James Ham

Kawhi Leonard is not the answer for the Kings

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USATSI

Kawhi Leonard is not the answer for the Kings

The murmurs have already started. Teams are lining up for a potential run at one of the game’s best players. We aren’t talking about LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Paul George, who all have early termination clauses in their contracts this summer. That trio will dominate the news July 1 when the NBA’s free agency period begins. 

There is another player who has an ability to change the course of a franchise and the way things are heading, who might become one of the biggest trade targets in recent league history. 

No one really knows the entire story about what is going on with Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs have their side and Leonard’s team likely has a different version. What is known is that the 26-year-old small forward was cleared by San Antonio’s medical staff to resume game action a few months back. 

Leonard returned to the court for a nine-game stretch during December and early January. And then he shut it down again. 

The two-time All-Star and former NBA Defensive Players of the Year has been diagnosed with tendinopathy in his right quadricep. He’s bounced back and forth between San Antonio and New York City all season, having his injury evaluated and re-evaluated by both the Spurs and his own medical team.

Where the Spurs go from here is anyone’s guess. They have the best two-way player in the game and he has made the decision on his own not to play. 

A season ago, San Antonio rattled off a 61-win season before falling to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. They made additions in the summer to make another run, but without Leonard, they didn’t stand a chance.

To make matters worse, the Spurs roster is aging quickly. Manu Ginobili turns 41 in July. Pau Gasol is almost 38 and Tony Parker will be 36 soon and in the last year of his contract. Six players in their rotation are 30 or older and the clock is ticking.

Leonard’s decision wiped out any chance of winning a ring for the Spurs. It also threw away one of the few seasons left for a couple of his teammates.

For the last four decades, San Antonio has been the model NBA franchise. They don’t get into situations like this. And now they have to make one of the most difficult decisions a team has to make. 

To complicate matters, Leonard has two years left on his five-year, $94 million deal he signed in 2015. The final year is a player option worth $21.3 million and it’s very unlikely that Leonard will exercise that option.

Why is this of interest to the Sacramento Kings? It might not be, but that won’t stop fans from turning to the trade machine to find a way to land Leonard in purple and black.

Anytime a player of this ilk comes available, it’s within every team’s best interest to at least make a call. It’s possible the Spurs would turn the Kings down three seconds into the conversation. Then again, they might listen.

While San Antonio is going to want a star in return for Leonard, that isn’t the way these things usually work out. The question then becomes, do the Kings have the assets to acquire Leonard?

It’s very possible that the Spurs can get more than what the Kings would be willing to offer. Sacramento has a group of young players, two or three of which might draw interest. They also have a top seven pick in the upcoming draft.

Due to the Stepien Rule, the Kings can’t trade their draft pick prior to the 2018 NBA Draft. League rules prohibit teams from trading draft picks in back-to-back seasons and Sacramento has already given up their 2019 pick in a salary dump in the summer of 2015. 

The Kings can make a selection for another team and consummate a deal once the new season begins in July, so there is still an opportunity to include the pick in player form. 

San Antonio would likely ask for multiple young players, as well as the Kings’ 2018 selection. Sacramento also has cap space and a few veterans on expiring contracts to make the dollars and cents work. 

Whether the Kings could come up with the pieces to make a deal work is debatable. The real question is, should they try and chase Leonard if he becomes available? 

The simple answer is no. 

No, the Kings shouldn’t offer up a top 10 pick and two or three of their young core to acquire one of the game’s best players. 

Take all of the issues that Leonard has had this season and throw them out the window. At 100 percent health, the risk is still too much for a team like the Kings to take.

It’s about the contract and it’s about the talent that you would have to give up. The Los Angeles Lakers might be able to absorb the risk of trading for Leonard. They would likely have to give up Kyle Kuzma and plenty more to make something happen. But they would also have a fighting chance of retaining Leonard once he opts out of his current deal and becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Kings fans will reach deep on this, bringing up that Chris Webber made the decision to stick around in Sacramento back in 2001, inking a seven-year, $122 million deal. 

Not only were those different times, but the Kings’ franchise was on a roll. Webber was the best player on one of the best teams in the league. He was also surrounded by quality teammates, many of who remain extremely close more than a decade later.

Leonard would come to a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006. It is also a franchise that would have to give up plenty of assets to acquire him. He wouldn’t make the Kings an instant success and although the team would have plenty of money in the summer of 2019 to not only pay Leonard, but add a few more pieces, the risk would never be worth the reward.

If the team truly believes that Leonard is an option, they might as well draft a high quality player in 2018, develop the current talent base, make a move or two to improve the roster and then chase the All-Star wing a summer later when they have upwards of $70 million to throw around.

It’s a fun conversation, but one that can only lead to ruin for a team like the Kings. The best chance to turn things around for Sacramento is to stay the current course and continue to develop the players on the roster. 

If the team can begin to build something, landing the right player and then keeping them around will happen for the Kings.

Know Your Foe: San Antonio Spurs

Know Your Foe: San Antonio Spurs

The Golden State Warriors begin the long road to defending their title Saturday at Oracle Arena. They’ll face one of the more storied franchises in professional sports when the San Antonio Spurs roll through town. 

