuries crippled players the caliber of Magic Johnson (hamstring) and Kevin McHale (foot) in the NBA Finals, and repeatedly having seen superstars play while in tremendous pain, I will be really surprised if LeBron's injury isn't much more serious than he's letting on. He's too much of a competitor to go out so meekly. And assuming the Celts capitalize on the homecourt advantage and close out the series in the next game, can anyone really envision LeBron skipping out on his hometown after this performance?

Ok, here's one crazy thought. Don't make another mistake by the lake. Forget about New York and Miami and Chicago. Fame is fame, even in Cleveland. Could Stockton and Malone been any bigger elsewhere? Don't think so.

The Cavs should resign LeBron and hire the best available coach - (1) Larry Brown or (2) Jeff Van Gundy - and retool the roster. They need a talent upgrade, and most importantly, need a quality point guard. If nothing else - and with the exception of the Lakers and the Miami Heat - championship teams throughout the last decade have affirmed the importance of point guard play, with a Tony Parker, Chauncey Billups, Rajon Rondo, etc., crucial to facilitate an offense. It surprises me that the Cavs haven't followed Phil Jackson's example (complementing scoring superstars Jordan and Bryant) and implemented a triangle offense, plugging in catch-and-shooters like John Paxson, Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher. Excluding LeBron, the Cavs are just painful to watch.

This series also serves as yet another testament to the brilliance of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Michael Jordan is incomparable, the greatest player ever. Kobe and LeBron are magnificent. Yet none of them choreographed a game, so skillfully and seamlessly manipulated teammates like so many puppets on a string, like their 6-foot-10, below-the-rim predecessors. With Bird and Magic, you never had to ask - are they involving their teammates? Should they be passing instead of shooting? Should they be passing instead of dribbling? These guys flirted nightly with triple-doubles - with triple-doubles! - yet epitomized unselfishness. So, really, other than the fact that Jordan, Kobe and LeBron are superior defenders, that players are more athletic, that the influx of international players has enhanced the talent level, how exactly has the NBA game improved? Go back and look at NBA Classics. Watch the Celtics and Lakers of the 80's. The tempo. The defense played with the feet, with positioning, with arms extended (instead of hands groping at hips and waists). The boxing out for rebounds. The passing. Oh, the passing. (The isolation game and one-on-one nonsense became an NBA staple thereafter). Check it out. Then, let's talk.


Mike Bibby turns 32 on Thursday, but he probably won't be in the mood to celebrate. The former Kings point guard, who was the team's clutch player during the great run earlier this decade, was little more than a bit player for the Atlanta Hawks while they were being swept by the Orlando Magic in the conference semifinals. He started all four games, but averaged only 4.0 points and 2.0 assists in 16.7 minutes, which doesn't speak well of his future. (He remains under contract for two years and $11.7 million).

His struggles don't come as a complete surprise, though. He's only 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, and as Kings fans can attest, never shrinks from physical contact. And historically, because of the nightly beatings that small guards absorb, especially those who routinely attack the basket, their careers tend be shortened or prematurely diminished because of injuries (Mark Price, Kevin Johnson) or the peristent pounding. The exceptions tend to be players who are conditioning fanatics - or possible freaks of nature - like John Stockton and Steve Nash. (Stockton, the league's all time leader in assists and steals, averaged a ridiculous 7.7 assists (in 27.7 minutes) in his final season - when he was 41 years old. Nash, who is 35, is enjoying a terrific postseason and appears eminently capable of leading the Suns for the next few seasons).

But it's been a while since we've seen Bibby's wicked crossover, his crafty stutter-step baseline drives, or even those familiar three's in transition that crush an opponent's morale. His days as a starter might be over ....


Historically, Geoff Petrie has an excellent draft record. But he must wince while following what Rajon Rondo is doing in the playoffs. The 6-foot-1, 171 pound Celtics point guard is averaging 17.9 points, 7 rebounds and 11.4 assists - numbers bolstered by his remarkable triple-double (29 points, 18 rebounds, 13 assists) Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Of recent postseasons, Rondo's performance most reminded of Tim Duncan's near quadruple double in the Spurs' championship clinching victory over the New Jersey Nets in 2003.

While a lot less was made of Duncan's numbers - he is so subtle, even his spectacular efforts seem understated - his effort that night rivaled any individual postseason performance I can remember, dating back to the Bird-Magic era of the 80s. In the Game 6 finale in San Antonio, a much younger Duncan destroyed the undersized Nets with 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks.

Ah, youth.

So back to Rondo. While the Kings that year selected Quincy Douby at No.19, leaving Rondo to be plucked at No. 21, Petrie wasn't the only league executive who whiffed. Here are just a few other prospects drafted before the Kentucky sophomore was drafted by the Suns and immediately traded to Boston: Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas, Shelden Williams, Patrick O'Bryant, Saer Sene, Hilton Armstrong, Cedric Simmons, Rodney Carney, Shawne Williams, Oleksiy Pecherov ... well, you get the idea.

(In the Rondo-to-Boston trade, the Suns received Brian Grant and cash considerations for the Cavaliers' first-round pick in 2007, plus cash considerations. They used the 2007 pick (No.24 overall) on Rudy Fernandez, then swapped the Spanish guard to the Trail Blazers for cash considerations.



By now, it's no secret that Tyreke Evans began preparing for an NBA career about the time his older brothers took away his training wheels. So it should come as no surprise that the Kings rookie - who is all of 20 years old - worked hard on his appearance and his delivery prior to his Rookie of the Year press conference. Evans, who is almost painfully shy, walked to the podium clutching a sheet of paper in his left hand. His notes included a reminder to speak slowly and clearly, and listed the people he wanted to thank. Though clearly nervous, with his right foot moving back and forth, he must have been pleased with the way he handled the situation. Later, Tyreke's trainer, Lamont Peterson, revealed that the Kings point guard bought a new shirt at Nordstroms after learning he had won the award, only to switch at the last minute to a light purple dress shirt and tie combination. Just a personal opinion here, but I give the threads the thumbs up.


All in a day's work

Speaking of sartorial splendor: Patrick Mulvaney, the owner and head chef of Mulvaney's B & L, the hip restaurant that is located a few blocks from The Bee, was among the local business leaders and season ticket holders who crowded into the press room for Thursday's festivities. You couldn't miss him, actually. He must have just slipped out of the kitchen for a few minutes, because he was still wearing his cooking garb - pants, white shirt and vest. Several Kings offiicals are known to frequent his downtown establishment.

Playoff hits and misses

A few quick thoughts on the elimination earlier this evening of the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers:
- Nate McMillan deserves tremendous credit for leading his injury-riddled Blazers into the playoffs, and how can you not appreciate his post-game comments to his team? With TNT granted access to the locker room, McMillan thanked and praised his players for their effort, but reminded them that, in the end, they still lost. Always said that guy was tough ...
- It will be interesting to see whether Brandon Roy experiences any knee problems after returning to action so soon after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to shave some of the cartilage. I suspect McMillan also will second guess himself for starting and playing his star extended minutes, especially with Rudy Fernandez finally contributing.
- I agree with TNT analyst Charles Barkley about the significance of the Mavericks' defeat. It wasn't awful, say, like losing to those Golden State Warriors. Though the No.2-seeded Mavs lost to the No.7 Spurs, a case can be made that San Antonio is a better team that simply got healthy at the right time. The chemistry with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is amazing, and when George Hill steps up like he did Thursday night? What happened to Bruce Bowen, anyway?
- Steve Nash committing six of his seven turnovers in the first half. A disappointed Dirk Nowitzki uttering the unthinkable - that he might opt for free agency and sign elsewhere. Amare Stoudemire throwing a perfect pass to a cutting Jason Richardson with six minutes remaining. Grant Hill, 37 years young, swooping in for a spectacular lefty block on Jerryd Bayless. Strange, strange night, indeed. Couldn't be happier for the classy Hill, though, who reaches the second round for the first time in his injury-hampered career.


For those who might have been wondering whether former Sac State coach/Monarchs assistant/Kings scout Tom Abatemarco was still looking for work, we can report that the man known as Coach T has been retained by recently hired University of Colorado coach Tad Boyle. Abatemarco had left the Kings several weeks ago to join Jeff Bzdelik's staff in Boulder, only to be ditched at the altar, so to speak, when Bzdelik bolted for Wake Forest job and didn't offer to bring Coach T along. The much-traveled Abatemarco learned two days ago that he was being retained by Boyle, the former head coach at Northern Colorado.


While monitoring Larry Brown's reported interest (and, yes, of course it's true) in leaving his coaching gig with the Charlotte Bobcats to run the Philadelphia 76ers, I was reminded why Geoff Petrie refused to interview the Hall of Famer for the Kings vacancy three years ago. Petrie, who is a very conservative, conventional in all manners of life, was put off by Brown's frequent travels, his tendency to meddle in personnel matters, and his undeniable charisma. Let's face it. When Larry is anywhere in your zip code, he commands your attention. The latest developments out of Charlotte suggest the 69-year-old coach is nothing if not consistent. In his In two years with the Bobcats, he has (a) overseen a dramatic improvement in the defense, (b) pushed for significant trades (obtaining Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, Tyson Chandler, etc.), (c) guided yet another team into the playoffs and (d) reportedly missed his wife and two young kids so much that he wants to return to Philadelphia as the 76ers boss.

This is sooooo Larry. Teams that hire him already know the statistics: In 25 years as an NBA head coach, he has averaged less than three years with nine teams. His previous six-year tenure with the organization was the longest of his NBA career, followed by his four seasons with the Indiana Pacers.

But about his coaching? This is why the Kings should have hired Brown when they had their chance: He has guided teams to records of .500 or better in 20 of his 25 seasons, won the title with the 2004 Detroit Pistons, reached the NBA Finals three times, and in his two season with the Clippers, threatened to legitimize a joke of a franchise. (Two years, two postseasons).

In other words, for all of his well-documented idiosyncracies and the serial drama, I'll take two or three years of Brown's brilliant teaching and coaching over the concept of hiring young, unproven coaches who, as the Kings can attest from experience, don't last anyway. Consider the recent lineup: Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt. Who'd ya rather? No slam against the young guys, but come on. Think of it as an intense, three-year fling. Brown is the best teacher and game strategist in the league. There also is something to be said for the fact that under Larry, players either develop or he badgers management into getting rid of them -- not necessarily a bad thing. It would have been fascinating to watch his handling of Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson, Donte Greene, Omri Casspi and Tyreke Evans, of whom he is a huge, huge fan. (That Philly connection, folks). Brown is notoriously is brutal on point guards, but Chauncey Billups emerged as a star under his demanding tutelage ....


Tyreke awaits word

While Tyreke Evans waited to accompany Urijah Faber into Arco Arena's for Saturday's WEC featherweight championship bout against Jose Aldo, quietly sitting off to the side on a stool, he insisted he wasn't nervously awaiting the Rookie of the Year results. "Nah, I don't care about that," he said. "I just want to win." But somewhat revealing - and I think this speaks to the fact that he remains a humble guy, still somewhat awed by his celebrity - when I introduced him to our deputy sports editor, he asked when the body-length poster he posed for was being distributed by The Bee. He seemed genuinely excited to hear that the poster was available the following day.


The knee issues

After watching cartilage damage shorten or ruin the careers of numerous NBA stars through the years, among them former Kings Chris Webber and the late Derek Smith, it was interesting to hear TNT's Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley question the wisdom of Brandon Roy's return one week after having his meniscus shaved. While recognizing that surgical techniques continue to improve, I agree with Kenny and Charles on taking a more conservative approach. Roy has a history of knee issues. He's young. His team is already crippled. The Blazers aren't gonig anywhere this season, except maybe, into the second round. So why even risk further injury to your best player?

I have been pounding the phones all night, but can't pin down the voting on the Rookie of the Year award. Tyreke Evans remains the favorite - based on unofficial polling - but league types are amazingly tight-lipped. (David Stern should ease up a little bit, folks). Even the Maloofs are on edge. And we know this because they answered their phones on the first ring. The two-man race between Evans and Golden State's Stephen Curry could come down later this morning, or more likely, early next week. We do know that Tyreke is in town, and according to WEC types, still expected to accompany Urijah Faber into Arco Arena for Saturday's featherweight title fight against Jose Aldo.

Congrats to Scotty Brooks

On the night Manteca's own Scotty Brooks was named Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant shuts down Kobe Bryant in the OKC Thunder's first NBA playoff win. I'm happy for Scotty, a former Kings assistant and NBA journeyman point guard who is one of the league's great guys. (I am assuming business will be booming at his family's car wash - the aptly named "Dribbles" in Manteca - this weekend! His mother, Lee, still runs the place, and Scott is known to drop in and sweep the stalls whenever he's in Northern California.) But it was really, really tough watching owner Clay Bennett celebrate. It's impossible to root for the guy who moved the Sonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City.

Things to be learned from OKC's victory

The Kings' goal to add length to their frontline has to be reinforced by Oklahoma City's Game 3 victory over the Lakers. Actually, it should be reinforced by everything we've seen during the playoffs. In other words, they should focus on developing 7-footer Spencer Hawes, 21, instead of shattering his confidence and benching him for relatively mild comments in The Bee. They need him to facilitate an offense that places an inordinate amount of pressure on the defense. (This from someone who believes defense wins titles.) But until something changes, and the Kings start moving the ball and scoring in transition and early offense, the defeats will continue to accumulate, and their entertainment value will be further diminished. Gotta score in transition and early offense, especially when your lineup doesn't feature LeBron James or Kobe Bryant.

Reminders of the old days

During the Lakers-Thunder telecast, TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager compared the noise level in Oklahoma City's Ford Center to the old Kings-Lakers days at Arco Arena, but it was Bryant's reference to the old days that really hit home. In his postgame interview, he compared the noise level at the Ford Center to the "old barn" in Sac.

