Ben McLemore has many reasons to be motivated this season, but one is a few months away from appearing at a Kings game.
Fatherhood awaits McLemore, who plans to announce the gender of his child, due in March, via social media Sunday. Then the 23-year-old shooting guard will begin his fourth season with the Kings, and he said he’s as confident as ever despite three seasons of constant turnover on the roster and in the coaching ranks and front office.
In 2013, some observers considered McLemore talented enough to be the No. 1 overall draft pick. But by his third season, he was scrapping for playing time with Marco Belinelli, even though the veteran was in a career-worst shooting slump.
When the Kings hired Dave Joerger as the coach and added shooting guards this offseason, McLemore seemed destined to be traded. But McLemore has impressed Joerger’s staff with his work ethic, and the Kings want to see if he can build on a strong summer.
McLemore said he’s had nothing but “positive vibes” from the coaching staff.
“I think every year has been a big difference, a big change for me, just because every year I had a new coach and different teammates,” McLemore said. “But I’m not letting that get over the top of me and what I’ve got to do to improve my game. ... I’ve just been really grinding, probably the most since I’ve been in the league.
“It’s one of the most important years to come for me. But at the end of the day, I’ll continue to do what I do best, and that’s working my butt off.”
McLemore can become a free agent after the season. He’ll be restricted if the Kings make a qualifying offer rather than letting him leave as an unrestricted free agent.
With the rising salary cap, players on their rookie deals such as McLemore are bargains. A qualifying offer for McLemore for the 2017-18 season will cost the Kings just $5.4 million.
First, McLemore must put his disappointing third season behind him. Although the 6-foot-5 guard shot a career-high 36.2 percent from three-point range, his scoring average (7.8 points) and minutes per game (21.2) dipped to career lows as the Kings stuck with Belinelli and experimented with other lineups.
McLemore also had to deal with injuries for the first time in his NBA career and played in only 68 games.
“Last year was pretty tough, but being the guy I am, humble, being a pro and just going out there and working my butt off , that’s what kept me focused on what I had to do,” McLemore said.
During the offseason, McLemore blocked out rumors of a possible trade.
“I’ve been really focused on myself this summer … ” he said. “I let my agent, I let my manager handle all the front-office business while I focused on Ben. … I just told my team to keep me updated on anything dealing with me so I can continue to be a pro and focused on my game.”
Despite being visibly down for stretches of last season when his playing time fluctuated, McLemore said his confidence is “off the charts, higher than it’s ever been sine I’ve been in the league.”
But staying upbeat has been tough, McLemore said, given all the turnover.
“It’s tough for a young guy, but I’ve continued to learn from it and grow from things like that,” he said.
The Kings acquired Malachi Richardson in a draft-day deal and signed veteran Arron Afflalo. Both could challenge McLemore for playing time.
McLemore isn’t rattled, saying he’s ready to show his confidence is warranted. He also knows his performance this season will affect his next contract.
“Every year, they’ve drafted a guy in my spot, so nothing is handed to me,” McLemore said. “So each and every day I’m going to work my butt off to prove and show I’m well worthy of that spot. That’s the competitiveness and drive in me.”
Key dates for Kings
- Monday: Training camp opens
- Tuesday: First practice
- Oct. 4: First preseason game, vs. L.A. Lakers, Anaheim, 7 p.m.
- Oct. 10: First home preseason game, vs. Maccabi Haifa, 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 26: First regular-season game, at Phoenix, 7:30 p.m.
- Oct. 27: First home regular-season game, vs. San Antonio, 7:30 p.m.