After stringing together back-to-back 60-plus win seasons, the Spurs stumbled into the 2018 playoff picture, finishing the season with a record of 47-35. It was good enough to squeeze in as a seven seed, but a far cry from what NBA fans have become accustomed to from San Antonio over their 21-year stretch of brilliance.

The Starters

PG: Patty Mills
PG: DeJounte Murray
SF: Kyle Anderson
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Pau Gasol

Gregg Popovich has mixed and matched his lineups this season, but this is the group that has started the majority of the time. Danny Green might make an appearance with the lead group at some time during the first round, but expect Pop to use a dual point guard lineup against the Warriors early in games. Aldridge has anchored the Spurs offense all season and at 37-years-old, Gasol can still do damage.

The Bench

PG: Tony Parker
SG: Manu Ginobili
SG: Danny Green
SF/PF: Rudy Gay
PF: Davis Bertans

Parker and Ginobili have teamed up in the Spurs backcourt for the last 17 years. Parker played a career-low 19.9 minutes per game during the regular season and Ginobili only played 20 a game. They are fresh and ready for the playoff, but no one knows how much they have left in the tank. Gay was a very nice addition. He’s played both forward positions for San Antonio and when healthy, he’s put up solid numbers. Green and Bertans are two of the better 3-point shooters on the Spurs roster.

Offense

San Antonio ranked 27th in the league in points per game this season, averaging 102.7 per game. Their offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 107.9 ranked 17th in the league.

While most teams are emulating the style of Warriors and Houston Rockets, the Spurs have chosen a different path. San Antonio ranked 27th in the league in 3-point attempts and 26th in 3-point percentage. They attempted 61.2 shots per game inside the 3-point line, including a lot of mid-range jumpers. On the season, they attempted nearly 400 less shots from behind the arc than the Warriors. 

Despite the lack of long balls, the Spurs still run an efficient, although slow, offensive scheme. They rank 15th in the league in assists, fourth in turnovers committed and sixth in offensive rebounding. They are a methodical group of veterans that make very few mistakes and typically make the shot they intend to take. 

Defense

Throughout their two decades of excellence, the Spurs have shown a remarkable ability to change their style of play on the offensive end. On the defensive side of the ball, they play about as well as you can, even though they boasting six players over the age of 30 in their primary rotation.

San Antonio allowed just 99.8 points per game this season, good enough for first overall. Their defensive rating of 104.8 was third in the league. They slow it down on the offensive end, which helps these numbers, but they also dictate the pace of the game for their opponents.

The Spurs lack a defensive stopper in the middle, but they still finished fourth in the league in blocks. Aldridge led the team in rebounding at 8.5 boards per game and Gasol wasn’t far behind at 8.0 a night. They rebound as a team, finishing just outside the top 10 in total rebounds and 14th in the league on the defensive glass.

In addition to playing solid team defense, the Spurs committed the fewest fouls in the league at 17.2 per game. They give up a ton of 3-pointers (26.3 per game), but they defend the arc well, holding their opponents to just 34.8 percent from deep.

Intangibles

Like the Warriors, the Spurs have been here before. Popovich should already be in the Hall of Fame and half of his squad is heading in on their first year of eligibility. This is a team in the truest sense of the word. Veterans have taken a step back to allow young players to develop. They know each other well and they play to their strengths.

On the downside, the injury to Kawhi Leonard has robbed the Spurs of the best two-way player in the NBA and left the team in a strange place. If he was healthy, this is probably a 55-60 win team sitting much higher in the Western Conference playoffs. But he’s not healthy and questions surrounding his injury have left a dark cloud hanging over the franchise. 

Kings lose coin flip to Bulls, hold No. 7 overall pick heading into NBA Draft Lottery

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AP

Kings lose coin flip to Bulls, hold No. 7 overall pick heading into NBA Draft Lottery

The Sacramento Kings’ win over the Houston Rockets in the season finale has officially cost the team a spot in the NBA’s Draft Lottery. After posting identical 27-55 records, Sacramento and the Chicago Bulls were part of the NBA’s coin flip rule Friday afternoon at the Board of Governors meetings. 

Unfortunately for the Kings, the Bulls picked up a victory in the game of chance and now sit in the sixth spot in the pre-lottery standings. Sacramento holds the seventh position, but both teams have an equal opportunity to move up into the top three positions when the lottery is officially held on May 15. 

Once the top three selections are drawn, the draft goes in order of worst remaining record, taking coin flip results into consideration. If the Kings do not move into the top three and no one slated behind them in the draft move up, they will draft No. 7 overall. 

There is also a small chance that Sacramento doesn’t move up and one or more lottery teams behind them in the standings jump up. In this scenario, the Kings could draft as low as 10, but the statistical probability of them falling that far is astronomical. 

Here are the odds for the potential draft positions for the Kings this season. Both the Kings and Bulls have an 18.3% chance of moving into the top three picks.

No. 1 overall selection: 5.3%
No. 2 overall selection: 6.0%
No. 3 overall selection: 7.0%
No. 7 overall selection: 57.3%
No. 8 overall selection: 22.6%
No. 9 overall selection: 1.8%
No. 10 overall selection: less than 0.0%