-- Ailene Voisin

A year ago, the Kings had the worst record and wound up with the No.4 pick instead of the top prize in the NBA Draft Lottery. Alas, their initial bad luck turned into good fortune, in the presence of Tyreke Evans, this season's Rookie of the Year unless Stephen Curry's late surge spoils his bid. Now, because Golden State, Washington and Detroit finished the season Wednesday night with victories, the Kings own the third-worst record -- and the best chances for the No.3 pick in the upcoming draft. Or then again, maybe they get really lucky and move up to one or two and a shot at John Wall and Evan Turner.

Entering the Lottery, here are the odds (for the No.1 pick) for the teams with the worst records. Or, as the ping pong balls bounce ....
- New Jersey. 25 percent.
- Minnesota. 19.9 percent.
- Sacramento. 15.6 percent.

The Warriors and Wizards will flip a coin to determine who gets the most ping pong bolls in the Lottery, which is scheduled for May 18. Anyway, most of the Kings officials, who were in New York for the Board of Governors meeting, were a pretty bunch. The Kings will select no lower then sixth in the upcoming draft.

That Rookie of the Year Race

I'm sticking with my endorsement of Evans for Rookie of the Year, but Curry is making it tough. I thought Warriors executives who earlier this season made comparisons between their point guard and Nash were crazy, but I have become a true believer. This kid is a magician, a special, special player. Watching him against the Blazers last night, with his driving, rebounding, passing, instincts, ability to probe defenses and find teammates, etc., and finish with 42 points, nine boards and eight assists, well, the superlatives are all deserved. Love the way he grabs the rebound and takes off, always looking for the open man. The Evans-Curry duel should be fun to watch for the next decade.

A bad break

Former Sac State/Monarchs/Kings coach and scout Tom Abatemarco recently joined Jeff Bzedelik's staff at Colorado, only to learn earlier this week that his new boss was taking the head coaching job at Wake Forest. And, that he couldn't add Coach T. to his staff. Lousy timing, to say the least.


Jerry Reynolds is usually the one giving out the awards. An original employee of the Sacramento Kings organization, he is the club's utility man. He has done everything from coach the team to run the Monarchs, and more often than anyone else, has represented the franchise at civic and charity functions. And as everyone who knows Jerry will attest, he is one of the wittiest people around, a walking, talking soundbite. (He has long been a favorite of NBA writers, never failing to provide a fitting quip).

But last night it was his turn to be the center of attention. Reynolds, who suffers from diabetes, was honored by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at the Sheraton Hotel. And here's the best part: Officials with the Foundation surprised Reynolds by flying in his brother, Randy, from their native French Lick, Ind., to present the award. (Randy has had diabetes since age nine). According to Kings radio analyst Fat Lever, Jerry was overwhelmed, and of course, delighted. Before last night's game against the Dallas Mavericks, the Reynolds brothers mingled in the press room, where Randy Reynolds dropped another surprise: Until he flew into Sacramento on Thursday, he had never been on a plane.

"No, never," he said, when asked to repeat himself. And then he laughed. If you closed your eyes, you would swear you were listening to Jerry.

Anyway, congrats to JR. There isn't a more gracious or generous person in the league. After all these years - he came from Kansas City with the Kings in 1985 - he's a keeper.


Cuban weighs in on Nellie

I caught up with Mavs owner Mark Cuban after the game while he was rebounding shots hoisted by a long line of youngsters. That's another reason he's one of my favorites. Another is the fact that he always tells you what he really thinks. Cuban doesn't have a censor, which is sort of funny, since his famously estranged head coach Don Nelson doesn't, either. So, of course, I had to ask Mark for his thoughts on Nelson's recent feat, surpassing Lenny Wilkens' record for career coaching victories with No. 1,333, and whether the twice-snubbed Nellie belongs in the Hall of Fame. Can't really say I was surprised by his answers, only by the enthusiasm of his response.

"Oh, yeah," Cuban said. "Nellie changed the game. Point forward, matchups, small ball, there were so many different elements that he doesn't really get credit for. So, he and I had our disagreements, but more on the general management side than the coaching side. But I think as a coach, there's no question he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Hey, look, when he was with us, no one wanted to coach against him. That's really the true test. If you ask coaches, 'do you want to play against Nellie's teams?' and no one ever did."

A few final thoughts on Lenny Wilkens

I admit to feeling a few pangs the other night when Nelson eclipsed Wilkens' record, mainly because I think the world of Lenny. I was the NBA writer in Atlanta when he moved past the late Red Auerbach for the most coaching victories in 1995, and spent hours with both men as the date neared. I even endured an afternoon inhaling Red's cigar smoke in his office in Washington, D.C. - cough, cough - and have to say, it was a fascinating interview session. Red was an NBA encyclopedia, and a great storyteller. Any time you wanted to talk hoops, all you had to do was catch up with him at the Boston Garden or call his house in D.C. He was listed in the phone book, believe it or not, and not only took the calls, but would spend hours chatting about anything and everything. He was quite the character, and he was a big fan of Wilkens - whom he repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to trade for. And, of course, he coached Nelson on five championship teams.

One thing that always bothered me: The night Wilkens claimed the record, the Hawks' previous marketing regime did almost nothing to sell out the old Omni. There were fewer than 13,000 fans in attendance when Lenny lit a cigar, in honor of Auerbach. I don't care if the Hawks had to give away tickets and transport school kids to the game. That place should have been packed.

As a final aside: Since I started covering the NBA in 1981, these are the three coaches I would want drawing up the plays for a final, game-winning or tying possession: Larry Brown, Lenny Wilkens, Don Nelson.

The tragedy in the coal mine in Montcoal, W.Va., on Monday sent me scrambling for my Atlas earlier this evening. I wanted to figure out how close the explosion was to Belle, Chelyan and Cabin Creek, the small, postage-stamp towns I visited while profiling Jason Williams and his background in January 2000.

That trip remains one of the most interesting and memorable assignments of my career. As I learned years earlier when I relocated from Los Angeles to Atlanta, stererotyping makes fools of us all.

Anyway, back to the Atlas: Williams' hometown - Belle - a compact riverside neighborhood of several blocks and a tiny downtown - is about two to three miles from Jerry West's boyhood homes in Chelyan and Cabin Creek. It is just over the Chelyan Bridge, which spans the Kanawha River. If you can stand the overwhelming stench of chemicals and burning trash, the winding, narrow river valley is stunningly beautiful.

Since the area is about 15 miles south of Charleston, and only another 15 or so miles - according to the map - from the site of the accident, I was left wondering whether any of the the wonderful people I met during my visit lost loved ones. Miners form a close-knit community, as I was told repeatedly. Monday's accident reminded me of Jason's caring teachers and coaches, along with Jerry West's former neighbors who mesmerized me with their stories. I mean, come on. This is The Logo!

An auto dealer in Chelyan drove me around and showed me where West's mother lived at the time, along with his former home, his old school and, more importantly, where he used to shoot hoops as a boy at a riverfront basket. The salesman said he would be driving to work and see the Lakers great dribbling his ball along the road well before dawn, headed for the makeshift court.

For anyone who might be interested in the subject, Roland Lazenby's recently released biography of West offers wonderful insights, and the opening chapters offer some history on mining within the region. Jerry's father was an impassioned Democrat and union leader - as I was reminded of frequently during my visit. Anyway, the book, titled "Jerry West, The Life and Legend of a Basketball Legend," is a terrific read. Jerry has his own autobiography coming out shortly, and I'm definitely looking forward to reading that. I covered his Lakers teams in the 1980s and found him to be a complex, fascinating figure. And by the way: Because of his friendship and loyalty to former teammate Elgin Baylor, there is absolutely, absolutely, no chance he would even consider the Clippers general manager vacancy.

One other aside on the mining tragedy: Former NBA referee and current WNBA officiating boss Dee Kantner was an engineer in a former life. While involved with the sale of mining equipment, she often visited mines throughout West Virginia and, in our many conversations, revealed her trepidation and terrible claustrophobia when forced to travel miles beneath ground in poorly lighted and ventilated tunnels, I guess there's no mystery why she was never intimidated by combative coaches and 7-foot basketball players.


While watching Duke outlast Butler last night in one of the classic NCAA Championships, I was delighted for Blue Devils guard Nolan Smith, whose late father, Derek, played for the the Kings (1986-89) - albeit, after a devastating knee injury had basically destroyed his career. Kings fans never saw the best of Derek. Or knew the real Derek.

I was covering the (San Diego) Clippers in 1983 when then-coach Jimmy Lynam offered a tryout to a muscular, explosive 6-foot-6 forward who had been drafted out of Louisville a year earlier and then cut by the Golden State Warriors. I sat in the gym at the University of San Diego with Clips personnel director Pete Babcock while Lynam ran Smth through a bunch of drills. Lynam was so impressed that he convinced the club to sign Smith - a great move, as it turned out. Though Derek struggled during preseason, he soon emerged as a consistent, often spectacular scorer. He was that rare combination of wing player who could hit the mid-range jump shot and attack the rim with a variety of agile, athletic moves. Yet while his role became increasingly prominent - he was a future All-Star, no doubt about it - he remained in awe of his good fortune and immensely grateful to Lynam for giving him the opportunity. Derek and his wife, Monica, often would meet the writers and coaches at our favorite post-game restaurant hangout in Pacific Beach, and dominate a room. A native of tiny Hogansville, Ga., he was smart, funny, humble, intense and emotional. Great, great guy.

The night he tumbled out of bounds - and right into the lap of owner Donald Sterling - he seemed to sense his career was doomed. Though he underwent surgery to remove about 60 percent of the lateral cartilage in his left knee, he was never the same. The Clips bilked the Kings into acquiring him for the popular Mike Woodson and Larry Drew, and sadly, Derek was burdened by failed expectations throughout his three years in Sac. Every time we bumped into each other subsequently on the NBA circuit, he expressed concern about his career and future.

Lynam never forgot him, though. He acquired Smith when he joined the Philadelphia 76ers, and in 1994, when he was head coach of the Washington Wizards (then Bullets), hired his former star as an assistant. The plan was to groom Smith as his eventual successor. Then, of course, in a weird, tragic twist, Chris Webber pulled out of an organization-sponsored cruise at the last minute in 1996, Smith agreed to take his place, and died of cardiac arrest after applying an anti-motion sickness device behind his ear. Monica, Nolan and daughter, Sydney, were all nearby. He was 34.

Watching Nolan earlier tonight, with his wide, prominent features, so similar to those of his late father, I couldn't help but smile.



Joe Maloof was in New York on a business trip when I reached him late Tuesday afternoon to ask about parting ways with team president John Thomas, and while he refused to say anything negative about his former executive, he sounded surprisingly upbeat about the changes. Thomas' eventual exit was a foregone conclusion, though until recently, the plan was to let him finish out his contract next year and then let him go elsewhere.

Things started to change last spring when Joe and Gavin Maloof became closely involved with the daily operations and were stunned by the lack of an innovative business/marketing model. And don't underestimate Colleen Maloof's influence. The frustrated/angry/troubled look on her face during games in near-empty Arco Arena last spring was priceless. These past few years, she would often vent to me in the corridors during halftimes, and in what might come as a shock to Kings fans, complained that tickets were too high for an average family to afford. Especially given the product. When the Maloofs re-evaluated their marketing practices and decided to become much more involved, their longtime friend and consultant Kevin Kaplan was enlisted to help.

The mood swing has been nothing short of amazing. The brothers are back in town, engaged, and enthusiastic. The marketing schemes are interesting - and some of them, very effective. Remember cheap beer night? Even the arena discussions are civil and seem to be progressing nicely. Imagine if the Maloofs had moved more quickly and extracted the much-disliked Thomas much sooner? Or done their due diligence - say, contacting a few Houston Rockets employees or officials? - and not hired him at all?

"We've taken a very active role again," said Joe Maloof. "Last year I had a problem with my knees and all. (Laugh) I guess that was my excuse. But I feel great, and everything is back to normal. Now that we sold the beer operation (in New Mexico), I've got a lot more time to spend with the Kings on the business side. It feels good to be back."

Falling On The Sword

The oldest Maloof sibling, who plans to meet with The Bee in the next two weeks for a state-of-franchise conversation, also dropped this humble little nugget: "We have to figure out ways to keep people engaged, to get them back into the arena. It's not going to come back over night. And it's nobody's fault but our own. We have great fans. They will come back, but we have to show them something. They'll come back when the product is worth watching, and it's happening. Spencer (Hawes), Tyreke (Evans). Omri (Casspi). Donte Greene. Look at Beno (Udrih). But we're really young, and we realize we have a long way to go."

A Few Other Post-Thomas Asides

* Matina Kolokotronis, who was named president of basketball operations, is a Chicago native and graduate of McGeorge Law School. She was hired as an outside legal counsel by former Kings owner Jim Thomas 14 years ago, but subsequently became a trusted advisor to the Maloofs. She has long had Colleen Maloofs' ear ...
* Kaplan, who hastily pulled together the opening night campaign that sold out Arco Arena, owns a private consulting firm that, among other things, and works with professional coaches and their charitable foundations. His dealings with the Maloofs date back to their ownership of the Birmingham franchise in the World Football League.
* During our conversation, Joe Maloof several times reminded me that the changes involve only the business side of the organization. "The basketball stuff is Geoff's (Petrie's) game," he said. "That's not changing."
* Small steps. The Kings co-owner said the club sold two suites last week and said he is encouraged with early returns on season ticket sales for for next season.
* One of the more successful tickets promotions is "birthday night."
* Appreciated Mayor Kevin Johnson taking time from his duties at the City Council meeting to comment on the day's (Kings) events.

The Man Left Standing

Though it was reported extensively during Thomas' early years with the club, his tense relationship with Petrie improved slightly. By the end, the two had reached an uneasy truce. Arguably, one of the best things to come out of Thomas' leave will be a warming of relations between the basketball and business sides. We're not talking Cold War, but maybe, a Silent War. It doesn't hurt that Kolokotronis is close with Petrie and Jason Levien, who works in basketball ops but has expanded duties as general counsel and senior vice-president. He is projected as the point man on all future contract matters.



John Thomas' long and stormy tenure with the Kings has ended. Co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof bought out the final year of Thomas' contract today and announced a restructuring of the franchise's business operations.

In the two most significant moves, Kings legal consultant Matina Kolokotronis was named president of business operations and assistant general manager Jason Levien assumes additional duties as the club's general counsel and senior vice-president. Additionally, John Rinehart is promoted to senior vice-president of the business department, while outside consultant Kevin Kaplan is expected to become even more closely involved with ticket sales and marketing.

The changes also will reflect the Maloofs' renewed involvement this season in all aspects of the team's business operations and, according to Joe Maloof, reflects their intention to become increasingly engaged in the future.

"We've taken a very active role again," Maloof said from New York, where he is attending business meetings. "The basketball side is (Geoff) Petrie's deal. Nothing changes in that regard. This all revolves around business and doing what we can to bring our fans back. The people we're talking about have strong Sacramento ties, and have lived there for years, for the most part."

Asked specifically about Thomas' departure, Maloof explained, "Sometimes an organization can get flat. You need somebody (Kaplan) to come in from the outside and shake things up a bit. John did a lot of very good things for our organization, one of the most important being the 10-year (television) contract he got us six years ago with Comcast (SportsNet) We thought it was time."

Sources close to the situation say that Thomas could have remained with the organization, but opted for a buyout rather than a demotion. And his departure doesn't come as a complete surprise. Thomas, who was previously president of the Houston Rockets, was hired by the Maloofs when they purchased majority ownership of the Kings in 1999. He has been a polarizing figure since the then. He purged the business department immediately, and alienated community and business leaders - as well as season ticket holders - with his strong-arm tactics.

His ultimate demise, however, is directly linked to his lack of creativity regarding ticket plans and promotional packages during the team's ongoing rebuilding process. In contrast to other NBA teams who reduced prices and offer more flexible packages when teams struggles, Thomas resisted, arguing that to do so damaged the "brand." Additionally, he was reluctant to market the game's marquee players during their visits to Arco Arena - another NBA marketing staple. When the Maloofs began re-evaluating the business side last spring and during the offseason, they became increasingly concerned about the lack of innovation and turned to Kaplan for advice as the season approached.

Tom Abatemarco, otherwise known around town as "Coach T," is leaving the Kings organization and joining Jeff Bzdelik's coaching staff at Colorado. Except for a two-year hiatus as Rick Majerus' lead assistant at the University of Utah, Abatemarco has been a basketball fixture around Sac for the past 12 years. A former men's coach at Sacramento, he also was a radio analyst during Kings pregame and postgame shows, an assistant on John Whisenant's Monarchs team that won the WNBA title in 2005, and when the franchise folded in December, joined the Kings basketball operations as a scout. (This, despite his friendship with Whisenant, who remains on cool terms with Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie. You can be sure that Kings co-owner Joe Maloof had something to do with that). Anyway, best of luck to Coach T, a quirky personality with a terrific basketball mind and extensive contacts in college basketball. I am still mystified as to why the Kings' front office types failed to take advantage of Coach T's sourcing and strong college background, but then again, I'm not so surprised. Though the Kings' business side has been a revolving door for years, Petrie runs a closed, tightly-knit basketball shop. He relies on a handful of trusted advisers, including his son, Mike, all of whom have been with him for more than a decade.


Ron Artest played against the Kings for the first time as a member of the Lakers earlier toinight, which means he got his first up close and personal look at rookie Tyreke Evans. He missed the previous two games with a concussion. And, yes, he was impressed. Though Evans struggled from the field until tossing in a few late layups - he was 5-of-16 through three quarters - he missed another triple-double by a single assist. He also did a great job pushing the ball in the opening half, and afterward said he regretted not dictating a crisper pace in the final two periods. But here's Artest on the rookie, whom he defended more effectively than did Kobe Bryant: "He played great. Good player, good player. He attacks, he can attack. He has his time to go get 50 or 40 points. He's a rookie. I was really impressed with his poise. He's got to be more of a leader though. He has the potential now -- he doesn't talk enough to his teammates. A guy with that much poise should have more leadership. That much poise, at that age .... He's 20? With that much poise, a smart player, he needs to take a bigger role, a man's role, that man's leadership role, and direct his teammates. And make his teammates better. Then take over when it's necessary."

Asked a few minutes later about being guarded by Artest, who was told by Phil Jackson before the game that the Lakers needed his defense - not his offense - to win the game, Evans smiled and nodded. "He's got the quickest hands I've ever played against. He moves so well straight up, you got to try to beat him lateral, beat him off the dribble. I tried to do that on the pick and rolls, try to get by him."

One final note about Artest: He says his daughter, Diamond, who continues receiving treatments for kidney cancer, is doing well. That's great to hear. For all the criticism Artest has taken, anyone who has spent time around him knows him as a doting, loving, involved father.


Can't teach size

Spencer Hawes' long term importance to the franchise is obvious, but this was reinforced by the Lakers superior size, length and interior presence. Hawes, a 7-footer who is only 21, will physically mature during the next three-four years. Hey, it happens. It happens late. Historically, it takes longer for big men to physically mature and develop. But clearly, the Kings' need additional help on the frontline. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum dominated the interior, half the time catching the ball ridiculously close to the basket, or just reaching up and over the undersized Carl Landry for layups and dunks. At least Hawes challenged Bynum's attempts and blocked five shots. Unfortunately, he only grabbed three boards, and received absolutely no weakside help unless Evans darted inside and claimed rebounds. Landry and Donte Greene have to do a better job on the boards. Greene, with his size and athleticism, absolutely, should be more of a factor.This also was a game when Omri Casspi and Jason Thompson probably deserved more minutes, with Thompson collecting 10 boards and Casspi stealing two balls, running the floor, and looking more like the spry, promising rookie of November, December and January instead of the mentally and physically rookie since the All-Star break.

Hawes showed something else: Even while getting torched on at the other end, he responded with a flurry of jumpers, drawing Bynum away from the basket and creating spacing for his teammates. He didn't wilt, and frankly, should be pretty ticked off at his teammates for a lack of help underneath. None of this, by the way, detracts from the fact that Hawes would be advised to spend the offseason getting stronger and learning to become more physical down low. He is a 7-footer. A skilled, talented, 7-footer. Milwaukee's emerging center Andrew Bogut should be his role model ....


Lakers-Kings still has that draw

The final meeting between the teams this season at Arco brought the entire Maloof family to town, including Adrienne, who was accompanied by several female neighbors who were being filmed during the game for an upcoming episode of "Beverly Hills Housewives." I've never seen the show - which airs on Bravo - but my friends love it ....

Mayor Kevin Johnson also made an appearance after halftime, and having just left the City Council meeting, seemed upbeat and energized. He slipped into the tunnel area with the Maloof brothers between the third and fourth periods, and I assume, to provide what I later heard was an encouraging update on the proceedings.

Best wishes to a former colleague

I would be remiss if I didn't offer a word or two about my longtime Bee colleague Sam Amick, who is leaving The Bee for a job with AOL fanhouse after five years as the Kings beat writer. As a former Clippers/Lakers/Hawks and NBA beat writer and columnist - the NBA ran my life throughout the Bird-Magic 1980s and early 90s - I have a tremendous appreciation for the demands of the job, and Sam's professionalism throughout. He is a tireless, conscientious worker, a wonderful communicator, and blessed with terrific people skills. I'll take some credit for touting him for a fulltime position at The Bee, and later, endorsing his selection as Kings beat writer. Wishing him the best, as a former colleague, and more importantly, as a friend. That said, I believe his successor, Cal grad and ex-Raiders beat writer Jason Jones, will do a fine job. He'll find the NBA schedule exhausting and the rhythm completely different, but as Ron Artest would say, he'll adapt.


While changing channels between the figure skating performances at the Vancouver Olympics - love that stuff! - I caught ESPN's blurb about the Memphis Grizzlies sending rookie center Hasheem Thabeet to the Developmental League. This is beyond embarrassing for a No..2 NBA Draft pick. The onus here, though, is clearly on meddling Griz owner Michael Heisley. The basketball people definitely wanted to draft local Memphis standout Tyreke Evans, but were overruled by their boss. For some reason, Heisley bought into the old school theory about the need to draft centers - even longterm projects - even though far superior players were available.

If Evans had gone to the Grizzlies, and Oklahoma City had stuck with James Harden at No.3, I'm confident the Kings would have bypassed Thabeet (whew!) and selected a point guard - albeit, the wrong one. From all accounts, they would have drafted Jonny Flynn, leaving Stephen Curry for Golden State. As Doug Collins noted on TNT's telecast of the Nuggets-Warriors game earlier tonight, most NBA types failed pegged Curry as an undersized shooting guard and failed to appreciate his pure point guard skills. As I have mentioned before, my dream backcourt for the upcoming decade is Curry-Evans, with Curry at the point. Don't think even the Warriors are dumb enough to make that move, however.

So, as the season continues to go south, that's the good news. Also, unless the Kings catch a wave, they have a great shot at another top five draft pick.

For all those Rush Limbaugh partisans

I heard from several Rush Limbaugh fans today, mostly chiding me for referencing him in my column about Paul Westphal's decision regarding Spencer Hawes. For those who might not have been following the drama, Westphal placed Hawes on the inactive list Tuesday after the third-year center voiced his frustration about roles, rotations, and substitutions. Of course, Evans and Sean May voiced very similar comments, and neither was punished. Westphal explained that May apologized, Evans was only speaking in generalized, and .... well, he just seemed ticked off at Spencer. I wrote that it was surprising that Westphal, who is a friend of right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh, would attempt to muzzle a player, especially since all of the player comments were relatively mild and matter-of-fact. Anyway, to set the record straight, if Westphal and Keith Olbermann were buddies, I would have offered a similar comment about the bombastic left-wing talk show host. While I thoroughly enjoyed an intelligent, enlivened, provocative discussion - we are all about passion here - if I wanted to be lectured or yelled at, I'd re-enroll in my Catholic grammar school.

Carril keeps the basketball nuggets coming

While chatting with Evans after Thursday's practice, Kings special assistant Pete Carril urged the rookie to take more jump shots, in essence, forcing himself to improve in that area. Carril believes that the passing lanes will open up when Evans starts taking and knocking down jumpers. And who is to argue with the Princeton legend? Carril's insights, astute observations and attention to detail continue to amaze me. Here's another one: In the exact opposite of Jason Thompson, who has huge feet, Omri Casspi's feet are small for someone 6-foot-9. Carril maintains that, as a result, it's imperative that Casspi be fully squared (and therefore balanced) before he releases his jumpers. From what I have seen, Coachie is right on. The problem is that with inconsistent playmaking and passing, and an offense that often results in one-on-one plays and doomed, ill-advised last second hoists, the Kings wings never know when they're going to receive the ball, and too seldom receive the ball in rhythm.

Just a thought: More of Rick Adelman's old elbow series, which involves several players offensively, and fewer of the pick-and-rolls that usually wind up with Evans, Beno Udrih or one of the other Kings dribbling dents into the floor and forcing up bad shots.

February 25, 2010
Thompson out with a bad back

Kings forward/center Jason Thompson could miss up to two weeks with two non-displaced fractures in his lower back. The injury was revealed on x-rays taken after Thursday's practice.

The 6-foot-11 Thompson, who sat out the last two practices, suffered the injury when he took a nasty spill in Tuesday's loss against the Detroit Pistons. He recently was reinserted into the starting lineup in place of Spencer Hawes at center.

Before learning of the extent of Thompson's injury, coach Paul Westphal was still mulling his options for tomorrow night's starting lineup against the Utah Jazz. Here's one hint, though: When the curtain was raised for the closing portion of practice, Hawes was working with the first unit.


PHOENIX - Because my colleague and Kings beat writer Sam Amick took a break after Saturday's road trip to Los Angeles, I was able to watch Steve Nash perform before his home crowd. His act never gets old. It's hard to believe he's 35, hampered by a sore lower back, and still playing almost 34 minutes a night with two months of the season remaining. The man is a marvel, a 6-foot-3 magician with a basketball.

His 17-assist effort against the Kings did the following:
- Kept him locked with the injured Chris Paul at a league-leading 11.1 assists per game.
- Eclipsed the Kings total number of assists (16)
- Reminded everyone again of what an exceptional point guard Kevin Johnson was.

After Nash had pierced the Kings defense with 16 dimes by the end of the third quarter, the Suns media department informed media members that he needed only four assists to become the club's all-time franchise leader in 20-assist games. Since he only played four minutes in the fourth period and only added one assist, he and KJ remain tied with seven 20-assist games. Sac's mayor holds the Suns' record for most assists in a game - 25 against San Antonio on April 16, 1994 - but in an imaginary duel between legendary Suns point guards, Nash said he likes his own chances. "Right now I think I've got him at point guard," Nash quipped. "Right now."

SCRAPPING FOR MINUTES

With Paul Westphal continuing to experiment with various combinations, the battle for playing time is intensifying. Francisco Garcia - recently activated after missing the entire season with a fractured wrist - didn't get off the bench. (Still can't figure why he started Saturday night against the Clips). Anyway, he was joined on the bench last night by Andres Nocioni, whose recent struggles certainly could't have enhanced his trade value. Additionally, Spencer Hawes committed five fouls in a mere 11 minutes.


ALSO, OF NOTE ...

Westphal rated Omri Casspi's four-point, two-rebound effort arguably "his worst of the season," and suggested that them rookies' four turnovers were reminiscent of his struggles during preseason ... I understand the necessity for spacing on offense, but as someone along press row commented during the Kings' third-quarter lull, when Casspi and the Kings other wings were dispatched to the outer reaches during another isolation sequence, "That's what I hate about the NBA." Move, move, move .... Amare Stoudemire says his first preference has always been to remain with the Suns, and now that the Feb. 18 trade deadline is passed, he's playing some of the season's best basketball. He finished with 19 points and 14 boards, including eight on the offensive end ... Not that anyone thinks of the Suns and thinks "great defense," but they held an opponent below 100 points for the third straight game. The Kings' 15-point third quarter also was an opponents season low. "I thought we did a great job," said coach Alvin Gentry. "I thought Steve (Nash) did a really good job on Tyreke (Evans). We probably did the best job that we've ever done as far as dribble penetration." ... A final thought about US Airways Arena: I haven't covered a game here for a few years, but the building remains one of the most physically appealing and functional facilities in the league. The exterior glass facade that was added a while back is stunning ...



February 21, 2010
In game blog: Kings vs. Suns

FINAL: Suns 104, Kings 88

PHOENIX - Besides all those Steve Nash assists, one play epitomized the Kings miserable 104-88 loss to the Suns. With 2:19 remaining, Donte Greene bounced a pass to Carl Landry, who slipped as the ball approached, leading to yet another missed opportunity. Tyreke Evans put his face in his hands. Paul Westphal called a timeout. And the Suns dancers pranced out onto the court for the customary, end-of-game free T-shirt toss.

It was another of those nights. Six Suns finished in double figures, led by Jason Richardson with 24. Nash burned the Kings with 17 assists, or one more than the Kings.

Landry led the Kings with 18 points and Beno Udrih had 17 off the bench.

After a competitive opening half, the game got away from the Kings quickly in the final period. Channing Frye curled inside and was fouled, and after Tyreke Evans missed a high-arching runner, Grant Hill blew downcourt for a jam. That made it 80-69 Suns, forcing Paul Westphal to call a timeout.

Even with Nash on the bench, the Kings didn't have enough juice to initiate much of a comeback. Through three periods, by the way, the 35-year-old point guard had 16 assists - one more than the entire Kings team.

Before play resumed, he responded to the public address announcer's comment - Canada losing to the U.S. in hockey - with a grin and a thumbs down.

THIRD QUARTER: Suns 75, Kings 69

Steve Nash was listed as questionable before the game because of lower back issues, so of course, he not only starts, he had 10 assists by halftime. With just under eight minutes remaining in the third period, he had 13 assists - meaning he had assisted on more than half of the Suns field goals.

Forget what I said earlier about no 24-second violations. The Kings were just tagged with the game's first - in the middle of a Suns run. Nash is orchestrating the offense, finding Amare Stoudemire and Robin Lopez inside, and the Suns' two big guys are having their way against the Kings interior defense.

Paul Westphal is tinkering with his lineup even more than usual. Ime Udoka and newcomer Dominic McGuire already have seen decent minutes.

Donte Greene, who was 0-for -4 in Saturday's loss to the Clippers, is having a strong game with 16 points. His three from the right corner slowed a Suns run and kept the score close entering the final period.

HALFTIME: Kings 54, Suns 51

This is the type of up and down half you expect in this building. There was no danger of either team committing a 24-second violation. But for most of the secone period, the Kings were even more effective in the open court than the Suns. Beno Udrih came in and gave a life, both with a pair of a jumpers and four quick assists. The nicest play of the half was a two-on-one break, with Omri Casspi grabbing a steal, pushing the ball ahead, and finding Tyreke Evans streaking in for one of those reverse layups, where he takes that extra long stride that frees him under the basket.

The one thing the Kings aren't doing is disrupting Jason Richardson. A notoriously streaky shooter, Richardson erupted for 19 points, almost none of which were contested. Donte Greene and Carl Landry led the Kings with 11 and 10 points, respectively.


FIRST QUARTER (Kings 27, Suns 25)
Carl Landry obviously didn't let his struggles in his Kings debut against the Clippers last night damage his confidence. The Kings went to him often, beginning with the opening sequences, and he responded with an excellent opening quarter. He converted three of his first shots and collected five rebounds before getting a breather. One one possession, he tossed up an inside shot that missed badly, but pursued the rebound and scored on a reverse.

In contrast to recent games, the Kings did a decent job getting back in transiition - critical against the Suns.

I just got off the phone with Kings co-owner Joe Maloof, who revealed that rookie Tyreke Evans is among the 30 or so invitees who will dine with President Barack Obama in a few hours at George Maloof's house in Las Vegas. For those who might have forgotten, prior to the NBA Draft, Obama urged the Kings to select the 6-foot-6 freshman out of Memphis. Understandably - and the he nation's ongoing economic problems notwithstanding - the Maloofs remain staunch Obama supporters. "If he (Obama) gets tired of his day job," quipped Joe Maloof, "he can come to work for us as a scout." The owner said the invitation to his star rookie was an impulsive, last-minute decision. "I thought, 'geez, the president told us to pick him. The least we can do is invite him to fly in and join us for the dinner.' "


NEW YORK - As I mentioned last night, for the first time in my sports journalism career, I was unable to reach an event because of travel-related issues. That East Coast snow storm forced cancellation of flights out of New York earlier today, precluding me from reaching Detroit for Wednesday's Kings-Pistons game at the Palace of Auburn Hills. And this is why teams travel by charter these days: the Kings flew out of New York shortly after defeating the Knicks Tuesday night, departing a few hours before snow blasted the city. I, on the other hand, walked right into the wet white stuff when I left Madison Square Garden after filing my stories around midnight.

There are worse things, of course, than being stuck an extra night in my native New York: Manhattan has an abundance of sports bars, and after calling around, I found a place near my Midtown hotel that was showing the Kings-Pistons game. So, thanks to the folks at the Stags Head tavern on 51st and Second Avenue. The place was mobbed - what were all these people doing out in a snowstorm anyway? - but the manager found me a spot on the second floor and switched the television from UConn-Syracuse to Kings-Pistons upon my request.

Though there was no volume, I read Paul Westphal's postgame quotes, and couldn't agree more. Although rookies Tyreke Evans and Omri Casspi admittedly are exhausted and eager for a few days off, post the Rookie Challenge, coaches hate when positive momentum is disrupted. Two wins in three road games. I think that qualifies as a great trip ...

OVERTIME: Kings 118, Knicks 114

NEW YORK - With strong efforts from several of the Kings, including Kevin Martin in overtime, and Tyreke Evans in a spectacular closing stretch of the fourth period, the streak ends - finally.

The Kings leave for Detroit in a few minutes, no longer burdened by a six-game losing streak.

After finishing regulation with two nifty assists to Jason Thompson, in the extra period, Evans was again a playmaker. After Martin stroked three consecutive jumpers, including a three from the top of the circle, the rookie point guard penetrated and passed out to Martin, all alone in the left corner.

Before Martin even launched the ball, Paul Westphal was raising his arm on the sideline, ready to punch the air. The Kings reserves were on the feet, willing the ball into the net. When it did, the question became the familiar - but could they hold on?

FOURTH QUARTER: Knicks 105, Kings 105


While Jewish groups purchased at least 1,000 fans to see Kings rookie Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the NBA, the Madison Square Garden crowd was mesmerized by another rookie - Tyreke Evans - during a spectacular closing sequence of regulation.

In a five-minute span that forced overtime, the 6-foot-6 Evans drove for two layups, twice found Jason Thompson for dunks, and grabbed the rebound that set up the tying field goal.

For the second time in as many nights, the Kings were competitive despite their usual issues perimeter defense, interior defense, and turnovers. Turnovers by Evans, Sergio Rodriguez, Kevin Martin and Andres Nocioni during one particularly sloppy stretch at the end of the third period precluded the Kings from gaining on the Knicks - hardly one of the league's more intimidating defensive squads.

Nocioni, who had a miserable night, throwing away balls, getting stripped of rebounds, committing senseless fouls, lost the ball again, giving the Knicks another fastbreak opportunity for a 98-83 lead.




THIRD QUARTER: Knicks 84, Kings 76

Paul Westphal apparently didn't like Spencer Hawes' defensive effort in the opening minutes of the game. Hawes was benched six minutes into the game and spent the duration of the evening on the sidelines. The Kings opened the second half with Jon Brockman and Ime Udoka on the floor, with Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi and Jason Thompson.

The game was close until David Lee got on a roll. The Knicks center and free agent to be scored on a rebound, hit free throws, converted another jumper, and blocked a shot. The Kings also became sloppy in the closing minutes, committing three silly turnovers before the period ended.

At one point, with Casspi at the line, a few sections of the Madison Square Garden crowd chanted, "Om-ri CASS-Pi." Several of the Kings players on the bench cracked up.


FIRST QUARTER (Knicks 22, Kings 26)

NEW YORK - Omri Casspi appeared to shake any pregame jitters and led the Kings in the opening period with nine points and two rebounds. But the struggles at the foul line continue. Donte Greene failed on both his attempts and Kevin Martin, who came off the bench after missing shooting with a migraine, missed a pair as well. The defense was, um, again, but the good news for the Kings? The Knicks aren't defensive wizards, either.

February 9, 2010
Kevin Martin ailing


NEW YORK - Kevin Martin will be coming off the bench tonight because he skipped shootaround with a migraine headache. (No shootaround, no start). He felt much better by the time he arrived at Madison Square Garden and expected to play. Despite his earlier discomfort, he was joking around, and grinned while watching the throng of media members crowding around Omri Casspi.

February 9, 2010
Snowed in


NEW YORK - About three hours ago, I learned that my morning flight to Detroit for tomorrow 's Kings-Pistons game has been canceled in anticipation of a major snowstorm that is expected to blanket the region, beginning at midnight. No worries for you KIngs fans, though. The team will charter out after the Kings game, ostensibly, before the storm hits. Also, the Bee is hiring a writer from one the Detroit newspapers to cover the game. Although I have traveled more than a million miles covering sports, mostly while assigned to the Clippers, Lakers, the NBA and the Angels and Dodgers, this is the first time bad weather has precluded me from making it to an event. Thus, the streak ends. Bummer. I don't know what that tells me about the state of our airline industry. Are airlines more careful these days or is the state of the industry worse than we suspect? Anyway, I have to think one of the Knicks publicists for alerting me to the severity of the storm early this afternoon and advising me to contact the airlines ASAP. New York city public schools canceled tomorrow's classes, as well.

RAPTORS 115, KINGS 104

TORONTO -The early wakeup call wasn't the problem. Although the Kings were still on Pacific Standard Time, having arrived here early Saturday evening, their effort during Sunday's noon tipoff wasn't the issue. They received balanced scoring, amassed 36 points on the break, and held a seven-point lead early in the final period.

But Chris Bosh had 36 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, and besides committing untimely turnovers in the final period, the Kings succeeded only only 25 of 36 free throw attempts.

Kevin Martin led six Kings in double-figures with 24 points and seven rebounds.

The Kings, who dropped their sixth straight, squandered opportunities to give themselves a decent cushion entering the final period, but Donte Greene, who had hit three consecutive treys in the third period, missed two of three free throws. Beno Udrih couldn't convert on a technical called against Raptors point guard Jarrett Jack, and then missed two more attempts, followed by a Kevin Martin miss. The Raps capitalized on consecutive turnovers by Greene (ballhandling error) and Nocioni (bad pass), exploited Bosh's explosiveness around the basket, took advantage another failed free throw attempt by Greene ....

Defensively, the Kings just had no answer for Bosh. The left-hander, who will be among the most coveted free agents this summer, torched the visitors with mid-range jumpers, spin moves underneath, follow shots, dunks, blocks, and a terrific pass to Andrea Bargnani that stretched the lead to double-digits with just over three minutes remaining. The Raptors' ball movement is sensational. They get easy shots because they are such willing passers. Not a great defensive squad, though, by any means.


THIRD QUARTER (Kings 87, Raptors 84)

Coach Paul Westphal changed his lineup yet again. After starting Omri Casspi and Donte Greene at forward, he went with Andres Nocioni and Jason Thompson after intermission. He clearly approved of Nocioni's physical defense on Hedo Turkoglu. I also just noticed an interesting stat from the halftime box: the Kings had 26 fastbreak points.

Thompson just picked up his fourth foul. Again, he started to argue with the official, but Tyreke Evans wisely pulled him away. Too bad. Thompson was playing well offensively and going to the boards. And just like that, Turkoglu gets out in the open court and hurts his old team with a layup and a three from the top. This is a critical stretch here, with the Raps pulling ahead by six.

Westphal's latest substitution - Greene for Nocioni - worked perfectly. Donte drilled three consecutive three's to give the Kings their first lead of the afternoon, with two from the right elbow, one from the right corner, on nice setups by Evans. The Kings had chances to pad their lead, but Evans lost the ball and, after being fouled on his fourth three-point attempt, Greene missed two of three foul shots. For change, the Kings caught at break at the end of the period when Ime Udoka tipped in a miss just before the buzzer and the Raps were assessed a technical for arguing that the shot should not have counted.

SECOND QUARTER ( Raptors 62, Kings 59)

Jason Thompson, who missed the previous games to spend time with relatives following the death of his cousin in Philadelphia, gave the Kings a lift before getting tagged with his third foul. Coming off the bench for Donte Greene, he scored on a layup in the opening period, then added another layup, a follow shot and two free throws early in the second quarter. He didn't rush his shots. In contrast to some of the Kings recent games, the ball movement was excellent. Rookie point guard Tyreke Evans penetrated and found open teammates for jumpers and layups.

Kevin Martin seemed pretty lively. His pullup jumper on the break pulled the Kings to 52-49, and after another Raptors turnover, he attacked the basket against Hedo Turkoglu and earned free throws. (Have to admit - those protective facemasks are not very flattering, though it didn't affect Hedo's performance). Martin's steal and breakout layup tied the game at 59-59 with 10 seconds to go. Once again, though, an interior defense lapse - Spencer Hawes failing to block on the second of Turkoglu's free throws - enabled Bosh to score a putback at the buzzer.

FIRST QUARTER (Raptors 31, Kings 24)

The noon tipoff - that's 9 a.m. for you folks back home - wasn't kind to the visitors from the West. I counted four airballs in the first five minutes, including a pair by rookie Omri Casspi underneath. For the Raptors, former King Hedo Turkoglu struck for nine quick points on a variety of shots, including a three, a beautiful drive off the glass, and a pair of jumpers. Paul Westphal replaced Casspi with the more physical Andres Nocioni with about three minutes remaining. The Kings seemed a little more awake as the game progressed, and they had trimmed a 13-point lead to 31-24 when the buzzer sounded. They also went to the line for 11 free throws, though Kevin Martin missed two of his freebies.

February 5, 2010
Curling, as punishment


TORONTO - I'm filling in for Kings beat writer Sam Amick on the Kings upcoming three-game road trip against the Raptors, Knicks and Pistons, and just my luck, I arrived at the downtown hotel early this evening only to learn that ESPN's Canadian affiliate, TSN, is showing a curling event on the main cable channel instead of the NBA double-header. All I can figure is that I am being punished for all those years of ridiculing women who treat their pets like children, until of course, I became one of those women who treat their pets like children. Thus, I was forced to choose between watching one of the silliest of sports (curling) and a movie. I opted for "Amelia," though I did catch the Kings first-half score on the TSN ticker. Even from afar, it looked like another pathetic effort, especially defensively. I also finalized arrangements to meet with Hedo Turkoglu after Raptors practice in the morning. The popular one-time King has hit hard times here, and I'm sure I'll hear all about it. You'll read about it in The Bee on Sunday.



David Stern's decision to suspend Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton for the season - without pay - for the recent incident involving guns in the Verizon Center locker room strikes me as totally reasonable. Given that Arenas previously had been cited for possessing an unlicensed gun, the punishment might even be considered lenient. The notion that NBA players need to carry guns to protect themselves remains one of the more ridiculous things I've heard in years. As one club's security official reminded me recently, the higher profile players rarely venture anywhere without a team's media representative or security employee tagging along. Really, the whole need-to-carry-guns' protection argument - certainly for NBA players - is macho nonsense. Okay, end of rant ...


Skating away

Kings co-owner Joe Maloof didn't accompany family members Gavin and Colleen on the recent 0-6 road trip because he is in South Africa, evaluating sites for a possible skateboarding event in 2011. According to Gavin, his older brother - a serious dog lover - went on a safari, and was enthralled by the wildlife.

How quickly they forget

I spent the late afternoon interviewing Omri Casspi at his home on the Sacramento River, and one of the more revealing nuggets is this: He knew his coach, Paul Westphal, was a former NBA All-Star, but had no sense of his game. The Israeli rookie was surprised to hear that Westphal was a dynamic scorer and tremendous left-handed dunker, as well as an accomplished "cherry picker." Kings assistant Truck Robinson, Westphal's longtime friend and former Suns teammate, loves to talk about how he would grab a rebound and look downcourt, only to see Westphal streaking toward the opposite basket, awaiting for the outlet pass. This is interesting because, despite Casspi's recent struggle for playing time, he is an exceptional runner, and not unlike Westphal, a quick, athletic dunker on the break. I will add here that, until the Kings guards learn to advance the ball more quickly, via the pass instead of the dribble, they are wasting the talents of Casspi, Donte Greene, Jason Thompson, and particularly, Kevin Martin. The death-by-dribbling offense also is not a particularly entertaining style of play.


When you struggle? What do you do? You go back to what works, right? After a four-year sabbatical from his daily tutorials at the knee of legendary Pete Carril, struggling Kings guard Kevin Martin approached the club's long-time special assistant and asked for guidance. "Back to the basics, basketball 101 with coach Carril," Martin said after the two spent about 30 minutes working on shooting technique, among other things, following Monday's practice. "Coach saw a few things he needed to fix." Coachie - and we promise not to call him that except once in a while, because he really hates the nickname - diagnosed two problems with the shooting guard's game. "First, some of it's mental. Two, he's bringing his hand across his face again (in his shooting motion), like he did when he first came into the league, blocking his view of the basket. So we worked on that. It can take some time, but he can get back (to his pre-injury form)." Earlier in the day, Martin also met with Kings coach Paul Westphal, who urged his player to stop worrying about fitting in and to start playing more aggressively.


Without any disrespect to Blake Griffin, who would have been everyone's choice with the No.1 pick in last summer's draft, the announcement that he was undergoing season-ending knee surgery reminded me of the local Draft Lottery festivities at Chris Webber's old restaurant in Natomas, and as they say, how you just never know. Joe and Gavin Maloof were immensely disappointed that night because the Kings - who had the worst record in the league - lost the battle of the ping pong balls, finishing with the No.4 pick. The ultimate indignity - or so it was thought at the time - was that the Clippers won the Lottery and the right to draft Griffin, a bruising power forward out of Oklahoma.

As it turns out, though, Griffin is the second of the Clippers' No.1 picks to sustain a season-ending injury in his rookie season. I covered the Clips when Danny Manning tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Milwaukee in 1988 after playing only 26 games, and he was never the same. He was hampered by knee problems throughout a productive, but not exceptional career. The hope here is that Griffin recovers completely and escapes the curse of the Clips, though one has to wonder. Donald Sterling's club has experienced two winning seasons in 30 years. TWO winning seasons in 30 years! Once again, the distinction belongs to Larry Brown, as brilliant a coach as he is a drama queen.

The Kings? You think Geoff Petrie and the Maloofs aren't thinking that, finally, after the devastating Webber injury and its debilitating impact on the franchise, that the basketball gods aren't gazing favorably on Sacramento? Not only is Griffin ailing, but Tyreke Evans was on the draft board only because Memphis selected Hasheem Thabeet, Oklahoma City took James Harden, and Petrie and Paul Westphal made the wise decision to draft the gifted Evans instead of Jonny Flynn, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings or Ricky Rubio, despite the club's obvious need for a true point guard and a charismatic personaltiy/player to boost ticket sales. There is no such thing as a Comeback Executive of the Year award, but if there were, Petrie is the leading candidate. Evans. Omri Casspi. Jon Brockman. And why do I suspect he's going to pull off one of his infamous trades by the Feb. 18 deadline? Sometimes you just have to ride the wave ....


Overheard at Arco Arena

This wasn't my line, but it was pretty good, so I'll share it. With Spencer Hawes, Francisco Garcia, Kenny Thomas and Evans seated in the front row during Urijah Faber's WEC mixed martial arts fight against Raphael Assuncao last Sunday, someone mentioned that the WEC demographic is dominated by males, aged 18-34 ... and Gavin Maloof. It was true. And hilarious. The Kings co-owner is a huge fan, and he went nuts when Faber, who has become a close friend, won by submission in the third round. Maloof told me later that the Kings are planning a Urijah Faber night, probably in February. Asked why his brother Joe wasn't in attendance, Gavin frowned. Seems Joe likes the sport ... from a distance. True to the demographics, matriarch Colleen Maloof can't even deal with the spectacle on television.


One more thing ...

With Griffin sidelined until next season, Evans will be the Rookie of the Year, barring some unforeseen development. That would be a wonderful accomplishment, but historically, not all the significant. Many a ROY has failed to fulfill expectations. That won't be Evans, the gifted 20-year-old who physically is a smaller version of LeBron James, but it's all in the books. More on that in the future.


It seems hard to believe because she is such a passionate Kings fan, but Biba Caggiano, whose fine dining Italian restaurant, Biba, is a local institution, attended her first game at Arco Arena Tuesday night. I spotted her seated courtside - five seats down from Colleen Maloof - and caught up with her at intermission. Suffice to say, the early review was a thumbs down. The Kings were sluggish and sloppy, and after trailing by 20 points, were still down 14 at the break. "I was so excited to come," said the disappointed restaurateur, in her charming Italian accent. "I have lived here for 45 years, and this is my first time. But they are not playing so good. I don't know what to do to get them to jump up and down!" To be fair, I approached Biba again after the Kings' had rallied impressively and tied the score in the fourth quarter, only to lose another squeaker. "I enjoyed it very much," she said, "but I wanted them to win ..."

Interestingly, the two women - among the most powerful females in the community - had never met until last night. Colleen told Biba she had heard wonderful things about her restaurant and planned to visit in the near future.

And since none of this stuff should ever be taken too seriously, consider Biba's timely retort when I jokingly chided her for previously never having attended an NBA game: "Well, have you ever been in the kitchen?" Touche. Somehow, she accurately sensed that my culinary ability is limited to tossing salad into a bowl and adding a splash of dressing.

Thoughts on another schizo night

Or, here's what crippled the Kings against the Suns:
* An uninspired start. The Kings were outhustled throughout the opening half, with their lack of defensive intensity most troubling. Their transition defense again was nonexistent, enabling the Suns to repeatedly score on breakouts. Is a pattern developing here?
* An inability to finish around the basket. Jason Thompson and Tyreke Evans missed crucial chippies in the closing minutes.
* An anemic 4-for-18 adventure from three-point range.
* Spencer Hawes' erratic performance. And here's Paul Westphal's dilemma: When his 7-foot center is not on the court because of his defensive and rebounding deficiencies, it hurts the Kings offensively. The offense is most efficient with Hawes at the high post - the elbow series - finding cutters, hitting three's, setting screens, seizing openings to the basket. His wicked screens freed Evans up for several nifty dribble-drives in the most recent loss to the Lakers.
* Zero points from Beno Udrih until the 4:35 mark of the final period.
* The failure to feed the hot hand: Omri Casspi struck for two three's in the opening minutes of the final period, but was never again involved in the offense. Evans' looked him off once on a fastbreak that resulted in a turnover, then missed him again and drove into a crowd of defenders, forcing a shot - the first poor decision with the game tied at 97-97, the second after Jason Richardson scored to give the Suns a 99-97 lead.
* Lost in the outcome was an exceptional statistical effort by Evans: 27 points (on 10 of 23), 11 rebounds, seven assists, and only two turnovers. When he realizes he doesn't have to fly solo at the end of games, he will truly be unstoppable.


Just asking

Is it possible that the Kings' three best players (along with Kevin Martin) are rookies? After collecting only one rebound in the opening half, Casspi finished with 24 points and seven boards.

Some things never grow old

Steve Nash continues to lead the league in assists. At age 36. Amazing. Remarkable. Ridiculous. Stocktonesque. While he appeared to tire in the closing minutes, and committed most of his seven turnovers against Evans' physically punishing defense, this is efficiency: 30 points on 8-of-16 shooting, 12 assists, three rebounds, and 13-for-13 at the foul line. When I asked about his endurance, Nash said he has cut refined sugar out of his diet, and notices a difference in his ability to recovery from games and nagging injuries.

December 28, 2009
No hard feelings ...

Former Monarchs forward Rebekkah Brunson, a starter on the team that won the 2005 WNBA Championship, hugged Gavin Maloof as the Kings co-owner walked through the tunnel after the Kings' victory over the Nuggets. (The Maloofs recently ceased operations of the franchise, primarily to devote their full attention to rebuilding the Kings). Brunson said she was immensely disappointed by the decision, but harbors no ill feelings. "I understand that this is a business," she said. "It's probably going to take two or three years to completely turn the (Kings) franchise around. But after that, I want them to bring us back. I want them to get another WNBA club. The city is going to miss us." Both Joe and Gavin Maloof have said they are receptive to the idea of owning another WNBA squad in the future, provided the league remains viable."

Coaxing them back

The "We Want You Back" campaign - the Maloofs' attempt to entice former season ticket holders to reinvest in the club - resulted in approximately 100 new/old season ticket purchases during the game, according to a team source. Before tipoff, an estimated 3,000 former season ticket holders took the Maloofs up on their offer of two free tickets, a buffet dinner, and a chat with the head coach. Paul Westphal, who already has plenty on his, um, plate, nonetheless mingled with fans for about 30 minutes as they enjoyed the buffet. Westphal, in fact, has been amazingly accommodating for someone whose main task is turning last year's 17-65 win team into an entertaining and competitive product.


Brockman's effort reminiscent of another JB

They were totally different players, of course, but Brockman is endearing himself to Kings fans because he plays with the passion and energy of former guard whose initials happen to be J.B. - Jon Barry, now a superb NBA analyst with ESPN. I also loved how Brockman explains his success at bumping larger, more talented players under the basket, which enables him to grab an inordinate share of rebounds for an undersized 6-foot-7 power forward. "It is mostly keeping them busy and moving around a lot," he said after collecting 10 boards. "I'm kind of like a pest. I think because I am shorter, I can get a little lower on their legs. That's where all your strength comes from. You're not pushing with your upper body, because then you would be off-balance."


The question on everybody's mind immediately after the Kings' double-overtime loss to the Lakers late Saturday night, the one that was repeated among fans seated near press row, was why Tyreke Evans continues to go one-on-one in late-game situations, or essentially, whether the rookie is breaking plays and resorting to the individual style or simply following his coach's instructions.
This just in: This is the Kings' late-game offense, as directed by Paul Westphal.
"One-four flat," Westphal explained forcefully in his press conference. "That's what we did. We'll do it again. You'll see it a lot." When a reporter brought up the fact that Evans was matched up against a superb defender in Kobe Bryant during one of the pivotal possessions, much as he was against LeBron James in Wednesday's overtime loss to the Cavaliers, Westphal continued, stubbornly: "He's our guy, and we're going to our guy in situations like that, and put the game in his hands." Referring to his decision to again eschew the timeout and advance the ball immediately for the potential game-winner in the waning seconds of regulation, he added, "It depends on the situation. It's not that complicated a play, for everybody (else) down at the baseline, the best one-on-one player at the top, try to get the last shot, either make it at the buzzer, or go to overtime." In this instance, Evans again took too much time to initiate anything and wound up losing the ball to Bryant just before the buzzer.
Undoubtedly, this is not a topic that will disappear. While Westphal and team officials frequently refer to a young Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant when discussing the abilitiesof their own talented rookie, it should be noted that Jordan and Bryant flourished only after Phil Jackson became their head coach and implemented his share-the-ball triangle offense, first with Scottie Pippen as the playmaker, and later, with wrinkles that allowed for Shaq's dominance (and passing skills).


Worth noting

While the defeat can be attributed to a multitude of elements - missed free throws, turnovers, horrific three-point shooting (6-for-25), Kobe's greatness, Pau Gasol's interior contributions - it's impossible to ignore the fact that the Kings dominated the first half of the first overtime with a lineup of Beno Udrih, Jason Thompson, Donte Greene, Omri Casspi and Jon Brockman. With Brockman rebounding and triggering fastbreaks, Udrih finding Casspi for a breakout layup, Thompson sticking a 15-footer, and Udrih converting a short leaner for a 101-94 lead and 2:40 remaining, the Kings appeared poised for the upset.


Lost in the deadline crunch

* My candidate for play of the game: Greene's block on Kobe's baseline jumper with 52 seconds remaining in regulation. Rarely does that happen. The second-year forward also stole three balls and blocked another shot.
* Spencer Hawes still doesn't go to the basket with enough force, and as a result, gets an inordinate number of shots blocked. At least a few of Gasol's six rejections came against Hawes, but the Kings 7-foot center neutralized Andrew Bynum for stretches, grabbed seven boards in 31 minutes, and led both teams with seven assists, including two beautiful bounce passes to a cutting Udrh on the baseline, a la Vlade Divac. He also matched Kobe with four steals.
* Casspi, who came off the bench when Westphal decided to "bring Beno out of mothballs" to counter the Lakers' lineup without Ron Artest, led the Kings with 10 boards, busted out for one particularly impressive fastbeak basket in traffic, but converted only one of his six three-point attempts. He is much more successful when he takes his time and gets set before releasing the ball, and of course, when he remains patient and doesn't force his offense. His value to the Kings is his all-around game, and he scores most effeciently when the ball moves, he gets out in the open floor, or grabs rebounds and pushes the pace.
* Udrih continues to enjoy a near-remarkable career recovery. A few of the Lakers privately said they were relieved when he wasn't the Kings' option at the end of quarters and games because of his recent habit of converting critical shots.
* The Lakers don't win this game if backup guard Shannon Brown doesn't come off the bench for 15 points and 10 rebounds.
* Evans' mother (Bonita) and grandmother (Alice) sat courtside for a second consecutive game, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. Both hope to return, despite Bonita's fear of flying. Tyreke's mother also described her son as "sweet," and said he has had the same easy temperament since childhood.
* I make no pretense here: I am not a fan of the isolation game or the Kings' 1-4 offensive sets, with poor Tyreke stuck playing solo while everyone else stands around. But I immensely enjoy watching Westphal work a game, with his willingness to stick with players who are producing as opposed to adhering to a strict rotation, along with his quick grasp of end/quarter situations and offensive/defensive substitutions.

Rekindling old Kings-Lakers feelings

The atmosphere at Arco Arena lalst night was electric, for the first time in what seems forever. Jackson, the Kings longtime agitator, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the old/new experience. And here are Kobe's thoughts on the matter: "To be honest with you, it kind of (bleeped) coming up here the last couple games. It really did. There was no enthusiasm in the crowd. Now it seems like the city is getting behind this team. With what Tyreke's doing, what the young crew's doing ... it felt good to come in here and get booed. (Laugh) It felt normal again. It felt like old times. There was a lot of energy in the crowd. A lot of "hate you" signs. It got back to what it used to be."


Though he prefers to operate behind the scenes, Joe and Gavin Maloof credited outside marketing guru Kevin Kaplan with providing many of the ideas for their aggressive and ongoing ticket sales campaign. The brothers have known Kaplan since their earlier years in their hometown Albuquerque, N.M., and occasionally have enlisted his services in the past. Briefly, Kaplan's approach is a grassroots effort that utilizes high tech computer research and, frankly, common sense. His strategy behind the opening night sellout prompted the Maloofs to secure his ongoing involvement. "In the beginning, we had some tough conversations," Kaplan said the other day. "Everything was laid out there. I told Joe and Gavin that we had to market as if the season as if the team was going to be 0-82." Talks are underway for an estimated 50 ticket promotions, everything from concession stand bargains, parking deals, traditional autograph and meet-and-greet sessions, to a more complicated program with local high schools. (Details not yet finalized). Whatever. The Maloofs seem more energized and less stressed than they have in years. Or as Joe Maloof said Monday, chuckling, "I haven't felt like this since we were in the Western Conference finals."

Cavs, Lakers could be sellouts

By late Tuesday afternoon, Kings officials were projecting a near-sellout for tonight's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers and a standing room only crowd for Saturday's meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Is it the money?

Now this is interesting: Joe Maloof is not only chippy when Sacramento's eventual economic recovery, but he becomes downright giddy when discussing the recent sale of the liquor distributorship in New Mexico - the very foundation of the family empire. Besides virtually eliminating their debt, he said, it has enabled the company to prioritize. It's all about the Kings and the Palms these days, with other ventures in the mix, but not nearly as important.

December 21, 2009
Why we love this game ...


I just returned from vacation, and just my luck, there's no time to ease back into the 5-to-midnight shifts. Still catching my breath. The Kings left the entire league gasping with their remarkable, astonishing, outrageous, memorable, historical - pick your own adjective - comeback against the Chicago Bulls. I watched the second half while jogging on the treadmill and became so engrossed in the closing minutes that I almost fell off the machine. Seriously. I started covering the league in 1981 (Clippers, Lakers, Hawks), and can recall only one other time where I was shocked by the comeback. I can't recall the final score or the deficit at the moment, but it was a Hawks' homecourt victory over Richie Adubato's Orlando Magic sometime in the early 1990s.


Hitting the late-night show

This has been quite the few days for the Kings and the national television audience. A few days after making their 2009-10 national television debut against the Washington Wizards, the Kings were featured heavily in ESPN's highlights after their dramatic victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in the Tyreke Evans-Brandon Jennings matchup, then closed out their road trip with Monday's comeback win that led off the cable network's late-night highlights. It appears that the Kings have arrived -- or more accurately, re-arrived on the national scene. How long has it been????

Well, he called it ... sort of

In a conversation I had earlier today with Joe Maloof about the organization's vigorous marketing efforts, the Kings co-owner gushed about his three rookies, and couldn't stop talking about his appreciation for Jon Brockman's grit. Little did we know. "The last few years, we didn't have a team people could identify with," he said. "We didn't have the Doug Christies and Bobby Jacksons. Now we have Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi and Jon Brockman - I love Brockman's toughness - and we have a coach the players have total confidence in." After last night, the oldest and most emotional of the Maloof siblings probably added Ime Udoka to that list.

A few more thoughts about "the game"

* While noting the the late-game contributions from Evans, Udoka, Beno Udrih and Jason Thompson, Brockman turned the game. He seemingly got his hands on every loose ball, dove to the floor and deflected balls, provided a physical interior presence against rebounding machine Joakim Noah and the penetrating forays of Derrick Rose, grabbed rebounds or tapped the ball to a teammate, repeatedly affording the Kings second shots.
* Udrih's poise and playmaking were superb down the stretch. He penetrated and found Udoka open in the right corner for those crucial three's, grabbed the late rebound and dribbled out of traffic, then converted the clinching free throws.
* Love the way Paul Westphal uses his roster. The Kings have one star - Evans - until Kevin Martin returns, but Westphal recognized early that he has depth, and a young, feisty roster. One night it's Casspi or Donte Green, the next it's Udoka, Brockman, Thompson or Sergio Garcia. The Kings first-year coach stays with the players who produce ...
* Evans might be even better than Geoff Petrie (and longtime Evans' proponent Jerry Reynolds) expected. Already, the rookie is special, clearly the leading Rookie of the Year candidate. He defends. He rebounds. He competes. He has a knack for making the big shot even though he's an erratic shooter, and as he demonstrated yet again against the Bucks and the Bulls, he breaks down defenders and gets to the basket. Again, beaucoup kudos to Petrie. Evans' potential is unlimited. His stature will grow immensely when he improves in two areas: Perimeter shooting and decision-making. As Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant eventually learned - and as the precocious LeBron James understood at a much earlier age - they can their shot at any time. But winning is all about timing and teamwork. The great players keep their teammates involved, and then take over in the end. Evans continues to miss wide-open teammates on the wings, especially on the break, too often persists in driving into two-three defenders. Make the easy play. Hit the open man. Still thinking the Kings eventually need a premier point guard to distribute, enhance ball movement and free up Evans to do what he does best -- score.


Without belaboring the obvious, specifically, the Kings' futility at the foul line for a second consecutive game, at least the problems earlier tonight were limited to three players: Only three Kings even made it to the foul line, which is something I haven't seen since I can't remember when. Andres Nocioni, who missed the crucial free throw and then committed a lane violation with one second remaining, was 2-for-6. Jason Thompson was 2-for-5. Rookie Tyreke Evans was 5-for-8.

And, not that the Kings need any reminders, but I can hear Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown, Phil Jackson, etc., venting about how close games are won with free throws and rebounds. Spencer Hawes' inability to box out didn't help, either, nor did Thompson's early departure with six fouls - in 30 minutes. Love JT's passion and elbow jumper, but at some point, he has to start displaying some poise and common sense. Grabbing an opponent's jersey? Overtly hooking David West - I think it was West - with his left hand, and then behaving like the aggrieved party when he gets caught? All in the fourth quarter? Seriously. Those were easy, obvious calls, yet Thompson persisted with his chronic, season-long tantrum that has to wear on the referees. Continue with the dramatic displays of distemper, and they'll remain irritated and continue to make his life miserable. And this has nothing to do with Tim Donaghy, "60 Minutes," or Game 6 of Kings-Lakers, by the way, and everything to do with human nature. I suspect Paul Westphal has already had this chat with his second-year forward, probably on that late-night flight to San Antonio ...


Maybe the best, so far

Evans has had more explosive scoring nights, but this might have been his most impressive and complete game. Defense. Rebounding. Scoring. Scoring in the deciding fourth period. Most importantly, his quicker decision-making. I loved his feel for when to push the pace, when to attack the basket in the half-court, and then moving without the ball, understanding that he would get the ball back. This is not a selfish team. And what's scary, at age 20, his combination of size, strength and defensive instincts clearly distinguish hiim from many of his talented young peers - among them the explosive Brandon Jennings. Westphal also raves about his study habits and keen intellect.

Geoff Petrie (and Jerry Reynolds, who loved the kid before anyone else) made what is looking to be a brilliant pick at No.4. If management can avoid overhyping (and ruining) the youngster in their desire to sell tickets and market a future star, the Rookie of the Year race will be the least of his accomplishments.


Oh, and about point guards ...

If Evans, Beno Udrih and Sergio Rodriguez continue to complement each other effectively in the backcourt, the Kings will be just fine in the playmaking department for the near future. But who knew? Beno, steady, unflappable, a consistent mid-range shooter, improved deep shooter, and a far different and superior player than a year ago? Sergio, with his quickness, court vision and passing skills, providing a tempo change and creativity? Tyreke ... well, he's a stud, no question, and a devastating scorer whom I continue to maintain is at his best when not asked to do too much with the ball.

With tthe impending return of Kevin Martin - and eventual return of Francisco Garcia - Petrie has plenty of wing players to dangle when the trade deadline nears. Westphal nailed it in preseason: For the Kings to make the move beyond being intriguing, entertaining, interesting and competitive, to a dangerous young squad, Petrie has to address the feeble frontcourt, and the fact his bigs continue to play small. Was Spencer really among the league's leading shotblockers this time last year? What happened to JT's run of double-doubles? If Petrie can acquire an athletic, muscular center/power forward type who provides a physical defensive presence and consistent rebounding, the Kings accelerate the learning curve.

True, they've lost consecutive tough games. But there is something there. Finally, there is something there ...


Referring to John Whisenant as the former coach/general manager of the Monarchs still seems weird, but since Sacramento's WNBA franchise no longer exists - officially, as of Tuesday - I guess we all have to make the adjustment. Whiz, who proved to be a terrific coach, turning the skeptical team captain Yolanda Griffith into a true believer with his quiet strength, defensive acumen and calm, yet forceful sideline demeanor, doesn't need the money, but he would probably like some work. Given his uneasy relationship with Kings president Geoff Petrie, however, I can't see him becoming part of basketball operations. The Maloofs have tremendous affection for Whisenant, who is a family friend dating back to their ownership of the Houston Rockets in the early 1980s. But contrary to what a lot of people believe, they defer to Petrie, rarely injecting themselves into basketball decisions. Which means .... even though Whiz would probably love to live in Albuquerque and work as a regional scout, it is probably not going to happen.

December 4, 2009
Welcome back, Kings


It shouldn't come as any great surprise that the NBA bosses are putting the Dec.16 Kings-Wizards game on ESPN. There are some REALLY mediocre teams out there this year, and several that are far less interesting than Sac's surprising bunch. Knowing David Stern as I do - and he has input on absolutely everything NBA-related, so I suspect his fingers were all over this decision - he was thinking along these lines: (1) the Kings are entertaining and likeable for the first time in years, or since Vlade Divac left and the roof caved it; and (2) the combination of a emerging young roster, enhanced by the emergence of rookie stud Tyreke Evans and Israeli Omri Casspi, is too good to ignore, .

If the Kings are somehow respectable on the road - always the true measure of a team - this won't be their last appearance this season on national TV.

But about the upcoming schedule, which is increasingly heavy on the road games: Defense, rebounding, ball movement. Oh. And easy baskets. The Kings have to capitalize in transition, utilizing their youth, quickness and athleticism if they want to extend this impressive little stretch.


REMINDS ME OF ....

As I tweeted a few minutes ago, the more I see of Tyreke Evans and his all-court game, the more he reminds me of Dwyane Wade. They have similar body types and are amazingly strong, though Wade is the better athlete and the superior outside shooter. He has a faster motor, too. I suspect Evans will play faster the more confident he becomes, especially now that he plays off the ball so much. Paul Westphal's clever (and increasing) use of Sergio Rodriguez and a three-guard lineup (with Beno Udrih) plays to Tyreke's strengths on the wings.


ON ANOTHER INTERESTING NBA FRIDAY NIGHT ...

- Congrats to the Nets and reluctant coach Kiki Vandeweghe. For sure, 1-18 beats 0-19.
- Kings assistant GM Jason Levien must be excited. His former client, Courtney Lee, was influential in the Nets' victory.
- Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, last-second shots. Remind me. How long has this been going on?
- Clearly, Ron Artest is bored. Or attention-deprived. Looking forward to his first visit to Arco, though. I keep thinking, he's laughing at all of us media types who actually take his outrageous comments semi-seriously.
- How long will it take Blake Griffin to turn the Rookie of the Year race into a three-man sprint? Evans and Brandon Jennings hold the early lead ...
- Spent time recently with Spain's Rodriguez, who grew up in the Canary Islands, just off the coast of Africa. I'll be writing a longer column about him when I return from vacation.


Anyone who has driven the freeways around the Sacramento region the past several weeks has probably noticed the new advertising billboards featuring the Kings. You know. Like the old days? While I was returning to the office from practice a few minutes ago, I noticed a rendering of Tyreke Evans on a billboard on X and 20th, adjacent to the Capital Cities Freeway. It includes the image of a lion, the word "Kings," and then a likeness of the talented rookie. Now, while acknowledging that this is pretty clever marketing - Lion King? Get it? - I have never been in favor of promoting an individual over a team, unless we're talking about a proven superstar such as Shaq, Kobe, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, etc. It simply sends the wrong message - to the player, who is trying to establish himself within the league, and to his teammates, who resent when someone is elevated before their time. Evans is an immense talent - co-rookie of the month - but he has just finished his first month of the regular season. What's wrong with marketing the team and highlighting its young talent/potential (Jason Thompson, Omri Casspi, Spencer Hawes, Kevin Martin, etc.), without fixating on a particular individual?

For those who might have forgotten - and around here, very few have - the Kings who transformed the franchise into an international treasure earlier this decade excelled because of their collaborative effort, not as solo acts. Accordingly, the billboards reflected that theme.

Talk of possible trades dominated the conversation in our Kings live chat with Bee columnist Ailene Voisin. Replay it here.

November 11, 2009
Generating a buzz ....


Though the crowds at Arco Arena have been underwhelming since the opening night sellout, the Kings' surprisingly strong recent performances - and three-game win streak -appears to be generating a bit of a local buzz. For Tuesday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the club sold 500 tickets at the arena before tipoff. Known as "walkups," the pregame window sales are widely regarded as an indicator of fan interest, or lack thereof. According to Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof, who received a call from a ticket sales official early Wednesday, this was the largest walkup since a 2002 matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers.

While waiting to hear from my colleague, Sam Amick, who was forced to watch the Kings' season opener from press row in Oklahoma City, I thought I would offer a few thoughts. Without leaping to conclusions - based on one regular season game, the preseason and observing a portion of practices these past several weeks - these are my initial observations:

• The defense can't be this bad. Seriously. No joke. After weeks and months of hearing players, coaches and executives TALKING about a renewed emphasis on defense and rebounding, the Kings' pathetic effort against the Thunder has to be an aberration. If it's not ... well, it has to be.

• Two points scored in transition? The Kings simply don't have the individual talent to rely on halfcourt execution against the league's better defenses. They have to play faster, create transition opportunities off steals and rebounds, and utilize their youth and athleticism. This was Tyreke Evans' debut, but he can't take seven or eight seconds - and I clocked it - to advance the ball on most possessions. He has to pick up the pace. More ball movement and less one-on-one would also be helpful. It would enhance the spacing and create openings for Evans to attack the basket - which he does well, even though he didn't finish against the Thunder. Teams have scouted the rookie. They know he's headed to the rim, and are there waiting for him, at times with multiple defenders. When he plays faster, gives up the ball, moves and gets it back. he will be much more effective.

• I understand Paul Westphal's concerns about his frontcourt players' tendency to get into foul trouble ... and his lack of frontcourt depth. But Spencer Hawes' confidence clearly has been shaken by his relegation to the second unit. He is, after all, still only 21 years old, and for all his loquaciousness, is still a young guy. (Maybe it's a guy thing, but most NBA clubs don't do a good job when it comes to nurturing the youngsters). Besides. When Nenad Krstic scores at will, basically strolls to the basket uncontested, it's time to re-evaluate the notion of starting the undersized Sean May at center ahead of Hawes.

• Where was Beno? The Kings desperately needed floor leadership and ball movement , yet Udrih never got off the bench. Very, very curious.


Injuries in the NBA are as common as the flu/cold, but this preseason has been particularly, um, stressful in that regard. The list of ailing players continues to grow at an alarming pace, and the regular season tipoff remains hours away. The list of wounded - those expected to miss anywhere from a few games to a few months - include the Kings' Francisco Garcia (fractured arm/wrist), Kevin Love (broken hand), Al Jefferson (Achilles tendinitis), Josh Howard (wrist/ankle surgery), Nicholas Batum (shoulder), Glen Davis (thumb) and Blake Griffin, the overall No.1 pick who could miss up to six weeks with a fractured kneecap.

Griffin's absence for the opening weeks (if not longer) is almost a routine blow for the Clippers. The former Oklahoma star was originally hurt when he bumped knees with teammate Craig Smith while scrimmaging a few days before camp opened. He aggravated the injury in Friday's preseason game against New Orleans, continuing to experience swelling even while sitting out subsequent workouts. The extent of the ailment was revealed a few hours ago .... causing the most resilient of Clippers fans to recall the injury-marred careers of the club's former lottery picks Danny Manning (No.1 overall in 1988) and Charles Smith.

Cisco Can't Help Himself

After the Kings' intense, lengthy afternoon practice, a visibly restless Garcia couldn't help himself: When special assistant Pete Carril summoned rookie Tyreke Evans for individual shooting drills in the near-empty facility, Garcia, in street clothes and sneakers, wandered over and joined the informal session. Holding his casted right arm awkwardly in his left hand, he snagged an occasional rebound and swatted balls toward the rookie. Other times, when Carril was quietly offering instruction, the ailing swingman listened intently, just seemed eager to be involved in anything resembling game/practice action.

(Sam Amick jumping in here to provide video of what Ailene is discussing, even if she didn't realize I was filming it. While most of Carril's teachings are inaudible, notice what he says at the end while teaching Evans a running hook going away from the basket - "Every great player that's ever played this game had that shot!")

The Mystery Continues

Paul Westphal remains coy about his starting lineup for Wednesday's season opener, but I find it hard to believe that Spencer Hawes won't be in his customary center spot. True, Westphal is concerned about his two bigs - Hawes and Jason Thompson - getting into foul trouble. Also true, the lack of frontcourt size/depth is scary. But even though Hawes struggled throughout much of camp - and was replaced by Sean May in the starting unit - he had an exceptional practice on Monday. The 7-footer was attacking the basket, scoring on reverse layups, follow shots, jumpers. He also threw some nifty bounce passes and challenged shots around the basket. Spencer is back to being edgy, chatty, combative Spencer. The good Spencer. The question is: Does he get his job back? Anyway, I plan to write about his importance to the Kings and their season for Wednesday's Bee.

October 11, 2009
Stephen Jackson said WHAT?


I was actually going to include these quotes in a story I'm preparing for our NBA preview section, but after Stephen Jackson was suspended by the Warriors for "conduct detrimental to the team," I couldn't resist putting them out there a little sooner. Jackson, who clearly wants out of Oakland, reportedly cursed Nelson after being pulled from the game following his five-foul, one technical stint Friday against the Lakers. Anyway, this is what a temporarily conciliatory Jackson had to say last Tuesday about Nelson and his coach's pursuit of Lenny Wilkens' record for all-time coaching victories. "It will be a pleasure for me to be a part ot if. He (Nelson) has been a great teacher, a great ambassador of the game. And he has done a lot for me, not only giving me confidence, but allowing me to show I can do more than shoot the ball. I had to put the work in, but he gave me the floor. I don't think people understand our relationship. I have the ultimate respect for coach and he has the same for me. I'm forever in debt to him. No question he is my favorite coach and I'm happy to be here."

Guess he changed his mind.

Wonder what Jackson will have to say THIS Tuesday? And can he do anything else to hamper the club's attempts to accommodate his trade request?

IT JUST MAKES SENSE

I'm not surprised to hear that Paul Westphal plans to utilize a three-guard lineup frequently this season. Even before Francisco Garcia's freak weight-lifting accident Friday, a lineup of Beno Udrih, Tyreke Evans and Kevin Martin was said to be under consideration. The Kings' most impressive stretch of the early postseason occurred in the final minutes of Wednesday's loss to the Trail Blazers .... with the maligned Udrih pushing the ball and finding teammates. Makes sense to go with your best players, provided someone can get them the ball.

October 8, 2009
Ready for the real refs ...


Being an NBA referee is a tough job. We get that. We also have been known to point out their blown calls, and on more than one occasion, some of us have referred to the lousy officiating in Game 6 of the 2002 Kings-Lakers Western Conference finals. But after sitting through the Kings-Blazers preseason game at Arco Arena, and watching the replacement refs call a total of 63 fouls - 63 fouls! - I really started to miss Bavetta, Delaney, Javie, Davis, Stafford, Wood, among others. I shudder to think that the labor impasse between the league and its referees could extend into the regular season. Can't happen, right?

Sixty-three fouls. Ugly. The inordinate number of ticky-tack fouls notwithstanding, Jason Thompson (six fouls, 17 minutes) isn't furthering his cause with his incessant complaining. He should have figured that out during his rookie season.

October 5, 2009
The artist in him ...


If Desmond Mason makes the Kings roster, the veteran swingman (and artist) said he would be interested in showing some of his artwork during Second Saturday, the monthly downtown arts festival that has become quite the local event. Mason, 31, who is participating in training camp as a non-guaranteed invitee, is known as one of the league's more accomplished artists. After Monday's practice, he said he has moved away from still life art and currently is working on abstracts. Mason, who played for Paul Westphal in Seattle, is certainly being given a legitimate chance to make a roster that has a glut of small forwards and shooting guards. (The Kings would owe him $825,000). Westphal plans to start his former player in Tuesday's preseason opener at Portland.

The NBA's guidelines regarding "social networking" were revealed tonight after us Bee types had already left the Kings practice facility, so I am sure there will be more on the topic in the days to come. Though the rules aren't very restrictive, I am curious to hear the reaction of the Kings most prolific tweeters - Sean May, Jason Thompson and Donte Greene. In essence, the league's guidelines regarding the use of cell phones PDAs and other communication devices consists of the following:

- Social networking devices are banned from the 45-minute mark before tipoff, throughout the duration of the game (and including halftimes), and continuing through the obligatory post-game media availability session in the locker room;

- The rules apply to coaches, players and others directly involved in the actual game itself, presumably excluding the club's media relations and publicity types

- Teams can implement even more stringent rules, which a number of clubs have done

When I reached Kings media director Troy Hanson late Wednesday evening, he said Geoff Petrie and Paul Westphal were still reviewing the league's guidelines and had yet to formulate the club's own policy.

"We have a couple guys that are very active (May, Thompson, Greene), but they're very good about it," said Hansen, referring to something known as "manners. "I'm sure we'll figure something out for practice, but you won't see guys running over to take a water break, pulling out their cellphones. That's never been the case."

Interestingly, one of the Kings who often breached etiquette was former coach Reggie Theus. The personable Theus just couldn't help himself, hence, the need for a league policy. Reggie often was seen checking his cell phone or making quick calls while conducting practices, and on a number of occasions, he interrupted post-game press sessions to take calls. He curbed the activity after hearing about it from his players and members of the media.

September 29, 2009
Tattoo this!

Paul Westphal hasn't been an NBA coach since midway into the 2000-2001 season, when he was fired by the team formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics. He went on to coach the Pepperdine Waves, spent a season on Avery Johnson's bench in Dallas, and otherwise enjoyed life in his native Southern California.

But, he says, forget about any thoughts of a culture shock. The ball is still round. The court is still 94 feet. Players are players. Excluding a few more tattoos, what's so different?"

"I don't think there's any generation gap," Westphal said after Monday's two-hour media session at the Kings practice facility. "The Idea is to get five players who share the ball, who need to play defense, and try to make more baskets than the other team. There have always been selfish players. There have always been players who know how to sublimate their ego for the good of the team. As far as I can tell, you're still fighting that fight. You want to get more of the latter and less of the former."

Westphal, by the way, was a terrific scorer and ferocious one-handed, lefty-dunker in his day, and known for his hops. His playing style was the very antithesis of his conservative politics. (He remains a longtime friend of Rush Limbaugh). Haven't asked him about the onslaught of tattoos since his NBA head coaching days, however. i can't wait to hear his thoughts about Donte Greene's latest display: $600 worth of sketchings that stretch from the top of his left shoulder to his wrist.

As for the coach's thoughts on social networking? Forget about it. He laughed when asked whether he blogs or tweets, though he has no objection to his players doing so -- on their own time.

Although hardly a "Sandy Koufax moment," Kings rookie Omri Casspi will not participate in the opening day of training camp - basically known as media availability day - because Monday is also Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish faith/culture. The famous Dodger lefthander, most baseball fans will recall, refused to pitch Game One of the 1965 World Series because it conflicted with Yom Kippur. Casspi, who will become the first Israeli to play in the league when he suits up on opening night, has been in town the past few weeks scrimmaging and training at the Kings practice site.


Perennial Kings coaching candidate Kurt Rambis, who finally received his second chance as an NBA coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves, has assembled an impressive staff. All three of his assistants - Dave Wohl, Reggie Theus and Bill Laimbeer - have head coaching experience. Wohl was on Pat Riley's staff with the Showtime Lakers before taking over the New Jersey Nets. He has remained in the league as an assistant or front office staffer with several teams, most recently working for Danny Ainge in Boston. Theus coached the Kings for 1 1/2 seasons, of course, after two seasons at New Mexico State. And Laimbeer guided the Detroit Shock to three WNBA titles in his six seasons - and was regarded as an excellent tactician, teacher and motivator.

I spoke with Theus the other day, and while he wouldn't go on-record because nothing had been finalized, he was pretty excited about the possibility of getting another job. He had explored broadcasting opportunities, but really wanted to stay in coaching, preferably in the NBA. "I think of myself as coach," he did say, for the record. "I enjoy that more than anything I've done."


Rubio's decision no surprise to some

I don't know if he's prescient, or was just taking a stab in the dark, but Israeli national team and longtime EuroLeague coach Zvika Sherf told me in Tel Aviv three weeks ago that Ricky Rubio was signing with Regal Barcelona. End of conversation. Since then, Wolves president David Kahn traveled to Spain and reportedly reached a buyout agreement with Rubio's former team in Badalona, only to learn that the Spanish point guard was indeed signing with his hometown Barcelona club. Conspiracy theorists can have at it, but I continue to hear that, until the last minute, Rubio was urging the Wolves to trade his rights to another NBA club, preferably the Kings or the New York Knicks because he had no interest in joining a team that drafted another point guard (Jonny Flynn). The discussion will be ongoing ...




Kurt Rambis turned down the Kings' head coaching job in June because it didn't pay enough (approximately $1.5 million per year) or provide adequate job security (only two years guaranteed). So now he accepts a Minnesota Timberwolves position that pays more - $2 million per season - and offers better benefits (four years). The major downside for the longtime Lakers assistant, of course, will be the longer flight from his beloved Manhattan Beach home.

Given Phil Jackson's tenuous health, why wouldn't Rambis just wait until Jackson retires - assuming that, as the lead assistant, he would be the heir apparent? Assume nothing, as they say. When I spoke with Rambis' agent, Warren LeGarie, a few weeks ago at the Las Vegas Summer League, LeGarie insisted that his client had no clue what Lakers owner Jerry Buss was planning post-Jackson. More ominously, LeGarie said Buss has never gave Rambis any indication - never mind assurances - that he was the likely successor.

Rambis apparently just got tired of the wait. He hasn't been a head coach since succeeding Del Harris and guiding the Lakers to a 24-13 record during the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

TEL AVIV, Israel - Obtaining a visa to play in the United States remains a major irritant for the non-Americans in the league. Most of the time the NBA teams turn their attorneys loose on the immigration matter. But as Omri Casspi is learning - as did Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu back in the day - the process is not hassle-free. Multiple time-consuming meetings at the U.S. Embassy remain common. In Casspi's case, the Kings rookie appeared for a 7:30 a.m., appointment on Tuesday and was required to return again Wednesday to finalize the paperwork. He sounded relieved to have the matter resolved. "Done, over," he said afterward. "I'm ready to go."

Since I'm returning home late Thursday night, only two evenings before he returns to the States to begin preparing for his inaugural season, we'll probably meet for coffee in the early afternoon. I have two final interviews scheduled later in the day, including the grand finale with longtime Maccabi Tel Aviv president Shimon Mizrahi.

With his organization in turmoil and the management team in flux, this should be a very interesting meeting. I'm hoping Mizrahi will be as candid as former Maccabi stars Mickey Berkowitz and Tal Brody, though that' s probably asking too much. Perhaps Omri's decision to leave Maccabi for the NBA will prove inspiring. The tape will be rolling ...


Awaiting word on that Kings visit

Many of the basketball types here are eagerly awaiting confirmation on the possibility of a Kings-Maccabi preseason game here in 2010. The last I've heard, nothing is official. Although the NBA and the Kings are pushing for the matchup at the Nokia Center, Maccabi's home court, basketball's international governing body (FIBA) has to approve any such arrangement. There is little reason to think this might not happen, but talks are said to be ongoing. Maccabi hasn't played in America since getting trounced by the Miami Heat in 1999. However, the Israeli basketball behemoth will take on the Clippers in the Staples Center on Oct. 15. They will also play the Knicks on that trip.


Slipping briefly into the role of the tourist

Between interviews Wednesday, I took the bus to Jerusalem to visit a few of the historic religious sites that were missed when Omri drove myself and a photographer to the Old City Sunday for a private tour of the Wailing Wall and surrounding area. I was disappointed to discover that the Temple Mount was closed for the afternoon, so had to settle for hearing the Muslims' call to prayer as I wandered around.

Later, after purchasing a few souvenirs - OK, more than a few souvenirs - I trudged up the hill to the famous King David Hotel. I couldn't resist. I sipped coffee on the balcony cafe where the late Paul Newman wooed Eva Marie Saint in the classic 1960s film, "Exodus," and almost immediate decided that the hotel was even more captivating than a young Paul Newman. The balcony cafe and terrace offer sweeping views of the Old City. (Let's see if my photos come out!). There is also a "Reading Room" just off the lobby that features a wall display of black and white photos chronicling the history of the hotel, and thus, of Israel. I refused to check the room rate, though. I didn't want to know ...

Shalom.



TEL AVIV, Israel - While chatting with Omri Casspi's brother, Eitan, at the family's home in the southern suburbs of the city, the Kings rookie grabbed his laptop to see if the NBA schedule had been released. He was about six hours early - and sure to be disappointed. His friends have all been wondering where he would make his NBA debut. He was hoping for a game in Sacramento or Cleveland against LeBron James. But no such luck. Instead, he gets a trip to Oklahoma City and a three-game road trip.


Coachie grabs the cigar

During one of my most enlightening interviews, I met with former Israeli national team star and ex-Rutgers standout Steve Kaplan, who told me that one of his biggest regrets was rejecting a scholarship offer from Pete Carril and Princeton. Kaplan, who said Geoff Petrie escorted him around campus during his visit many, many, many lives ago, also related one hilarious anecdote about the Kings special assistant: During a rainout at a Carrill basketball camp in the Poconos, Kaplan swears Coachie got onto the court for a few informal games of two-on-two, and competed with a cigar hanging out of his mouth. I would pay to see that.


This is what happens to the kids

While people can debate the issues regarding any deadly political conflict, and undoubtedly will continue to do, there can be no minimizing the devastaing impact on the children. For example: In the dusty city of Sedorot, with about 20,000 residents and a mere 45 minutes south of Tel Aviv, Israeli children are rarely allowed to play outside for fear of mortar or rocket shelling. Though attacks have subsided during the past several months, virtually every house has shed-sized concrete bomb shelters in the front or back yards. When children become restless, parents accompany the youngsters to a large indoor community sports "playground" that features everything from a mini-basketball court to a mutlipurpose room where dances and parties are held. The overhanging roof of the structure isn't secure enough to withstand bombing, but all along the interior, there are numerous anterooms reinforced with 1 1/2 feet of concrete walls. Inside, kids can be seen playing video games, studying on computers, kicking soccer balls, among other things, while their parents participate or observe from a nearby coffee bar/seating area. It wasn't until I visited the "playground" that I truly grasped the significance of the timing element: The alarm system only offers a 15-second warning before an attack. Understandly, parents want to keep their children close. The one outdoor park for the kids ingenuously attempts to disguise bomb shelters as concrete dragons and other animals. I'll be writing about the impact of the shelling on the local pro basketball team shortly upon my return to Sacramento.

As promised the other day, Rabbi Bob Taff of the Mosaic Law Congregation generously chatted on his cell phone a few minutes ago as his tour group of 21 Sacramentans rode on a bus through windy hills in central Israel Friday morning. And, yes, the weary travelers met up with members of Omri Casspi's family shortly after they arrived in Tel Aviv Tuesday evening. In Rabbi Taff's own words: "We arrived about 45 minutes early, and we immediately boarded the bus. I surprised everybody and told them where we were going. They didn't know. The Casspis live in Yavne, a bedroom commuity outside Tel Aviv. When we got there, they were outside the house waitinng for us. It was Omri's father (Shimon), his mother (Ilana). his brother (Eitan), and his sister (Aviv). They invited us into their home, and then we went outside and had refreshments and cold snacks in the back yard. Shimon brought out bottles of wine. Later, I had the kids from each family give them one of the Kings shirts, with Omri's name, and the number on the back. (Rabbi Taff bought these at the team store in Arco Arena) Then the families took a photo with the Casspis ... We were there almost two hours. They were so engaging, so down to earth. I think they were delighted to make the connection with people from Sacramento because they really don't know that much about the city. But there is no question they are thrilled about this opportunity, and the people in Israel are all excited. They told me that after Omri was drafted, people started coming to their house, leaving hundreds of bouquets of flowers on the sidewalk in front of their house. We just had a wonderful time."


Other offerings from the Rabbi
* Omri's brother, Eitan, plans to move here with Omri. (I have also heard that Ilana Casspi has been inquiring about Sacramento high schools for Aviv, who is a promising 16-year-old basketball star in her own right).
* Family members are not observant Jews in a religious sense, but Omri's parents want their son to observe the High Holy days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Sept. 18-28). "I'm sure he'll have to diplomatically make the rounds of the local synagogues," Taff added, with a chuckle.
* Asked the size of the Jewish population in Sacramento, the Rabbi said estimates are between 23,000 and 30,000. "Nobody really knows," he added. "There hasn't been a Jewish population study in 15 years."


Casspi cleared to play

Meanwhile, now that Casspi has received his letter of clearance from FIBA, basketball's international governing body, the small forward will make his unofficial Kings debut against the Detroit Pistons on Friday in the Las Vegas Summer League. From what my Bee colleague Sam Amick tells me, the rookie small forward is so geeked he'll probably turn the ball over, say, half a dozen times in the first half. imagine if he can play?

Led by unofficial tour director Rabbi Reuven "Bob" Taff, 21 members of Sacramento's Mosaic Law Congregation are en route to Israel for a 10-day trip that will include a visit with Omri Casspi's famiy at his home outside Tel Avis. Although the rookie forward is in Sacramento preparing to play for the Kings in the Las Vegas Summer League, with practices beginning Wednesday, his parents extended an invitation to the groups after learning of their plans through a mutual friend. "I have a friend over there who happens to be close with Omri's father," said Taff, "and he made the arrangements. Ilana (Casspi's mother) initially said she wanted to cook for us, but I said, 'no, no, that's too much trouble.' So we settled on light refreshments. We'll go over there after we land in Tel Aviv about 6. p.m., Tuesday. We asked everyone in our group to bring a Kings T-shirt. One family even designed their own T-shirts with a Kings logo intertwined with the star of David, and Omri's jersey number (18) in Hebrew. I also went to Arco Arena and had four shirts made - the ones they had at the rally that say, 'New Kings on the Block." We're going to present the shirts to Omri's parents (Shimon and Ilana) and his sister (Aviv) and brother (Eitan) when we get there. This is such a historic moment for the state of Israel. If Omri has an impact ... it would be incredible."

The rangy 6-foot-9 Casspi, a small forward who played for Maccabi Tel Aviv before the Kings selected him with the second of their two first-round picks (23rd overall) in the recent NBA Draft, will become the first Israeli to play in the NBA. Taff, who says the size of his bi-annual travel groups had been almost halved because of the economy, expects a sizable representation from the Jewish community at the Kings home opener. "I don't think there's any doubt about that," he added. "They take their basketball very seriously in Israel."

We'll catch up with Taff and the weary travelers after they meet with the Casspi family on Tuesday. Hopefully, we'll have some photos from the scene. Meantime, here's a quick glimpse of the Sactown adventurers. (Rabbi Taff is in the pink shirt).

photo1.jpg

Hedo Turkoglu is one of the most amiable, easy-going players you'll ever meet. He would be happy playing on Mars, Pluto or Saturn, which is why his decision to recant his verbal acceptance of a five-year, $50 million deal from the Portland Trail Blazers leads one to believe that his wife was a major factor in the about-face. ESPN's Ric Bucher is reporting that Turkoglu, who was very popular during his three seasons with the Kings, in fact reneged on his agreement with the Blazers because his wife, Banu, preferred that the couple relocate to Toronto, an international city with a sizable Turkish community. Plus, living in the East cuts the roundtrip visits back to Istanbul almost in half. While I haven't spoken to Hedo in a few weeks, when we chatted before his former Orlando Magic lost to the Lakers in the NBA Finals, he mentioned that family considerations would be a large factor in his free agency. His daughter, Ela, was born in February. I think Bucher is probably right. I feel badly for Hedo, though, because his reputation is going to take a hit for taking the Blazers for a ride. (Think Carlos Boozer). Well, at least he will be well-compensated. He is expected to earn an additional $3 million from the Raptors.


Ron Artest routinely had trouble defending Kobe Bryant during those heated Kings-Lakers meetings, especially when the Lakers superstar initiated his offense on the perimeter and utilized his quickness against his stronger, slower opponent. But based on numerous reports within the past few hours, Artest plans leave the Houston Rockets and sign a three-year deal worth approximately $18 million with his favorite L.A.team. For all the angst Artest experienced in the years preceding his free agency - remember, he was upset when the Kings refused to offer him an extension last summer - the situation couldn't have worked out any better. He will live in L.A., where he spends his offseasons anyway, and gets to play for the best team in the league. Can't imagine he has any complaints.

Interestingly, my sources in Houston are telling me that the Rockets' desire to re-sign Artest waned dramatically when it was learned that both Tracy McGrady (knee) and Yao Ming (fractured foot) will be sidelined with injuries for much of next season. Rockets officials viewed Artest as a second or third star - a complementary star to Yao and McGrady on a contender - but feared that he could become a disruptive force on a team that is rebuilding or, at the least, missing its two most dominant performers.

The fact that Artest was lobbied hard by Lamar Odom tells you that the Lakers have every intention of re-signing their versatile forward, and in essence, valued his talents over those of fellow free agent Trevor Ariza ... who is planning to sign with the Rockets.